LES HERBIERS, France (VN) — Cadel Evans (BMC) suggested Friday that the only way to beat Alberto Contador was to have a head start going into the mountain stages.
No one expected that opportunity to come as early as Saturday’s 191km opening stage at the 2011 Tour de France, when Contador got caught up behind a crash in the bunch with about 8km to go and lost an unexpected 1:20 on the stage.
Most of his GC rivals — including archival Andy Schleck — came through at six seconds behind stage winner Philippe Gilbert, but the damage was done. Contador will need to go on the attack even more so if he hopes to erase the difference to win this Tour.
“These are things of the race and today it happened to me and tomorrow it could be someone else,” Contador said, who ends the Tour’s first stage in 82nd place. “I didn’t have very good luck today, but the Tour is long. One must be optimistic and remain motivated, that’s the most important thing.”
Contador is hardly ready to throw in the towel, but no one missed the significance of the turn of events. That’s a lot of time, especially considering Contador has won two of his three Tours by less than one minute. That’s certainly something that wasn’t lost on Evans.
“We’ll see what happens when we get to Paris,” Evans said when asked about the time difference to Contador. “You’re talking to a guy who lost the Tour by 23 seconds.”
Contador was the major victim of the pileup, but others lost time, too, including last year’s fourth-place man, Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), and both of Garmin-Cervélo’s GC hopes, Christian Vande Velde and Ryder Hesjedal, who both forfeited 1:55.
The road was completely blocked when a rider in the front-middle of the pack collided with a fan standing on the side of the road with about 8km to go. Riders toppled like bowling pins and completely blocked the road. Only 27 made it clear, and the rider who’s won the past six grand tours he’s started was not among them.
“It was a very complicated stage, very tense,” Contador explained. “I was very close to the front of the group, but the crash happened right in front of me. Even though I managed to brake in time, I had to pick my way over the bikes as best I could. When I wanted to start up again, the lead group was already very far away. At this moment, I only had the help of one teammate (Richie Porte).
“Cycling is like that, the race continued at top speed to the finish line and that’s it. Now all you can do is look ahead.”