ALPE D’HUEZ, France (VN) – Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff) didn’t want to talk about it.
The prickly Czech rider paused with his soigneur to catch his breath at the top of Alpe d’Huez, looked up fiercely at the cameras and microphones surrounding him. Then he pushed through, silently, shoving a television cameraman on his way out.
Nobody said a word.
Kreuziger started the day in third place overall, 4:51 behind race leader Chris Froome (Sky) and just 17 seconds behind his teammate Alberto Contador in second. The two were shaping up to be a smooth-running one-two punch that kept Froome on his toes, even if it has failed to quite threaten his lead. But four hours and fifty-six minutes after rolling out of Gap for Alpe d’Huez, Kreuziger had fallen from a podium position in the Tour de France.
Contador and Kreuziger made their mark on the stage, attacking together on the descent of the Col de Sarenne, the high-speed, sometimes exposed plunge back down to the foot of the Alpe, attempting to capitalize on Froome’s perceived apprehension on descents.
Contador and Kreuziger stretched their advantage to the 25-second mark, with Kreuziger pulling the Spaniard toward the foot of the second ascent of the Alpe. But once the road turned upwards again, heavy Movistar and Sky presence at the front efficiently brought the move to heel.
“It was interesting to see Kreuziger and Contador off the front on the descent of the Col de Sarenne. It’s still a long way to the finish,” said Froome, reserved as always in the post-stage press conference. “That move could possibly have cost them a lot of energy that they seemed not to have in the final.”
Froome had a point. Following the catch, Kreuziger slotted into the lead group while Contador dropped back for am oddly timed bike change. He rejoined Kreuziger in the GC group, but soon after, things began to fall apart for Saxo-Tinkoff.
Kreuziger quietly, steadily fell away from the tail of group with just over 10 kilometers remaining, where the slopes of the Alpe creep past 9 percent. Richie Porte’s work at the front caused the crack; a brief acceleration by Froome pried it open.
Kreuziger contained the bleeding, picking up the faltering Contador and working with Mick Rogers, who arrived from behind, to bring their leader to the line with his second place status bruised, but intact. But for Kreuziger, the moment of weakness on the Alpe cost dearly. He finished 4:31 behind stage winner Christophe Riblon (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and 1:13 behind Froome. More importantly, though, he gave up 2:19 to white jersey wearer Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
Now, Kreuziger sits fourth, 5:44 behind Froome and 12 seconds behind Quintana. The gap is narrow, but given the Colombian climber’s steady march up the podium and the two days of intense climbing yet to come, Kreuziger stands little chance of clawing his way back to the third step of the podium.
It will be a bitter disappointment for the 26-year old, once considered a Tour podium contender after winning the 2008 Tour de Suisse and finishing second in the Tour de Romandie. After several lean years at both Liquigas and Astana, the Czech GC man has had a renaissance this year with Saxo-Tinkoff, winning the Amstel Gold Race this spring and playing slotting fluidly into the superdomestique role with for Contador.
“Only journalists have had the doubts, not me,” Kreuziger said after his Amstel win in April. “I’m on a team with a big leader, Contador, and a good director, Riis. They have believed in me and gave me faith.”
But today, facing a hammer blow to his best Tour performance in years, Kreuziger wasn’t saying anything.