Defending champ Contador makes strong move in Stage 16
Minutes behind the race leader, the defending champion surprised key rivals with a brazen attack on a relatively easy climb in the Alpine foothills in Tuesday’s Stage 16, won by Thor Hushovd of Norway in a breakaway.
Contador, baring his teeth as his tires sizzled on the rain-slick roads, surged out of the pack on the mid-grade Col de Magne climb, and held on through a treacherous downhill to the finish of the 101-mile ride from Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux to Gap.
“I knew I needed to attack,” Contador said. “I couldn’t care less if someone kept on my wheel—I knew one of them would fail. I’m so happy. It has been a major gap, much bigger than I expected.”
The unexpected surge by the Spaniard shook up the leaderboard at cycling’s greatest race, which ends Sunday in Paris after a jaunt today into Italy, then two days in the Alps, and a time-trial Saturday in Grenoble.
Among the contenders, only Cadel Evans kept up. The Australian actually outpaced the Spanish three-time champion by 3 seconds at the end. But Contador, who lost time with crash trouble earlier in the race—had trimmed 18 seconds off his deficit to overall race leader Thomas Voeckler of France, down to 3 minutes, 42 seconds.
More importantly, the Spaniard recovered more than a minute on his runner-up at the last two Tours, Andy Schleck of Luxembourg, a top climber who almost inexplicably didn’t keep up on the relatively easy final ascent.
Schleck conceded he was “disappointed,” but that “there are other chances to take back time.” His biggest ally—his older brother and Leopard Trek teammate Frank Schleck—said they hadn’t foreseen the attack.
“We were a bit surprised that Contador went on the climb,” Frank Schleck said. “We know that he is a rider that attacks when he has good legs, but we had anticipated he would wait for the Alps.”
The other standout of Tuesday’s stage was Evans, a two-time runner-up who has so far had a nearly flawless race—and showed he’s not giving up to the Spaniard without a fight.
Voeckler , a dogged Frenchman, knows that Contador is often better than he is in mountain climbs and the time-trial—and expects to lose the yellow jersey soon.
“I kept it by a handful of seconds, but that shows that I’ve hit my ceiling,” he said.
Hushovd, a Garmin-Cervelo rider who wore yellow for six days in the first week, and also won Stage 13, led a three-man breakaway to win the stage—edging out a compatriot, Edvald Boassen Hagen, in second, and his own teammate: Ryder Hesjedal of Canada. They were among 10 breakaway riders who had pressed the pace through most of the stage.
Evans finished 4:23 back in 11th place. Voeckler and Frank Schleck crossed 21 seconds later. Andy Schleck was 1:09 slower than the Australian—and 1:06 behind Contador.
Overall, Evans climbed to second, trailing Voeckler by 1:45. Frank Schleck, now third, remains 1:49 back. Contador moved up a notch to sixth, and is 3:42 behind. Andy Schleck remains fourth, but is 3:03 back overall.