Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) says his morale is boosted after his seven separate attacks on the slopes of the Alto de Arrate on stage 3 of the Vuelta a España saw just four riders fight it out for the victory – Contador, Chris Froome (Team Sky), Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) and the eventual winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar). So can he do the same on Tuesday on the summit of Valdezcaray, the race’s second mountain-top finish?
"It’s not such a hard climb," Contador speculates, "maybe we’ll get a group of ten riders or more at the summit. And if it’s windy then it will be very difficult to open up a gap."
Fortunately for those hoping for a repeat of Monday’s spectacular attacks by Contador, the weather is forecast to be very warm (low thirties at the foot of the climb) but with only the slightest of winds, 7km/h, at the summit.
What cannot change come rain or shine is the climb itself: although it is 13.4 kilometres long, nearly three times the length of Arrate on Monday, it is by no means as hard, with an average gradient of just 5.2% and maximum gradients of 9%. Tuesday’s other big challenge, the first category climb of Orduña, is over 100 kilometres from the finish and is unlikely to have much effect on the final outcome of the stage.
Either way, Contador says he is extremely pleased with how Arrate worked out for him, with one newspaper in Spain headlining their cycling reports with the simple phrase: "Contador is back."
"I had good feelings, and even if the differences were small, you have to remember there wasn’t any other climb beforehand and that means the people felt much fresher than usual.
"I haven’t done many long climbs in the last few weeks, so I can be satisfied with this as a test, even if it was a pity I didn’t get a stage win, but my objective is in Madrid and before the stage started I’d have signed on the dotted line for this result."
As for his rivals, Contador said it was too early to draw major conclusions. "There are riders who don’t always get off to a good start in a major Tour but who are then up there overall. I’m sure that the riders from Euskaltel will be back in the action again soon. But I’m pleased with the result, my legs felt strong and that’s the most important thing."
One rider who was not so happy, at least with the final sprint, was Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha). "I screwed it up," was his terse description of how he failed to beat Valverde in the tightest of finishes.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.