The Vuelta a España just got a lot better.
Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) reversed course Thursday and confirmed he will race the Spanish grand tour despite crashing hard in the Tour de France last month that led to a broken tibia and an early exit from the race.
Contador, 31, said he was able to climb Wednesday without pain in his right knee, prompting his decision to start the Vuelta on August 23, but he was also quick to downplay his GC chances.
“Perhaps in the last week, I can fight for a stage win,” Contador said in a press release. “It will be a very different Vuelta than I had considered earlier in the season, but I think it can be very good for me looking ahead to remainder of this season and the start of next year.”
The decision will be a boon for the Vuelta, already packing a star-studded peloton, but Contador by far is the most popular Spanish among both fans and media.
Contador hasn’t raced since crashing out in stage 10 at the Tour, when he hit a pothole at high-speed off a descent in the Vosges. Contador defiantly pushed on, but succumbed to pain, and reluctantly stepped off the bike, putting a quick end to what was a promising Tour for the Spanish star.
Contador enjoyed a revival in 2014, winning or finishing second in every stage race he started in the lead up to the Tour. Until his crash, he was still a favorite for the yellow jersey despite losing time to eventual winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) in stage 5 across the cobblestones.
His return has come sooner than expected. Working with doctors and physiotherapists in Spain, Contador was able to avoid surgery, speeding up his recovery. Spanish doctors traveled to Lugano, Switzerland, where Contador lives, to open up the knee again a week after the crash, to clean out “small pebbles and dirt” that was still inside the knee following a quick stitch-up in a French hospital.
Contador said he returned to training 10 days, but rode pain-free on climbs Wednesday, a sensation that prompted his decision to race the Vuelta.
“I’ve been riding the past 10 days, and yesterday was the first day to climb a pass without knee pain,” Contador said. “That excites me, and motivates me, and helped me make my decision to race the Vuelta.
“Thanks to the work of the specialists who treated me I could recover in record time,” he said. “I am deeply grateful to them.”
The 69th Vuelta starts August 23 with a team time trial in Jerez de la Frontera.