Alberto Contador used Wednesday’s third and final Alpine stage of the Tour de France to make a further step toward a second victory in the cycling’s showcase event, yet it was not enough to bring cheers within the Astana team.
The Spaniard, following an other impressive run through the mountains, handed one more blow to his rivals when he tightened his grip on the yellow jersey by taking second place in the 17th stage behind Frank Schleck of Luxembourg.
Four days before the race ends, Contador leads his closest challenger, Frank Schleck’s younger brother Andy, by 2 minutes, 26 seconds.
Contador’s Astana teammate Lance Armstrong, still aiming at a podium finish, dropped to fourth overall at the end of the 169km stage between Bourg-Saint-Maurice and Le Grand-Bornand. The 37-year-old could not sustain the pace of the leading group in the grueling ascent to the Col de Romme.
Contador made a bold move when he tried to drop the Schlecks in the Col de la Colombiere, the last climb of the day. Contador’s attack did not harm the brothers but it proved fatal to his Astana teammate Andreas Kloeden of Germany, who was lying fifth overall 4:44 back.
Armstrong was quick to criticize the move on his Twitter feed.
“Getting lots of question why [Alberto Contador] attacked and dropped Kloeden. I still haven’t figured it out either. Oh well,” Armstrong wrote.
Tensions within the Astana team have been fierce since Armstrong announced his comeback last year and joined the squad managed by Johan Bruyneel, the man behind his seven victories on the Tour. The rivalry between the cancer survivor and cycling’s new star Contador reached a new height during the Tour.
Although Bruyneel said the Spaniard has almost secured this year’s Tour victory, the Belgian was also quick to question Contador’s move.
“Today I told him several times that it was not necessary to attack to win the Tour,” Bruyneel said after the stage. “I said it because we still have some hard days to come. It was his choice, it didn’t work.”
Astana sports director Alain Gallopin, the man who groomed Contador all season, was even harsher.
“He made a mistake. He made Andreas lose second place,” the Gallopin told French radio Europe 1 on Wednesday evening.
While most of the teams would find no problem in having Contador in their ranks, Armstrong’s presence at Astana seems to weaken the Spaniard’s position.
“We did not tell him to attack, he had won the Tour,” said Gallopin. “He is a young rider, he still has to learn.”
Armstrong and Bruyneel are expected to launch a new team together next year. Contador has been linked to a move to Spanish outfit Caisse d’Epargne.