A powerful long-distance attack by Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) netted the Spaniard his first win of the season ahead of archrival Chris Froome (Team Sky) on the very difficult climb of Hazallanas in the Vuelta a Andulicia - a triumph taken Contador, said later, on pure instinct given he had no clear references on the time gap he had on the Briton.
However, the Spanish rider admitted that he was very satisfied with what he described as a performance “that was a test like the ones I had been doing in the climbs” - in training - “two or three weeks ago.” However, in a sense this was a ‘blind test’in that radio interference from TV cameras on race motorbikes meant he could not rely on his power meter for any clear reference points.
“When there was seven kilometres to go, I said to myself, ‘look Alberto, this is a test just like the ones you’ve been doing up to now and let’s see what can happen.’ And I felt good.”
“But it was complicated because I had no idea what my power output was. When the TV camera gets too close, there’s interference and you can’t read it well.”
“All I knew was that at the pace I was going, it would be difficult for them to close down the gap and I simply tried to go as fast as I could to the finish.”
Contador’s attack saw the Spaniard open up a gap of 40 seconds at one point on his closest pursuers, reduced to 19 seconds by Chris Froome’s grinding counter-attack.
Asked he had suffered because it was such a long climb, Contador answered, “whenever you attack seven kilometres from the finish, it’s going to feel like a long way. Not knowing your power output and not knowing if you’re really going fast or not was not easy. In any case I was looking forward to getting to the finish, because I knew the climb was a very long difficult one, I’d been up it before.”
Tinkoff-Saxo had certainly delivered Contador to the foot of the climb in style, with the entire squad working hard at the front of the pack on the flat approach roads and then on the lower slopes of Hazallanas.
“The team had done an exceptional job, starting with [Eugeni] Petrov, [Michael] Valgren and [Matteo] Tosatto and then Jesus [Hernandez] and Sergio [Paulinho] who all went really hard. Finally, Ivan Basso made a really big effort and we could go clear together.”
With no power output reading, Contador was forced to rely on time references supplied by the team car or by looking back as often as possible to check whether Froome was regaining time. “I could see him a couple of times a couple of bends back and I knew I had a gap because on such a steep climb, just a few metres distance is actually quite a lot. So I just tried to keep it as steady as possible.”
With one summit finish on Saturday then a hilly run down to the race finish on Sunday, Contador was cautiously optimistic about maintaining the lead, saying “well, you can never tell, today was a good day and tomorrow might be a bad one. I don’t know the actual time margins yet, so we’ll have to wait and see. For now, I just want to enjoy this win.”
Asked if he was in danger of hitting top form too early in the season, Contador replied that he did not think so, given he was, “well over his usual race weight, so I was not at all sure of what I could do on this climb, it’s very tough when you’re not in top shape. So this has given me a lot of confidence, because I know there’s still a lot of room for improvement.”
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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