ANDORRA LA VELLA, Andorra, July 11- Race leader Chris Froome said the Tour de France will suffer form the absence of Alberto Contador, although admitted it would make his own life easier.
Contador succumbed to illness and injury during Sunday’s ninth stage, quitting just over 80km into the 184.5km trek through the Pyrenees.
The 33-year-old Spaniard, a two-time former Tour winner, had crashed on both the opening two stages, injuring his right side in the process.
To compound matters he woke up on Sunday with a fever, yet before quitting he’d still tried to go on the attack on the first climb of the tough mountainous stage that started in his native Spain before finishing in Andorra.
“I was quite surprised to hear that Alberto Contador was in his car,” said defending champion Froome after the finish.
“As he had attacked, he obviously wasn’t feeling too bad but I guess he was still suffering from his injuries.”
Contador’s made a name for himself as a fearless bike rider who’s prepared to take huge risks in search of victory.
The Tinkoff rider has never been one to settle for second place, preferring to take an all or nothing approach to riding Tours.
He has won seven Grand Tours in total, but never finished either second or third.
His attack early on Sunday’s stage was typical of his brazen riding style, particularly in his battles with Froome.
“It’s a shame he’s no longer in the race. It would have made the Tour even more exciting than it already is,” said Briton Froome, two years Contador’s junior at 31.
“It’s a big loss for the Tour de France but I have no doubt he’ll be able to set other goals for himself this year.
“The change for me is that we won’t have to chase his attacks 100 kilometres before the finish. It’s something less to worry about but it’s a pity.”
– ‘Feverish’ –
Contador said he would go away and try to recover ahead of the Olympic Games, and perhaps also a tilt at winning a fourth Vuelta a Espana title.
“I couldn’t continue. This morning I was feverish,” said Contador after Sunday’s stage.
“After the crash in the first day, I really didn’t feel well and it pushed me to make this decision.
“I must have medical checks to see what’s wrong to try and recuperate for the rest of the season.”
Even without Contador, Froome still believes the Tour will provide a fierce battle to the end.
The top nine were separated by less than a minute going into Monday’s first rest day, and that after three stages finishing in the Pyrenees.
Young Briton Adam Yates is second at just 16sec with Dan Martin of Ireland third at 19sec.
“I’ve said it a few times coming into this race, I feel this is going to be the biggest battle of my career, and that’s what it’s turning out to be,” said Froome.
“The level is higher and I’m going to have to fight for every second I can.”
He did that brilliantly in winning Saturday’s eighth stage by attacking on a 12km-long downhill section to the finish.
He took 13 seconds out of his rivals that day, plus another 10 bonus seconds for winning the stage.
How important those turn out to be remains to be seen come the finale in Paris.