Alberto Contador showed his Tour de France defense isn’t over yet.
The Spaniard surprised rivals by attacking in rainy weather in the foothills of the Alps and gained 1 minute, 6 seconds on two-time runner-up Andy Schleck. Thor Hushovd won stage 16, a 101-mile ride between Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux and Gap.
Contador, who moved up one place in the overall standings to sixth in the 21-stage race, also gained 18 seconds on France’s race leader Thomas Voeckler yesterday. His attack was matched by Cadel Evans, who rose to second.
“It’s more than I could have hoped for,” Contador told reporters. “I can’t waste any chances to make up time.”
Contador fell behind because of crashes in the first week. He’s seeking his fourth Tour title in five years, although he risks having his 2010 and 2011 race results wiped out next month if the Lausanne, Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport overturns his acquittal for doping last year.
There are five stages remaining in the race, which ends on July 24. Today’s 111-mile Alps stage finishes in Pinerolo, Italy, and includes a category 1 climb, the second-most difficult. There are two further mountain stages before a time trial in Grenoble and the last-day leg to Paris.
Voeckler now leads two-time runner-up Evans of Australia by 1 minute, 45 seconds. Frank Schleck is third, four seconds further back. Andy Schleck is fourth, 3:03 off the lead, and Samuel Sanchez is fifth. Contador is 3:42 behind Voeckler, who says he was “at the limit” yesterday.
“It really surprised me” that Contador attacked, Voeckler said. “Everyone was expecting for him to wait for the big mountain passes” later this week.
Frank Schleck, Andy’s older brother, also said he hadn’t expected any race contenders to attack yesterday. Andy Schleck had said Contador was “not one of the most dangerous” contenders any more.
Contador of the Saxo Bank team made his move on the final climb, a six-mile ascent of the Col de Manse. He said he told Sanchez, a fellow Spaniard with the Euskaltel team, he was planning to attack. Sanchez joined him and Evans of BMC Racing tracked them before pulling away on the descent to finish three seconds ahead of the pair.
Hushovd of the Garmin-Cervelo team outsprinted Team Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen, also a Norwegian. Scores of that country’s fans cheered the riders on at the end.
“This is unreal,” Hushovd told Eurosport. “It was like riding the Norwegian championship.”