Monday 27 January 2020

Cycling: Riblon takes advantage of leaders' phoney war

Alasdair Fotheringham

The stalemate between the favourites Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador reached almost ridiculous levels yesterday in the Tour's first major Pyrenean stage, with the two riders so obsessed with shadowing one another that they even briefly dropped back from the group of overall contenders on the final climb.

If the first round of Schleck and Contador's much-anticipated duel was a dud with a capital D, the French were really satisfied with yesterday's stage as the Parisian Christophe Riblon took a classy lone win.

Day-long breaks rarely work in modern-day cycling, but the 29-year-old Ag2R rider's gamble in forming part of a nine-man move paid off big time as he shed his breakaway companions on the Pailheres before making a successful solo ascent to Ax 3 Domaines.

Riblon was less than three minutes ahead of the main favourites at the foot of the final climb, and that should not have been enough for a man best known as a track rider -- a silver medallist in the Madison world championships this spring -- and before yesterday with only minor road victories to his name.

Instead the 29-year-old was never caught and, coming in almost a minute clear of Denis Menchov and Samuel Sanchez, could go through a series of lengthy victory salutes before taking by far the biggest win of his career.


However, as the double Tour winner Laurent Fignon shrewdly pointed out, Riblon's success was also partly due to the excessively prolonged stalemate between the main contenders. Nowhere was that more apparent than between Contador and Schleck, who did almost everything bar stopping as most of the favourites charged uphill.

Dropping back from that elite pack not once but twice was just one near-unprecedented manoeuvre for the race's two strongest riders, and one that the men in third and fourth overall, Menchov and Sanchez, were quick to take advantage of.

Finally the penny dropped with Contador and Schleck that their over-riding mutual obsession might cost them the race, and normal business of sorts resumed as the two crossed the line in a five-strong group, 14 seconds behind Menchov and Sanchez.

"It was a psychological war," Contador insisted, "we're both at more or less the same level physically and this was a test of minds." (© Independent News Service)

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