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Vuelta a Espana: No repeat of Fuente De as Contador attacks on familiar roads

Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) backed up his blazing attack on the Machucos with another series of punchy accelerations midway through Thursday's hilly track through Cantabria, as he revisited the Vuelta a Espana terrain on which he staged one of the greatest exploits of his career.

The Spaniard explained afterwards that he had had no plans to attack and his multiple digs on the Collado de la Hoz had not been inspired by his memories of how he had raced through the same region and over the same roads en route to one of his most spectacular Vuelta stage victories, at Fuente Dé.

But it was impossible to ignore the fact that the 2017 race had gone along the same early rolling coast roads where Contador began his attacks in 2012, and then went over one of the same key climbs, the second category Collado de la Hoz.

This ascent was where five years ago Contador managed to bridge across to an earlier breakaway and his race-winning move began to take on a definitive shape.

Fast forward to Thursday and, purely coincidentally, on the same ascent - and with the mountain of Fuente Dé overlooking the last part of Thursday's stage - Contador put in no fewer than seven attacks in the red jersey group. But he said later he remembered the climb well from 2012 and that local knowledge doubtless helped spur him on.

"When I went through this area, I remembered 2012 and fighting with [former Vuelta leader Joaquim] Rodriguez," Contador told Spanish TV. "I remember how, when they hadn't even started showing the race live on TV, I had got away. But it was a hard day.

"At the start of today's stage, I initially got a lot of questions from other riders, saying 'Hey, are you going to go for it again on the first climb?' And I said, 'No way.'

"But then things got more dramatic" - when Katusha-Alpecin put in a mass attack half way up the second category climb - "and I thought I'd go for it."

When he was told that he had made no fewer than seven separate attacks, Contador said, "I had to move. I had good legs and you always have to remember that everybody's legs can hurt sometimes, even Team Sky's. Anybody can have a bad day. I had to test riders, see how they respond. I knew it would be hard but I had to try."

This time Contador's attacks didn't work out, even though they helped reduce the lead group to less than two dozen riders. But he still had the strength to stay with Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Michael Woods (Cannondale-Drapac) when the Briton attacked on the final ascent, cementing his fifth place overall.

Contador pointed out that quite apart from Froome's own strength, his team had an overwhelming level of superiority, which made it hard to feel inspired to attack them, even in the shadow of Fuente Dé.

"It's the usual situation. There was a moment when there were 20 of us in the front group and seven of them were Sky riders. That puts a brake on anybody's motivation to attack."

But not, it seems, Contador's.

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Alasdair Fotheringham

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 IndependentThe GuardianProCycling, The Express and Reuters.