According to sports director Dirk Demol, the Vuelta a Espana’s stage 16 Logrono time trial was the moment that Trek-Segafredo knew that the old Alberto Contador was back. Contador harked back to his former self on the penultimate stage of the Vuelta a Espana on Saturday with a solo victory on the Alto de l’Angliru, a day before he is set to retire from racing.
The team had been targeting the summit finish of the Angliru since early in the race, but there were concerns about how Contador would be after going on the attack at every feasible opportunity.
“He has been full of energy the whole of the last week, since the time trial. When we were behind, we could see that his pedal strokes and we knew that the best Contador was back there,” an emotional Demol told Cyclingnews following Contador's win on the Angliru. “We were talking about this stage already, almost from the beginning but you know the temperament of Alberto, and he went day after day. Every chance there was to go, he went, like yesterday. We were almost afraid that he was giving so much every day, day after day.”
Demol has known Contador since his early years as a professional and was a DS on the Discovery Channel team when Contador took his first major victory at the 2007 Paris-Nice, before going onto win the overall classification at the Tour de France. The Belgian believes that his victory on the Angliru is a fitting way to close out his career.
“Of course, we have the last stage in Madrid, but this was the last mountain stage of his life,” said Demol. “He’s known as one of the best mountain climbers of cycling history and winning on a mythical climb like this is enormous. There was some disappointment because it looked like the GC was over, but we fought back day by day, and in the end, we have the stage win and we’re super happy. There were a lot of emotions in the car, I can tell you.”
According to Demol, Contador was even stronger heading into the Vuelta than he had been just over a month earlier at the Tour de France. However, his Vuelta a Espana hit a road block after illness struck him down in the opening days. His teammate John Degenkolb would have to be sent home because he was sick, and the team was concerned that Contador might follow the German home.
“He had to sprint to the bathroom after the stage to Andorra. We were really afraid that something was really wrong, but everything before the start of the Vuelta proved that he was in even better condition before he started the Tour,” Demol explained. “We tried to stay calm, all the riders what they did for him, chapeau. They kept believing in him. Theuns is a sprinter but even on sprinters stages he was sacrificing for him. The whole team was behind him, and he paid them back with this magnificent stage win.”
Contador will ride the final stage on Sunday into Madrid before he officially makes his retirement from professional cycling, and the team will have to replace a Contador-sized gap in their roster. They’re not quite ready to think about how they will do it.
“We don’t know yet. We haven’t spoken about it yet. We are just enjoying it.”