LES HERBIERS, France (VN) — RadioShack pushed its four riders through the mayhem in Saturday’s opening stage of the 2011 Tour de France, but team boss Johan Bruyneel shot down suggestions that the Shack was driving the bunch when Alberto Contador was caught behind the main pack with a crash in the closing kilometers.
Contador found himself isolated with only one teammate, Richie Porte, when the road was blocked with about 9km to go. RadioShack surged to the front to help drive the pace, but Bruyneel said it was Omega Pharma-Lotto that barreled toward the finish to set up Philippe Gilbert for the win.
“Our guys didn’t even know that Alberto was in the crash. At no moment have we been driving the bunch. After a while we knew that Alberto was in the back, but it was not our job to distance him,” Bruyneel told VeloNews. “You don’t want to win or take time on someone on bad luck. Since we knew that Gilbert was on the front, his team would drive it to the front for the stage win.”
Bruyneel has had a rocky relationship with Contador, who won his first two Tour de France titles under the Belgian director. Bruyneel was there when Contador first won in 2007 before trying to find a balancing act between Contador and Lance Armstrong during the 2009 Tour. The pair had a falling out after Bruyneel remained loyal to Armstrong, and Contador was happy to see the Armstrong-Bruyneel cartel leave Astana at the end of 2009 to form the RadioShack team.
It was an otherwise solid start to the Tour for RadioShack, which avoided the major crashes and kept its four GC candidates in the running. Andreas Klöden crossed the line seventh while Chris Horner finished ninth. Levi Leipheimer and Jani Brajkovic both got caught up behind a crash under the 3km-to-go banner, crossing the line at 1:20 back, but their times were taken at the difference to the lead bunch, meaning that they only lost six seconds to Gilbert on the stage.
“I was right beside the crash and I came out of my pedal,” Leipheimer told VeloNews at the line. “We had asked beforehand about the 3km rule, so it applied. We lost momentum and just couldn’t get back on.
“I didn’t hear the crash with (9km to go), I didn’t even hear that. The one with 2km to go, there were 20 guys back, and they still crash. I knew I was safe within 3km, so I didn’t kill myself trying to get back. It went well today — until then, I got through unscathed.”
Horner, who looked calm and collected as he rolled across the finish line, said RadioShack hopes to take more gains in Sunday’s team time trial.
“I didn’t get caught behind the crash. It broke up when we went up the climb,” he said. “We had a half-OK day. I was 10th or something like (ninth). There were some nervous, stupid crashes because we were never going fast enough where we should be crashing, but we did. We got hit by a few, but didn’t go down. I made it out alive. I am OK.
“We’re going for the win tomorrow. Normally, we prefer a little longer TTT. I think we got a shot at winning at it, maybe going top-three and putting more time on Contador’s team. We rode the course six times, so we know it well.”