It always seemed grand, but now it appears over the top. Alberto Contador's wish to go from winning the Giro d'Italia to doing the same at the Tour de France, becoming only the eighth cyclist to win the double, took a major hit on stage 10's La Pierre-Saint-Martin summit finish.
Team Sky's Richie Porte and Chris Froome drove away from team Tinkoff-Saxo’s Spanish captain up the climb. At the finish line 6.8km later, with a clear view of the valley below and the mountains separating France from Spain above, Froome had piled 2-51 minutes on Contador.
Contador, though the best grand tour rider of his generation with seven wins, might have secretly given up any hope of the double on Tuesday afternoon.
"Froome is superior, and he made a strong punch today," Contador said when he rolled to a stop high, at 1,610 metres, in the Pyrenean mountains.
"I am going to go day by day, and see what we can do. To see if we can fight for the GC, or make other goals."
>>> Five talking points from stage 10 of the Tour de France
Contador looked at his best when he drilled time into his rivals with Froome on stage two on the Netherlands's wind-blown west coast. On the others stages, however, he faded at times.
Froome questioned if it was such a good idea for Contador to race the Giro d'Italia if he was serious about the Tour win.
"I'm wondering how much the Giro took out of him," Froome said.
"I really don't think it is the best preparation for the Tour. I am not going to say it is impossible, but the best way to get ready for the Tour de France, in my opinion, wouldn't include doing the Giro d'Italia. We will see how he goes, but I do have a small suspicion that the Giro has taken an edge off of him."
Italian Marco Pantani last won the Giro/Tour double in 1998. That year, however, he competed against a reduced field in the Tour after the Festina Affair broke.
Others like Fausto Coppi and Eddy Merckx also succeeded, but at the time, cycling was not as focused on peaks and races as it is in 2015.
Contador dominated the Giro and took it easy in June with only the Route du Sud, but has found fresher rivals in the Tour de France. Favourites from Froome to Nairo Quintana (Movistar) built their seasons specifically for the Tour.
Contador, who already has two wins in the Tour, explained before the race that he wanted more from his 2015 season.
"The most important thing in life, not just cycling, is motivation," he said. "Motivation is the main argument for the double. I know that if I win another Tour without the double, that's not something that can change my career."
Even if doubts of doing the double grew further today, Contador could bounce back given his unmatched experience in Grand Tours. In 2012 Vuelta a España, he caught Joaquím Rodríguez off guard in a relatively calm moment to take control for the eventual overall win.
"We saw back in 2013 Tour that Contador really taking it on in the crosswinds, taking it on in the descents, really pushing the limits on the descents," Froome said. "I think we can expect all of the above in the days ahead."
"Today, I couldn't breathe well. I tried to do the best I could, and to limit my losses," Contador added.
"That's bike racing, some days good, some days bad. Chris Froome is better than all of us right now, at a higher level. I will fight all the way to the end. Maybe he has a bad day. The fatigue will start to count."
Check out Alberto Contador's Tour de France bike
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