Despite losing time to Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Movistar duo Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana on the final climb of stage 14, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) argues that his condition is steadily improving – to the point where making attacks is no longer out of the question.
When Quintana first went clear, Contador opted to stick close to Froome on the ascent to Mende – where he has twice won in Paris-Nice, in 2007 and 2010 – although he was finally dropped by the Briton on the upper-half of the climb.
Caught by Valverde near the summit, the Madrileño was unable to follow when the Movistar rider powered away, rolling across the line with 19 seconds lost to Froome, 18 to Quintana and 15 to Valverde.
On the plus side for Contador, he has gained enough time on Geraint Thomas (Sky) to move into fifth overall, and has recouped some of his losses on Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing) as well. All in all, after his stinging defeat in the Pyrenees, he believes that represents a gain.
“Froome finally proved too much for me,” Contador said, “I tried to hold on but it just wasn’t possible. So I’ve lost some time, but the important thing is I’m feeling stronger, different to how I was earlier in the race.
“I can stand on the pedals and even think about attacking now. I’ve lost time, but there’s still a long way to go to Paris, and I can still turn in some good rides.”
Contador admitted that Valverde is, as a matter of course, able to accelerate harder on false flats and he had little option but to continue at his own pace.
“I had tried to follow Froome, I could have followed Nibali and Quintana but that was my option. You never know what the right option could have, but that was the way I played my cards.”
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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