Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) launched a powerful attack with less than two kilometres to go on stage nine of the Vuelta a España which enabled the Spaniard to move to within three seconds of the overall lead.
But Contador - who was caught by Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Joaquim Rodriguez almost at the line - insisted at the rain soaked finish that his condition is still not ideal.
“I had the opportunity to try to get a good result so I went for it, but I’m lacking in top condition,” Contador insisted. “It’s not easy for me to keep a high pace for a long period of time.”
“But I had the legs, and I knew I had to try to get away from the rest. I’ve no idea, though, whether the time differences are important.”
As is almost always the case in the first week of a Grand Tour, where the GC racing tends to be more a question of skirmishing than major battles, Contador’s gains are more psychological, in that a move like stage nine’s will have intimidated his rivals, than representing an all-out bid to conquer the Vuelta title for a third time.
This was accurate given Contador had regularly defined the eight kilometre Valdelinares climb as “not too hard” before the stage. But after finishing third in La Zubia, the Vuelta’s first summit finish, without ever attacking, Contador’s searing move at Valdelinares not only placed Chris Froome (Sky) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) in difficulties, it also means that amongst the overall contenders, Contador is the most consistent climber of the Vuelta so far.
Contador finally claimed twelfth at the line, finishing 2:16 down on stage winner Anacona (Lampre-Merida). “I’m happy overall, and now I’m going to have a good rest,” he concluded.
Speaking in a team press release, Tinkoff-Saxo sports director Steve De Jongh recognised that it had been “a very good day for Alberto.”
“It was a very good day for Alberto and I think everyone saw a very strong Contador in the final. It was a bit of a nightmare in the rainy finale and we saw a lot of riders standing completely still. The first hour was very hard, we did over 47 km/h.”
“It was never easy today, it was fast and they kept going full gas but we can be satisfied with today's result and now it's time to recover for the time trial on Tuesday."