Sean Kelly: In terms of resilience, Contador has ‘a concrete head’
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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Sean Kelly: In terms of resilience, Contador has ‘a concrete head’

by Shane Stokes at 2:47 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews, Tour de France
Irishman believes Spaniard’s Giro exertions might cause him problems in third week

Sean KellySean Kelly has said that Alberto Contador’s mental strength will not be a problem in this year’s Tour de France, but has said that his reserves may prove to be a problem going into the final week of the race.

The Irishman was responding to a question about the rider’s motivation, with an apparently-subdued chase on Saturday’s opening stage leading famous French directeur sportif Cyrille Guimard to suggest that Contador had cracked mentally. He is under the pressure of being race favourite, of having his Clenbuterol case hanging over him and also of receiving a cacophony of whistles from a critical crowd at the team presentation.

“I don’t think it’s possible to crack Contador,” Kelly told VeloNation, playing down what Guimard suggested. “Mentally he’s concrete. He has a concrete head. When you see what he went through with Armstrong, he has had a lot of this before. I wouldn’t be concerned that’s a problem.”

However he said it remains to be seen how having ridden and won a very tough Giro d’Italia could impact on his form towards the end of the race. “We will see later when he gets to the mountains,” Kelly said. “I think after two weeks that the Giro might have an effect on him.”

Guimard’s reasoning for suggesting that the rider might be below-par mentally was his reaction after being delayed behind a crash on Saturday. “What surprised me was that he left it up to Euskaltel to mount the chase without appearing concerned by the delay,” he told l’Equipe.

The rider also finished with his group rather than striking out ahead of it on the final climb to the line. Given his strength on the uphills, it was unusual to see him roll in as part of that chasing bunch rather than driving the pace all the way to the line.

“He may have squandered things, considering that it wasn’t serious and that everything would play out in the mountains,” said Guimard. “But it is disturbing detachment from a rider who psychologically destroyed Armstrong two years ago, who we know as fearless and private in his emotion, apart from when he shows a symbolic gun on the finish line.”

Kelly said that he was also surprised by that. “When they were chasing back, he wasn’t really driving that hard. Okay, after the crash passed riders totally on the grass and lost a lot of momentum, so he probably had to make a big effort to get back up to speed again. But as I did say in the commentary that I thought he would jump at the bottom of the climb and just go flat out all the way to the top, which he is so well capable of doing. Yet he never did that.”

He believes one possible reason is because Contador’s group caught that of Andy Schleck (Leopard Trek), his main rival for the general classification. “Some were saying that when he saw Schleck, he thought everything was okay…he didn’t realise that the second crash meant that Schleck was going to be given the same time as the group he was in when the crash occurred. I am still surprised that he didn’t go full out in that last kilometre and a half, though.”

Kelly spoke to VeloNation prior to today’s stage, and explained how he felt the Spaniard could get the better of Philippe Gilbert. “If they take Gilbert to the last kilometre, the last 800 metres, nobody can beat him from that point. But if Contador gets onto the climb and just goes from the beginning, two kilometres from the finish, he could put him under a bit of difficult. You would really need a super Contador to do that, with the way Gilbert is going at the moment.”

That’s pretty much how things transpired on today’s stage. The Spaniard finished a very close second to Cadel Evans, with a photo finish needed to separate him. He threw down the gauntlet early on the climb and while Gilbert was able to respond and get up to him, the early start to the aggression on the climb saw the Belgian’s strength fade and lead to a fifth-place finish. And while Contador didn’t look as dominant as he has in the past, grimacing visibly with the effort, he did take time out of many of his main rivals and very nearly won the stage. . The concrete head Kelly mentioned was on display.


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