Fans and fellow riders have questioned the Spaniard's sportsmanship after he took advantage of former race leader Andy Schleck's mechanical breakdown on the final climb of the Tour de France Stage 15, won by Frenchman Thomas Voeckler.
Near the summit of the Port de Balès, Schleck’s chain popped off his bike as he mounted an attack against Contador. As he straddled the frame, trying to fix the issue, Contador and two rivals, Denis Menchov and Samuel Sanchez, blew past.
Schleck remounted and chased the trio down the 13.4-mile descent into Bagnères-de-Luchon, but it was too late: He had lost not only his 31-second lead over Contador, but an additional eight seconds as well, putting him in second.
Unspoken rule: Wait for those with equipment problems
It’s an unspoken rule of etiquette in pro cycling that you don’t take advantage of others' misfortune. After the race, Schleck was clearly miffed.
“I wouldn’t have taken advantage of the situation like that, but I’m not the jury,” he said. “These guys don’t get the fair-play prize today.”
Fans felt the same way – as Contador stepped on the podium to receive the yellow jersey, he was greeted with whistles of displeasure.
When pressed in a post-race press conference to explain his decision to race on when Schleck was clearly in difficulty, Contador said "people didn't know what happened" and offered a variety of explanations.
“When I finally realized he had the problem, we had already launched the attack and it was too late,” he said.
Secondly, he added, they had already stopped for Schleck once on this Tour, when he crashed in Spa during Stage 2.
For more than a week, Contador played second fiddle as several riders took turns wearing the yellow jersey – Schleck being the most dominant, holding it for six consecutive stages after become race leader on Stage 9.
Now, with just five stages remaining, Schleck and his Saxo Bank team have little time to strike back. But after the travails of today, they have added motivation to attack the final stages – including two trips up the brutal Col du Tourmalet before heading down to flatter terrain for a crucial time trial.
“My stomach is full of anger,” said Schleck, a weaker time trialist than Contador who needs to build up a comfortable lead in the Pyrénées. “I’m going to take my revenge.”
Overall standings after Stage 12:
Top US riders:
IN PICTURES: Scenes from the 2010 Tour de France