LE GRAND BORNAND, France - Once again it seems, Alberto Contador has a hearing problem. And although he consolidated his lead today on Stage 17 of the Tour de France, his attack on the final climb, the Colombiere, brought criticism from within his Astana team.
The move occurred roughly three kilometers from the summit, and less than 20 kilometers from the finish. Until then, the team was in a perfect position to help German rider Andreas Kloeden move into the top three, as Contador and Kloeden had broken free along with Andy and Frank Schleck. But when Contador attacked, only his own teammate could not follow.
Although he quickly let up, the Schleck brothers, who ride for the rival Saxo Bank team, accelerated to take further time out of Kloeden. By the finish, Kloeden had lost two minutes and 27 seconds to the lead trio.
And while Lance Armstrong and Kloeden started the day in third and fourth place, they now have slipped to fourth and fifth, respectively.
At the finish in Le Grand Bornand, Astana team director Johan Bruyneel could no longer hide his frustration. “I’m not happy about Alberto’s attack on the Colombiere. The goal was to take time out of Wiggins [British rider Bradley Wiggins, who started the day in third place] and we were doing that. But it was not necessary to attack on the Colombiere. Before that moment we were looking at a 1-2-3 finish in Paris. Now we’re looking more likely at a 1-4-5 finish.”
Even Kim Anderson, director of the Schleck brothers on Saxo Bank, admitted his surprise. Our plan was to attack early and break free with Contador. But our plan was definitely not to have Kloeden get dropped by his own teammate.”
Contador immediately defended himself. “I’m sad for Kloeden,” he said at the news conference after the stage. “When I attacked, I wanted to try to break free for the stage win or maybe just get away with Andy (who is now in second place). But once I saw that Andreas was dropped, I immediately slowed.”
The communication breakdown between Contador and his Astana team is not the first at this year’s team. Tensions between the Spaniard and the Bruyneel/Armstrong contingent have been well-documented throughout the race.
In Stage 7, the first one in the Pyrenees, Contador broke from team tactics by attacking in the final kilometers before the finish in Andorra and leap-frogged Armstrong into second place.
"That wasn’t really the plan," Armstrong said after the stage. "But I didn’t expect him to go by the plan ... I wasn’t surprised."
For his part, Bruyneel said that poor radio transmission also was to blame for any mix-up. Contador’s attack of course, showed no hesitation.
Contador has felt increasingly isolated within the team. And he knows that, regardless of the final result of this year’s Tour, he will part ways with Bruyneel and Armstrong at the end of the year, and perhaps even at the end of the Tour as Armstrong and Bruyneel will officially announce their new 2010 team Thursday.
Clearly, Contador wants to ensure that he leaves the 2009 Tour with the yellow jersey on his back.
After the stage, he also said of the situation, "I spoke with Bruyneel about the attack and he said to speak with Kloeden and Andreas said to go for it." Did radio static confuse the message between the riders and team cars?
One thing seems certain. As the communication divide continues within the Astana team, they need to hurry up and get to Paris. For Contador, only four more stages and five more dinners with his teammates separate him from winning his second Tour de France.
2009 Tour de France
Highlights from Lance Armstrong’s return and more of the 2009 Tour.
2010 Tour de France