Victorious Contador meets the public with a quizzical grin (AC press room)
Stage 4, February 22: Almodôvar - Alto do Malhão (Loulé), 164.5 km
Alberto Contador got his first victory of the 2014 season today on the Alto do Malhão, where he pulled off a solo win on the only summit finish of this edition. Contador took 10 seconds on his closest rival and consolidated his position as second in the GC behind Kwiatkowski, who remained in the leader jersey. “I’m happy because the team worked really hard, they bet on me again and what better way to reward them than by finishing with a win,” said Contador after stepping down from the podium.
“My physical condition is better every day,” he said on his fourth day of competition this year, “and the work that I’ve done over the winter is right on track,” said Alberto. “We have to continue to be equally focused, doing everything well, and I hope that the results keep on coming in the rest of the races.”
About the time gap at the finish line and the possibility of having taken over the leadership, Contador said that this is a “pretty short finale for getting big gaps. I really think that they were pretty big, but I wanted to gamble more for the stage win than for the GC, because taking a lot of time was complicated. Of course, we’d like to win the GC, but Kwiatkowski is extremely strong and the terrain here is what it is.”
Alberto said that “at the moment, the season is going perfectly,” and explained what the final climb was like. “I just kept consistent, and in the final kilometer I launched two accelerations until I could see that Kwiatkowski was really at his limit. Then I kept on, and I was able to get away solo.” Finally, Alberto said that it hadn’t been an easy victory, even though people might have expected it. “It’s a finish that suited me and that’s the problem, people think that winning is normal. But I’m happy, because the team made sacrifices for me, and when you finish off a job like that with a victory, it leaves a better feeling.”
Official press release, Alberto Contador press room
Tinkoff-Saxo pulled Alberto to the foot of the climb near the front of the peloton, giving him a launch point for an attack on the 2.5-km Alto do Malhão, the iconic climb of the Volta ao Algarve. It was impossible not to expect that Rui Costa would fight tooth and nail to recover what he lost in the time trial. But neither Costa nor Kwiatkowski, nor anyone else, could get the better of Contador. Alberto gave a refresher course in Pistolero finish line protocol - pow! - something we haven't seen since January of 2013. He's still got the knack.
Tinkoff-Saxo's DS, Philippe Mauduit: "Not only Alberto but the whole team did an amazing job today and started putting on the pressure with 45 kilometers to go. At the foot of the uphill finish, only 8 riders were left in the first group and Alberto put the icing on the cake by pulling away on the final kilometer to take a stunning win. As a said this a victory for the whole team but also indicates that Alberto is in better shape than at the same time last year and I think that's promising in terms looking ahead at the rest of the season."
Michal Kwiatkowski, race leader: “It was a hard day. The pace was really high, but I had a lot of support from my teammates for controling the race... Guys like Contador and Rui Costa would love to win and take away my yellow jersey. It was a true fight to the finish.”
“It’s a climb with steep slopes and a very high pace, it wasn’t easy to follow them. I tried to keep on the wheel of Contador, who didn’t stop looking back to see how I was feeling, how I looked. I wanted to win the stage, and maybe I wanted it too much. I paid for it dearly, but I defended myself and that was the main goal. It was a good lesson for me.”
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 4, 1st (4:02:08). Contador in GC, 2nd (0:16 Kwiatkowski - 13:05:50)
TOP FIVE: 1 Kwiatkowski, 2 Contador (0:16), 3 Rui Costa (0:29)
COMPLETE CLASSIFICATIONS - BETTINI PHOTOS - ATLAS, STAGE 4
Contador fires happy shots after winning on the Alto do Malhão (AC press room)
Contador rumbles through the Stage 3 ITT (EFE)
Stage 3, February 21: Vila de Bispo - Sagres, 13.6 km (ITT)
Alberto Contador sparkled in today’s Stage 3 time trial in the Volta ao Algarve, finishing fourth to stage- and overall winner, Kwiatkowski, and clocking in at only seven seconds behind world champion Tony Martin (3rd). Contador and Rui Costa, who finished 12th, flipflopped in the standings, leaving Contador in 2nd overall.
Contador, who had predicted that Kwiatkowski would have a good day, was unphased by the young Pole’s superior showing, and did not expect to unseat him on Sunday. “Kwiatkowski is very strong and tomorrow’s finish will not create big gaps, so it would be a surprise if Kwiatkowski did not win the race.”
“My physical sensations are not excellent, but, taking into account that we’re at the beginning of the season, they’re good. These time trial tests serve as good training,” said Alberto.
Philippe Mauduit: “I think Alberto did a very good time trial and one of his best in a long time so obviously, I’m happy about that. But also Sergio and Rafal did solid time trials today and especially Rafal really has to dig deep every time he gets the chance to do a time trial in order to develop his skills in stage races. Now Alberto’s second overall with a time difference of 32 seconds so I guess it’s more or less needless to say that we have to rock the boat hard tomorrow to take the top spot of the podium."
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 3: 4th (0:20 Kwiatkowski). Contador in GC: 2nd (0:32 Kwiatkowski - 9:03:36)
TOP THREE: 1 Kwiatkowski, 2 Contador (0:32), 3 Rui Costa (0:38)
COMPLETE CLASSIFICATIONS - ATLAS, STAGE 3
Contador and Costa leave Prades behind in a vain attempt to catch stage-winner Kwiatkowski (AC press room)
Stage 2, February 20: Lagoa - Monchique, 196 km
Alberto Contador finished Stage 2 of the Volta ao Algarve today in third place, with the same time as Rui Costa and only six seconds behind the stage winner and current overall leader. “It’s a good result for it being the second day of competition and facing riders who already have days of competition in their legs. The winner already knows what it is to win in the Mallorca Challenge and he has that rhythm, and Rui Costa has eight or nine days – and it shows, especially when the heart is at the max,” said Alberto Contador after the stage.
The Tinkoff-Saxo leader was happy because, he said, “every day I’ll go better in this tour. Taking into account that this is the first day of the year, it’s okay. Kwiatiowski just took off for the finish line and got over the climb with three or four seconds. The problem was that, behind, things were not well organized, it seemed like there were more attacks than there were people to work together to go after him.”
“It was important to catch him so that he couldn’t accumulate any time, but there was no real understanding, no 100% cooperation. Now he’s at 12 seconds, a very small difference, but also really big one, because everybody already knows that he’s an extremely strong rider against the clock and, in principle, it will go better for him tomorrow than for anyone else.”
About the decisive climb of the Malhão, Alberto said that he might possibly be even better “because it will be the fourth day of competition. First let’s see what happens tomorrow, and then we’ll see what happens on Malhão, because there won’t be big time differences, since there are only 13 kilometers. And with favorable wind, although the last part is technical and there’s a final kilometer of pavé. We’ll have to take it one day at a time, but everything will be wide open for Malhão. Being in third, there are still options,” concluded Alberto Contador.
Official press release, Alberto Contador press room
At 196 kilometers, today's stage from Lagoa to Monchique was the longest of this edition of the Volta ao Algarve. A sprint contest at Km 132 marked the end of the relatively flat portion of the parcours, after which the peloton shot uphill.
They tackled the climb to Monchique twice. Contador attacked on the second ascent, but young Polish rider Michael Kwiatkowski caught him and made a run for the line. Kwiatkowski gained a handful of seconds in a few descending kilometers to the end. The efforts of Contador, world-champion Rui Costa and a fourth man, Eduard Prades, to catch up to the Pole fell short. Kwiatkowski took the win.
Philippe Mauduit, Tinkoff-Saxo DS: “The guys did a fantastic job out there. In the finale, we managed to explode the bunch by putting pressure in the front of the field and it was really a close call on the finish line but Kwiatkowski is now a few seconds ahead of us before tomorrow’s time trial. Here, Tony Martin is the big favorite to win and because of the flat and slightly downhill course, Alberto can not be expected to win but surely, he’s fit, very motivated to do well and knows the course.”
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 2, 3rd (0:06 Michael Kwiatkowski - 4:57:57). Contador in GC: 3rd (0:12 Kwiatkowski)
TOP FIVE: 1 Kwiatkowski (8:49:33), 2 Rui Costa (0:04), 3 Alberto Contador (0:12), 4 Eduard Prades (0:16), 5 Edgar Pinto (0:27)
COMPLETE CLASSIFICATIONS - ATLAS, STAGE 2
Highlights of Stage 1 sprint finish, won by Sasha Modolo. Contador finished in the pack at 30th.
Many thanks to Roz Jones for sharing these fantastic photos of a historic moment that clinched Contador's Vuelta 2012 victory. More at PHOTO DAYBOOK
GO TO ROZ JONES PHOTO STREAM and ON THE ROAD CYCLING TOURS