El Pistolero turns Shootist on the Croix de la Fer

Like the leader of a troupe of tragedians looking for an audience, Alberto Contador started Stage 17 of the Tour ready to put on a show.

Playing the famous version of himself – a bit like John Wayne in a western, rather than one of those police films he did – El Pistolero attacked on the Col de la Croix de Fer, out of the saddle and dancing past his opposition on a long range Quixotic bid to snare some Tour glory, even if his GC hopes had burned out days ago.

Nairo Quintana went with him, but quickly faded, possibly owing to his legs, but most likely because he couldn’t match Contador for enthusiasm. His Trek team meanwhile was ready to offer support. Not least his mechanic, who having changed his bike pushed Contador with Herculean effort up a ten per cent gradient for what must have felt like half a mile.

Before that though Michael Gogl had paced his leader for as long as he could. Days before he’d crashed With Contador, only to watch his leader ride off with apparent ambivalence as he writhed around in agony on the floor (until told to stop lollygagging by a team boss). This time though he got a chivalrous nod of thanks as Contador came out of his slipstream to ride on without him. You like to think that single nod turned Gogl’s now exquisite torture into something a little easier to endure.

Contador (left) turns to thank Gogl (right) before pressing on.

All of which made it a day for non-Contador fans to submit late applications to join his fan club before he left the Tour for good. But then most of us remaining skeptics had had our minds changed days before, when he’d turned to his countryman Mikel Landa on an earlier attack to suggest they both “pull till they were dead”.

Was this Contador as El Pistolero, or Contador as The Shootist – like Wayne played in his final film – a lap of honour and some hard-earned limelight before the shadow cast by the younger generation became too great to outrun?

Only time would tell.

Or maybe the Trek DS, who it turned out did tell, midway through Contador’s break, announced on the commentary feed, which made things a little awkward. This would be Contador’s last Tour came the news – which would have made things even more heroic had Contador actually been in on the announcement.

The attack came to nothing and Contador resumed his place in the peloton, alongside ordinary-looking riders who had not lived like Contador had just done. After the race he said he knew nothing of his Tour swansong, but with the credit pouring in for his performance probably sensed it would be improper to cause a scene.

But if this was his last Tour we’d at least had one last look. Just about enough to want more Contador next year.

Leave your comments on this post below. You can also follow Off The Back on Twitter: @OffTheBackBlog or on Facebook. Alternatively use the sign up box above to ensure you never miss a post.

Stage 11: No lollygagging… and other rules of the road

Domestiques know their fate even before the race begins. The deal is there’s no glory, little chance of a stage win, and no exceptions. The leader comes first.

That goes for when you’re lying wounded in the middle of the road too.

This just about summed up Michael Gogl’s day on Stage 11 today, another of those commuter stages that might have been better served by putting all the riders on a train to Pau, and allowing Marcel Kittel to disembark first.

Then with 21 km to race a lack of concentration somewhere brought down Gogl, and more importantly his team leader: Alberto Contador.

As Michael Gogl suffers on the floor, team leader Alberto Contador checks the damage

The pictures told the painful story. Gogl was on his back and who took some time to climb up off the concrete. And then there was Contador, seemingly ambivalent toward his teammate’s anguish, as he first checked his chain, found everything in order, remounted, and rode off, paced back to the peloton and safety by Jarlinson Pantano.

Contador rides off, to be paced back by teammate Jarlinson Pantano

Gogl meanwhile, who himself had been called on to pace Contador back to the peloton after a mechanical earlier in the day, had by this time just about got to his feet. Not that he was about to get any kind of reprieve.

Despite looking like he could use a moment to check the basics, things like his bones, skin, and vital organs, Gogl, still just 23, got a sharp reminder from his team boss what his job was again. In this case that was to stop lollygagging, and get back in the race.

Despite obvious injuries, Gogl’s boss says something to the effect that there are plenty of bandages at the finish line, and to get back on his bike

The team boss had appeared from the car and picked Gogl’s bike up off the road. What more did he want? A kiss? He then shoved the bike towards his rider and then pointed up the road.

When you’re 23, a domestique in your first Tour, and your boss tells you to stop hanging around, you don’t really have much choice, even if you are in pain, and two kindly women with first aid kits are insisting they bandage you up first.

Gogl got back on his way. Contador meanwhile crossed the line with the peloton. Do team leaders even notice when their teammates do the same more than four minutes later?

Leave your comments on this post below. You can also follow Off The Back on Twitter: @OffTheBackBlog or on Facebook. Alternatively use the sign up box above to ensure you never miss a post.