No longer the time trialist he once was, stage 11 to Mont-Saint-Michel was always about damage limitation for Alberto Contador and his Saxo-Tinkoff team boss Bjarne Riis. With Chris Froome untouchable against the clock when compared to his other GC contenders this year, Contador came into the stage already on the back foot, and now with the race turning towards the Alps the Spanish climber is 3:54 down on the maillot jaune in the Tour de France.
It is not a disaster, as Contador has a knack for unsettling the opposition in the final week of a Grand Tour and taking the fight to his competition, but Riis is well aware that his Spanish star must attack if he is to win his third Tour tittle.
"I'm happy with Alberto today, he's okay and he did a good chrono," Riis said as he talked to the gathering press at the Saxo Bank team car at the finish.
"I'm not disappointed at all with him because he did it all correct. Froome is just at the moment a lot stronger."
That admission is only realistic given that Froome seemed a level ahead of his rivals on the first stage in the Pyrenees and then answered every question posed of him on the following stage. Contador on the other hand has looked below his very best, a pattern that can be traced back through at least this season.
"It doesn't change anything. If it's one minute, two, three or four, we still have to attack and it's still the same race," Riis said, pointing to the fact that Contador, as he did during last year's Vuelta must come from behind. Riis tactical nous suggest that he may well use to play Roman Kreuziger as a carrot for Froome to chase, and therefore try and isolate and soften up the Sky leader before Contador delivers his own attack.
"At the moment we have one leader and that's what we're going for. We believe that Alberto will be strong in the last week because he's proven that before. Roman, it's different. We're not going to change our tactic, and it's good to have Roman there, it's just a bonus I think because it means that the team is strong and that gives us more possibilities. We have to play the cards we have, but our leader is Alberto Contador," Riis said.
"We'll be ready for the fight, we know it's going to be difficult but we're going to try and isolate Froome and then see what happens. His team is not so strong and we're not going to give up just like that."
Timing for Contador and Riis may be more important than sheer brute force. Sky are breakable, Froome not unbeatable, but a simple wait-and-see approach on Ventoux could well backfire and give Sky an opportunity to batter home their advantage. Like Fuente Dé, Riis's pieces on the jigsaw board must be aware of the slightest crack in Sky's armour, although the Dane dispelled any speculation that the lumpy stage to Lyon holds any special significance at this stage.
"You have to pick the moment and sometimes the moment comes just like that and you have to take it. We'll be ready for that," he said.
"Everyday maybe has an opportunity if it comes but I don't really see that [with Lyon]. First of all we'll focus on the mountains and for the rest we'll be ready."
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