History repeated itself on stage 13 of the Tour de France on Friday as Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) launched a long-distance mountain attack that threatened to destabilize the GC and allowed the Spaniard to enjoy a day off the front of the bunch.
Contador could not win the stage, finally taking third, but his move had distinct echoes of other death-or-glory moves that he has carried out in the past. One Spanish TV crew even asked him, jokingly, if he would always attack like that on stages beginning with F - starting with the Fuente De attack in the Vuelta in 2012, continuing with that of Formigal in 2016 in the Vuelta, and today in the Tour de France, to Foix.
This latest reckless attack began 75 kilometres from the finish, close to the top of the Col de Latrape. Contador bounced off the front of the peloton, quickly sweeping up to Warren Barguil (Team Sunweb) and quickly shadowed by Sky's Mikel Landa.
Chris Froome's prediction that the Trek-Segafredo leader would make such a long-distance move proved 100 per cent correct, therefore, even if the Spaniard's GC position at more than seven minutes back means the battle for the overall is no longer one that Contador can win.
Contador's seeming affinity with the role of kingmaker remains intact, however, as he worked with Landa to open up their lead of well over two and a half minutes. Landa was, at that point, all but able to don the maillot jaune virtuel, although a concerted counter-charge behind, partly by Sky teammates Michal Kwiatkowski and Froome in person as they tried to test leader Fabio Aru (Astana), meant Landa's GC gains were finally limited to moving up from seventh to fifth overall.
But when Barguil reconnected with Landa and Contador, near the summit of the Mur de Peguere, partly thanks to a stronger-than-expected ride by reviving GC challenger and joint attacker, Nairo Quintana (Movistar), that at least all but ensured the break of the day would stay away to the finish.
Not known for his sprinting abilities, Contador followed the time-honoured adage of 'if in doubt, lead out' in the final kilometre. But he could not stop Barguil from taking a much better line through the final U-turn and winning the stage in style on Bastille Day.
Even so, the Spaniard was delighted at his own performance, by far the best so far in this year's Tour in the mountains, and there was even some recognition of his efforts in the shape of the 'Most Combative Rider' award for the stage.
"For me, it's a good day," Contador concluded. "Even though for sure it was a very complicated stage and I suffered a lot on the last climb."
He later told journalists that despite his form being good, his injuries from a pair of crashes on stage 11 are such that he is having painfully sleepless nights, waking up last night at 3 a.m. because of the pain.
"The overall classification is out of the window, but I've got nothing to lose," he said. "I want to try my best and go for a stage win. Landa could have got the lead, but I wasn't entirely sure what Sky's tactics were there. For sure, though, it's good they've now got two cards to play in the general classification battle.
"Either way, when Warren and Nairo caught us, it wasn't so good, because I think we worked better as a duo. I knew Warren was a very fast finisher, and he wasn't coming through at all to take his turns at the end."
Contador's upward turn in fortunes will see him "fight every day of the Tour, right up to the last stage," he insisted.
"I want to do what I can because I get so much support from people. This year's Tour is proving very difficult for me. I've been on the limit, but I do know that my underlying condition is good."
The GC battle is lost for Contador, then, but thanks to his long-distance attack he's moved back up to 10th overall, 5:22 back. So after such a dismal start to the Tour, after 12 difficult days for Contador, things appear to be looking up at last.
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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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