2. Alberto Contador: Knock-out blow in last gasp
Alberto Contador just couldn’t believe it. Every time the road went up in the 2012 Vuelta a España, he attacked just as he promised he would.
But rather than leaving the field choking on his fumes, the pack was staying close — too close for comfort. Joaquim Rodríguez was even turning the screws; counter-attacking Contador’s jabs and taking valuable seconds to hold a slender lead on the Vuelta’s red jersey going into the final rest day with just five stages to go to Madrid.
An elusive grand tour win, especially after coming within 16 seconds of winning the Giro d’Italia in May, finally seemed within Rodríguez’s grasp.
Contador wasn’t going to go down without a fight, but time was running out.
After fending off Contador up the steepest climbs of northern Spain in a trio of misery at Ancares, Covadonga and Cuiti Negru, the bumpy 17th stage with a second-category finale to Fuente Dé didn’t seem terribly difficult on paper.
Contador knew it was likely his last chance. The final summit finale up Bola del Mundo on the Vuelta’s penultimate stage was just the type of steep, punchy climb that Rodríguez has mastered. The “pistolero del Pinto” had to roll the dice.
When Rodríguez was languishing off the back on some unrated climbs early in the stage, Contador could smell blood. It was a textbook ambush. Saxo Bank sent riders up the road over two short, but sharp rated climbs with 50km to go. Contador attacked savagely behind, isolating Rodríguez and dropping GC threat Alejandro Valverde. Sensing an opportunity to blow open the race, Contador surged clear, reeling and dropping other riders, finally riding alone with about 14km to go.
Rodríguez was cooked and tumbled bitterly to third place, but Valverde countered in Contador’s wake, almost catching him before the line. Contador barely hung on to win the stage and snatch away the leader’s jersey.
It was Contador’s first win following his controversial clenbuterol ban, but he did it with typically aplomb. Love him or hate him, Contador always attacks.