Sept 5, 2012 – Alberto Contador took a huge step to making a fairytale return to cycling after a two year doping ban when he took the overall lead of the Tour of Spain on Wednesday after winning the 17th stage here.
The 29-year-old Spaniard crossed the finish line of the 187-kilometer (116-mile) race from Santander to Fuente De, six seconds ahead of fellow Spaniard Alejandro Valverde of Movistar. Colombian Sergio Henao of Sky finished third.
“I am not in my best moment but I had a really strong desire to win. Second place is fine but I was always going to try to win,” the Saxo Bank rider told public television TVE at the end of the race. “I think we took a huge step forward. I want to dedicate this victory to everyone who has supported me during all this time, my family, my wife, my friends and all the fans,” he added, seeming to choke back tears.
Contador had started the mountainous stage through northern Spain 28 seconds behind compatriot Joaquim “Purito” Rodriguez in the overall standings for the tour.
But the strong performance catapulted him into first place in the Vuelta’s overall standings, one minute and 52 seconds ahead of Valverde. Rodriguez’s hopes of claiming his first major Tour win at the age of 33 look like they are over as he slumped to third place overall, two minutes and 28 seconds behind Contador.
The Spaniard had entertained great hopes of making up for his heartbreak in this year’s Tour of Italy when he led going into the final stage only to finish second overall after Canadian Ryder Hesjedal overhauled his advantage in the time-trial.
“It is a sad day because I have probably lost the Vuelta. It was a very tough stage. When I saw him coming up on me, I thought: ‘This guy wants to break me before the summit’. I had no idea of the disaster he was preparing,” Rodriguez said.
With 50km to go in the stage, Contador began to push forward while on a second category climb to Collado de la Hoz, trying to catch up with an 11-man breakaway group while leaving Rodriguez and Valverde in the peloton. Once in the leading group, Contador was helped by Portuguese team-mate Sergio Paulinho and Italian Paolo Tiralongo of Astana, who helped him open the gap with the chasing peloton. Some 15km from the finishing line, Contador already had a lead of more than two minutes over Rodriguez.
On the final climb, Valverde attacked, leaving behind Rodriguez and his shattered Vuelta dream. In the final three kilometres, five riders including Valverde and Henao picked up the pace to try to rein in Contador. But the 2008 Vuelta champion held them off and now has a lead that will make him tough to dislodge. On Thursday the riders face a 204.5km 18th mostly flat stage from Aguilar de Campoo to Valladolid.
Contador – who was stripped of the third Tour de France win in 2010 along with his Tour of Italy title of 2011 – is hoping this tour can help him turn a new page.
1. Alberto Contador (ESP/SAX) 4hr 29min 20sec
2. Alejandro Valverde (ESP/MOV) at 0:06sec
3. Sergio Henao (COL/SKY) 0:06.
4. Gorka Verdugo (ESP/EUS) 0:06.
5. Rinaldo Nocentini (ITA/ALM) 0:19.
6. Jan Bakelants (BEL/RSH) 0:55.
7. Benat Intxausti (ESP/MOV) 1min 13sec
8. Alexandre Geniez (FRA/ARG) 1:40.
9. Paolo Tiralongo (ITA/AST) 2:13.
10. Joaquin Rodriguez (ESP/KAT) 2:38.
11. Jesus Hernandez (ESP/SAX) 2:38.
12. Nairo Quintana (COL/MOV) 2:38.
13. Arnold Jeannesson (FRA/FDJ) 3:03.
14. Damiano Cunego (ITA/LAM) 3:18.
15. Laurens ten Dam (NED/RAB) 4:05.
16. Mikel Landa (ESP/EUS) 4:17.
17. Przemyslaw Niemiec (POL/LAM) 4:48.
18. Andrew Talansky (USA/GRM) 4:48.
19. Gianni Meersman (BEL/LTB) 4:48.
20. Robert Gesink (NED/RAB) 4:48.
1. Alberto Contador (ESP/SAX) 68hr 07min 54sec
2. Alejandro Valverde (ESP/MOV) at 1min 52sec
3. Joaquin Rodriguez (ESP/KAT) 2:28.
4. Chris Froome (GBR/SKY) 9:40.
5. Daniel Moreno (ESP/KAT) 11:36.
6. Robert Gesink (NED/RAB) 12:06.
7. Laurens ten Dam (NED/RAB) 12:55.
8. Andrew Talansky (USA/GRM) 13:06.
9. Igor Anton (ESP/EUS) 13:49.
10. Benat Intxausti (ESP/MOV) 14:10.
11. Gorka Verdugo (ESP/EUS) 15:54.
12. Nicolas Roche (IRL/ALM) 16:22.
13. Tomasz Marczynski (POL/VAC) 17:11.
14. Sergio Henao (COL/SKY) 18:07.
15. Maxime Monfort (BEL/RSH) 18:12.
16. Bart De Clercq (BEL/LTB) 18:18.
17. Przemyslaw Niemiec (POL/LAM) 19:13.
18. Winner Anacona (COL/LAM) 20:08.
19. Rinaldo Nocentini (ITA/ALM) 20:24.
20. Maxime Bouet (FRA/ALM) 28:13.