By Susan Westemeyer
25-year-old Alberto Contador carved his name into the annals of cycling history by becoming the first Spaniard to win all three Grand Tours on Sunday in his home town of Madrid. The Astana star who had been denied his opportunity to defend his 2007 Tour de France title when the race organiser refused to invite his team had vowed to get revenge at his home Tour, and he succeeded.
Under immense pressure to live up to the title of top favourite, Contador raced a smart first half of the Vuelta, entering into the critical stages just seconds from the overall lead, side by side with teammate Levi Leipheimer.
As an additional burden, Contador had to face the crush of the press as rumors of a return to racing by Lance Armstrong became fact. The possibility that the seven-time Tour champion might join Johan Bruyneel at Astana and relegate Contador back to domestique status seemed to light a fire in the young rider's heart.
In the stages following the second rest day, "Kid" Contador became "King" Contador as he dominated the two mountain stages, including the dreaded Angliru, and entered into the final week with a lead commanding enough to allow his Team Astana to easily control the race, and even let rival Team Caisse d'Epargne take two stages.
Contador made it clear who was the best in the race, and, with the exception of his own teammate Levi Leipheimer who won the penultimate mountain time trial, he dominated his rivals in a fashion which hadn't been seen since – dare we say it – Lance Armstrong last won the Tour de France.