By Julien Pretot
LE GRAND BORNAND, France (Reuters) - The brutal reality of defeat became clear to twice Tour de France champion Alberto Contador and his Saxo-Tinkoff team on Thursday night after the Spaniard again lost time to race leader Chris Froome.
"We had a meeting all together yesterday after the stage and we had to admit that there was nothing we could do, even if we were to jump on an opportunity," Saxo-Tinkoff sports director Philippe Mauduit told Reuters.
"And second place in Paris is not something anyone can dream of."
Contador had marked out Friday's 19th stage, with two out-of-category climbs and two first-category ascents, thinking his instincts and tactical nous would give him a chance to overthrow Briton Froome.
However, Thursday's stage to l'Alpe d'Huez had only served to show the 2007 and 2009 Tour winner there was little he could do to knock Froome off his perch after the Team Sky rider extended his lead to 5:11 despite clearly struggling on the second climb up the mountain.
So the race objectives changed.
"(Today) we raced to the team classification," Contador conceded on Friday shortly after crossing the finish line in a group of favorites which included Froome.
Speaking to reporters by the team bus, Mauduit explained: "We did not manage to destabilize Froome so as the Tour goes, you take what you can and the team classification is a good thing, it reinforces the team spirit and it is something the riders will remember.
"Alberto came here to win, not to be second, third, fifth or 10th, it has no importance to him. It does not have the same value when you have already won several grand Tours."
The rest of Saxo-Tinkoff, however, can settle for other honors and they lead the team standings by 3:39 with two stages left.
"You have to be realistic and admit the reality of the moment," said Mauduit, who pointed out that while Saxo-Tinkoff had been racing for the title, others appeared to be only targeting a podium finish in Paris.
"I don't want to complain about our rivals, but it became clear as early as the Pyrenees (after one week) that they were racing for a place on the podium, not more," the Frenchman said.
(Editing By Alison Wildey)