Two-time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) faces a critical day on Wednesday as the races heads through the Massif Central for stage five, with the Spaniard nursing bruises from two early crashes.
It is has been the hardest Tour start of his career, says Contador, who will be watched closely by rival teams when they climb short and steep roads to Le Lioran ski station.
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Contador, winner in 2007 and 2009, crashed on stage one exiting a roundabout and fell on his right side. On stage two, he crashed on his left side and lost 48 seconds when the race finished.
“I got through today without crashing, and that’s the most important thing. Tomorrow is a hard day. I have to get ready mentally to take it on. This has been the hardest Tour start of my career.”
It could become harder on Contador with the trio of third category climbs and the two second category climbs on Wednesday’s menu in the Massif Central. The final one is 2.5 kilometres always from the finish line.
The race will transition from the flat and cool-weather stages to climbs where riders will be forced to shift their chains down into their small chain ring and spin at a different cadence for the gradients that reach 8.1%.
“He’s struggling and you don’t kick a man while he’s down,” Team Sky boss Sir Dave Brailsford said. “We won’t try to capitalise on someone’s crash or injury, you want to do it with the legs. We won’t ever think about doing that.
“In the main, most of the GC guys will be glad to get out of the melee of the finals and see the road go uphill, but equally, it’s the first test where everyone will be looking at each other. It’s like the first round of a boxing match where you come out and see where you opponents are at.”
Highlights of stage one, where Contador crashed hard
Sky’s Chris Froome and others including Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Fabio Aru (Astana) sit in a group at 18 seconds. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), the 2014 winner, is at 29 seconds. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) sits at 1-06 minutes and Richie Porte (BMC) at 2-03.
“I think it’s going to be similar to stage two but harder,” Froome said. “I imagine it’s going to be harder, more selective. There are probably going to be a few tired legs out there even though these days have been relatively easy.
“I think it’s a bit too early to see a real GC battle but it’s definitely somewhere where there will be time gaps. Maybe it’s a stage for someone like Alaphilippe or Valverde, Dan Martin maybe. I imagine those guys are going to be the favourites for tomorrow.”
“[Wednesday] is a good day for us,” explained Quintana. “It features the first climbs, and it will be the first test for everyone. It will be a hard stage for everyone, but I hope to do well. Then we have the Pyrenees, where I also hope to go well.”
Manager at Quintana’s Movistar team, Eusebio Unzué, said that the favourites would mostly watch each other and finish in the same time.
“It’s a day of truth for Contador, though,” Unzué added. “Contador could find himself in trouble if he doesn’t recover. If he loses time like the other day, it’s a show that his body is not recovered.”
“Look at that profile and you’ll see there are some nasty climbs there,” Tinkoff sports director Steve De Jongh said. “Let’s hope that Alberto recovers a bit more and is a bit better tomorrow.”