Contador jubilant, Schleck magnanimous, Cavendish disappointed but happy with five stages

Alberto Contador has admitted that he had been under severe pressure during the last three weeks as he rode his way to a third Tour de France victory in three years, revealing that he had not been able to perform at peak level during the race.

“It is a Tour in which I had a lot of pressure, especially physically as I was not at my best level. It took a lot of confidence to face difficult situations,” said the Astana rider after yesterday’s final stage, his words quoted on the Tour de France website.

“For example, everyone said I had already won the Tour after the stage to the Tourmalet,” Contador continued, adding that the race had still not been “fully played out” until Saturday’s individual time trial from Bordeaux to Pauillac, won by Fabian Cancellara, in which the Spaniard finished 31 seconds ahead of Andy Schleck to extend his lead to 39 seconds and ensure overall victory.

He described finishing the race in Paris in the yellow jersey as “a great relief for me, it is a moment that I feel like I’ve been liberated from all the pressure.”

Contador, winner in 2007 and again last year – he did not take part in the race in 2008 when his new team, Astana, were not invited due to the previous year’s drugs scandal, added: “The three wins are all very different. The first, in 2007, had something special, precisely because that was the first. Last year, the context was difficult and this made it difficult. And this year I have had difficult moments, but I could count on a strong team. I realise that each year I gain in experience. I now better manage a team throughout the race.”

Asked what he planned to do following his win, Contador admitted:
“Now I am happy to enjoy this victory and I’ll take a good vacation.”

This year’s margin of victory was the fifth closest in the 107-year history of the Tour de France, and the slim margin between victory and defeat wasn’t lost on runner-up Schleck, who had lost by more than four minutes last year and who might have won the race this year had it not been for that problem with his chain in the Pyrenees.

We’ll never know how pivotal that moment last Monday afternoon, which saw Contador ride up the rode as Schleck sought to reseat his chain, losing 39 seconds and the yellow jersey in the process, would have been in the context of the overall race. Certainly, had Schleck still been in the overall lead on the Tourmalet last Thursday, Contador would have been forced to attack, The only thing we are sure of is that the incident will be talked about for years.

“It’s a completely different feeling to when I came second in 2009,” admitted Schleck yesterday. “I go up there and look at the yellow jersey now and I realize I was so close – but in the end it’s so far away. I almost had it. I wore yellow for six days and I’m more than sure that I want to do better. I have a meeting on the Champs-Elysées next year with the yellow jersey. I’ll be back to win it.” He asserted.

“Right now it’s a bit difficult to understand all that’s happened because I’m in the middle of it all,” continued Schleck. “It’s better to see from the outside. The people I’ve spoken to who have looked on say it’s been a really beautiful Tour and now I really need some time in the next week to sit back and maybe take it all in.”

Schleck added that he didn’t intend to dwell on the events of the last three weeks.
“I’m not going to watch the replays. I don’t want to watch myself on TV – I’m not in love with myself. But I have to enjoy it a little bit.”

As for that slipped chain on the Port de Balès, the Saxo Bank rider insisted,
”I’m not going to brew on the 39 seconds. I’m finished thinking about that. It’s behind me now.”

He did reveal, however, that losing the Tour by that very margin was the one thing he had dreaded. “It’s pretty funny though because yesterday when I finished the time trial, I said to my room-mate Nicki [Sorensen], ‘If I lose, I hope it’s like 45 or 50 seconds.’ I told him that I hoped it wasn’t going to be 39 seconds. I get to the hotel at the end of the stage and he reminds me that it’s 39 seconds. Ah well, it’s over and it’s lost,” he concluded.

Meanwhile, Mark Cavendish was celebrating taking the sprint on the Champs-Elysées for the second year running, his fifth stage of this year’s race and fifteenth Tour de France stage in total, though the manner of his victory yesterday was very different to that of 12 months ago.

Then, HTC-Columbia’s train had done such a good job of grinding the opposition down that when Mark Renshaw led Cavendish off the Place de la Concorde and towards the line, the Australian finished up talking second himself. Yesterday, of course, Renshaw was missing after being kicked off the race for headbutting Garmin-Transitions’ Julian Dean and cutting up Tyler Farrar, but as Alessandro Petacchi of Lampre-Farnese Vini charged for the line in Paris, Cavendish appeared from nowhere to clinch the win.
“I came around the last corner and I just jumped and started my sprint,” explained Cavendish. “It’s different on the Champs-Elysées to every other sprint in the Tour de France where you kind of have save as much energy as possible because every day is so hard. In Paris you’ve got nothing to save your energy for so you just go balls-out to the line and that’s kind of what I did today,” he added.

Cavendish missed by out by 11 points to Petacchi on what, given his disastrous start to this year’s race, would have been an incredible top spot in the points classification.

“I’m disappointed this year not to win the green jersey,” he confessed. “I set out to do so – it was a target for this year – but I had some bad luck in the first days and was out of the running but the team fought back, did our best and I lost it by 11 points. But we won five stages and we’ve got to be happy with this year’s Tour,” he continued.

“In the first week there was nothing that could be done about the bad luck but the team rode incredibly strongly throughout the early days and I was the weak link at the end of it,” the Manxman confessed. “

But they never gave up faith and they continued to lead me out and it takes a special group of guys to do that. It’s not just the riders but the soigneurs, the management, the mechanics… everyone in the team. I’m so lucky to part of a group of people who give 100 per cent whatever the outcome.”

“It’s frustrating not to have the best out come when they’ve also done such a good job,” he went on. “It was just a case of trying to make amends. Finally I did and we just got on a roll after that. Obviously if you win, you get confidence. If you get confidence, you win… it rolls like that and it came out to be a pretty successful Tour so I’m pretty happy,” Cavendish concluded.

Dave is a founding father of road.cc and responsible for kicking the server when it breaks. In a previous life he was a graphic designer but he's also a three-time Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling world champion, and remains unbeaten through the bog. Dave rides all sorts of bikes but tends to prefer metal ones. He's getting old is why.