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Contador vows to keep fighting at Tour

Updated: July 04, 2011, 04:07


Thor Hushovd of Norway, center with dotted jersey, rides with his Garmin Cervelo team during the second stage of the Tour de France cycling race, a team trial over 23 kilometers (14.3 miles) starting and finishing in Les Essarts, western France, Sunday July 3, 2011. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

LES ESSARTS, France (AP) It will take more than a couple of bad days at the Tour de France to break Alberto Contador's will. The defending champion has already lost crucial time to rival Andy Schleck, but he remains upbeat.

The Spaniard entered the race in difficult circumstances having tested positive for the banned anabolic agent clenbuterol late on in last year's race, only to be cleared by his own cycling federation - a verdict that has been appealed by anti-doping and cycling authorities and will be resolved after the Tour is over.

Contador is now an unpopular figure among racing fans, too, having been jeered before the race even started, and over the first two stages on Saturday and Sunday.

Yet he takes all of this in his stride.

"No matter what, throwing the towel in to ring is the last thing I would do,'' Contador said after losing more time to Schleck in Sunday's team time trial. "Now there are riders who are better positioned than me in terms of winning, but I'll never give up. I'm looking forward to the mountains.''

Contador's Tour started badly on Saturday, when he got stuck behind a crash that decimated the field.

Schleck, a two-time Tour runner-up to Contador, found himself on the favorable side of the split - an unexpected bonus that helped him get an early advantage on Contador.

Then, on Sunday's team time trial, Schleck's Leopard-Trek finished ahead of Contador's Saxo Bank Sungard team, and that increased Schleck's lead over Contador to 1 minute, 38 seconds. Considering Contador only won last year's Tour by 39 seconds, it is already a significant gain for his Luxembourg opponent.

Two-time Tour runner-up Cadel Evans, who is third in the general classification, is 1:41 ahead of Contador.

Dampening Contador's spirit, however, is no easy matter. He rode in the same team as seven-time Tour champion Lance Armstrong in the 2009 Tour and, despite intense internal pressure, still won the race.

"I'm sure I'll get better every day because I have not the same preparations as the other favorites who have done the Dauphine (Libere) and the Tour of Switzerland,'' Contador said, referring to those energy sapping pre-Tour races. "What happened (Saturday) was not in our plans, but that's the Tour. It's won in the mountains. The Tour goes on. My legs are good, that's what motivates me and I am sure that, the more it goes on, the better my legs will be.''

Garmin-Cervelo won Sunday's team time trial for its first ever Tour stage win and the team's manager, Jonathan Vaughters - who once rode with Armstrong - sees a similar steely quality to Armstrong in Contador.

"He's a pretty impenetrable individual psychologically,'' Vaughters said.

Rather than lamenting his own fate, Contador has changed his mindset from favorite to challenger, as if to draw extra motivation from being the one now doing the chasing.

"Everyone sees me as the undisputed favorite, but other riders are better placed than me, like Andy, Evans,'' said Contador, who is 75th overall. "It's a different way of tackling the Tour.''

Meanwhile, Vaughters was jubilant after seeing his team win its first ever Tour stage.

Jumping down from his team bus, Vaughters let out a loud shriek and performed an impromptu dance as team members celebrated wildly outside Garmin-Cervelo's bus.

"I was practicing last night actually, J-Lo was brought in (especially) for it,'' Vaughters said, jokingly, when asked whether he had rehearsed his dance routine.

Having waited several years to see his team win a Tour stage, Vaughters was a bag of nerves watching the other teams racing after the Garmin-Cervelo rode out early on the 14.3-mile flat stage in Les Essarts, western France.

"It's tough when you go off early and you have to sit there and watch all your rivals coming in one by one,'' he said. "It's something we've worked for, a first stage win at the Tour de France as a team is indicative of what (we) have stood for since the beginning. It's always been about the team, it's always been about everyone on the team. Every single one of them sacrificed themselves 100 percent.''

Garmin-Cervelo finished in 24 minutes, 48 seconds, riding at an average speed of 34 miles per hour, and doing just enough to put their Norwegian rider Thor Hushovd in first place in the overall standings.

"This is an extraordinary dream, I'm very proud, I'm very happy to take the jersey,'' Hushovd said after crossing the finish line in front. "This is a great day, we did a really good team effort, everything worked perfectly.''

Evans' BMC team finished second, fours seconds adrift, with British team Sky ending third with the same time.

After seeing his team win its first Tour stage and getting one of his riders in yellow, Vaughters was understandably in a jovial mood.

Asked if his team would drink some Champagne on Sunday night to celebrate, Vaughters briefly forgot his team's all for one and one for all ethos by saying there would be "a little bit for them and probably about a bottle and a half for me.''

---

AP Sports Writer Samuel Petrequin contributed to this report.

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