Alberto Contador shook his head after being beaten by Chris Froome at the Tour of Oman, knowing that he had almost certainly lost any chance of victory in the six-day race, despite going on the attack yet again.
The Team Saxo-Tinkoff leader is always hungry for success. He had hinted that 25 seconds were perhaps too much to pull back after stage four to Green mountain but then went on the attack on the three short, steep climbs that filled the final 50km of stage five.
He knew that time bonuses of 3-2-1 seconds were available at the summit of the final climb, with 10-6-4 seconds available at the finish and was hoping to isolate Froome and gain enough time to perhaps snatch overall victory. It was an excellent if audacious plan but Team Saxo-Tinkoff placed Jesus Hernandez in the break of the day, forcing Team Sky to chase hard and then launched attacks on the last two climbs of the stage.
A 16-rider group formed after the first attack and then Contador got a gap on the third and final climb. However Froome did not panic and had Richie Porte there to help him bring Contador under control on the climb.
Contador seemed to forget that it is still only February and was slightly perplexed that his legs did not have his usual sustained rush of speed. On both stage four and five he jumped away several times but was unable to sustain his speed and was caught.
"It's been a real battle today," Contador said.
"Coming to a race and treating it as if it was a training ride is not something that I can do. I couldn't just sit in the bunch and do nothing. Attacking, is my style but you've got to have the legs to do it."
"I attacked on the second climb to whittle down the front group, then I attacked on the third climb to get the time bonus and get ahead of Evans, then me and Jesus Hernandez accelerated to try and gain even more time. Unfortunately Froome was too close."
"It's a pity that I didn't win the stage, there was just a few centimeters between us. But I'm not in top form and so I'm very pleased with the way we've ridden."
"I was close to the win and I'm pleased because of that and Oman is a perfect early season race. I'm heavier than I want to be by about 2.5kg but my form is getting better and better. Tomorrow (Saturday) will be a good training day and then I'll head home to recover."
Contador will surely hope to get revenge on his Oman defeat at Tirreno-Adriatico (March 6-12). He will face Froome, Nibali and Evans all over again as they prepare and test their form for the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France.
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