The shortest, ‘shark’s teeth’-studded stage of the Tour de France was always going to be explosive. Still, while many might have hoped for it, few expected Alberto Contador would be its primary pyrotechnician.
For in the last few years we’ve simply seen too many of his attacks swiftly snuffed, and heard him make too many grand promises that he’s failed to fulfil. It’s been hard for his biggest fans to watch a great rider slowly reduced to the level of also-ran, whilst simultaneously denying to them that that’s what they were seeing.
If some have, at times, regretted his decision to postpone retirement, few would have blamed them.
But today the weight of (his own) expectation seemed to lift from Contador’s shoulders. When he took off on the first climb he did so ostensibly in search of a stage win, but the lightness of his touch, the ease with which he flew, meant there was no way he wasn’t trying to put on a show as well.
And as the first big name to attack he inspired several others to follow. Before we knew it we had a bike race – two bike races, even – and the whole Tour de France was almost flipped on its head. Again.
Today’s stage suggests not only that Contador has come to terms with his new position in the peloton, but that he still has something very real to offer the sport. Dropping from the ranks of general classification contender, in both theory and fact, could prove his liberation. He may yet find there’s more than one way to be great.