Houston, we have a boss problem.
Alberto Contador made a statement today: I’m riding to win this tour no matter what team Director Johan Bruyneel or Lance Armstrong have planned. Maybe it was a simple translation problem for Contador but since Johan Bruyneel speaks about five languages, that seems unlikely. Maybe Alberto has a hearing issue and is too embarrased to wear a hearing aid. We’ve come a long way from the stigma of these devices and they look quite good with a Giro helmet.
Heading up the 7.7 percent grade of the Arcalis climb, the message from the team car was to “chill out a bit, slow it down.” But with 2 kilometers to go, Contador left the other Astana riders behind with a hard acceleration. It was too late to win the stage but not not too late to reverse the roles: he’s now the top placed Astana rider, just 6 second off yellow with Lance another 2 seconds back. It looked like payback for Armstrong’s great leap up the standings when Columbia split the peleton in stage 3. A move Contador had missed completely.
Armstrong claimed he was not surprised by Contador’s stunt, saying “that wasn’t the plan but I didn’t expect him to go by the plan.” Hard to see these two guys sitting next to each other at the hotel dinner table. It appears that Bruyneel is taking a hands off approach, letting the two riders battle it out for themselves. Bruyneel said “we didn’t give out specific instructions. I just told them to talk to each other and do what they have to do.” Sounds like a man that’s tired of managing his two stars and deciding who’s the number 1 rider. When the party line is that the road will decide, then Bruyneel is letting go the reigns. This could get very ugly fast.
For his part, Armstrong played the team game, not chasing Contador, simply sitting on wheels and shutting down the short attacks by Cadel Evans, Andy Schleck and the surprising Bradley WIggins. Garmin had a great day with Wiggins and Vande Velde riding up front and taking 5th and 8th in the overall classification.
It was also another fantastic day for France as Brice Feillu (Agributel), riding his first tour, won this first race. What a way to start. He crossed the line knowing he’d just quadrupled his salary to go with his cuddly stuffed lion. He’s going to have a great vacation in August. If you picked Feuilli to win, you should run to the nearest casino and bet your life saving because you’re obviously on a hot streak.
And a bon chapeau to journeyman rider Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R) who benefited from being the best placed rider on GC in the breakaway. After 11 years on the pro circuit, he earned a magic day in yellow by a mere 6 seconds over Contador. If Alberto had stopped being so “chilled out” a kilometer earlier, he’d be in yellow.
And so the saga continues. Sure, journalists create stories and manufacture rivalries — that’s part of their job. I don’t think there’s any question that the situation with Armstrong and Contador is tense, with a real possibility of explosion. These are are two super-stars on the same team and only one jersey. What did anyone expect?