Trek-Segafredo came into stage 17 in the Tour de France ready to fight, and after animating a big part of the 183-kilometer mountainous race, Alberto Contador had moved back inside the top 10 of the general classification.
Although Contador fell short of the ultimate goal of the stage win, the team executed textbook teamwork that moved Contador back into ninth place overall and awarded him the most combative prize for the second time in this year's race.
"I couldn't win, that was the objective, but this is sport," said Contador, obviously disappointed. "Today there were too many kilometers for me to overcome alone. If I had taken the first breakaway, I would have had no problems, but to take the break at kilometer 70 made me lose many options."
When a large breakaway went clear early in the stage, Trek-Segafredo had placed three riders in the move – Michael Gogl, Jarlinson Pantano, and Bauke Mollema – but no Contador.
Contador made his move to join the breakaway on the slopes of the long Col de la Croix de Fer, attacking with Nairo Quintana (Movistar). When Quintana couldn't hold the pace, even with Contador's encouragement, the former Tour winner set off in a solo pursuit.
"It was a tremendous effort on Croix de Fer with the break at five minutes; I had to pedal very strong," continued Contador. "I told Nairo to come, but he couldn't, and in then in the Galibier, with so many attacks, I paid for it."
Gogl was the first to give assistance to Contador as he dropped back to help pace him into the breakaway group where Pantano and Mollema were waiting.
Pantano then set to work, pulling over the top of la Croix de Fer, down its backside, and to the bottom of Col du Télégraphe where he finally handed the reins to Mollema.
Mollema, his shoulders rocking back and forth in his typical style, set a hard pace. Contador then endured a bit of misfortune when he had a mechanical and had to change bikes, forcing him to chase back to the group where Mollema was waiting. Disaster averted but expending extra energy not.
Mollema went to the front to pull again and led to the top, through the descent, and the first few kilometers of the final climb, the Col du Galibier, until an attack by Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) ended his reign.
Contador was quick to jump to Roglic's wheel as the rest of the breakaway group shattered. While a few others scrambled back to make a leading group of five, Roglic, looking the strongest, wasn't finished: he accelerated again, and then later again, and finally Contador threw in the towel.
He paid a big price for his attack and pursuit on the Col de la Croix de Fer, and could only grit his teeth as Roglic slipped away.
"I had to come from behind in Croix de Fer, and it was a tremendous effort, over 24kms of climbing. It's like when you are training, and you do a mountain à bloc, and then you pay for it for the rest of the day," Contador explained.
"Here has been the same at the last mountain. I tried to save energy, but there were many attacks, and although I could top the final climb with the favorites group, I couldn't fight for the victory. It's a pity, because there are not many opportunities left. I feel well, and I am eager, but this Tour has been very problematic for me."
Roglic never looked back, stretching his lead to over 90 seconds and holding his gap on the long descent into Serre-Chevalier to take the win.
Contador was eventually swept up by the yellow jersey group at the top of the Galibier. He crossed the line in 8th place, tired and disappointed.
It was a beautiful race by Trek-Segafredo. Contador and his teammates had given their all on the punishing roads of stage 17, and there's no more you can ask than that.