Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) continues to follow the beat of his own drum at the Criterium du Dauphine with a ride on stage 7 that he determined was more about performance and feel than results and standings.
Heading into the second of three mountain stages, Contador had cut an estranged figure from the one we are more accustomed to. Instead of relentlessly attacking, he has paced himself without going into the red, he says, and as a result lies out of contention for the win.
On Saturday's stage to Alpe d'Huez, he 'followed, followed, and followed' – as his mantra has dictated in the race so far – before finally showing some semblance of climbing form with a late acceleration to match race leader Richie Porte (BMC Racing) and Jakob Fulgsang (Astana) near the top of the climb. Although he was distanced with a few hundred meters to go, and conceded another eight seconds to the pair, he sits neatly inside the top 10, in sixth, 1:55 off Porte's lead.
"We did really good work, and the day was fast because of the breakaway but we did a lot of good work. I feel good because with each stage I'm feeling better, and when I woke up this morning I felt fresh," he told Cyclingnews.
"In the last kilometre, Richie was really strong and I preferred to go a little more easy but it was nice that some of the riders who were in front of my yesterday were today behind me. I'm very happy but I don't know my position on the stage or GC. All that I'm looking at is my performance. That's the most important."
On stage 6, Contador was distanced by Chris Froome (Team Sky), Porte and Fuglsang on the Mont du Chat, and lost Alejandro Valverde's wheel on the tricky descent to the line. On the face of it, it was an average performance by Contador's standards – especially when considering how aggressive he has been throughout the first part of the season. His backroom staff has been holding him back, according the team, in a bid to ensure that he arrives at the Tour totally fresh. Whether such a plan works remains to be seen, but Contador can take heart from the fact that he dropped Froome, Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors), Fabio Aru (Astana) and Valverde (Movistar) after Friday's ride.
"I'm recovering well. Yesterday when Richie and Froome went off the front, maybe I could have followed for a bit more time, but that would have risked a big explosion before the top," he told Cyclingnews.
"I preferred to wait for Valverde and go with him. Today I knew the finish and I said to myself that I'd try and follow Richie for as far as I could. In the final few hundred meters he went a bit stronger and I preferred to go easier as I was at the limit. The rest of the rivals were behind me but it's not important if it was five seconds, eight seconds or more. It's just important that I go better and better."
The Dauphine's final stage is arguably the hardest of the race with a summit finish at Plateau de Solaison. It offers Contador and the rest of the field one last test before they disappear ahead of the Tour de France to fine-tune their preparations. If Contador is being held back, he provided the slightest hint that he would attack on the final stage.
"I will enjoy tomorrow, take it in a calm way and follow early on. Then on the last climb we'll see what we can do. The more important is to finish the Dauphine feeling fresh."
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