Home
Contador does an Arsene Wenger and claims not to have seen incident; what do you think?

Alberto Contador of Astana, back in the Tour de France overall leader’s yellow jersey he won in 2007 and 2009, has claimed that he was unaware that Andy Schleck had suffered a mechanical problem when he passed the Team Saxo Bank rider, whose chain had slipped just moments after launching an attack as the pair headed up the Port de Balès in Stage 15 of the race this afternoon.

The incident has polarised opinion in the cycling world over whether Schleck himself had made an error, meaning that Contador was justified in riding away from him up the road and to the top of the general classification, or whether he had been the victim of a mechanical problem. If the latter, it is argued, the Spaniard should have respected the Tour’s unwritten rule that the maillot jaune should not be attacked in such circumstances.

Schleck, whose 31-second advantage over Contador this morning had become an 8-second deficit by the end of today’s stage, is expected to lose time to Contador in Saturday’s individual time trial from Bordeaux to Pauillac. The Luxembourg rider therefore knew he had to attack the Spaniard in the Pyrenees to try and gain precious seconds – minutes, ideally – on him to stand any chance of keeping the yellow jersey until Paris.

As a result, one rider’s chain slipping this afternoon may well turn out to have been the decisive moment of this year’s Tour.

Here’s how the drama unfolded. With stage winner Thomas Voeckler of Bbox Bouygues Telecom ahead on his own on at the top of the 20km climb, the last of the day, Schleck, whose Team Saxo Bank, closely shadowed by Astana, had forced the pace at the front of the group containing most of the big names in the GC, was continually looking over his shoulder as though to gauge when Contador was at his most vulnerable.

Finally, with around 3km of the climb left, Schleck made his move and accelerated hard. Contador’s team-mate Alexander Vinokourov responded immediately and grabbed the Saxo Bank rider’s wheel. But Contador, caught unawares, was slower to react.

Within moments, as Schleck apparently attempted to change into the big ring, his chain had slipped, his back wheel rearing up at the same time. By the time he’d managed to stop and get the chain back on, which took two attempts, Contador was off up the road and appeared to be riding hard to distance himself as much as possible from Schleck.

“I didn’t know anything about the problems with Andy Schleck, but when I realised it I was already ahead of him,” explained Contador afterwards, his remarks quoted on the Tour de France website. “The only things that I saw was that he was beginning to attack and then he slowed down. I didn’t realise that he had a problem with the bike,” he continued, adding, “when I attacked it was before he had the problem.”

While TV pictures suggest that Contador’s view of the incident itself was very likely blocked by Vinokourov, it took five seconds or so for him to ride past Schleck, who had by now slowed to an almost complete halt – enough time, perhaps, for the man who is probably the world’s best all-round rider to fully take stock of the situation and make a snap decision.

By the time Schleck was remounting his bike with two apparent bystanders getting ready to give him a push to get going, Contador was already a fair way ahead of him, and with the road swinging round to the left, the Spaniard took time to have a good look back towards his rival, then continued his charge towards the summit. There was no question of him waiting for Schleck to come back.

The latter managed to hit the top of the Balès some 16 seconds behind Contador, but the Astana rider, together with the man lying fourth in the GC, Rabobank’s Denis Menchov, was able to benefit from the sublime descending skills of third-placed Samuel Sanchez of Euskaltel-Euskadi, the trio coming home 39 seconds ahead of Schleck, who had pushed himself to the limit on the way down.

Schleck, who will almost certainly have to pull out something spectacular on the summit finish on the Tourmalet on Thursday if he is to claim the overall title in Paris – tomorrow’s stage into Pau has a very long descent to the finish which won’t suit him – said tonight: “Now I’m really angry. I will ride on the Tourmalet until I fall from my bike and give everything to this race.”

He continued:
“I felt really good but what counted at the end of the day is the time that you have when you arrive at the finish and I was so far back even with what I did on the descent,” adding,
“I promised my brother this morning that I wouldn’t take any risk on the downhill but I think I went down pretty fast... for me, let me put it that way. I didn’t want to lose too much time.”

However, both he and Contador were keen to point out that amid the chaos of Stage 2 of this year’s race, when both Schleck brothers fell on the treacherous descent of the Col du Stockeu, the Astana team leader had been among those to wait for the pair to get back to the peloton in a stage that was effectively neutralised by the riders before the finish in Spa.

“Things happen, and everything happens for a reason,” said Schleck this evening. “People can say what they want but they also have realize that Alberto was one of the guys who waited for me in Spa and that was really a great sign of fair play. Chapeau! Today was a different story, a different scenario but the Tour is not finished,” he insisted.

Contador said that he and Schleck have “a really good relationship. In the sporting sense we also get along well, especially if you see what we did on the road to Spa,” he added.

The Astana rider continued: “In Spa, he had big crash but today when I attacked it wasn’t because I knew he had problems,” concluding “I’m sure he will attack me and I always have fear of what he might be able to do.”

So, what do you think? Did Contador really have no idea of what was going on? Race radios haven’t been banned yet, remember, though reception can be dodgy in the mountains. Should the Spaniard have sat up and waited? Or did Schleck simply make a hash of his gear change, meaning he has no-one but himself to blame? Let us know in the comments below.
 

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.

15 comments

Avatar
cactuscat [284 posts] 5 years ago
0 likes

whatever the rights and wrongs of contador going up the road, he's done himself no favours by claiming he didn't notice that schleck was in trouble. that's utter bollocks and everyone knows it. clearly he thinks he's on dodgy ground, personally i think he was within his rights. this wasn't a spectator running into schleck or his wheel falling off, it was him trying a graunchy shift at speed. he should have backed off a bit for a shift to the big ring but he didn't and he shipped his chain. we've all been there, but last time it happened to me i don't remeber it being anyone's fault but my own

Avatar
Martin Thomas [377 posts] 5 years ago
0 likes

Yeah I find it very hard to believe he didn't see Schleck was having problems. It took him a while to get past. But I agree that he had no reason to stop anyway.

The other thing is that although he was caught napping, I think Contador was making excellent progress by the time Schleck's chain went - I don't think that break was anything like as decisive as one of the ITV4 guys seemed to think it was.

He could just be playing mind games I suppose - winding up Schleck so he blows himself up tomorrow - but that doesn't seem his style...does it?

Avatar
Old Cranky [257 posts] 5 years ago
0 likes

I didn't understand C.Boardman's comment that Schleck wouldn't have had the problem if he had a chain keeper fitted. It didn't look to me as though he was changing down to the small chainring and more as though he was going up a gear.

Avatar
kittyfondue [56 posts] 5 years ago
0 likes

Contador would have shown himself to be a classy rider if he'd not aggressively attacked - he would still have had the advantage by riding on (nothing wrong with that), no one would have expected him to get off and help Andy with his chain or anything. He should have waited to attack until Andy got his chain back on and he'd still have come out the better for it.

But seriously, pretending he didn't know? Someone attacks and then stops dead in the road - that doesn't make you wonder? You didn't notice as you swerved to get around him? I'd have thought a bit more of him if he'd just admitted he would do anything to win, not this 'I didn't know and then when I did, I was too far ahead.' Menchov and Sanchez are no better.

Avatar
STATO [477 posts] 5 years ago
0 likes

I think he noiced but who would have expected it to take 2 attempts and that much time to re-seat the chain. Contador was probably fully expecting Schleck to be back on his wheel before to top with all Schlecks boasting about how he can now threaten Contador. When Contador reached the top in a group with a top descender what could he have done other than attack?

(btw, im a big Schleck fan and not a huge Contador fan but i can see this for what it is, a mistake made by a rider, rather than an incident caused by someone else)

Avatar
handlebarcam [543 posts] 5 years ago
0 likes

How could he have missed the mis-shift heard around the world? Still, people are getting a bit carried away, for example pointing to Jan Ullrich's waiting for Armstrong in 2003 as an example of the standard for fair play, forgetting that Jan is a proven drug cheat. Taking half a minute due to another person's misfortune isn't in the same league, although Contador will probably regret the bad publicity in the long run. He's finally given his haters a real reason to hate him, whereas before all he was guilty of was riding much faster up mountains than Lance, and having an annoying victory salute.

Avatar
Fringe [1047 posts] 5 years ago
0 likes

whatever the rights and wrongs of the incident its going to make thursdays stage a lot more interesting as an angry Schleck and a nervous Contador battling it out up the Tourmalet will be fantastic viewing. as opposed to Contador shadowing Schleck all the way up and waiting to take time back in the TT on sat.

Avatar
giosblue [1 post] 5 years ago
0 likes

I couldn't understand that either. "chain guard" ?

Schleck's problem was his his bike.

His mechanic hadn't set the front mech properly.

I think all the fire power should be pointed at his team mechanic.

Avatar
Tony Farrelly [2856 posts] 5 years ago
0 likes

Schleck's problem was poor gear selection followed by a poor shift

Avatar
cat1commuter [1418 posts] 5 years ago
0 likes
tony_farrelly wrote:

Schleck's problem was poor gear selection followed by a poor shift

I agree. Contador had the right to attack. Bike setup and operation is part of the sport.

You can loose a chain even if the mech is set up perfectly (and no Tour de France mechanic is going to fail to set up shifting correctly). A chain watcher prevents the chain from coming off the inner chainring.

I don't understand exactly what happened though. Why did his rear wheel lift off the ground?

Avatar
STATO [477 posts] 5 years ago
0 likes
cat1commuter wrote:

I don't understand exactly what happened though. Why did his rear wheel lift off the ground?

I have a theory... while applying power from standing position the only pressure you can apply to front leg is weight and a counter force to Back leg pulling up (ignore pulling on bars for a second). If the chain drops and you suddenly have no resistance the upward force in back leg will be stronger than gravity pulling front leg down, therfore equal reaction is bike jumps up... until front leg is BDC and back leg is TDC, at which point you get dumped back onto tarmac. All helped by fact rider is leaning over front.

Science, got to love it.

Avatar
NorthernRock [1 post] 5 years ago
0 likes
STATO][quote=cat1commuter wrote:

I don't understand exactly what happened though. Why did his rear wheel lift off the ground?

I have a theory...from a mountain biker, not a roadie I might add....
If the chain wraps around the crank arm, jumping off the big ring (was he on the big ring?), then the force of the downstroke will pull the chain tight, combined with forward momentum shifting the weight of the rider over the front wheel, as the bike stops, and so lift the back wheel off the ground. Happens to me loads in mountain biking. Usually caused by crap on the chain, shifting up onto the big ring. (obviously crap on the chain is not an issue here).
A straight chain snap or losing your chain onto the inside, does not have the same effect, it does not pitch you over the bars, therefore the jamming effect of the chain must be involved somewhere.
Maybe us knobbly tired freaks lose or jam our chain more often?  39

Avatar
Old Cranky [257 posts] 5 years ago
0 likes

The mechanic from the Saxo Bank team interviewed on ITV4 claimed that the bike was fitted with a chain keeper but that it bent under the force of the chain jumping off the small chainring.

I think he said that Schleck was changing up from the 14 sprocket to the 11/12 and not an up/down shift on the front chainring.

I blame it on SRAM  26

Avatar
Tony Farrelly [2856 posts] 5 years ago
0 likes

Hmm… how does what the mechanic says happened explain the back wheel appearing to jam though?

Whereas I can see the logic in NorthernRock's explanation

Avatar
DaveP [412 posts] 5 years ago
0 likes