It will take more than a couple of bad days at the Tour de France to break Alberto Contador. The defending champion has already lost crucial time to rival Andy Schleck, but he remains upbeat.
The Spaniard entered the race in difficult circumstances with an unresolved doping case hanging over him.
Contador tested positive for the banned anabolic agent clenbuterol late in last year’s race and was later cleared by his own cycling federation - a verdict that has been appealed by anti—doping and cycling authorities and will be resolved after the Tour is over.
Contador has become an unpopular figure among Tour fans, too, having been jeered before the race started and over the first two stages on the weekend.
Yet he takes all of this in his stride.
“No matter what, throwing the towel in to ring is the last thing I would do,” Contador said after losing more time to Schleck in Sunday’s team time trial. “Now there are riders who are better positioned than me in terms of winning, but I’ll never give up. I’m looking forward to the mountains.”
Thor Hushovd seized the coveted yellow shirt Sunday when his Garmin—Cervelo team finished in 24 minutes, 48 seconds in the time trial around the 23—kilometer (14.3—mile) flat stage in Les Essarts in the Vendee region of western France. Hushovd’s teammate David Millar is second, with two—time Tour runnerup Cadel Evans of Australia in third place just one second behind.
Contador is 75th. His Tour started badly on Saturday, when he got stuck behind a crash that caused chaos in the field.
Schleck, a two—time Tour runner—up to Contador, was on the favorable side of the split - an unexpected bonus that helped him get an early advantage on Contador.
Then, in Sunday’s team time trial, Schleck’s Leopard—Trek finished ahead of Contador’s Saxo Bank Sungard team, and that increased Schleck’s lead over Contador to 1 minute, 38 seconds. Evans is 1-41 ahead of Contador. Considering Contador only won last year’s Tour by 39 seconds, it is already a significant gain for his rivals.
Dampening Contador’s spirit, however, is no easy matter. He rode in the same team as seven—time Tour champion Lance Armstrong in the 2009 Tour and, despite intense pressure, still won the race.
“I’m sure I’ll get better every day because I have not the same preparations as the other favorites who have done the Dauphine (Libere) and the Tour of Switzerland,” Contador said, referring to the energy sapping pre—Tour races. “What happened (Saturday) was not in our plans, but that’s the Tour. It’s won in the mountains. The Tour goes on. My legs are good, that’s what motivates me and I am sure that, the more it goes on, the better my legs will be.”
Rather than lamenting his own fate, Contador has made the mental switch to being the chaser rather than the chased.
“Everyone sees me as the undisputed favorite, but other riders are better placed than me, like Andy, Evans,” said Contador, who is 75th overall. “It’s a different way of tackling the Tour.”
Garmin—Cervelo team manager Jonathan Vaughters is also getting a different view.
Having waited several years to see his team win a Tour stage, Vaughters had been anxious watching the other teams racing after Garmin—Cervelo rode out early in the team time trial.
“It’s tough when you go off early and you have to sit there and watch all your rivals coming in one by one,” he said. “It’s something we’ve worked for, a first stage win at the Tour de France as a team is indicative of what (we) have stood for since the beginning. It’s always been about the team, it’s always been about everyone on the team. Every single one of them sacrificed themselves 100 percent.”
Garmin—Cervelo won the stage with an average speed of 55.645 kph, just enough for Norwegian rider Hushovd to take first place in the overall standings.
“This is an extraordinary dream, I’m very proud, I’m very happy to take the jersey,” Hushovd said. “This is a great day, we did a really good team effort, everything worked perfectly.”
Evans’ BMC team finished second, four seconds adrift, with British team Sky ending third with the same time.
Keywords: Alberto Contador