OL DU GALIBIER, France (VN) ─ Moments after crossing the finish line demoralized and exhausted, Alberto Contador admitted the obvious and said his hopes of winning the 2011 Tour de France are over.
Contador never looked good during Thursday’s 200km 18th stage up the Galibier. When he was popped for good about 2km to go out of the GC group, his Tour hopes sank just as the Galibier rose ever higher.
“Victory is all but impossible,” he said. “With 6km to 7km to go, I realized I just couldn’t go any faster. I felt bad and I was spent, and I just decided to go at my own rhythm.”
With that, Contador’s amazing six-straight grand tour winning streak was over. Contador finished an uncharacteristic 15th in such an important mountain stage at 3:50 back and sunk to seventh on GC, at 4:44 back.
For the first grand tour he’s started since winning his first Tour in 2007, Contador will likely not be riding into Paris in in the top spot.
“It wasn’t a good day,” Contador said. “I didn’t have any strength left in the last 10km. I struggled terribly. I don’t know if I had bonked, but the last 10km were incredibly difficult.”
Contador looked to be back to his best after two days of attacks in transition stages leading into Thursday’s battle over the Alps. Things didn’t start well when Contador had to drift back to the Tour doctor’s car to receive attention for his sore knee.
Contador tipped his hat to Andy Schleck, saying he’s “opened up a good gap and I believe he can maintain it.”
The defending Tour champion also had nothing but praise for Schleck’s closest challenger, Cadel Evans.
“He has done an incredible work and took the responsibility,” Contador said. “The important thing now is to recover and fill up the reserves with energy because I’ve run flat. We have to think about tomorrow and rest well knowing I’ve been through different situations and the truth is that this is not the saddest day of my life.”
The loss of time was a blow for SaxoBank-Sungard boss Bjarne Riis, who was still holding out hope for a miracle comeback by Contador.
Speaking to reporters on the team bus, Riis also stated the obvious. Dreams of pulling off the first Giro-Tour double since 1998 are over.
“It’s not over, but to win it it’s going to be hard. Andy is very, very strong. Hats off to him,” Riis said. “He couldn’t follow, obviously. There’s nothing much to say about it. I still need to talk to him. I don’t know exactly what’s his problem today, but he didn’t have it. He wanted to also attack today, but if he didn’t have the legs then he can’t even follow the others.”
Riis was also diplomatic, tipping his hat to his former pupil, Andy Schleck, who attacked with panache over the Col d’Izoard to charge back into contention.
“That was brilliant, that was some of the best he’s ever done. That was brave, very brave, and, ah, crazy, but he made it,” Riis said. “That’s the beauty of cycling. Chapeau.”
The day’s events marked the end of Contador’s tremendous run of winning the past six grand tours he’s started. Dating back to the 2007 Tour, every time Contador toed up to the start line a grand tour, he managed to win.
Thursday’s stage also confirmed that Contador was never at his best during this Tour. With a possible racing ban breathing down his neck ─ the Court of Arbitration for Sport is expected to decide on his clenbuterol case in early August ─ Contador never seemed to find his rhythm during the race, losing time early and then falling hard twice in the first week. He was able to attack, but only on shorter, steeper climbs and on the downhills.
More importantly, he didn’t have his trademark punch on the longer, steeper climbs where he has typically made his mark. Without that, the Pistolero was shooting blanks during this Tour.