Although Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) failed to take the overall race lead on stage 4 of Tirreno-Adriatico, his impressive and aggressive performance to win the stage indicated that the Spaniard is nearly back to his best.
Contador hesitated in the final three kilometres when he could have perhaps attacked to gain time on race leader Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quickstep). He clearly wanted the stage victory and saved his effort for the final surge to the line instead. Finishing one second ahead of Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and 10 seconds ahead of Kwiatkowski, Contador also secured a 10-second time bonus. He is now just 16 seconds behind Kwiatkowski in the overall standings.
"It's a great win, it gives me confidence and confirms that all the work that I've been doing in the winter is paying off. I'm happy to win but the GC is going to be hard to crack. I'll try though," Contador said.
"The time bonus at the stage finish was important because we know that Tirreno-Adriatico always comes down to a matter of seconds.
"Perhaps I could have attacked one kilometre from the finish but they might have come back to me and someone else might have taken the stage win, and I'd have had the same time as everyone else. It was better to take the time bonus. Given the stage finish, I thought the more intelligent option was to wait for the final sprint."
Contador dismissed suggestions that he's made some kind of comeback.
"Sometimes you win, sometimes you don't. I think I've just carried working as I always have. I'm focussed on doing my job as well as I can."
Roman Kreuziger deserved a share of Contador's success after his attack allowed the Spaniard to save his legs for his winning move. The Czech rider rode in the big chain ring for much of the climb and eased up to try to help Contador in the final kilometre. He managed to finish fifth, at five seconds and moved up to sixth overall at 39 seconds.
"Yeah, Roman worked really hard," Contador said.
"It wasn't a pre-planned attack, we decided things during the stage. He told me that he felt good and so I told him it was a good opportunity for him to perhaps to win the stage and move up on GC. If they worked behind, I was there to attack. I think it was a perfect work by Roman and by all the team. I'm really happy with the team today."
Bike change, bike check
Contador was the only rider to change his bike before the final climb to the finish. The quick change cost him little effort, but was noticed by the UCI commissaries, who insisted on checking the weight of his bike. Cyclingnews understands it came in at 6.82kg, just 20g above the UCI limit of 6.8kg.
"I change my bike sometimes, because sometimes a bike feels different to another bike. We've all got our manias and personal tics," he said playing down any importance of the bike change.