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GIJON, Spain (VN) — Steven De Jongh says Alberto Contador is still racing to win the 2016 Vuelta a España.
The Dutch sport director said the veteran Spaniard is not the kind of rider who will give up on victory and race for a position. Despite starting Wednesday’s 11th stage fifth overall at 2:54 behind race leader Nairo Quintana of Movistar, Tinkoff and Contador are still hoping for a miracle. VeloNews caught up with De Jongh during Tuesday’s rest day to gauge the team’s expectations for the second half of the Vuelta:
VN: How much did Contador’s crash in stage 7 affect him?
SDJ: It hurt him — that is a fact. We expected La Camperona to be a bad day for him a day after the crash, but he made it OK, and it turned out that it was Lagos de Covadonga that was the day that he cracked. It will not make it easier, and like Alberto said, the chances to win this Vuelta are very limited, but you can see he still has ‘la grinta,’ so we will take it day by day.
VN: Do you change the mentality and race for the podium?
SDJ: We are looking for opportunities, and if the opportunity is there, we will try to win the race. With the career like Alberto has, he is not a racer who aims for the podium. He should aim for the victory. That is the way he has always raced, and that will not change. Alberto does not race for second place.
VN: How much did the crash take out of Contador in terms of percentages of strength?
SDJ: It is hard to say, but it was a very bad crash. Other riders would have lost even more time. Because he is so exceptionally hard on himself in his head, he could keep the losses to the minimum. He asked too much from himself when he tried to follow Quintana at Lagos, and he paid for that. It was the third day after the crash. The head wanted to attack, his instinct said to attack, but at that moment, he realized his legs could not follow.
VN: Alberto expressed some strong opinions. What is your view on the 3km rule?
SDJ: The 3km rule is not always implemented in the same way. We had an incident in the Dauphiné. There was a crash in the final 3km, and the bunch came back together, but then the bunch split up again, and then time gaps [were] given. Also, the two riders who crashed, they got the same time, but the others lost time. That is the wrong signal.
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VN: During this year’s Tour, officials said they would be more lenient in imposing time gaps in sprint finales. Does that help?
SDJ: If they always implement it in the same way, there will not be a problem. I think they have to look closely at the finishes. Sometimes they impose a time gap not when someone got dropped, but because he has finished pulling in the sprint and drops back in the bunch, and in the corners he cuts out other riders. Sometimes you have gaps like this. There is a one-second rule between the front wheel and the back wheel, so maybe they can change that. So if there is a real gap, of maybe five seconds, it would be a lot less stressful. Or maybe even 10 seconds. If there is a real gap, take the time, of course. If it is a question of riders sitting up after doing their work, well, that is something else. It is certainly a difficult one, but I think they should rethink the rule.
VN: Some have suggested taking the time at 3km to go. What do you think of that idea?
SDJ: If you see that the finish is very technical with a lot of dangers, why not take the time from 3km to go? Even the other day, we took this very hard corner after coming off a very nice road, with 2.4km to go, so why not take the time there? Then we went down, left, left, and right up again. It would give a lot less stress in the bunch. The riders will not sit up and pedal easy to the finish, but they will be able to safely make it to the line.
VN: Contador even suggested that organizers want to see crashes. Do you agree with that?
SDJ: If you see the race videos, showing all the crashes from the previous year, you can think that. I do not think they do want to see crashes, but they do want to see some spectacular things. Back in my days, we always talked about the Italian-style finishes that we would see in the Giro d’Italia. Now we see that all the organizers are putting those in. It creates too much stress.