SPAINS’S ALBERTO CONTADOR sealed a remarkable victory in the Tour of Spain just over a month after returning from a two-year doping ban and declared it perhaps the ‘most beautiful of his career’.
The 29-year-old Spaniard – adding a second Vuelta to the one he won in 2008 – has always protested his innocence over the minute trace of clenbuterol that was detected in a dope test during the 2010 Tour de France, saying it came from a contaminated steak he ate.
However, having taken his punishment after a long drawn out legal process the rider from Pinto prefers not to reflect on what went before but rather what the future holds, and what this means to him.
“This victory is maybe the most beautiful of all my wins,” he said after all but sealing victory on Saturday.
“It is because of what happened at Fuente De (his decisive stage win in the mountains last Wednesday when he displaced long time overall leader Joaquim Rodriguez).
“I really lived through something extraordinary there, that I had never felt before.”
Contador, who has been relieved and moved to have been cheered throughout the race despite his drugs ban, displays neither bitterness nor a sense of having got his own back on those who had imposed the ban on him.
I am really happy, almost liberated with regard to the pressure that I put on myself,” said the two-time Tour de France champion, who was stripped of one other Tour de France win (2010) and the 2011 Tour of Italy triumph becuase of his doping infraction.
Contador, who is targeting the world championship double in the Netherlands at the end of the month of the time-trial and the road race, has had time too to re-adjust his future goals including taking a more realistic view of a Grand Tour slam.
“A little while ago I entertained the idea of winning the Giro-Tour-Vuelta,” he said.
“But given the pressure that that brings with it, I prefer now to focus on targets that are more reasonable.”
Contador would like nothing more than to regain the third Tour de France title that he lost over the doping incident.
However, he realises that next year he will face a redoubtable British opponent – though it is not their defending champion Bradley Wiggins he has in mind.
Instead it is Wiggins’s Sky team-mate Kenyan-born Chris Froome, who many considered was strong enough to have won the Grand Boucle this year but instead had to obey team orders and work for Wiggins.
“He is a great rider,” said Contador, who has not had to worry about Froome here as the Briton has faded to more than 10 minutes behind albeit in fourth place since challenging early on for the overall lead, his heavy workload this season at last taking its toll.
“If he is on the Tour next year and that it is probable I will be as well, I will have to beat him.”
What happened today?
Germany’s John Degenkolb of the Argos-Shimano team won the final stage in 2hr 44min 57sec, Contador coming through buried in the main lead peloton in 54th spot.
Contador clocked 84hr 59min 49sec for the race that covered a total distance of 3,300 kilometres, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) completing an all-Spanish podium.
Valverde was 1min 16sec off Contador’s pace, with long-time leader Rodriguez a further 21sec adrift.
Who finished with what jersey?
- Red (general classification): Alberto Contador
- Green (points): Alejandro Valverde
- Blue dots (mountains): Simon Clarke
- White (all-round): Alejandro Valverde
How did Nico do? A 34th-place finish in Stage 20 sees the Irish rider end the Vuelta 12th overall.
(c) AFP, 2012