Stage one of the 2010 Paris-Nice and stage three of the 2009 Tour de France may point to a difficult future for Alberto Contador, writes Philip Gomes.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:36 PM

If stage one of Paris-Nice tells us anything, it's that there is no
certainty in bike racing and that Alberto Contador may have had a brush
with the near future.

Late in a stage marked by strong cross
winds, massive splits and a few crashes, Contador went down (with
3km to go) along with Cervelo's Heinrich Haussler, luckily one of the
Astana faithful was there to quickly sacrifice his bike for the Astana
team leader.

Contador was very impressive in getting back on to
the second group (with a little help from the Rabobank team car), but
he had missed the decisive split with the front group containing
Alejandro Valverde, whose Caisse d'Epargne team set out to shatter the
peloton, race leader Lars Boom (who was very impressive in bridging to
the Valverde group), Jens Voigt and Roman Kreuziger.

The
reason I mention this is that the racing we saw on stage one of
Paris-Nice may be similar to what we'll see in the first week of the
Tour de France; where the peloton will be travelling through the
Netherlands and Belgium and in some cases over cobbles.

Sure
it'll be summer in Europe and conditions may not be the same, but Contador has shown in the past that he's
vulnerable to aggressive racing in difficult weather,
similar to what was seen on the roads to Contres.

Remember stage three in last years Tour de France?

Mark
Cavendish won after his HTC-Columbia team opened the taps,
splitting the peloton on a day that saw heavy cross winds. Guess who
missed the split?

Yep, the eventual Tour de France winner, Contador. And guess who didn't? Yep, Lance Armstrong.

"When
you see what the wind is doing and you have a turn coming up, it
doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out you have to go to the
front," said Armstrong at the time.

"Every one was worried about
Columbia coming through, when you see a team at the front like that you
have to pay attention when they are all lined up. It is a bit of
experience and good positioning with a little bit of luck."

And
quite a few riders blamed Contador for the split, including Francaise
des Jeux' Christophe LeMevel who said, "When the split happened I was
right on (behind) Contador's wheel, it was him who caused the split."

Now
fast forward to the near future and to stage three in the 2010 Tour de
France, one which may present similar difficulties for Contador.

"This
is unquestionably one of the highlights of the first week of the race,
and a major first for this stage start and finish. Cobblestones haven't
been negotiated on the Tour since 2004," said race director Christian
Prudhomme in describing the 207km stage from Wanze to Arenberg Porte du
Hainau.

"There will be 7 cobbled sectors over a total of 13.2
kilometres, including the Haveluy sector, only ten kilometres from the
stage finish. The finish line will be located at the entrance to the
notorious Arenberg Trench, the legendary backdrop to Paris-Roubaix."

I
don't know about you but I smell trouble for Contador if he and his
team aren't attentive to the dangerous possibilities that stage
presents - it's certain his more adept, experienced and opportunistic
opponents will be awake to them.

In fact, an ambush similar to
stage three in the 2009 Tour de France may be their only opportunity to
put a serious gap between themselves and last years winner.

It's
true that no two stages and races are the same, and Contador wasn't the
only GC capable guy to miss the HTC-Columbia ambush in 2009, Cadel Evans, Denis
Menchov and defending champion Carlos Sastre all failed to respond in
time.

But Contador's situation is different to the Evans,
Menchov, Sastre troika, he is without question the best stage racer in
the world, and quite possibly on his way to being the best ever having already won four
Grand Tours.

Everyone is looking for signs of
weakness in the seemingly impregnable Contador, and maybe I'm clutching
at straws looking for a seriously competitive Tour de France, but
hopefully you get my point.

Cobbles plus a local Arenburg finish
may not be to Contador's style but he'll have no choice but to be at the
front of the 2010 race's third stage conclusion, otherwise, given this history, the entire race may
be lost to him before it really started.