Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) made the point almost without asking when he rolled up to the start line on stage 1 of Paris-Nice. "Everyday counts in Paris-Nice" he stressed as he looked up to the heavens while rain fell, scanning the trees as the breeze zipped through Bois d'Arcy.
All of the sage advice mattered little. When the television cameras flickered on a few hours later, Contador's calm exterior from the start had been replaced with a man witnessing his overall chances in the race begin to slip through his fingers. Caked in dirt, and with several rivals up the road after some superb echelon riding from Lotto Soudal and Quick-Step, the Spaniard was on the ropes less than 100 kilometres into Paris-Nice.
Contador finished a brutally gripping stage in 20th place, but the time lost to his rivals will hurt dearly. Over a minute to Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors), nearly the same amount to Segio Henao (Team Sky), and the final insult coming when Richie Porte (BMC Racing) and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) dropped him just before the line.
"This is Paris-Nice and it's a very hard race," the former Tour de France winner told Cyclingnews after the stage.
"Sometimes the differences in the opening few stages here can be bigger than the ones created in the time trials or the mountains. In the final we lost time on other favourites, but at the same time I was also close to crashing two or three times. I saved a crash and that's an important point. Tomorrow is another day.
"The team was good but there were some moments that were crazy and we weren't all together. The problem was that John Degenkolb and Pantano were in a crash in the last kilometres and that was hard for me. I was fighting in the group all the time so I could have a good position and I spent a lot of energy. When Porte attacked I felt it in my legs and I couldn't follow him."
The terrain Contador thrives on does not appear on the horizon until much later in the race, and stage 2 from Rochefort-en-Yvelines to Amilly is likely to see the peloton once again race in echelon-friendly conditions. It is far too early to write Contador off in this race, but a repeat of Sunday's episode could be detrimental to his chances of winning 10 year's after his first overall title here.
"First of all we have to at tomorrow, and then after tomorrow give the maximum in the time trial. Everyday things can happen. Today was the first stage and tomorrow anything can happen."
By the time Trek team director Steven De Jongh arrived on the scene at the finish, Contador was already on the bus and debriefing the stage with his teammates. The Dutch DS was a specialist at racing in echelons during his career, and the air of disappointment was clear as he walked towards the team bus.
"After the cobbles in Les Mesnuls there were side winds, some accelerations and then the first cut was made," De Jongh said. "We had it at 20 seconds but there wasn't much cooperation and it went up to 1:15. It's not nice to lose time, but that can happen in a stage like this. Tomorrow is another windy day and we need to minimalise the losses."
'Every day counts in Paris-Nice,' a wise rider once said, but for Contador stage 2 counts double. He and his team cannot afford to concede more time.
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Daniel Benson is the Editor in Chief at both Cyclingnews.com and BikePerfect.com. Based in the UK, he has worked within cycling for almost 15 years, and he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he has reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he runs the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.
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