From Broken Leg To Triumph, Contador’s Vuelta Comeback

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by Barnaby CHESTERMAN

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain, Sept 14, 2014 (AFP) – When Alberto Contador
climbed off his bicycle in floods of tears on the 10th stage of July’s Tour de
France, his season seemed to be over.

The popular Spaniard had built his entire campaign around aiming to
dethrone Chris Froome at the Grand Boucle and win the world’s greatest cycle
race for a third time.

Within 24 hours he had been diagnosed with a broken leg from the crash on a
rapid descent half an hour before he quit the Tour.

Contador’s season seemed in tatters — as was Froome’s, having also crashed
out of the Tour five stages beforehand with a broken hand and wrist — but it
wasn’t.

The Briton had immediately reset his focus and targeted the Vuelta but
Contador’s doctor said he had no chance of making the start line for the
Spanish event, despite his injury not needing an operation.

Yet barely six weeks after breaking his tibia, Contador was indeed there in
Jerez for the opening team timetrial stage.

What’s more, he turned up in top form, finishing alongside Froome and
Alejandro Valverde on the first mountain stage before gaining time on both the
next time there was an uphill finish on stage nine.

A day later on stage 10, Contador took an impressive fourth place in the
individual timetrial and snatched the leader’s red jersey, which he would
never relinquish.

Crucially, he had a 1min 18sec lead over Froome at that stage, although
there were several mountain stages of varying difficulty to come.

Valverde, Joaquim Rodriguez, Rigoberto Uran and even young Italian hope
Fabio Aru were still all in contention at that point, although Giro d’Italia
winner Nairo Quintana, who had crashed on the timetrial and lost 4min, would
leave the race the next day after hitting the deck a second time.

Uran, runner-up in the Giro the last two years behind Vincenzo Nibali —
the current Tour champion — and Quintana, would also quit with bronchitis
after a disastrous 16th stage in which he dropped from sixth to 16th overall
having lost more than 15min.

– Crucial battles –

That stage 16 was one of two crucial ones that demonstrated in a ‘mano a
mano’ battle with Froome that Contador could come out on top.

That stage 16 to La Farrapona and the penultimate 20th stage to Puerto de
Ancares, saw a Froome acceleration drop everyone else in the race, except
Contador.

Both times the 31-year-old Spaniard doggedly hung onto Froome’s back wheel
and resisted the 2013 Tour winner’s attempts to distance him.

And in both cases, Contador jumped away in the final kilometre to win by
15sec and 16sec.

Froome had to admit that Contador has simply been stronger at this race,
although he pointed out that his preparation had not been ideal due to his own
fractures.

The Vuelta may not command the same respect as the Tour — and one look at
the press room, barely a 10th of the size of the Tour’s, confirms that — but
if anything the finishing field in this race was far stronger than that at the
Tour.

The Tour podium included two riders who had never before even finished on a
Grand Tour podium, with only Nibali, completing a full house of Grand Tour
wins, bucking that trend.

But the Vuelta podium contained three Grand Tour winners with eight
victories between them and a further eight podiums on top of that.

The Tour may be the harder race but winning the Vuelta this year may very
well have meant more.

And for Contador, it continued a remarkable record.

The Tinkoff-Saxo leader has started nine Grand Tours, finishing eight and
winning six of them.

Even in the three Grand Tours that were wiped from his record over a doping
infraction that saw him banned for two years, he won two of them and finished
fifth in the other.

Despite the emergence of the likes of Froome, 29, Nibali, 29, and Quintana,
24, Contador remains a champion amongst his peers.

Results from the
Vuelta a Espana following Sunday’s 21st and last stage, a 9.7km individual
time trial in Santiago de Compostela:

Stage
1. Adriano Malori (ITA/MOV) 11min 12sec, 2. Jesse Sergent (NZL/TRE) at
8sec, 3. Rohan Dennis (AUS/BMC) 9, 4. Vasili Kiryienka (BLR/SKY) 17, 5. Jimmy
Engoulvent (FRA/EUC) 18, 6. Maciej Bodnar (POL/CAN) same time, 7. Sergey
Chernetsky (RUS/KAT) s.t., 8. Alexey Lutsenko (KAZ/AST) s.t., 9. Damien Gaudin
(FRA/ALM) 19, 10. Jasper Stuyven (BEL/TRE) s.t., 11. Kristof Vandewalle
(BEL/TRE) s.t., 12. Daniele Bennati (ITA/TIN) 21, 13. Sam Bewley (NZL/ORI) 22,
14. Nikias Arndt (GER/GIA) 24, 15. Greg Henderson (NZL/LTB) 28, 16. Patrick
Gretsch (GER/ALM) s.t., 17. Gert Joeaar (EST/COF) 29, 18. Fabio Felline
(ITA/TRE) 30, 19. Vegard Breen (NOR/LTB) 38, 20. John Degenkolb (GER/GIA) 39
Selected others
33. Alejandro Valverde (ESP/MOV) at 55sec, 48. Samuel Sanchez (ESP/BMC)
1:03, 63. Chris Froome (GBR/SKY) 1:13, 101. Alberto Contador (ESP/TIN) 1:40,
124. Cadel Evans (AUS/BMC) 1:55.

Final overall standings
1. Alberto Contador (ESP/TIN) 81h 25min 05sec, 2. Chris Froome (GBR/SKY) at
1:10, 3. Alejandro Valverde (ESP/MOV) 1:50, 4. Joaquin Rodriguez (ESP/KAT)
3:25, 5. Fabio Aru (ITA/AST) 4:48, 6. Samuel Sanchez (ESP/BMC) 9:30, 7. Daniel
Martin (IRL/GRM) 10:38, 8. Warren Barguil (FRA/GIA) 11:50, 9. Damiano Caruso
(ITA/CAN) 12:50, 10. Daniel Navarro (ESP/COF) 13:02, 11. Daniel Moreno
(ESP/KAT) 16:44, 12. Mikel Nieve (ESP/SKY) 19:54, 13. Romain Sicard (FRA/EUC)
24:20, 14. Wilco Kelderman (NED/BKN) 25:04, 15. Giampaolo Caruso (ITA/KAT)
25:27, 16. Maxime Monfort (BEL/LTB) 29:52, 17. Sergio Pardilla (ESP/MTN)
32:00, 18. Dominik Nerz (GER/BMC) 37:25, 19. Luis Ángel Maté (ESP/COF) 42:04,
20. David Arroyo (ESP/CJR) 52:51

Overall winner’s red jersey – Alberto Contador (ESP) Tinkoff-Saxo

Green points jersey – John Degenkolb (GER) Giant-Shimano

Spotted blue mountains jersey – Luis Leon Sanchez (ESP) Caja Rural-Seguros

White combination jersey – Alberto Contador (ESP) Tinkoff-Saxo

Team competition – Katusha

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