After his fourth day in the Vuelta a Espana lead and as the race heads into a trio of tough mountain stages, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) attempted to ease the pressureby saying that, “there could be a new race leader tomorrow.”
“This is the hardest part of the race, and the time differences are minimal overall,” Contador, who leads Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) by 20 seconds, said after finishing seventh on stage 13. “Everything could change around.”
On top of that, Contador has never ridden up La Camperona, the eight kilometre final climb on stage 14, making Saturday’s stage even more of a voyage into the unknown for the Madrileño.
“I’ve only seen it in the route book and on television. It’s not such a hard day as stages 15 or 16, but it’ll definitely be difficult,” he said - and the gearing he says he will use tomorrow - 39x30 and 53x11, would seem to confirm that.
Contador recognised that his team, “who took me through this stage perfectly,” might not be the strongest of the Vuelta, but one plus point for the Spaniard is that his injured knee is “no longer hurting at all. That’s a very good sign. I’ve no idea if I’ll attack or try to defend my lead, but obviously if the opportunity is there, I’ll take it.”
Going for the stage win on Friday when his friend and former teammate Daniel Navarro (Cofidis) was up the road was not on the cards, particularly after Navarro had fumed very publicly at Contador’s decision to chase him down when he attacked on San Miguel de Aralar two days ago.
“He deserved that win, the other day he said I’d gone after him, well today it was just the opposite,” Contador said, and the big hug the two gave each other after the finish seemed to confirm that all was well between them.
“I’d only gone after him two days ago because I was trying to put the heat on [fellow overall contenders Warren] Barguil (Giant-Shimano), [Chris] Froome (Sky) and [Alejandro] Valverde (Movistar). But in any case, that’s all sorted out now.”
Whilst there is no avoiding one new Vuelta battlefront opening up in the mountains, Contador hopes that another one - the GC contenders scrapping for time bonuses - will die down as a result.
“I hope they’re not going to be decisive because they don’t favour me so much,” he said. “But I think there’s so many mountain stages that they’ll stop being important.”
Asked if a stage win was amongst his objectives in the final eight days of racing, Contador smiled and said “It would be good. But it’s the leader’s jersey that really matters.”