ALHAMA DE MURCIA, Spain (VN) – Alberto Contador didn’t fire his trademark pistol-shot salute after winning Saturday’s mountain stage, but instead launched one fist into the air in an emotional celebration of victory.
Contador won for the first time since he tested positive for traces of clenbuterol in last year’s Tour de France with a late-race surge that also put him into the leader’s jersey going into Sunday’s time trial finale in Murcia.
Contador jumped with 400 meters to go to win five seconds ahead of Denis Menchov (Geox-TMC) and Jerome Coppel (Saur-Sojasun), with Fabio Duarte (Geox-TMC) trailing across the line fourth at 25 seconds adrift.
“I cannot put into words to describe what I have been through these past few months,” Contador said. “This victory means a lot to me, especially after all what I’ve been through. The public really cheered me on these days, but it’s never easy to win. I am proud to win here today.”
Contador slipped into a leader’s jersey for the first time since he wore the yellow jersey on the Champs-Élysées in Paris in July, but he admitted it won’t be easy to fend off Menchov and Coppel in Sunday’s 12.4km individual time trial in Murcia. Contador leads Menchov by three seconds and Coppel by five.
“Nothing’s won yet,” Contador said. “The time trial will be difficult tomorrow. I am still not in top condition and Menchov is very strong in the discipline.”
Contador attacked the pack at the base of the final climb in Saturday’s 183.2km second stage from Murcia to Sierra Espuña on the Cat. 1 Alto de Collado Bermejo. Menchov’s Geox-TMC did a great job to keep Contador on a tight leash, but the damage was being done to the rest of the pack.
“Contador attacked at the bottom of the climb and it really blew up the pack,” said UnitedHealthcare’s Charlie Wegelius, who finished 28th at 2:54 back. “I felt asphyxiated on the bottom part of the climb. It was narrow and the speed was fast. It wasn’t long enough for me to ride as I would have liked.”
Contador’s acceleration gave him a small gap on the chasing Menchov coming over the top of the climb going into the narrow, treacherous descent to the finish line. Contador said he didn’t take any risks on the descent, which saw three riders fall hard, including David Plaza and Juan Mauricio Soler (both Movistar) and Mikel Landa (Euskaltel-Euskadi).
The leading trio hit the base of a small, 400-meter-long rise to the finish when Contador turned on the afterburners once again to dart to victory.
Saxo Bank boss Bjarne Riis said this victory meant a lot more to Contador than he let on. Riis arrived last night following meetings in Paris with the UCI and said Contador was especially motivated to go for the win.
“This means a lot to Alberto. He really wanted to win today. This will be a huge boost to his morale,” Riis told VeloNews. “Alberto’s getting better, but he’s still not 100 percent. We did some hard work (at a training camp) in Mallorca. He’s where he needs to be right now. Even if he doesn’t win the overall, this victory is already important.”
Contador is intent on making the most of his return to racing since the Spanish cycling federation cleared him of doping allegations last month. Less than 24 hours later, he was lining up for the start of the Volta ao Algarve, where he finished fourth overall.
UCI president Pat McQuaid said Saturday the cycling’s governing body will have until March 24 to announce whether it will appeal that decision.
- 1. Alberto Contador Velasco (ESP), SaxoBank-Sungard, 4:46:57
- 2. Denis Menchov (RUS), Geox, at 0:05
- 3. Jerome Coppel (FRA), Saur-Sojasun, at 0:05
- 4. Fabio Andres Duarte Arevalo (COL), Geox, at 0:25
- 5. Wouter Poels (NED), Vacansoleil-DCM, at 0:27
- 6. Alexandre Geniez (FRA), Skil-Shimano, at 0:57
- 7. Christopher Froome (GBR), Team Sky, at 1:17
- 8. Guillaume Levarlet (FRA), Saur-Sojasun, at 1:17
- 9. Fabrice Jeandesboz (FRA), Saur-Sojasun, at 1:17
- 10. David Blanco Rodriguez (ESP), Geox, at 1:17