Mission accomplished summed up Alberto Contador's day at the Tour de France. The Spaniard is one day closer to Paris. He still holds an 8-second lead over Andy Schleck. Assuming that lead is maintained on Friday's flat stage to Bordeaux, it will ensure the Astana leader goes off last in the crucial final time trial to Pauillac, giving him the advantage of knowing how his rivals are performing ahead of him.
Contador said that he had felt good throughout the Tourmalet stage - "as good as on the stage to Mende," he said. "Andy was very strong for the whole climb and set a very fast rhythm. I knew that he wanted to create some gaps on the riders behind, but it was easier for me because all I had to do was to watch him. The stage victory was not really so important, I was thinking more of the general classification."
Contador explained that he attacked Schleck 4km from the summit of the Tourmalet "because I wanted to show him I'm here and that I had good legs". Asked what the pair had spoken about after Schleck had closed down that attack and the pair continued on towards the finish, the Spaniard said: "Things that are said in the race have to stay within the race."
He denied that his form has not been as good as last year, saying that this year's Tour has been far harder. "It has been so tough this year and I have ridden more conservatively without attacking so much or needing to. I can confirm that I've got the data that says my form has been as good as last year. Today I felt very good, like I did on the stage to Mende. But the most important thing throughout has been to be in position to win the Tour on the final day in Paris."
After a moment, he joked about his suggested drop in performance: "Also, I'm getting older."
Looking ahead to Saturday's 52km time trial, Contador said: "Going off last gives me a huge amount of confidence. It's a clear advantage because you can get the time gaps to your rivals. My form today was very good and I hope that will stay with me for the time trial. The most important thing today was not to lose any time. There's no doubt that Andy is very strong and I'm expecting a great time trial from him."
With Armstrong about to bow out, Contador was asked if he has the American's record of 7 Tour wins in his thoughts, but said not. "I'm not thinking at all about winning 7 Tours. I'm waiting and I'm wishing for my third Tour, but I'm not there yet. I've still got three complicated days to negotiate and I don't let things like that pass through my mind. There is still a long and tough time trial to come. I'm taking my career year by year, and at the end of my career I will have the chance to reflect on questions like that."
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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).