To discount Alberto Contador from the top step of the Paris podium would be foolish, as would the idea that Thor Hushovd is comfortable in a co-leadership role, writes Anthony Tan from Lourdes.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

After just one high mountain stage, I read a number of reports filed
overnight after Thursday's twelfth leg to Luz-Ardiden that appeared to
suggest Alberto Contador's chance of winning this year's race was over,
or slim at best.

More than a few journalists I spoke to during
Friday's Stage 13 to Lourdes also said the same thing – and not just the
ones who scribed said reports.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Losing
33 seconds to Frank Schleck (Leopard-Trek) and 13 seconds the group
containing Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale), Cadel Evans (BMC Racing)
and Andy Schleck (Leopard-Trek) on the stage to Luz-Ardiden can hardly
be considered a disaster – particularly after the crash-riddled opener
that characterised Contador's first nine days.

In fact, so
content was the Spaniard with his ride to Luz-Ardiden, he even described
his performance as "special". Yes, that's right, special (though not
the way some people refer to me as special – that's a different kind of
special…).

"It's okay [for me to lose a little time] because each
day, I will be going better. [Thursday] was special because I was still
recovering from those crashes," Contador told reporters straight after
his ride, where he finished eighth on the day and seventh overall, and
where he remains before Saturday's decisive Stage 14 to the Plateau de
Beille.

"My goal was to follow through and be defensive, as this
was the first mountain stage after so many setbacks and I had to be a
bit cautious and not risk anything," added Contador, who then repeated
what he said earlier: "I'm sure I'll be better every day from now on."

From
what I read and heard, the only rider to say he had an off day was Andy
Schleck, who said, "This was a bad day for [Contador], [but] he will
come out super strong in the coming days."

Granted, Bertie did
admit after Thursday's stage his pedalling wasn't as fluid as usual. But
provided his knee is recovering, that fluidity we've become so used to
seeing should return before too long.

And when that happens,
everyone else should watch out, because as you well know, when he's
really on song, no other GC contender can match him – in any aspect
aside from race tactics, where he still has some to learn, because he's
so often used to being in a commanding position, rather than coming from
behind.

Said Contador: "My strength is my ability to recover and that's going to play a role late in this race."

Those words imply Contador believes he has time up his sleeve.

If
that's the case, then he may again mark moves on the 15.8 kilometre
finishing climb of the Plateau de Beille, a climb that averages 7.9
percent and is longer and steeper than Luz Ardiden.

I'd expect
the same from the brothers Schleck Saturday, and if he's feeling up to
it, a counter-attack or two from Basso, who lurks ominously in fifth
place, 3:16 behind the maillot jaune of the irrepressible Thomas Voeckler (Europcar).

Evans,
as I've said in my previous post, is still sitting pretty, and
tomorrow, needs to do no more than watch, mark, and follow.

Though as Bradley McGee, Saxo's sport director at the Tour, said: "It's hard to predict anything in this exciting Tour."

* * *

Even after Thor Hushovd's sterling performance on the road to Lourdes today, he still trails maillot vert incumbent, Mark Cavendish (HTC-High Road), by a rather large 72 points, who has amassed 264 points to his credit.

That's
more than a stage win (45 points for coming first) and an intermediate
prime (20 points) combined. Even though he's managed to win green this
way in the past, Hushovd's never been this far behind.

So my
question was thus: 'Thor, you've shown you can win the green jersey by
getting into these types of breakaways. Right now, you're 72 points
behind Mark Cavendish, so if you were to go for green, you would need to
do a breakaway like you did today once, perhaps twice, more. Do you
think you have it in you before the Tour's over?'

"Like I said the last couple of months, or at least the last couple of weeks, the green jersey is not a goal," Hushovd replied.

"If I was to go for the green jersey this year, I think I could have won it, because of the hard finals and the chances to go in breakaways.

"This
year, I didn't have the chance to go for the green jersey and now, when
I look back, it's okay for me. I could focus on a stage win in the
first week and the yellow jersey instead, which I had for seven days.
Today, I was free [to ride], so I had the chance to win the most
beautiful stage in the Tour de France so far."

After his comments
following this year's Paris-Roubaix (which were later said to be taken
out of context, even though it was first published in a Norwegian news
outlet) and what he said today, I can't help but think Thor yearns for
more.

In my mind, he's as hungry to win as he's ever been. And it appears he wants outright leadership.

If you thought you were capable of taking the yellow jersey for a week (tick), win a stage (tick), and win the green jersey (could have if I wanted to, says he), why wouldn't you?

Unless, for some reason, you were told not to…

The whisperings inside the Tour de France salle de presse
say the God of Thunder has already been courted by at least four other
teams – BMC Racing, Saxo Bank-Sungard, Europcar and Vacansoleil, Cyclingnews reported Friday – with a view to a change of colours by year's end.

However,
the online cycling portal also said that Hushovd and his agent, Alex
Carera, will also discuss a contract renewal with Garmin-Cervélo (with
which he has a one-year contract) on the Tour's second rest day, 18
July.

Follow Anthony on Twitter: @anthony_tan