As the mountain stages continue to feature at the Vuelta a España, Alberto Contador's poor showing at Andorra la Vella looks more like an isolated incident than the beginning of a sharp decline for the Trek-Segafredo rider.
On the first serious mountain stage of the 2017 Vuelta, Contador flexed his muscles as he threw down an attack on the climb to the Observatorio Astronomico de Calar Alto inside 10km to race. While the 34-year-old was unable to dance away like in year's past that saw him claim all three Grand Tours, Contador cooperated with Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) in a move to try and eliminate their rivals.
While Contador was unable to stick with Nibali and race leader Chris Froome (Team Sky) as the jumped away in the closing kilometres to pull out a 17-second advantage, the Spaniard explained he was pleased with the overall outcome.
"It has been a very hard day with a lot of rain from the start, a shame since we're so close to [seaside resort] Almeria. I have only lost a few seconds, to Vincenzo [Nibali] above all, but I have made up time on a lot of rivals," said Contador with Fabio Aru, Esteban Chaves Tejay van Garderen and Nico Roche all losing serious time.
"I could see that a lot of riders were on the ropes. It was an opportunity not to be wasted, otherwise they could have ridden on the wheels. So, instead of waiting for the finish, I preferred to make a move a bit earlier to break up the group and shake off some of the favourites," he added of the decision to attack.
Adding a degree of difficulty to the 11th stage of the race was the endless rain. While conditions dried for the finale, the hard day in the saddle taxed the riders with Contador adding that it appeared Froome had been challenged by weather the Briton described as akin to the "Spring Classics ... not something you expect in Vuelta a España.
"Nieve was following Nibali but they called him back. I think perhaps he [Froome] was in a bit of discomfort. But we know what he's like: he takes a second to recover, and that's what he did," Contador said of Froome's teammate Mikel Nieve.
Sitting in 30th place overall at stage 3 into Andorra la Vella, Contador has slowly improved his position through the top-20. 13th place on stage 8 into Xorret de Catí saw the 2008, 2012 and 2014 Vuelta winner move into 17th, followed by sixth the following day to continue his move up the rankings. With several more chances to come for Contador, the Spaniard is confident he can continue his rise up the standings in the final race of his career.
While Contador has all but ruled out a repeat of his 2012 Vuelta winning ambush, nothing can be discounted from the five time Grand Tour winner in the remaining ten race days of his career.
"This Vuelta is all about consistency. There are days where you can lose a lot of time. But, well, despacito despacito," said Contador, inadvertently channelling the message of Justin Bieber's summer hit.
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