Tinkoff-Saxo manager Bjarne Riis says Alberto Contador was nervous when faced with wet cobbles, losing time to rival Vincenzo Nibali

Alberto Contador lost over two minutes to race leader Vincenzo Nibali and faces an uphill battle to win a third title because he was “afraid” when the Tour de France raced over the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix.

“In sector one, he was in the front, he was OK, but in sector two there was a lot of mud and he was afraid to be honest,” Tinkoff-Saxo team manager, Bjarne Riis said of Wednesday’s stage. “I think he was happy to survive. I mean, he’s 60 kilogrammes, what do you do?! Nibali is different rider, technically, he’s very good.”

When Contador wiped the mud off his face at the finish in Arenberg, he saw the time: 2-35 minutes behind the Sicilian in yellow. The cobble sectors, something the organiser rarely inserts into its race, cost Contador more than a mountain could have.

“He saw this year’s sectors twice, that’s how to do it,” continued Riis. “But then it was different because of the rain. I can understand that he was scared on the pavé. I would’ve been that way myself!”

Contador’s aggressiveness this year earned him the Tirreno-Adriatico title and saw him take over the Critérium du Dauphiné from Sky’s Chris Froome. Riis explained that the pavé en route to the finish in Arenberg will play its part, but not the only part in deciding the overall winner when the race arrives in Paris on July 27.

Sky’s Richie Porte, who used to race for Riis’ team, sits 1-54 minutes behind Nibali. He and other classification riders around the same time in the overall will want to attack.

“It’s not only Alberto who needs to attack, but there are many guys who need to attack, from Porte on down. That’s what I like about this Tour de France, it’s very open and it’s going to be fun to watch. You know, in the big mountains you can easily take one minute,” said Riis.

“Astana won’t be worn down, they are riding as they should with the yellow jersey, spending energy in the front in the finals like we do – so that’s not more. They’ll have a strong team, but at the end of the day, it comes down to Nibali and how strong he is.

“One day, Alberto will take off and it’ll be a head-to-head fight. Alberto can still win this Tour de France, but he needs to be strong to do it.”