Persistence paid back in spades for Xavier Tondo, who earned his first professional stage-race crown on home roads when he secured overall victory at the Vuelta a Castilla y León in Spain on Sunday.
After winning the 2007 Tour of Portugal, the 32-year-old Tondo finally broke through to win another stage race despite nipping at the edges of success the past few seasons.
“I really wanted to win a stage race again. I’ve been close so many times (2nd at stage races in Asturias, Burgos, Andalucia and Catalunya),” Tondo said. “I really didn’t expect to win. In fact, I should have been on a break, but the team convinced me to come here and I am glad I did.”
Tondo won the GC crown nine seconds ahead of Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) with Igor Antón (Euskaltel-Euskadi) rounding out the podium with third at 17 seconds off the pace.
Tondo took the lead in Saturday’s individual time trial, when he finished third at just three seconds behind stage-winner Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard). Contador, however, lost nearly three minutes Friday when he punctured with less than 2km to go in the summit finish at Laguna de los Peces, opening the door for Tondo’s first major stage race victory in Spain.
The victory comes as a bonus for Tondo, who has been one of the most consistent Spanish riders the past few seasons. Despite solid results, Tondo didn’t find a contract with a major team until Cervélo offered him a deal for the 2010 season.
He made the most of it, winning stages at Paris-Nice and the Volta a Catalunya before finishing in the top-10 at the Vuelta a España.
“I don’t know why it took me so long to get to a big team. In 2000, David Arroyo won the U23 Spanish title and I was second. The next day, he signed with ONCE, but not me. Life is like that. At the end of the day, we’re all on the same team,” Tondo told VeloNews. “I don’t want to dwell on the past, because I want to maximize the opportunities I have now. I am the person I am now because of what I’ve gone through.”
After Cervélo closed down at the end of last season, Tondo landed at Movistar where he will be one of the team leaders in stage races.
“I am happy here at Movistar. It’s the most important team in Spanish cycling history, with a new sponsor and new global ambitions, so it’s an important step in my career. I’ve always been on small teams, except last year with Cervélo,” Tondo said. “This team will allow me to continue to develop as a rider. There’s still a lot of cycling left in my legs.”
Tondo isn’t having much time to savor his win. He lines up Wednesday for Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday. Then he’ll take a short break before returning for the Critérium du Dauphiné in June and his first start at the Tour de France.
Racing in July in France is something he’s never done, but he vows not to be intimidated despite being a 30-something debutante.
“I am excited to know the race, but we will go with motivation to animate the race,” Tondo said. “We won’t have a big captain for the GC, so that will allow us to go on attacks and try to get into breakaways and win stages. I am looking forward to the Tour. Then the Vuelta, where I hope to improve on last year’s result.”