In a repeat of stage 13 of the 2013 Tour de France, Alberto Contador and Tinkoff-Saxo were once again at the forefront of the Vuelta a España echelon action on stage 8 as the race powered towards Spain’s ‘Windy City’, Albacete.
Located right in the centre of the Spanish meseta flatlands, Albacete has traditionally seen some major echelons in the Vuelta - and 2014 was no exception. None of the top ten overall were caught out when the race shattered in the final 35 kilometres, but there were some narrow misses, as Nairo Quintana (Movistar) found out.
Just as he had been when SaxoBank and Omega Pharma-Quick Step blew the race apart on the flatlands of central France in stage 13 of the Tour, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) was once again in the thick of the echelon action in Spain on Saturday. And if all his top rivals were in the front group of 73, the fact that Contador and Saxo-Tinkoff were content to do far more than follow wheels suggests strongly that the Madrileño is feeling increasingly confident about his physical condition.
The stage was not incident free for the Saxo-Tinkoff rider, though: he twice suspected he had slow punctures, and even changed wheels once, with 100 kilometres to go. He then rode flat out for the final 50 kilometres despite suspecting he had another slow puncture - which proved to be wrong.
“It was pretty frightening, I twice had the same feeling [of a slow puncture], even after changing a wheel,” Contador said in response to questions - but only after he had given teammate Daniele Benatti a huge hug at the finish. “He looked after me so well today in the echelons, he’s like a life insurance,” Contador said.
“He’s not called Bennati, he’s called ‘locomotive’.” he joked. “Finally the echelons didn’t cause any real damage, but it’s still very stressful.”
“I wanted to get through today unscathed because I know that tomorrow [stage nine] is a very important day. The climb isn’t that tough, but I want to get through it and then see what I can do on [Tuesday’s] time trial.”
Third overall, he insists his physical feelings after each stage “are way better than I thought it could be possible.” And considering he broke his tibia in the Tour, it has been a remarkable comeback so far.