Alberto Contador belatedly attempted to reignite his defence of the Tour de France by punching an aggressive heckler on the Alpe d’Huez. But 24 hours later, his great rival Andy Schleck took the real body blow when the race was snatched away from him – this time by BMC's Cadel Evans. Schleck the Younger, entered Saturday's time trial in Grenoble with a slim 57-second advantage over the Aussie. But with less than half of the 45km course completed, it was clear that the yellow jersey was heading Down Under for the first time.
Just over a week ago, a Guardian headline suggested that the Tour de France 2011 had been a bit lacklustre, with the big guns failing to make a decisive move. In Tour terms I must admit that I'm a total "newbie" (I only tuned in at a late stage of last year's duel between Contador and the younger of Luxembourg's cycling Schleck brothers). But though I'd still have problems picking the legendary Eddy Merckx out in an identity parade, I have to disagree with Richard Williams’ piece. The last three weeks have been a great exhibition of sporting excellence, extraordinary stamina and, at times, sheer recklessness.
I knew the 98th Tour de France was going to be the perfect antidote to a frustrating Wimbledon when I tuned in on the opening day. ITV's presenter Gary Imlach cheekily pointed out that the channel's coverage of the 2011 Tour was, in some respects, a continuation of its coverage of the 2010 Tour. That's because "L'Affaire Contador" — last year's winner failed a dope test — has yet to be resolved. His home federation exonerated him (quelle surprise!), but the Spaniard still awaits the outcome of an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). So he entered the 2011 Tour under a big cloud, and was roundly booed by spectators during the opening ceremony.
You could call it karma — or just the vicissitudes of a punishing event — that Alberto’s first Tour for the Saxo Bank team (previously home of the Schlecks) seemed doomed from the outset. He fell behind his main rivals on Stage One, after getting caught behind a big pile-up on the road. Thereafter he was always playing catch-up, battling a sore knee and trying to shake off fatigue from winning the Giro d’Italia in May.