His knee is swollen and he is four minutes back in the race for the yellow jersey, but Alberto Contador is far from ready to give up. The three-time Tour de France winner is also riding with the cloud of doping allegations hanging over his head but he insists he is focused on the task in hand and will revert to his usual attacking style in the Alps as the race reaches its decisive moments.
The 28-year-old Spaniard lost crucial time after being held up behind a pile-up on the first stage two weeks ago, and also hit the deck in the first week, sustaining a knee problem that forced him to sit and wait in the Pyrenees. That means Contador – who won May's Giro d'Italia in awesome fashion – lies seventh in the overall standings, four minutes behind the leader, Thomas Voeckler of France, and about two minutes adrift of his main rivals.
"Because of the crash, I had to change my pedalling. My [right] knee was hurting so I had to compensate with the other knee and it changed my way of pedalling," Contador said yesterday as the peloton enjoyed their second rest day in the three-week race. "But I feel better, I'm confident for the Alps."
Contador will have two gruelling stages in the Alps on Thursday and Friday to make up for lost time, as well as a 42.5km individual time trial on Saturday.
"The Galibier stage [from Pinerolo to Serre Chevalier on Thursday] is the hardest with the last 10km of the ascent to the Col d'Agnel," the Saxo Bank rider explained. "I'm not as good or as fresh as at the Giro but I think I will be better in the Alps than in the Pyrenees. If I have good legs, it is certain that I will attack because it is my style."
In the first two mountain stages in the Pyrenees, Contador drew benefits from a waiting game between the overall contenders as Cadel Evan srefused to attack while the Schleck brothers' attempts were not sharp enough to unsettle the other favourites.
But Contador cannot wait for the final time trial to make the difference, especially against the Australian Evans, who shines in the solo effort against the clock.
"I can't win the Tour with the time trial if the standings after the Alpe d'Huez are the same as today," Contador stressed. "In the Alps, the ascents are longer and go higher above ground level. Some who were good in the Pyrenees will be disappointed in the Alps."
General classification after stage 15:
1 Thomas Voeckler (Fr) Team Europcar 65hr 24min 34sec
2 Frank Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek at 1min 49sec
3 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team at 2.06
4 Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek at 2.15
5 Ivan Basso (It) Liquigas-Cannondale at 3.16
6 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Sp) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 3.44
7 Alberto Contador Velasco (Sp) Saxo Bank Sungard at 4.00
8 Damiano Cunego (It) Lampre - ISD at 4.01
9 Thomas Danielson (US) Team Garmin-Cervelo at 5.46
10 Kevin De Weert (Bel) Quickstep Cycling Team at 6.18