Vuelta a España: Alberto Contador seizes control on the climb to Fuente Dé
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Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Vuelta a España: Alberto Contador seizes control on the climb to Fuente Dé

by Ben Atkins at 11:33 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Vuelta a España, Race Reports and Results
 
First post-suspension victory gives Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank captain the red jersey on medium mountain stage

alberto contador Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) came out of the rest day with all guns blazing and seized control of the 2012 Vuelta a España on the medium-mountain 17th stage between Santander and Fuente Dé. The 2008 race winner took his first victory after returning from suspension a month before, after an aggressive race from his Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank team put overnight race leader Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) on the back foot.

Contador attacked from the peloton on the penultimate climb to the Collado La Hoz, with just over 50km to go, and made contact with a group that contained three of his teammates before they reached the top. Between them Bruno Pires, Jesus Hernandez and Sergio Paulinho managed to pull their team leader more than a minute clear of a group that contained Rodríguez and second overall Alejandro Valverde (Movistar); with 23km to go Contador set off alone - with only former teammate Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) for brief company - and managed to hold on to take the stage victory.

“I attacked instinctively,” said Contador afterwards. “I believe this day of racing has shocked a few people! Truly, I’ve ridden a bit like a kamikaze, but I had to try.

“I felt something like an angel and a devil on my shoulders,” he explained. “One was telling me: “Attack”, the other one said: “Don’t attack.” I followed the right advice. I was scared of losing my advantage in the last fifteen kilometres because I hadn’t eaten a lot. I was afraid that other riders could catch me.”

Having been stripped of all his results since his positive test for Clenbuterol in the 2010 Tour de France, this was Contador’s first victory since he won on Alpe d’Huez in the Critérium du Dauphiné a few weeks before.

Valverde adopted a similar tactic and, having watched Rodríguez exhaust his beleaguered team in the fruitless pursuit of Contador, attacked himself with 14km to go. He too had posted teammates in the break, and was paced up the 2nd category climb by a combination of Nairo Quintana and Beñat Intxausti, before going it alone in the final kilometres.

Despite having Contador in sight in the final kilometre, Valverde was unable to catch his rival, but won the sprint for second over Sergio Henao (Team Sky) and Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel-Euskadi) just six seconds behind him.

Rodríguez finally finished 2’38” behind Contador, having ridden the entire climb alone, and dropped from first to third overall.

The 187.3km stage saw a very fast start, with none of the numerous attempts to escape gaining any ground, and it was not until the 80th kilometre that eleven riders managed to get clear. This group was down to just seven as it climbed the 3rd category Collado de Ozalba, but its numbers were swelled considerably as a number of riders splintered off the head of the peloton and bridged across.

Included in this new group were three of Contador’s teammates, and four of Valverde’s, but Rodríguez was suddenly isolated with only Alberto Losada for company. When Contador attacked there was nothing that the Katusha rider could do and, once Losada had been used up in the chase, Valverde attacked himself.

By leapfrogging across his teammates, Valverde almost managed to catch Contador, but the Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank rider managed to hold on to the finish, where he punched the air several times with both fists as he took stage and red jersey.

A medium mountain day compared to the massive peaks of the previous stages

Compared to the three stages that came before the rest day, the 187.3km between Santander and Fuente Dé looked far from threatening. The second half would feature the 3rd category Collado de Ozalba, the 2nd category Collado La Hoz, before the final 2nd category climb to the finish, but seemed far less threatening to Rodríguez’ lead than the huge climbs from the previous days.

A fast start saw a number of unsuccessful attempts to escape in the first hour, but the speed of the peloton prevented anybody getting clear. A split tin the peloton after 58km gave Rodríguez an early scare though, as Contador and Valverde were ahead of it, while he was trapped behind.

Rodríguez’ Katusha team managed to close the gap within a few kilometres however, and - after passing through Cabezón de la Sal, the birthplace of 2011 race winner Juanjo Cobo (Movistar) - the race settled down.

Finally, after 80km Leonardo Duque (Cofidis), Pim Ligthart (Vacansoleil-DCM), Danny Pate (Team Sky), Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Lloyd Mondory (AG2R La Mondiale), Alessandro Ballan (BMC Racing), Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Lars Boom (Rabobank), Bruno Pires (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Javier Ramirez (Andalucía) managed to get away and, once gone, were allowed to build a lead. Through the feedzone after 91km, the eleven-rider group was 3’07” clear of the peloton.

This was as far as the lead was allowed to grow however, and, as Garmin-Sharp - and then RadioShack-Nissan - came to the front of the peloton and, by the time the break reached the beginning of the climb to the Collado de Ozalba with 68.9km to go, it was down to just 1’04”.

The group began to split on the climb and, as Jeannesson led the break over the top, there were just seven left, a few seconds clear of a group of 17 riders, with the peloton not much further back.

On the short descent the chase group made contact with the leaders, and the large breakaway now contained the Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank trio of Pires, Hernandez and Paulinho, as well as the Movistar quartet of Quintana, Erviti, Intxausti and Pablo Lastras.

Also present were Henao, Verdugo, Tiralongo, Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale), Alexandre Geniez (Argos-Shimano) and Arnold Jeannesson (FDJ-Big Mat), Bauke Mollema (Rabobank), Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) and Jan Bakelandts (RadioShack-Nissan). As the new breakaway group arrived at the start of the Collado La Hoz with 55km to go, it was 1’14” ahead of the head of the peloton; shortly after the climb began though, Contador attacked across the gap.

Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank goes on the offensive with a long distance attack

The 2008 race winner made contact before the group reached the top of the climb, by which time he was 16 seconds ahead of a chasing group containing both Rodríguez and Valverde. With three Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank teammates in the group Contador set about increasing this advantage on the descent and the false flat approach to the final climb.

With 30km to go Contador’s lead was 42 seconds, and was well and truly in the virtual red jersey. With only Losada pulling the group behind, this gap continued to grow and was up to a minute with 27km to go.

Meanwhile fourth place Chris Froome (Team Sky) and sixth place Robert Gesink (Rabobank) had missed both groups; Gesink had teammates up the road however, so left the chase from the remains of the peloton to Team Sky. It was already more than a minute and a half behind Rodríguez’ and Valverde’s group though, and making no progress.

At the second intermediate sprint, in Potes with 23.3km to go, and with Paulinho - the last of his teammates - now spent, Contador set off alone. He was quickly joined by former teammate Tiralongo however and, as the two of them set off towards the final climb, the Rodríguez group passed under the sprint banner 1’23” behind them.

Team Sky led the peloton over the line 3’06” back, with seemingly little chance of seeing either lead group again.

As the final climb began, with 17.3km to go, Contador and Tiralongo were 1’52” clear and, with Contador’s teammates Hernandez and Pires having dropped back to the chasing group after doing their turns at the front, both riders were doing their best to disrupt the chase.

After little more than a kilometre of climbing the two leaders’ advantage rose to more than two minutes.

Valverde gives chase as Rodríguez finds himself all alone

With 15km to go Losada cracked and dropped out of the chase group, leaving Rodríguez and Valverde to do the chasing themselves. A kilometre later though, Valverde jumped away from the group and, although Rodríguez tried to follow, was unable to stay with the Movistar rider.

Meanwhile, up ahead, with 13.5km to go Contador left Tiralongo behind and set off alone.

Valverde soon caught up with Quintana - who was climbing with Paulinho - and the Colombian began to pull his leader up the road. Rodríguez was all alone behind him, other than the irritating presence of Hernandez - another of Contador’s teammates - who was obviously going to do nothing to help.

Valverde and Quintana soon dropped their companions and began to scythe their way through the scattered former breakaway riders. With ten kilometres to go though, he was still 1’37” behind Contador, with Rodríguez another 48 seconds back.

Quintana soon sat up, as Valverde caught another small group, made up of Jeannesson, Geniez and Movistar teammate Intxausti. Together they continued to push the pace and, with seven kilometres to go, they had cut Contador’s lead to 1’12”. Rodríguez was now 1’11” behind the Movistar rider; still holding on to virtual second overall, but was still getting no help from any of the riders he passed.

At the three kilometre banner Contador was just 30 seconds ahead of Valverde, who was now leading the chase himself. On the Movistar rider’s wheel now were just Henao, Verdugo and Nocentini, and, as the Team Sky rider briefly took over the lead, the group had Contador in sight as he approached the final kilometre.

Under the flamme rouge the gap to the Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank rider was just 14 seconds; both Contador and Valverde got out of the saddle as the climb steepened a little and, as he crested the top of the climb, Contador had the victory in his sights.

Sprinting into the final, flatter, few hundred metres, Contador repeatedly looked over his shoulder to check that Valverde wasn’t about to catch him, before punching the air several times with both fists as he took his first post-suspension victory and the overall race lead.

Valverde outsprinted the group to take second place, just six seconds later; Rodríguez finally crossed the line 2’38” behind Contador - having dropped from first to third overall - as Hernandez raised a celebratory fist beside him.

Result stage 17
1. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank
2. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team @ 6s
3. Sergio Henao (Col) Team Sky
4. Gorka Verdugo (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
5. Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale @ 19s
6. Jan Bakelants (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan @ 55s
7. Beñat Intxausti (Spa) Movistar Team @ 1’13”
8. Alexandre Geniez (Fra) Argos-Shimano @ 1’40”
9. Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) Team Astana @ 2’13”
10. Joaquim Rodríguez (Spa) Katusha Team @ 2’38”

Standings after stage 17
1. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank
2. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team @
3. Joaquim Rodríguez (Spa) Katusha Team @ 2’28”
4. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky @ 9’40”
5. Daniel Moreno (Spa) Katusha Team @ 11’36”
6. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank @ 12’06”
7. Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank @ 12’55”
8. Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin-Sharp @ 13’06”
9. Igor Antón (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi @ 13’49”
10. Beñat Intxausti (Spa) Movistar Team @ 14’10”

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