A defiant Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) has insisted that he will continue to fight for the overall classification in the Vuelta a España even if, as he put it in a rest day press conference on Tuesday, "things are not going to be at all straightforward from here on in."
Currently fifth overall at nearly three minutes from Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and with bandages and scars on his left arm and leg, Contador even joked a little when asked directly what kind of condition he really felt he was in at this point in the Vuelta.
"Physically? Mentally? In terms of morale?" Contador said with a broad grin. "I'm fine, I'm going to enjoy what the race holds ahead of me and I'm happy there are lots of hard days left in the Vuelta."
"There are lots more opportunities. I have to remember I'm a long way down on Nairo and his team is very strong. That makes things a lot more difficult."
"But if I'm here in the Vuelta, I'm not here just to make up the numbers."
Contador recognised that he had made some errors on the ascent to Covadonga by attacking and then losing a lot of power later on, which caused him to lose time on his rivals. "I've got a lot of very different sensations, but I think I'm going to be more cautious from now on," he observed.
"At times I'm too impulsive, I went all out when it'd have been more intelligent to try and sit up, but that's my style. Now I'm a long way off on the overall and my options on victory are very scant.
"I will have to go on this day by day, take advantage of what opportunities I can. There are lots of stages which end in a single climb and that's not so good for me."
On the plus side, Contador said that his injuries from his stage 7 crash are slowly but steadily improving. "I had a lot of fluid retention as you do after a crash, but each day I'm getting better. It's a shame that the crash came just before three days of mountain racing. The first two days were good, but on the third I got my tactics wrong."
Given the circumstances, it was not long before one journalist pointed out that Contador had found himself in a similar situation to four years ago, when in a spectacular comeback in Fuente De in 2012, Contador managed to turn the Vuelta upside down and win the race against all odds.
"I've got to sit down and look at the map," Contador replied guardedly. "We'll have to go day by day and take the opportunities that come up."
Contador repeated his comments on Twitter of a few days ago that he believed that - possibly - general classification riders should have their times neutralised at the three kilometres to go sign on flat stages, in order to avoid having sprint teams and GC riders fighting for too little space with crashes almost inevitably happening as a result.
"Cycling's changed in the last few years," Contador argued. "People take advantage of the situation in the last three kilometres of those stages in order to take seconds.
"I'm not criticizing anybody, and everybody has their own tactic, but the sprinters don't like us GC riders being there when they're going at 70kph and we don't like having to be up there either.
"So there's tension, a kind of spectacle, and there's also danger. What I don't understand is why in the promotional video for the next year's race, they always put in the crashes. They have to really think if that is the spectacle they want to show
"Maybe people think that I'm saying this because I crashed, but I think the majority of riders in the peloton think like me. Maybe we have to work things out differently. I'm not going to start waving a banner to try to change things, but it's interesting to reflect on this question, at the least."
Contador rounded off his press conference answering a question as to whether, after such a difficult year, he had now wished he could end his career rather than continuing. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Contador reflected that was not the case.
"If I go out with an abandon in the Tour and a bad result in the Vuelta, I wouldn't have wanted this to be my last year," he said.
"This year's Vuelta could be good, also next year I've got lots of plans, so in that sense I'm happy, there's things to look forward to. The level of support I've got is also incredible, in every kilometre of this race, people are cheering me on. So it wouldn't have been a good decision to go out now."
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 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. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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