Can Alberto Contador win the 2011 Tour de France? This is one of the biggest questions that cycling fans are asking themselves – has Contador lost too much time, lost his focus from his numerous crashes over the first 9 stages and has he had time to recover from the epic bludgering of pain that is the Giro d’Italia?
Contador’s 2011 Tour has already been marred by several crashes, starting on the first stage where the Spaniard was caught out by a crash that caused a split in the peloton in the final 10km. This split resulted in Contador losing over a minute to other rivals. The most important of these contenders not to lose time in these early crashes was the dynamic duo, the Schleck brothers. Despite Andy Schleck finishing in 39th position, he only lost 6 seconds due to another crash that happened within the last 2km, giving him the time of the group he was with at the time of the crash. Such bad luck this early in the Tour de France would seriously dent any rider’s morale, no matter how physically strong or mentally astute they are, but at the time Contador would not give away any clues as to his state.
The following day, in the Team Time Trial, the Schleck’s Leopard Trek outfit managed to put even more time into Contador, adding another 24 seconds to their leaders time over Contador. This placed Contador a total of 1’42″ off the Yellow Jersey of the race leader, and 1’38″ behind the Schleck’s. The following day’s stage was a flat stage for the sprinters, which granted Contador a much-needed respite from loosing any more time on his rivals.
A big indicator of Contador’s lack of focus came in the finale of Stage 4, on the short and sharp ascent of the Mûr de Bretagne. On the 1.7km climb to the finish the Spaniard made what I’m sure most spectators were expecting to see his usual effortless dance on the pedals, followed by him soaring away from the peloton to take the stage win and cut back his defecit on his rivals. But this was not the case. His effort was laboured and the poker face he usually wears was definately not present. A sign of panic, or is Contador confident enough that he will have enough strength in the Pyrenees and Alps to burn a few of his matches in Brittany?
Stage 5 spelt disaster for Contador, with yet more stress due to a crash roughly 90km from the finish of the stage. The Saxo Bank – Sungard rider had to take several bike changes afterwards, which severly dented his focus during a stage where GC contenders should be on autopilot. The following day, Contador was involved in yet another crash, which took out several other contenders for the Yellow Jersey. The organisation within Saxo Bank – Sungard seemed to be fraying, with Daniel Navarro forced to swap bikes with his team leader and then being ordered to ride Contador’s spare bike up to him.
The stage finish on Stage 8 was the first stage where it was possible for a true GC selection to be made due to the difficulty of the parcours. With a Category 2 climb 164km into the 189km stage, the pressure was kepy extremely high by the domestiques, with notably the teams of Leopard-Trek, Saxo Bank-Sungard and BMC. Not suprisingly, none of the main 4 contenders made any sort of move on this climb, but it was clear that they had a keen eye on each other the whole way up the ascent. On the final climb of the day, it was Philipe Gilbert who instigated a move from the front of the peloton, which spurred Contador to accelerate, with the Schlecks straight on his wheel. One thing I did notice during this ascent, is Contador’s body language when he attacked, it’s no longer fluid and effortless, but changed into a strained and uncomfortable style which was a dramatic comparison to that of the Schlecks’.
Stage 9, the day before the first rest day of the Tour, was a rolling stage with numerous categorised climbs, but none so steep that they would have any effect on the contenders’ races. However, Contador did not escape this stage unscathed as he was unlucky enough to have a tangle with Vladimir Karpets, resulting in the Spaniard hitting the deck once again which should leave him aching and bruised, both mentally and physically.
Add to this that Contador is still trying to win the Tour de France with a heavy Giro in his legs. Contrast that with the Schlecks, who have had a near perfect preparation in the lead up to the Tour.
Will Contador be able to pull back enough time to be in Yellow by Paris? Or will his form and focus let him down? Share your thoughts below!