Yesterday's stage 12 at the Tour de France saw the first glimpse, albeit brief, of Alberto Contador of old, and in Friday's stage 13, the Spanish rider we have all come to know, the one that says never-say-die, arose to try and steal the show – and almost did.
Contador went on the attack on the first of three category-one climbs and never relented over the next 70 or so kilometers; only Mikel Landa (Sky) responded and was able to hold his wheel.
"This Tour for me has been very complicated since the start, and two days ago was a very bad day for me. Yesterday, I just tried to follow the other guys in the GC but I could not in the last climb," explained Contador.
"Today I wanted to try and do something special, to enjoy it, and I think it was a beautiful day for the people. It was nice; I like my work, I like the cycling. For sure when I saw that it was 101kms and hard I thought, okay, we can do something today."
While Landa – less than three minutes down in the general classification - put pressure on the GC rivals behind, Contador only thought of one thing: the stage victory.
"I was thinking in doing something different, to open the race a bit. I didn't want us to stay in a group until the end," he continued. "I obviously aimed for the stage victory. In the end I was happy to see Mikel join me. The collaboration between Mikel and me improved during the stage. Honestly, I think for Sky it was a perfect situation to have him upfront - they had someone who can play for the GC. Obviously, I didn't know how they played it behind me."
Behind were two chasers, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Warren Barguil (Sunweb), who finally closed to the pair out front at the top of the final climb with just over 26 mostly downhill kilometers remaining. And further behind, the yellow jersey group that played a poker game of who would flinch first.
While the GC rivals continued to attack each other – mostly on the long descent - the leading quartet easily held the two-minute gap to the line.
In the last few hundred meters, Contador, knowing he was not the fastest of the four, attacked ahead of the final tricky turns.
It was an audacious move to start the day, and another courageous attempt at the end, but Barguil, privy to the move, was quickly on Contador's wheel.
Barguil swept around Contador to take the win - a French victor for Bastille Day - while Quintana also inched ahead at the line to leave Contador in third. But happy.
"When Warren and Nairo joined us, the collaboration became a bit more difficult. Obviously Warren is a very fast rider so he barely worked with us. But he is a guy with a lot of grinta and for sure he didn't steal this victory," said Contador.
"Of course it would have been better to win the stage for the sponsors and my team, but in the end, it was still a very nice day of cycling for me, and I think for everybody. It was something different because normally you just attack in the last kilometers. I hope to go better in the Alps because right now my body is still full of everything from the crashes," he added.
After getting through the first week of the Tour with no crashes, Contador found himself hitting the ground at 70km/h in the first mountain stage, and from there, things just got worse.
Contador promised he would be back fighting, hinting it would not be until the Alps in the final week, but today he threw down the gauntlet. He missed out on the victory but deservingly was awarded the most combative prize for the day.
"I don't know if I have the strongest mentality – this Tour de France in some moments has put me at the limit," responded Contador when told that team director Steven De Jongh called him the rider with the strongest mentality, one with a head of iron.
"You work incredibly hard to arrive here in top condition and in some tests at home I did a new record in my climbs, and then in the first mountain stage I have a really bad crash…"
"The situation for the GC is not the situation that I want. But okay, I will go out every day and enjoy the rest of the Tour. I hope to recover a little bit more before the Alps and then do some good things in the last week. I just want to give everything I have for Trek-Segafredo, who have shown a big confidence in me, and I will fight until the final day."