A year ago, Alberto Contador’s enforced abandon at the Tour de France gave Tinkoff-Saxo teammate Rafal Majka the liberty to go up the road and help himself to stage wins in the Alps and Pyrenees, as well as the polka dot jersey of best climber.
Contador found himself very much down – if not yet fully out – following the first mountaintop finish of this year’s Tour at La Pierre-Saint-Martin on Tuesday, conceding three minutes to Chris Froome (Sky) and slipping to 4:04 behind in the general classification.
That setback allowed Majka a little more leeway than he might otherwise have anticipated at this juncture of the Tour, and he jumped aboard the break of the day when it formed ahead of the Col d’Aspin on stage 11. Six kilometres from the summit of the Col du Tourmalet, the Pole forged clear alone and he had enough in hand to hold off the tenacious pursuit of Dan Martin (Cannondale-Garmin) on the short haul to the finish at Cauterets.
“Today it wasn’t my objective to win the stage but I had an opportunity. I attacked once and it was a good attack. When the break got 45 seconds, the directeur said I could go with it and from there I did everything to win the stage,” Majka said afterwards.
Despite strong showings at the Giro d’Italia in the past two seasons, Majka was the only one of Tinkoff-Saxo’s elite cadre of climbers held back from riding in support of Contador at the corsa rosa this season. Instead, he was delegated to provide fresh legs and robust support to the Spaniard on the second leg of his – now seemingly forlorn – double attempt.
“A lot of people asked but it was no problem to come and help Alberto on the Tour,” said Majka, who downplayed the idea of chasing the king of the mountains prize for the second successive year. “I came here to help Alberto, not to win the polka dot jersey. The Tour is still long, there are still two weeks to go.”
Tinkoff-Saxo’s travails in recent days have not been limited to Contador’s suffering on La Pierre-Saint-Martin. Ivan Basso left the race on Monday after he was diagnosed with testicular cancer – the Italian underwent surgery in Milan on Wednesday – while Daniele Bennati abandoned with a suspected broken leg after a crash on stage 11. “It was good to win for the team’s morale, and I’m thinking of my teammates and especially Ivan Basso and Daniele Bennati,” Majka said.
Majka claimed the Souvenir Jacques Goddet for crossing the Tourmalet at the head of the race and he now lies third in the mountains classification, albeit some 25 points down on Froome. In order to claim a second maillot à pois, Majka would require considerably more freedom than he claims he is currently allowed. Contador’s Tour ambitions, he insisted, were far from discarded.
“You have to believe in things. Alberto has a great mentality and he’s a great rider,” Majka said. “The Tour is still long. Riders have bad days but we need to keep fighting for the podium because there’s still a long way to go. I hope Alberto can still win the Tour. But I can only tell you after stage 20 who will win.”