After suffering plenty of misfortune in the first week of the Tour de France, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) can finally smile as he approaches his favoured terrain of the high mountains. The Spaniard was in good spirits at the finish of stage 7 after finishing with the group of favourites.
Contador had an unexpectedly busy start to the Tour de France with crashes in each of the opening stages. The falls, in particular, the one on the opening day, took their toll on the former champion and he struggled in some of the early rolling stages. With the race entering the Pyrenees, he feels as though he is making progress and he is finally coming back towards his rivals.
He still lies 1:21 behind Chris Froome in the overall classification but the first big mountain stages open up some new possibilities for the Spaniard.
"Climb by climb, bit by bit, day by day I am getting better," he said to the press soon after crossing the line at Lac de Payolle. "It's going to be complicated, but I hope to make the best of it."
Stage 7 was the peloton's first taste of the higher mountains, and the category 1 ascent of the Col d'Aspin gave Contador a chance to see how his recovery was going. After losing time in some of the rolling stages, the Spaniard comfortably stayed with his rivals and rolled in with the bunch 4:29 down on the stage winner Stephen Cummings (Dimension Data).
"It was a very demanding day. The first break had Peter [Sagan] and [Mark] Cavendish, and the teams that are interested in the green jersey were pulling on the front," Contador explained. "In the middle section, the group was then holding back, holding back. So then we tried to change the rhythm… I had to be conservative. In another scenario, I would have attacked, but I had to hold back.
"The main teams set a really high tempo and some of the other riders paid for that. The group kept [the pace] going and going, until the final kilometre."
While the leaders got through easily enough, the finale for the peloton was disrupted by the flamme rouge banner deflating and collapsing onto them. The event effectively neutralised the group of favourites, giving Contador a bit of respite after a fast stage. He also stemmed the tide of time he'd been losing in the general classification, giving him confidence going into the coming days.
"Fortunately, I didn't crash. It meant that the final kilometre was pretty calm," he laughed, "I'm really happy with the whole day, and the important thing is to recover. My objective is just to get to the Pyrenees, and then the race starts for me again."
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