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Alberto Contador (Tinkoff - Saxo) waves to his fans
Vuelta a España leader pays tribute to Colombian rival following Quintana's abandon
Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) used his leader's press conference at the Vuelta a España on Wednesday to wish Nairo Quintana (Movistar) a fast recovery from his crash - and to comment on the numerous accidents and crashes which have affected the top names in this season of racing.
"It's been very odd, a bit nuts," Contador, fourth on the stage after a nervous, but solid defence of his race lead on the ten kilometre ascent of San Miguel de Aralar. "A lot of the people who have really built their season around Grand Tours this year have ended up crashing out.
"Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) in the Giro, me and [Chris] Froome (Sky) in the Tour, now Nairo here. He'd have been a complicated rival for me, so it's a pity, it's bad for the sport.
"I hope he recovers well and that's it not so serious and that next year he'll come back in top shape."
As for his own performance on the most challenging mountain ascent of the Vuelta so far, Contador described the situation at the head of the race as being "very evenly matched."
"It was a strange climb, very irregular and my only mission was to be very attentive and watch everybody I could."
As for Chris Froome's spectacularly uneven performance on San Miguel de Aralar, almost seeming to get dropped before returning to the fray, Contador said "I didn't see him so much, but he's clearly not the Chris Froome of this year's Dauphine or last year's Tour de France."
"However, you really can't rule out a rider of his quality, ever, and the differences between us all are very small."
It was presumably Contador's awareness that a Vuelta can be lost by seconds, not minutes - as happened to Froome in 2011 - led him to battle for one hot spot sprint early on in the stage and even get in a large break in the first hour of the race. So far, overall, second-placed Valverde has picked up 19 seconds in time bonuses, Contador six.
"It's going to be a really competitive Vuelta," Contador said, before adding a little ruefully, "and Alejandro [Valverde] and Joaquim [Rodriguez] are faster than me in the sprints."
"But I've got to keep trying. Either way, today is one day less."