Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) has pulled down the curtain on his career as he wanted to, taking a hard-earned solo stage victory Saturday at the Vuelta a España on the Angliru, Spain’s hardest climb.
The Spanish Grand Tour champion has already been a winner on the Angliru back in 2008, en route to his first overall victory in the Vuelta a España. This time, though, it was Contador’s first win in over a year, Spain’s first in this year’s Grand Tour and, with only the ceremonial stage to Madrid remaining on Sunday, a victory that has arrived on the last day possible for him to triumph.
Constantly on the attack in this year’s Vuelta after a surprising setback in Andorra when illness caused him to lose two and a half minutes on the overall, Contador’s final flourish started with a well-calculated attack on the tricky descent of the Cordal, alongside team-mate Jarlinson Pantano.
Working his way back to the remnants of the early break with Pantano, Contador finally went for broke five kilometres from the summit. After opening up a gap of around 90 seconds at one point on the leader’s group, the Spaniard’s advantage shrank significantly on the upper slopes of the Angliru when Team Sky’s Wout Poels and Chris Froome shook off Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb) behind.
Visibly flagging in the last kilometre, Contador crossed the line with just 17 seconds to spare on Poels and Froome, but it was enough for him to produce his pistolero salute one last time in his career.
“There couldn’t be a better finish, winning on the Angliru, right at the end of my career,” Contador, finally fourth overall but set to stand on the Madrid podium as the winner of the Vuelta’s most Combative rider classification, told Spanish TV.
“I made my team work, I knew it would be complicated, but I wanted to do this for the fans, who’ve supported me so much. The people cheering me on like that - it really gave me gooseflesh.”
Contador added that in terms of strategy, he had opted to make a move on the descent of the Cordal because he had seen that Froome had been on the limit of some corners of the Corbertoria and that he might have a better chance of getting ahead if Sky opted to be cautious.
“I knew there have been a lot of crashes on the Cordal in the past, and I knew I had to go with Pantano on the descent to make the gap. I had a few problems getting past some riders who were going a little more slowly to get on his wheel but then I made it.
“On the final climb, it was a long, long way. Metre by metre, pedal-stroke by pedal stroke. I had a bit of help from Enric Mas (Quick-Step Floors)” - whom Contador has nominated as the rider most likely to succeed him in a few years time as a Spanish GC contender.
“But I couldn’t stand on the pedals, either, as I normally would like to do when I’m going uphill. It was so wet and that was a real problem. At Los Machucos” - where Contador had also gained time on the bunch - “it had been very wet, too, but there were some dry sections and I could use those.”
Contador recognised that he had made his team work hard in the early sections of the stage to keep the breakaway under control, but said that he was determined to do his utmost to win on the Angliru.
“I’ve wanted to do this for the fans, who’ve supported me so much. I’m leaving the sport now, but I’m very happy, and now I’ve got my life ahead of me to do other things I really want. My thanks to all for the support I’ve had.”