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25 Jul 2010 18:14
One year after taking every opportunity to show his strength to win the Tour de France, Alberto Contador claimed his third title by hiding his weaknesses.
The 27-year-old Spaniard, one of five men with wins in the Tour, the Giro d’Italia and the Spanish Vuelta, suffered a lot on the 3 642km course although it was tailor-made for him.
He proved less impressive in the mountains and almost cracked in Saturday’s time trial which meant his victory on Sunday was secured by only 39 seconds—the fifth slimmest winning margin to date.
“This year, I have had difficult moments, physically. I was not at my best every day,” Contador told Reuters on the train taking the peloton to the start of Sunday’s final stage to the Champs Elysees.
“But on those bad days, I have been able to hide the fact that I was not too well.”
Last year, Contador, locked in a psychological battle with rival and then-teammate Lance Armstrong, attacked in the first mountain stage, smashed the competition in the decisive climb to Verbier and won the final time trial.
It has been quite another story in the past three weeks.
He lost 10 seconds to eventual runner-up Andy Schleck in a mountain stage to Avoriaz, on a bad day.
“That day, I was not that well”, said Contador, who was relieved Schleck did not attack him earlier in the ascent.
“But I managed to hide that and at the end of the day, I limited the damage.”
He also saw his overall lead unexpectedly threatened in Saturday’s 52km time trial.
At one point, Schleck was just about two seconds adrift of Contador in the overall standings and the Spaniard panicked.
“We had a problem with the earpieces, I could not hear anything [from the team manager in the car] from the seventh kilometre,” he explained.
Astana manager Yvon Sanquer had to scream the time differences to his proteges as mechanic Faustino Munoz banged on the car window in anger.
“It was really difficult for him to hear because of the [TV] helicopter and the [photographers’] motorbikes,” said Sanquer.
“I really thought that at one point, the Tour was over,” said Contador, who could not hold back tears as he climbed on the podium after the stage.
Contador, who last year won the Tour by beating Schleck by over four minutes, would not say his rival had improved and could be even more of a threat next year.
“It’s me who was weaker, it’s not him who was better,” he said.
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