July 18, 2011
Last year’s winner of the Tour de France Alberto Contador said he thinks Thomas Voeckler could win the Tour this year.
Speaking at a press conference at the Hotel Chateau Rochegude, the Spaniard who rides for Team Saxobank said crashes and his painful knee have helped make this Tour very difficult, and that although he still had hopes to win this year, he acknowledged that it may not be possible.
But surrounded by reporters and flanked by his handlers including the imposing Bjarne Riis, Directeur Sportif, Contador said the race was not over yet, and the Alps were different from the Pyrenees.
“The climbs are longer and steeper,” he said when compared to the Pyrenees: but the latter are not as challenging, and the Alps will provide an opportunity for him to take time off his primary rivals, Andy Schleck, and the current Yellow Jersey holder, Thomas Voeckler.
He did not discount Cadel Evans either, saying the Brit was doing well in the Tour, but in the Alps, he may have less competition from Voeckler and Evans.
Instead he said there would be some challenge with the younger Schleck who has shown he can respond to most of Contador’s moves.
But he also noted that he expects to do well in the final stage before Paris, at the time trial in Grenoble.
The race will not be decided until then, he said.
That could well be, since Contador has shown he is better than Andy Schleck in the time trial event.
At one time when Contador tried to speak, the bells of the town church began to ring, and he could not be heard. It was the first smile from Contador then.
Contador said the number of crashes he suffered in this year’s tour–we counted four so far–have made it a hard race for him. The damage to his knee in the last crash also made it very difficult: “It’s been hard, a difficult Tour this year,” he said, looking gaunt, and tired.
“But I will try and make it in the Alps.”
Later, because it was a rest day, Contador and his other Saxobank team mates came out to ride on the lavender scented roads of Provence to stretch their legs and keep themselves supple.
Before leaving, Contador was asked to pose by Spanish reporters in the courtyard of the historic hotel that once served as a palace for rendering justice by the Popes of Avignon in the 1300’s.
The building dates back to 1235, and a bust of Bacchus was discovered in its wine cellars, and now sits in the Louvre museum in Paris.
The interior of the hotel has been elaborately and luxuriously remodeled by its current owner, Monsieur and Madame Dochez, and their dog Sean sits at the front door welcoming guests all day.
Photographers followed Contador and other team mates outside where they were photographed putting on their bike shoes, which they had carried out with them.
Three children waited outside, ready to ride with the team, as well as Cyclists International.
Around the corner we came to a quick stop. Bjarne Riis was all suited up in the Saxobank Team kit, while one of the team counted all the members. Photographers mounted on the back of motorcycles surrounded us. One rider checked his text mail on his PDA.
Then we were off.
The pace was never too difficult that the reporter could not keep up on a good Aluminum bicycle. The mostly flat roads in the area had very little traffic, gorgeous views, and in front of me, an amazing draft: so was this was how it felt to ride in a pack?
We rode with the Saxobank team through several roads, towns and even hills where we weren’t dropped: the pace never went much higher than 30 km per hour.
Along the route the team was photographed from every single angle, by photographers on motorcycles and in cars. As we rode along, they rode next to us, in front of us, behind us, and stopped alongside the road to get the riding beauty shots.
This was the single biggest annoyance, and made me wonder how much of this must wear on the rider’s ability to concentrate on their fitness and their race readiness. Even the passing cars which did so gently, even though the photographers rode in the opposing lane, posed little danger or annoyance.
As we rode, some of the team members stretched their back leg muscles. Contador rode two people deep from the back, and was talking to Riis, who had his arm on his shoulder. They seemed to be discussing tomorrow’s strategy. Indeed, we were headed in the direction of the road to Gap, tomorrow’s stage.
People in the many cars that passed us screamed, waved and honked their horns with dizzy happiness.
Scores of cyclists passed going in the other direction, and yelled and waved as they passed. Every time some onlookers would wave and yell hello, the children in the back of the team would wave back. It was nice to ride with bike stars: relaxing, fun, and an infinite thrill.
We never felt so safe riding as we did on these French roads: drivers respect cyclists here, and gave us space–even when we were not riding with the Saxo boys.
We rode with the team about 20 km to the outskirts of Grignon, and then headed back to our Chambre d’Hote, les Cigales on the Rue Deviadou in Saint Paul Trois Chateaux for some well deserved rest and relaxation in their pool, while listening to the cooing of doves and surrounded by tall pines.