Thursday, 6 September 2012

La Vuelta: Contador Makes A Return To The Old Days?

So, my laptop decided to give up the ghost just prior to the start of what has probably been the most exciting 5 days in cycling this year and though it means Ive had quite a welcome break and been able to appreciate the racing slightly more than usual it's time to round things up a little...

The race was shaping up nicely before heading into a tough 3 days of high mountains. Bonus seconds and some short, sharp up-hill finishes meant that time gaps were minimal, the favourites remained close together and the racing was exciting to watch which was all very welcome post Tour de France - if Christian Prudhomme really wants to learn how to make the Tour more exciting, I hope he's been watching the Vuelta and taking notes.

For three days in the high mountains Alberto Contador attacked, attacked and then attacked some more but it was all proving fruitless. Anything he could do Joaquim Rodriguez could do better, and not only matching Contador in the mountains he even pipped him to victory more than once and thanks to the bonus took further time out of him. Valverde was also fighting his own battle for third place in the mountains as it became apparent that Christopher Froome wasn't going to challenge for the overall as he began to crack more with each stage and eventually lost time by the bucket load.

The racing was exciting - largely thanks to Contador animating the race with constant attacks, if only one thing can be said about the man then its that he never gives up. More than once Contador looked a broken man as his attacks filed and Rodriguez sailed past with apparent ease. By the end of the third gruelling mountain stage in a row Rodriguez led Contador by 28 seconds and for all his talk of the mountains being 'his terrain', Contador looked beaten with even the commentators announcing that with only one mountain stage remaining this coming Saturday, Contadors race was probably over and Rodriguez would be crowned Vuelta champion 2012. If Contador stood any chance of victory then the final climb of the race this Saturday would have to produce a miracle. Then there was a flashback...

Following the rest day on Tuesday there was yet another summit finish, although this was widely tipped to be such a shallow gradient over such a long distance that the favourites most likely wouldn't contest anything here and the day would be won by a breakaway. Alberto Contador wasn't listening. He and Valverde went on the attack from the off and as a result the pace of the day was exceptionally high, in fact by the time Eurosport aired there was only 30km's left to race where they had expected to be about 60. As a result Eurosport came on air none the wiser that Contador had attacked and managed to make it stick over 20km earlier as commentators gave the viewer a run down of who was in the days breakaway. Looking at the break riders carefully something, somebody looked out of place. Contador was in the break! Eurosport finally clicked and it was race on, only we had missed the defining moments thanks to such a high pace and late viewing hours.

In a move reminiscent of a 1980's Bernard Hinault attack and in much the same vein as the great Eddy Merckx, Alberto Contador attacked and grew his lead on the flat. Where before he was a mountain goat, with all our expectations in the mountains we forgot that Contador is a skilled an accomplished time trialist - he is very strong on the flat. Joaquim Rodriguez in comparison struggles to maintain such a high pace on flatter roads and so Contador risked his whole race on a daring move that hasn't been seen in such circumstances for quarter of a century. A throwback to the greats, by a man who is clearly one of the modern great himself. With help from a whole host of team mates and Astana rider Paolo Tiralongo (good friend of Alberto - in last years Giro Contador gifted his former team-mate his first ever professional victory, a favour now repaid by Tiralongo as he upped the pace and drilled it on the front for old friend Contador - even taking bottles from the SaxoBank car!) Contador simple rode away from Rodriguez who was isolated without team-mates and was clearly not having the most mobile of days.

Tactically Saxobank-Tinkoff got it spot on - I could delve into this further but its summed up here much better than I could. In comparison Rodriguez and his Katusha team tactics were non-existent. Contador eventually dropped all of his team-mates and rode solo to the finish in what will surely become one of the greatest tactical and physical, most daring rides of recent history. Contador crossed the finish 2 minutes 38 seconds ahead of Rodriguez and ripped the red leaders jersey from his shoulders, Rodriguez now finds himself third as Valverde rode away in the final kilometres and almost caught Contador on the line. What did we learn? Never write Contador off. Ok, so there is still a horrific Mountain Top finish to come on Saturday as the final climbs ramps up to over 20% but recent history suggests time gaps won't be greatly significant on this climb - there is a hint of sadness here though, as had Contador not took the race lead and left it until this final climb to make his move, it would surely have made for one hell of a stage and grand tour finale.

At the finish Alberto Contador was clearly emotional as tears dipped from his eyes during his post race interview. He remarked "I didn't want to finish second, that's not how I ride". A winning attitude created a winner and no matter where you stand on Contador, he has enterred the realm of the true greats...

1 comment:

  1. Welcome back!

    And nice post. It was nice to catch up on the racing