Spaniard defies advice to line up in Jerez
On a day when one Vuelta a España contender was withdrawn from the race, ostensibly for health reasons, another boasted of defying his doctor's recommendations to make it to the start line in Jerez de la Frontera.
Spanish sports daily Marca described Alberto Contador's accelerated convalescence after fracturing his tibia at the Tour de France as a "40-day time trial" and scarcely two weeks ago, the word from his camp was that he had too much ground to make up and "no possibility" of riding the Vuelta.
Last week, however, Contador made the surprise announcement that he would indeed participate in the Vuelta and speaking to reporters in Jerez on Friday afternoon, the Tinkoff-Saxo leader suggested that the decision to race was entirely his own.
"The doctor who was supervising my recovery in a clinic in Madrid wanted me to have another scan just before coming here and I told him I didn't have time and it didn't happen," Contador said with a smile. "But I wouldn't have wanted to change my decision if the scan went badly.
"This is a risk. The advice was to stay at home and start thinking about next season but I found it very hard to watch the end of the Tour on television because I had prepared so well for it. I also really wanted to be at the Vuelta this year, so here I am."
It is less than six weeks since Contador crashed out of the Tour on the descent of the Petit Ballon, and although he did not require surgery on his fractured tibia, his recovery was far from straightforward.
"The doctors removed the stitches after ten days, which was probably too soon and it reopened the injury," Contador said. "They also had to clean the wound again as there was still a little stone lodged inside there, because of the urgency of the original treatment. But when they stitched it back up again, everything changed and the recovery started to go better and more quickly."
Contador has triumphed at Grand Tours on limited preparation before - his Astana team was a late invitee to the 2008 Giro d'Italia and he won the 2012 Vuelta shortly after returning from a doping ban - but winning the Vuelta on one leg is surely even beyond his myriad capabilities. Yet such is Contador's back catalogue that his rivals have refused to rule him out of contention for final overall victory here.
"To say I'm here to win could be too much," Contador said. "I'm coming here in a very different position to the Tour. I'll take things day by day and try not to lose time in the opening week and then we'll see what happens from there. If I have a bad day early on, then my approach might change, but for now that's the strategy."
Contador downplayed the idea that the overall favourites would form an alliance of circumstance in a bid to eliminate him from contention as he feels his way back into action in the first week. His is aware, however, that the uphill finishes at Arcos de la Frontera on stage 3 and La Zubia on stage 6 will provide a robust early test of his credentials.
"There are those two uphill finishes early on, where explosive riders like [Joaquim] Rodriguez and [Alejandro] Valverde can attack and maybe I won't be able to hold their wheels," Contador said. "I don't expect attacks aimed directly at me but more due to the circumstances of the race."
The Spaniard identified a fellow Tour crash victim, Chris Froome (Sky), as his favourite for victory in Santiago but noted that the Vuelta exists in a micro-climate unto itself: the race may not necessarily be won and lost on the set-piece mountain stages.
"He has a strong team and he's strong in the time trial and the mountains, so if he's at 100 percent, then Chris Froome is the favourite," Contador said. "But in this kind of race, every stage is important, as was the case in 2012 when I was able to change the whole Vuelta a España on a transition stage."
Indeed, of the three Grand Tours, the Vuelta is the one that seems to deviate most consistently from the preordained script, and perhaps with that in mind, Contador appeared unconcerned that his team does not boast the same strength in depth as at the Tour.
"It's true that we don't have Nico [Roche], [Michael] Rogers or Rafal [Majka] here, but it's still a strong team. In any case, I'm not worried about it," Contador said. "I don't feel that I have the responsibility to control the race, as I'm not a favourite for overall victory. Other teams have more responsibility."
The eve of the Vuelta has been dominated by the news that defending champion Chris Horner (Lampre-Merida) had withdrawn from the race after returning a sample with low levels of cortisol in additional testing carried out by the MPCC (Movement for Credible Cycling) on Thursday.
Contador's press conference took place fully four hours after Horner's withdrawal was announced, but he insisted that he was unaware of the news when asked for his opinion on the matter.
"I haven't anything to say because I didn't know that it had happened and also because I don't know anything about the case," Contador said. "I have no opinion about that."
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