Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) has explained that his conservative style of racing in the first summit finish of the Vuelta al País Vasco on Tuesday was because he was not willing to make the same strategic error as he had done on the steepest climb of the Volta a Catalunya, in Port Ainé.
On the Port Ainé climb in the Volta, Contador had tried to chase down most of the late attacks, only for Nairo Quintana (Movistar) to overtake and drop the Spaniard at the end, in a move which effectively netted Quintana the race victory.
Rather than risk running out of gas as he had done in Catalunya, Contador explained to a small group of reporters afterwards that on the steep stage 2 finish in the Vuelta al País Vasco, he had decided “to wait because in Catalunya perhaps I was too keen to take the responsibility [for chasing down the attacks].
“I wanted to play it cautiously here, and finally I’ve lost a few seconds on some riders, but the good news is my legs are feeling good and the race is still wide open.”
Stage 2 created a fair amount of pre-race tension in the peloton with its difficult finale, never used before the Vuelta al País Vasco and which was preceded by a bottleneck entrance. On top of that, the cold, rainy weather in the first half of the stage made for tired legs even before the race hit warp speed in the run-in to the finish.
“It was very tough, particularly with that weather,” Contador observed, “and we knew we had to be wellplaced going into the finale.” Contador duly managed that, coming onto the climb as the second or third rider in the bunch. But as he explained, strategically he had no desire to leave himself exposed to a late attack by riders like Quintana and indeed he and the Colombian were clearly marking each other as the bunch rapidly disintegrated on the relentlessly steep slopes of the final climb.
Overall, Contador is now sitting in fifth at 11 seconds back - unlike in Catalunya, there are no time bonuses on offer for stage finishes - and he observed that “I’m pretty much in the same position overall as I was before. Obviously it’d be nice to have a few seconds more on a few more rivals, but the race is totally open and there’s three stages, then a time trial, in which anything can happen.”
Contador concluded by referring to the Pais Vasco’s unpredictable weather so far this week, with spells of warmish sunshine alternating on Tuesday with freezing rain and sudden drops in temperature. “You have to take this race day by day, particularly with this weather,” he observed, “but the time trial will have the last word on who wins.”