Alberto Contador believes he has moved one step towards his third overall win at the Tour de France after the last major Alpine stage. Despite being in second position, 41 seconds down on new race leader Andy Schleck, the Astana rider is optimistic. "This is a great day for us", said Contador in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne. "We have created bigger gaps than expected."
The Alps were not predicted to be as decisive as the Pyrénées this year, but in just two mountain stages, most of the other pre-race favourites have been all but eliminated.
On stage 8, the Astana team distanced Lance Armstrong, who was suffering from an earlier crash, and today they dropped the injured Cadel Evans, who couldn't follow the pace imposed by Daniel Navarro, Paolo Tiralongo and Alexandre Vinokourov on the col de la Madeleine.
"I know what my goal is and I know which wheel to follow, that's the one of Andy Schleck," Contador said to TV reporters. "There was an opportunity to gain some time over dangerous riders for GC, these were the circumstances of today's stage. I'm happy with my sensations. I felt very good today."
In contrast to stage 8 to Avoriaz when Contador followed every single attack in the last two kilometres, the Spaniard only had to focus on Schleck in what looks to be a two-man race to Paris. But Contador is not counting some of his rivals out just yet. "There are still many riders who can regain time by going into breakaways like Luis Leon Sanchez did today," Contador explained. "I can't be distracted but as I said yesterday, my most dangerous rival is Andy."
Contador couldn't have dreamed of being in a better position near the half way point in the Tour de France. Even should he never drop Schleck in the mountains, a 41 second deficit may be small enough for Contador to overcome in the final 52km time trial, where he is historically a much stronger rider. Schleck lost 1:45 to Contador in the 40.5km time trial of Annecy one year ago.