Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) has been through it all at the Tour de France over the years, but the Spaniard conceded that the 2017 edition – one of his final cracks at the maillot jaune – is pushing him to his limits, as two crashes on the road to Pau dealt further physical and psychological blows.
Crashes have been a theme of Contador's recent history in the Tour, going some way to explaining why he hasn't finished on the podium – officially, at least – since his 2009 victory.
He abandoned the 2014 edition on stage 10 after crashing on the descent of the Petit Ballon, and the following year a crash on the descent of the Col d'Allos put him out of podium contention. In 2016 he crashed twice in the opening stages, losing time and suffering physically, and he abandoned the race on stage 9.
This July, despite avoiding early mishaps, Contador has endured a rough few days stages as the Tour has reached its midway point. He hit the deck and hurt his knee on Sunday's mountain thriller to Chambery, eventually losing over four minutes, and he was on the tarmac a further two times on Wednesday's flat stage 11.
"I've never believed in bad luck but the truth is that this Tour is pushing me to my limit, above all psychologically," said Contador, with a sigh, from the steps of the Trek-Segafredo team bus in Pau.
The first crash came in the feed zone and involved a number of other riders, but the second one was rougher, coming inside the final and leaving him with a hard chase as the sprint trains moved through the gears. Contador avoided time loss but was banged up, his white handlebar tape stained with blood from his right hand.
"It was a complicated day – one of those days where you don't know how things are going to turn out and, well, I ended up on the ground," he said.
"It was a heavy fall. I took a big blow to my left hip. We'll have to see how it goes tomorrow."
With the Tour passing its halfway point en route to Pau, the gateway to the Pyrenees, Contador finds himself 12th overall, over five minutes down on race leader Chris Froome. Back-to-back mountain stages are up next before the race transitions over to the Alps for two further decisive GC showdowns ahead of the penultimate day's time trial in Marseille.
"Evidently, this complicates things quite a but for the Pyrenees," Contador added. "It doesn't help one bit, and now I'll have to wait for the Alps."
A bluff? Mind games? Either way, in the Pyrenees or the Alps, Contador, architect of some of the most daring and dramatic feats in recent stage race history, can be expected to go down swinging, if he's to go down at all. He admitted he's being nearing his limit, but vowed never to crack.
"Whoever thinks I'm going to throw in the towel doesn't know me at all," he said defiantly.
"There's no way I'm going to collapse. When things knock you off balance, instead of starting to think about other things, other objectives, you have to be even stronger, even more determined. I'm going to approach it like that, and we'll see what I can do in what's left of the Tour."
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