RACE WATCH 2008
The Year of the Triple Crown
Alberto's loyal escuderos on the front row, left to right: Jesús, Francisco and Jorge (Photo: official race website)
Alberto Contador won the 8th edition of the Amstel Curaçao Race yesterday afternoon, aided by a very loyal Astana-clad train.
Teammate Jesús Hernández pulled for Alberto, as well as close friends Francisco and Jorge - who not long ago raced Nissan Titan Desert as part of the Contador Curaçao Team with Alberto's brother Fran.
This is Contador's second win at Amstel Curaçao, cycling's end-of-the-season beach bash on the Dutch isle off the coast of Venezuela.
Full coverage of the Amstel Curaçao Race 2009 at the DAILY PELOTON
The Amstel Curaçao Race OFFICIAL WEBSITE is colorful and fun!
Alberto and Andy Schleck peace out with the dolphins (Photo by Leo van Vliet, courtesy of the Daily Peloton)
Alberto Contador was proclaimed Time Trial Champion of Spain today in Cantabria, prevailing over a trio of specialists who are not only the best of their nation, but also some of the best in the world.
Contador completed the 47.8 km circuit of Torrelavega – Museo de Altamira in 1.04.40. Defending champion Luis León Sánchez finished 37” behind Contador, followed by Rubén Plaza at 1’ 05”.
Twenty-five riders competed today, but after passing the 27-km mark at Comillas and going over the Alto de la Hayuela, it became clear that it was a battle among four riders – Contador, Sánchez, Plaza, and Gutiérrez. At this checkpoint, it was nearly a draw between Sánchez and Contador – Contador clocked in at 2” behind Luis León – the two having around half a minute’s advantange over Plaza and Gutiérrez.
Four-time champion Iván Gutiérrez crashed on the Alto del Bosque, ending in fifth place. Bad luck for Gutierrez was good luck for Francisco Mancebo, who finished fourth.
However, Contador found the latter part of the course to his liking and imposed his will on the other three. He soon stretched his advantage, and gained a final difference of 37” over Sánchez in the last 20 km.
This is the first time Contador has disputed the Spanish nationals time trial as a professional. He participated as a young rider in 2002, where he claimed the title in the sub-23 category.
Contador admitted that the time trial stages in the upcoming Tour de France will be of great importance. The new Spanish Time Trial Champion said that his victory in the discipline certifies that he’s reached form for the Tour.
Happy with being the new time trial champion of Spain, Contador indicated that “this certifies that the time trials are going well, and I know how important they are in the grand tours. I’m into the rhythm of the new bike, and definitely, today’s victory is great for morale.”
Despite this, Contador said that “this crono has nothing to do with the ones in the Tour. The ones in the Tour might go better. For example, the first day is very hard, but it’s a better fit for me, although the best in the world will be there. The last TT won’t have anything to do with this one, because by the time we get there, our strength will be spent.”
The Astana rider, who will aim for victory again as he did in 2007, emphasized the importance of time trials, pointing out that “they’re going to have a very important role in this Tour because there is no summit finish that will be key, key, except Mont Venoux, but that will be quite late.”
Contador showed the meaning he attaches to the Spanish Championship win by saying, “ For me, it’s something very special. I’ll be able to wear the colors of my country in the next Tour de France, and I also know about the importance of us all having been involved a little in these events. Thanks to the Federation for having me come here.”
RESULTS: 1 - Contador, 2 - LL Sánchez (0.37), 3 - Plaza (1.05).
GO TO RACE WATCH Dauphiné Libéré
Christine's Dauphiné Libéré 09 Diary and Gallery
Stage 6: Saturday, April 11: Zalla-Zalla, 24 km
Contador bound for glory at Zalla (Rafa Rivas/AFP/Getty Images)
Alberto Contador won the Vuelta al País Vasco with a stellar time trial performance at Zalla today.
The win is his seventh of 2009, and with it, he becomes the only rider ever to win two consecutive Basque Country tours.
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 6, 1st. Contador in the GC, 1st.
TOP FIVE: Contador, Colom, S. Sanchez, Evans, L.L. Sanchez
Stage 5 - Friday, April 10: Güeñes-Zalla, 169 km
Mother Nature could hardly have been in a more foul mood on Good Friday in Basque Country.
The peloton picked its way over the hills to Zalla in opaque weather. Cold splatters from heaven above and from the asphalt below made for a dull ride, except for the few who escaped, and the one who stayed away.
Marco Pinotti's yellow kit was the only ray of sunshine to be found in Stage 5. He crossed the finish line in watery joy, 19 seconds before a large group of favorites.
Astana put on a show of awesome dominance, stern and shrouded in rain capes. They brought their leader safely home. Tomorrow he will face the moment of truth: a circuit time trial route at Zalla.
Contador explained that he was very attentive to the route today, which will be repeated in the time trial tomorrow. He said that If it’s a day like today, the descents will be decisive, and that “you’ll be able to get more time on the descents than on the climbs.”
Alberto also accounted for the lack of combativity among the top-placed riders today as probably due to weather and fatigue. Bad conditions meant cautious riding, and tomorrow’s time trial was another reason to conserve. Plus, by the fifth day, riders are just plain tired. “It was a little of both things put together,” he said.
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 5, 10th (0.19 Pinotti). Contador in the GC, 1st
TOP FIVE: Contador, Sanchez (.08), Evans (.08), Colom (.08), Cunego (.27)
“It was an extremely hard day, but I’m very happy”
Alberto Contador and his teammates got through the last road stage of the Vuelta al País Vasco in cold rainy conditions, weather that’s also expected for the decisive final 24-kilometer time trial. “I’m quite happy, because the team has controlled the situation, although it was an extremely hard day,” said Contador after the race. “The team responded very well when faced with an escape that could’ve been very dangerous, and everybody did incredible work, including Dani Navarro, who pulled himself together after falling hard yesterday. Thanks to all of them, I’m still leader.”
Contador said that it was “a very hard day because of the cold and the steady rain, although I felt better as the kilometers passed.” About his expectations for the time trial, he didn’t want to make any predictions. “Nobody knows what’s going to happen. You have to wait and see how everything goes and what the day brings. The general is still wide open, just as it was this morning, although this stage served as a tutorial for the route—we’ve already gone over the Alto de Beci serveral times.” In case that wasn’t enough, Contador took the chance to reconnoiter the time trial parcours this morning. “Before the departure, I took an opportunity to see the route by car. I’m happy for now, but it’s still anybody’s race.”
Stage 4 - Thursday, April 9: Eibar-Güeñes, 161 km
Chechu Rubiera guiding Contador yesterday in Basque Country (Susanne Goetze/cyclinginside.com)
The main story of Stage 4 for Contador and his team was the crash at 37 km. which took out Horner, the day after his spectacular showing helped Contador to the stage win at Arrate.
Otherwise, a long-term breakaway had three survivors at the finish line, who crossed, led by Team Columbia's Michael Albasini, 1.25 before the peloton. Contador's teammates kept him protected, sharing monitoring duties with Caisse d'Epargne and Euskaltel.
The leaders of those teams, Luis León Sanchez and Samuel Sanchez, respectively, will pose a serious threat to Contador in the all-important time trial at Zalla on Saturday.
Contador reported on Stage 4: "It was difficult at first, with a series of very tough mountains until the 65th km. Then it was easier to control.
"It was a bad day for the team because both Navarro and Horner crashed hard. Dani was able to finish the stage, even though he was totally beaten up and exhausted (clear proof of what a champion he is). With Horner, we didn’t have such luck. He has a fractured collarbone and won’t be able to continue. It’s a serious loss to the team, but the important thing is that he recover as soon as he can, because there’s a long season ahead.
"Things were calm for the rest of the stage. An escape stayed away until the end, and the peloton finished in a pack.
"On a personal note, I was quite well. I hope that the legs stay like this for the next two days."
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 4, 18th (1.25 Albasini). Contador in the GC, 1st.
TOP FIVE: Contador, Sanchez (.08), Evans (.08), Colom (.08), Cunego (.27)
“When I saw the crash, I didn’t want to look”
Alberto Contador held on to the leadership in the Vuelta al País Vasco today, ending a stage in which his teammate Chris Horner had to abandon after a hard fall. The accident also involved Dani Navarro, who was able to continue the race. “When I saw the crash, I didn’t want to look,” said Contador, still shocked by the incident.
Dani Navarro said that the accident was caused by a broken chain on his bicycle, which dragged Horner, who fell under a railing. Team doctor Pedro Celaya , who is attending the race, ventured a preliminary diagnosis of the American’s condition: a broken right shoulder blade (scapula), although in the first x-rays it wasn’t possible to confirm the break. “It wasn’t a good day for the team,” said Alberto Contador. "I was behind them and I didn’t want to look, although it was lucky for us that Horner got only one fracture.”
Contador said of the stage, “We controlled it well, once the breakaway was made. The team responded.” When asked if Horner would be missed, he replied that the absence “ of a man of that quality would be missed on any team, but I think that we’ve got a sufficiently strong group to control the situation and there are other riders within eight seconds in the general who’re also out to contest the race.”
The peloton reduced speed after the crash, which Contador appreciated. “There are no written laws in cycling, but everyone’s aware of this. If there’s a crash during a sprint, that’s different, but in cases like this, you wait for people.” About tomorrow’s stage, he said that “you can always have surprises, but I hope that we’ll be calm,” in advance of the final showdown in the time trial on Saturday. “Today I felt better than yesterday,” he said, “I felt well on Urkiola, but as always it’s one more day of punishment.” (AC press room)
UPDATE, April 20: Chris Horner describes his accident
Stage 3 - Wednesday, April 8: Villatuerta-Eibar, 172.5 km
Contador dons the txapela on behalf of his team (as.com)
Alberto and team set out to get leadership of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco today by setting a punishing tempo over a series of mountains, intimidating and exhausting the opposition, and saving Contador for an attack on the last slope.
Just as Miguel Induráin had told the press earlier, the only approach for Stage 3 would be to make it hard enough to break a peloton filled with the best stage racers in the world. Maybe Contador consulted Induráin, or maybe great minds think alike, but at any rate, Astana gave it everything they had.
Dani Navarro and Jesús Hernandez tore a path for Contador at the front of the pack. Their manic pounding suggested the last few meters of a Cavendish sprint, bodies coiled for power, stomping, bobbing furiously for miles. When they could do no more, Chris Horner fired into place, blizted the pack into shreds, and delivered Alberto to the launch pad, at about 5 km.
Contador attacked. Basque ETB commentators, ready to pounce, recorded the exact moment, the precise fraction of a kilometer where it happened.
Cadel Evans pursued doggedly, and was joined by two sharks, Toni Colom and Samuel Sanchez. Contador got a gap, but never a large one. The chase was thrilling, unforgettable, rivetting to the lone fan yelling “Venga, venga, venga!” as Alberto passed, and, soon, to a tunnel of roiling humanity surging onto the road.
His lead was dwindling rapidly, but time was on his side. He rounded the final curve, looked coyly over his shoulder, and sauntered to the line. The trademark salute—two thumps over his heart for the fans, and the signature gunfire for someone special—marked the finish.
Shouts. The txapela. Trophies, jerseys, flowers, kisses, applause, photos. His fifth win this year.
Alberto reported, "Today was the third stage of the race, with a finish on the summit of Arrate. It was a good day for me and for my team.
"The team did an impressive job on the last four climbs in order to make the race more difficult before the last ascent at Arrate, so that people would arrive a bit worn out, because the climb was really short and the road surface very good, so it was hard to gain time.
"On the last climb it was up to me to finish off the great job done by my teammates, to whom I’m very grateful. On the whole, I’m very happy with the stage win on a mountain as historic as Arrate, where the greatest riders have won.
"Thinking about the time differences, they were very small and nobody’s been eliminated from contention, but it’s always best to grab a few seconds of advantage.
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 3, WINNER. Contador in GC, FIRST.
TOP FIVE: Contador, S. Sanchez (.09), Evans (.09), Colom (.09), Cunego (.28)
“This was a really demanding stage and the pace was really fast during the whole day,” said Alberto Contador after winning the stage at Arrate and becoming the new leader of the Vuelta al País Vasco. “The differences were very small, and the general was totally up for grabs,” he said.
“The entire team did a great job today, especially Horner, who showed everybody how it’s done on the last climb,” Contador said about his teammates. “They knocked themselves out in the last part in order to make the race difficult, even if it was going to be very hard to make differences at the end.”
Arrate, in his opinion, “is a complicated summit to get a gain a lot of time on, because it’s short and has very good asphalt. A lone rider is at a disadvantage in front of a group containing others who can get relief,” he said in reference to the nine-second advantage over his most dangerous rivals. “They were great,” he said, “too close, but I’m happy with the victory, even though anything can still happen in the general, even before the time trial.”
He commented that the 36-second advantage that he now has over Luis León, erstwhile race leader, are “important, but you can’t forget the other opponents, like Samuel, Colom, Evans, and others that don’t get mentioned as much.”
Contador admitted that today wasn’t his best day. “I’ve had better days this year, like at Paris-Nice and at Castilla y León, although you can’t always win. Today I wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t super. Still, I’m happy with the result. I wanted to be in the fight for the victory and, if I had the opportunity, to try to win. And that’s what happened, although the hill was too short for me to get this race in the bag.”
Stage 2 - Tuesday, April 7: Ataun-Villatuerta, 160 km
Sullen skies douse the peloton (Michelena, Gómez and EFE)
Fickle weather and sore muscles made life difficult today. An escape stayed in front, while the teams in the peloton cooperated to keep them from doing any real damage.
Caisse d'Epargne led, with Astana close behind, until the leaders' teams sent a delegate or two to work together pulling the pack.
Chechu Rubiera was Astana's star, while Contador stayed hidden and safe.
Alberto reported: "Today, the second stage of the Vuelta al País Vasco seemed calm enough at first, but it was an exhausting stage for the peloton and a little tense, also thanks to the heavy rain that fell in the entire first part of the stage. Rain makes your muscles stiffen up, then you can’t keep the pedal cadence that you’re used to.
"Otherwise it was a pretty good day since we got through a difficult day without any bad luck or changes in the general classification. We’ll see how we feel tomorrow."
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 2, 32nd (1.10 Yuri Trofimov). Contador in GC, 10th (s.t. LL Sanchez)
Alberto Contador polished off the second stage of the Vuelta al País Vasco in the thick of the peloton and waiting for tomorrow’s stage, where the climb to Arrate ought to define the general classification.
“It was a pretty uncomfortable stage from the start, with heavy rain and cold, and with some danger on the road, but as soon as the rain disappeared, everything was fine,” said Contador about today.
“Today was a day of work that had to be done, but it wasn’t too exhausting for the team, because we cooperated with various others to keep the escape under control,” said Contador, who is anticipating, like everyone else, tomorrow’s stage.
“It’ll depend on what the weather’s like, because the meteorological conditions can have a great influence. If everything goes as normal, there’ll be a series of riders with more options for the stage win and, of them, maybe the most likely is Cunego, because he’s powerful and very fast.”
But he also includes “Colom, Joaquín Roderíguez, Evans and Samuel, among others, who can take time. Arrate will be crucial,” warns Contador, “for distancing anyone who can create problems in the time trial and, in any case, to keep others from distancing you, as much as possible.”
Astana’s leader hopes to be in contention, but, he says, “it’s never comfortable in the peloton, and you always have doubts before a stage like tomorrow, but I’m confident that I’ll be in good position. I’ll try to get into the fight for the win.” (AC press room)
Stage 1 - Monday, April 6: Ataun-Ataun, 142.5 km
Sanchez won the sprint, but with no time advantage (J.M. López)
Alberto Contador stayed in the fray but out of the way in Basque Country, as the Vuelta al País Vasco began its six-day romp over hill and dale today.
The jittery pace in the opening stage said no to a crescendo effect at this year's edition. The peloton was extruded through a verdant tube of narrow country roads, and gushed to a sprint finish fought by the best riders in the business.
Luis León Sanchez--curses, him again!--got the win. Samuel Sanchez, Damiano Cunego, Toni Colom, Chris Horner and mucho, mucho más came stomping and bellowing along behind him.
Contador never took his eyes off the action, sprinting to keep in position on the final climbs. He landed in a cool 13th, same time as Sanchez.
Contador said, in his own report, that the stage "was demanding, because just after the start there was an escape and in a few kms they got a big gap. Then the team, together with two others, kept a light control on the escape until the last steep hill, there it got very fast because we were on the descent. Then the peloton started to stretch out and there were small gaps between the guys in front. At the finish we came together in a group of about 20 in front, then came the sprint.
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 1, 11th (s.t. LL Sanchez). Contador in GC, 11th (s.t. LL Sanchez)
VIDEO of final 4 km
REPORT by Andrew Hood at VeloNews
Alberto Contador got through the first stage of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco with no problem, “a very difficult beginning," as the Astana leader described it. “It was very fast all day, but just as expected, it wasn’t too decisive.”
Contador finished in thirteenth place, with the same time as stage winner, Luis León Sanchez, and the rest of the favorites. “We figured that a grupito would arrive together at the last climb and that’s what happened. Practically none of the favorites were dropped. Besides, we were lucky because it didn’t rain, so we’ll see how we feel in the next few days.”
Among his rivals, Contador has seen “a lot who are very motivated, especially Colom, Samuel Sanchez and Cunego, but also Frank Schleck, Evans, Luis León, and Joaquín Rodríquez. Those are the ones that I see as strongest and who really mean business.”
After the escape of the day, Astana had to work in the peloton, but they found allies. “The escape gained a lot of time quickly, so we—with Lampre, and Saxo—put in one or two men to control it, which shows that nobody wants to pass up a chance to get the victory.”
Contador said about his own performance that he felt “well, not super, but well enough to stick with the the top riders. Purito (Joaquín Rodríguez) and Cunego were pretty strong, but I didn’t feel bad in any way, and I’m happy.”
Tomorrow he expects a stage that’s “not too difficult, so that there’ll be a big group finish, and a challenge for the final sprint. In theory, it ought to be one of the calmest stages of the race, waiting for Arrate,” he concluded. (AC press room)
Contador with teammate Haimar Zubeldia, top photo, and relaxing with aspiring young racers (J.M. Lopez)
Stage 5 - March 27: Benevente-Valladolid, 152.5 km
Astana's Castilla y León roster was greater than the sum of its parts
(Philippe Desmazes/AFP/Getty Images)
Alberto Contador and his team delivered their leader Levi Leipheimer to the finish line at Valladolid today, completing a magnificent week-long effort.
Contador traded an attempt at a third consecutive title in the Vuelta a Castilla y León for a support role to benefit Leipheimer, whom he determined to be the better man for the 2009 parcours.
Leipheimer, who worked for Contador's Giro and Vuelta victories, coupled Alberto's efforts to his own and those of a strong and cooperative Astana team. He powered to victory in the Stage 2 time trial, and stayed in the leader jersey for the rest of the race.
Two champs, true champs. An inspiring feat. And hats off to Chechu Rubiera and all the Astana boys who engineered a great win.
In Alberto's own words:
"Today was the final stage of the Vuelta a Castilla y León, the flattest stage of the whole race. It was very fast from the beginning, for a change, not like the previous stages. It left the start line extremely fast because everybody wanted to try one last chance to get into a breakaway.
"At 44 km, the escape of the day went away with two riders, then Caisse d’Epargne, who wanted to manage the sprint, did the work. At the end, they did a great job setting up the sprint, and Valverde won (congratulations Alejandro).
"We devoted ourselves to keeping in a good place in front to avoid possibly being cut off.
"On the whole, I think that this Vuelta a Castilla y León couldn’t have been better. My test in the time trial was very good, as well as how I felt in the other stages while helping my teammate Levi get the overall victory, along with the whole team—besides getting second place in the general classification."
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 4 - 10th (0.02 Valverde). Contador in GC - 2nd (0.16 Leipheimer).
TOP FIVE: Leipheimer, Contador (0.16), Zabriskie (0.22), Clement (0.49), Menchov (1.07)
VIDEO of final 5 km
“It was a great race and I did a big job,” said Alberto Contador after the final stage of the Vuelta a Castilla y León, where he finished second to his teammate Levi Leipheimer. “It’s a victory for all of us, because the team was very good.”
Contador said that he felt “very, very happy. I had no doubts about helping Leipheimer. When he finished ahead of me in the time trial, I was glad to do it, because there are races for everybody.”
“The result has been superb and the team did extraordinary work,” he said. “This week has served to knit together the group for facing other more important races, and I’m happy that I was able to be useful to Leipheimer, since he’s normally the one that helps me.”
His current state of form, he said, has given him “very good sensations all during the race. At the start, I thought that I’d still be tired from Paris-Nice, but that wasn’t the case. I’ve also noticed that I was able to relax a little more than in other races. Now it only remains to be seen how I’ll recover for País Vasco." (AC press room)
Leipheimer showed that he could receive, as well as give, with good grace. "I am very satisfied with this race because our team has been the strongest; after the time trial I did not have to do anything because my teammates did it all."
"Alberto is the hero of Spain," he said, adding that Contador was also very generous. "He has demonstrated it because since the first day, when I said to him that I would work for him, he answered 'no' to me. He said it was a better race for me and that I should try."
Stage 4 - March 26: Santa Maria del Paramo - Galende-Laguna de los Peces, 145.4 km
Cobo gives it the old heave-ho (Photo: Dani Sanchez)
Contador escorted race leader and teammate Levi Leipheimer to the Laguna de los Peces and another leader jersey today in Stage 4, the queen stage, of the Vuelta a Castilla y León.
The winner of the Tour, the Giro, and the Vuelta--and of the last two editions of this race--has great legs this week. But he's decided that a victory for Leipheimer and his team is worth more than another trophy for his own mantlepiece.
Alberto set a blistering pace and shepherded Levi all day. Attacks flew like hornets, but he slapped away all the threats, backed up by the team, only allowing Juanjo Cobo to escape and win in the last 2 km.
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 4 - 9th (0.09 Cobo). Contador in GC - still 2nd (0.16 Leipheimer).
TOP FIVE: Leipheimer, Contador (0.16), Zabriskie (0.22), Clement (0.49), Menchov (0.55)
“On the last climb I set a fast pace so that there were no attacks,” said Alberto Contador, explaining his tactics in defense of his teammate, Levi Leipheimer, for whom he worked in today’s stage. “I’m extremely happy with the work I did for my teammate Leipheimer.”
Contador was “watching out for attacks, but Cobo wasn’t a threat,” he said, referring to the stage winner, who thanked him personally on the podium for not overtaking him. His job today was not to win the stage. “The only important thing was to defend the leader, because today was a key day for getting a victory in the overall,” he said.
He wasn’t concerned about his own classification. ”It was totally secondary. I knew that Zabriskie was on Leipheimer’s wheel and that he only had a few seconds, but it didn’t matter for my own sake. I’m extremely happy with the outcome.”
He accounted for his own condition today as follows: “I had good legs not only today, but from the very first moment of this race, which is what has allowed me to do good work. On the last summit I felt great, but I felt even better on the one before, which was harder and better for my characteristics.”(AC press room)
from Astana DS Sean Yates
"It was hard for the boys today. It is a big race for all the Spanish teams. They don't have so many opportunities to race in the same races as Contador and to be on TV. They don't want to miss a move. They are all chasing each other. We like to see a harmless breakaway happen but it never happens with the time gaps being so small.”
“We always had to work hard. Today I had to sacrifice two guys and then we hit the climbs. Rabobank had plans. We had to stay calm.
"Obviously Levi and Alberto had fantastic legs. For them there was no problem but for the rest of the team it was hard work. But they regrouped and then everything was under control. It's often the same scenario. It looks ugly but you have to stay calm and regroup and do what you can do the best and that is work as a team, just as we did in California. Obviously Levi and Alberto had such good legs. There is no way that someone would be able to do something against them on the final climb.”
“Alberto pulled for Levi almost the whole climb. With his super legs he is offering the final victory on a golden plate for Levi. "
from stage winner Juan Jose Cobo
“I was planning to attack 6km from the finish, but Contador was setting too high of a tempo."
REPORT BY Andrew Hood at Velonews
HILARIOUS FAN VIDEO
Stage 3 - March 25: Sagahún - Estación Inv. de San Isidro, 156.9 km
A peaceful easy feeling (Feliz Ordonez/Reuters)
Alberto Contador rode in defense of race leader and teammate Levi Leipheimer today in Stage 3 of the Vuelta a Castilla y León.
Alejandro Valverde won the stage in an uphill bunch sprint at the ski station of San Isidro. The scenery was all ice and snow, but relations between the two Astana leaders are supportive and warm.
An adoring and insistent Spanish public shouts nothing but "Contador!" Contador himself says with satisfaction that Leipheimer "is leader here. We're professionals, and as far as I'm concerned, if he wins, I win, too."
Contador remains first in the Best Spanish Rider classification. The general classification is unchanged.
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 3 -11th (s.t.Valverde). Contador in the GC - 2nd (0.16 Leipheimer).
TOP FIVE: Leipheimer, Contador (0.16), Zabriskie (0.22), Clement (0.49), Menchov (0.55)
VIDEO: VALVERDE SPRINTS
Alberto Contador completed Stage 3 of the Vuelta a Castilla y León safely, helping his teammate Leipheimer defend the leader jersey. “It was a very fast stage because there was no escape until the 92nd km and the team had to stay alert for attacks. We rode at an average of 50 km/h. When the escape was made, the team paid attention to controlling the gaps, because we had a small margin in the classification and we couldn’t allow the guys in front to get much time,” he said.
Contador added that he felt “very well all day, with good sensations. In the final section it was really windy, but just as we expected, the climb was not very difficult and we caught the guys in front,” he said.
His goal for tomorrow will be to “help Leipheimer, who’s the leader here. We’re professionals, and as far as I’m concerned, if he wins, I win, too.” (AC press room)
Stage 2 - March 24: Palencia - Palencia (ITT), 28.2 km
Alberto is the Best Spanish Rider in the race, or for that matter, anywhere
(Jaime Reina/AFP/Getty Images)
Contador poured on the steam today in a 28.2 km time trial circuit at Palencia, and blew away all the specialists save one, his teammate Levi Leipheimer.
In a thrilling show of force, Astana's two top riders took first and second places at the Vuelta a Castilla y León, showing that the loss of their teammate yesterday has not stifled their morale.
Every chance to see Contador's developing discipline against the clock is a special experience. Today he was strong and very fast in the beginning, clocking in faster than Leipheimer at the first reference point. He flagged a bit later in the course, passing Irizar (the man in front of him) on the right with only a few inches to spare.
The nature of the course, a headwind, and the proximity of Irizar--who rode next to Contador like a sidecar--all pulled back the tempo visibly near the end.
Astana dominated the time trial and the podium, cleaning up on most of the prizes and leader jerseys of the day. Contador is now tops in the Best Spanish Rider classification. And that's saying something.
RESULTS: Contador is Stage 2 - 2nd (0.16 Leipheimer). Contador in GC - 2nd (0.16 Leipheimer)
TOP FIVE: Leipheimer, Contador, Zabriskie, Clement, Menchov
“The headwind was the key”
Alberto Contador finished second in today’s race against the clock, 16 seconds off his teammate Levi Leipheimer, the new leader of the Vuelta a Castilla y León. Contador congratulated Leipheimer on the podium, where he received a trophy for Best Spanish Rider in the general classification. “I’m happy both with my performance and because the team has won with Levi,” he said after finishing the race.
Contador assured that the key to the stage was the wind. “It was very strong, and at the end it was blowing right into my face. That was the key, that’s where I lost time, that and being thrown off balance by the presence of Irizar when I overtook him. All in all, the differences were minimal.”
Alberto is clear that tomorrow he will commit to “helping Leipheimer just as he often helps me. We won today, but the opposition is going to make life difficult for us.”
The two mountain stages that come next, he says,“don’t suit my characteristics, because they’re not as hard as the ones in the past, just like this time trial wasn’t a great fit. Generally, this edition doesn’t benefit me, so I’m going to dedicate myself to riding for Levi and look forward to seeing how the race develops.”
He warned that there’s still a lot of race left, and many candidates for the title. “It’s still impossible to say that we’ve won. Right now, we’ve done a good time trial, but there’s a lot left to take into account, and although we’ll fight for victory, we’re not all hung up about it. We’re not going to let winning drive us crazy.”
And then there were two (Jaime Reina/AFP/Getty Images)
Stage 1 - March 23: PAREDES DE NAVA - BALTANÁS, 168.3 km
The Vuelta a Castilla y León began in dramatic fashion today as Contador's most famous teammate crashed out.
The race's roster, described by organizers as a "luxury peloton," has the bragging rights to a very special feature: three past winners of the Tour de France—Alberto Contador, Carlos Sastre, and Lance Armstrong. Unfortunately, only Alberto and Sastre will report for active duty in tomorrow's crucial stage.
A breakaway of four riders left early today, establishing a long-term gap which, at one point, was more than 10 minutes ahead of the peloton. The pace was slow. And while each race on the calendar happens in concrete terms, with real bicycles on real roads in real time, the fact that there was almost no live coverage turned much of the stage into a nonentity for fans.
Live video coverage joined the race only minutes before the crash occured at around 18 km from the end. Therefore our first look at Armstrong racing again in Europe after a three-year absence was of a man in pain hunched stiffly on the side of the road.
Chechu Rubiera and Tomas Vaitkus were possibly detained for more than six minutes by the pile-up. Meanwhile, the others ushered Contador and Leipheimer forward in the pack, out of trouble, and the escape was caught after 160 km.
Astana's Levi Leipheimer described poor road conditions that contributed to the accident. "I was in the front. It was on really narrow, bumpy roads. It was a pretty bad road, super-rough and narrow. The edges were deteriorating, with cracks and parts missing, It was worse than typical (Spanish roads).”
And so, while Contador finished safely, Stage 1 nevertheless ended bitterly, the day that had been anticipated to be the start of a five-day extravaganza by the luxury peloton and the first collaboration of Contador and Armstrong.
Astana general manager Johan Bruyneel communicated via Twitter that Armstrong fractured his collarbone, but that there were no complications, and the Texan should be up and kicking soon. Go to LIVESTRONG.COM or the Astana Cyling Team website for updates.
The Stage 2 time trial at Palencia may be the key to the Vuelta a Castilla y León 2009.
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 1 and GC: 27th (s.t. Joaquin Sobrino)
VIDEO OF TODAY'S SPRINT FINISH
Alberto Contador, like all the members of the Astana team, today lamented the crash and subsequent withdrawal of Lance Armstrong in the final kilometers of Stage 1 of the Vuelta a Castilla y León. “It’s a shame to lose Lance, because he was eager to use this race to get in some good preparation,” he said.
Contador also regretted that the accident had thwarted the team’s plans, because, he said, “it was a good chance to work together in a race. Now I just want to give him my support and best wishes for a quick recovery so that he can ride the Giro d’Italia.”
As to his own experience today, Contador said that he felt fine “in the stage. I tried at all times to protect against the wind and conserve strength for the time trial tomorrow. In the last few kilometers I decided to move forward in the peloton to avoid trouble, so I didn’t see the crash because it happened behind me.”(AC press room)
Live video coverage is available during the last hour of each stage, except for Stage 4 - the queen stage - when the last two hours will be covered. Watch for links.
Riding for Astana: Alberto Contador, Lance Armstrong, Jesús Hernandez, Levi Leipheimer, Benjamin Noval, Chechu Rubiera, Tomas Vaitkus and Haimar Zubeldia.
Stage 1 - March 23: PAREDES DE NAVA - BALTANÁS, 168.3 km
Stage 2 - March 24: PALENCIA - PALENCIA (ITT), 28.2 km
Stage 3 - March 25: SAHAGÚN - ESTACIÓN INV. DE SAN ISIRO, 156.9 km
Stage 4 - March 26: SANTA MARÍA DEL PÁRAMO - GALENDE-LAGUNA DE LOS PECES, 145.4 km
Stage 5 - March 27: BENAVENTE-VALLADOLID, 152.5 km
Stage 8 - March 15: Nice - Nice, 119km
Alberto comes close to a new kind of trifecta (Pascal Pavani/AFP/Getty Images)
No Nice. No golden fleece. But with cycling like that, who cares!
Alberto Contador broke away from his opponents today in a spectacular blood-and-guts performance that nearly earned him his third stage win in Paris-Nice 09.
The man usually dubbed a "pure climber" very nearly added a sprint win to his Stage 1 time-trial victory and power surge to first at the top of the Montagne de Lure in Stage 6.
After riding in the break for hours, over three Cat. 1 climbs, apparently not looking for help from his team (half of whom were DNF), Contador was finally caught by Toni Colom and Frank Schleck near the end. The three sprinted to the finish in Nice to the mad cheers of the fans. Winner: Colom, but not by far.
Contador came second, Schleck third, in a buzzing whirring finale we won't forget. Overall victory to Contador's amigo Luis León Sanchez.
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 8 - 2nd (s.t. Toni Colom/Katusha).
Final general classification - Luis León Sanchez, , Frank Schleck (1.00), Sylvain Chavanel (1.09), Alberto Contador (1.24), Toni Colom (1.47).
“After the bad day yesterday, I told my teammates that I wanted to give it a try today,” Contador recounted after finishing second in a memorable stage. “I knew that it would be difficult to attack on the first of the Cat. 1 climbs—still 80 km from the finish—but I had nothing to lose and a lot of motivation to fight, I didn’t know if only for the stage or even to advance in the GC.”
Contador lined up at the start prepared for anything. “I didn’t mind keeping fourth place in the general. What I wanted was to leave Paris-Nice happy and I’ve achieved it today, as well as in all the rest of the race.” What’s more, he felt quite recovered from yesterday’s collapse. “Yes, I felt really good, although I think that like everybody else, I notice fatigue accumulated throughout the week. But I knew I had to take a gamble and suffer.”
Despite the conviction of Contador’s attack, he had no false hopes when he became virtual leader. “In spite of the advantage that we’d gained, it was a very complicated thing to do, and it never occurred to me to think that I could win the race. There were a lot of kilometers, a long flat stretch, a lot of slopes and a lot of interests behind us, plus both of the final climbs were not too hard. I knew that I didn’t have much chance, but I preferred to attempt it than to go with the flow and stay hidden in the peloton.”
Contador had good cooperation in the breakaway, mainly from Casar and Taaramae. “The fact is, we didn’t talk about making a deal. They were interested in the stage, and meant to cooperate. We worked it out among us and that allowed us to hold off the alliances of the guys behind us, especially the work of Saxo.”
After such an intense and dramatic Paris-Nice, Contador considers it a very positive experience on the whole. “I’m leaving here very happy and my morale rates even higher than a fourth place overall finish. I’ve been able to verify that my preparation and training are right on track. I’ve won two key stages and I’m already thinking about recovering, because this race has been exhausting at the muscular level.”
Contador closes the book now on Paris-Nice 2009, but he’ll be racing again soon, starting March 23rd at the Vuelta a Castilla y León. “Oh yes, I’m racing again there, but not with the same mentality as in Paris-Nice. I’ll be thinking more about preparation than victory, not like it’s been here. It won’t be the same, but we’ll see how the race goes, keeping in mind that we’ll have a better team than we had here,” he concluded.
fromt Alain Gallopin, Astana DS:
"But what Alberto did this week is worth more than another win at Paris-Nice. He has showed what he's able to do. He's got panache. He likes what he does. He's naturally an attacker. He has won the heart of the people. He hadn't ridden in France in a year and a half, but now everybody knows he's a beautiful champion."
"We haven't won Paris-Nice, but in the car behind him, I've realized how much the fans cheer for him now. We have produced a great piece of cycling this week. Had we won Paris-Nice, we would have attracted more criticism."
Contador soon to be left in the dust (Pascal Pavani/AFP/Getty Images)
Stage 7 - March 14: Manosque - Fayence, 191km
Bad day. Contador bonked, and his teammates weren't around when he needed them. In the last 15 km, Alberto found himself in the middle of a vicious dogfight with no ammo.
The yellow jersey was seized by a man from Murcia, Luis León Sanchez, the Spanish national time trial champion.
Stage 7 was one of only a couple of times in the past two years that Contador has been seen going backward. Tour de France 2007, Stage 16 to the top of the Aubisque saw him undone by Michael Rasmussen. And ironically, the other occasion was exactly two years ago, in Paris-Nice, when he was run into the ground by...Luis León Sanchez.
Contador wears both defeat and victory with humility. See his comments below.
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 7 - 33rd, at 2.53 (Luis León Sanchez/Caisse d'Epargne). Contador in GC: 4th, at 1.50
Top Six - Luis León Sanchez, Sylvain Chavanel (1.09), Frank Schleck (1.21), Alberto Contador (1.50), Jens Voigt (1.59), Toni Colom (2.16).
“Today was a really tough day,” Alberto Contador acknowledged shortly after the end of today’s stage, in which he collapsed in the last two kilometers. He explained, “The breakaway didn’t leave until the 65th kilometer and there was huge chaos which had kept me working since the beginning. I was already worn out, and since the race was always really fast, I didn’t keep topped up with food and drink. At 40 km to go I was the only one left, and although I responded well to all the attacks, at about 15 km to go I was totally wiped out. I had no power. From that moment on, my only goal was to get to the finish line. I couldn’t turn the pedals anymore.”
Alberto Contador also wanted to tell openly about his conversation with Luis León, shortly before his attack. “Luisle came up to say that he was going to attack to win the stage, and I told him that we were both in contention and each of us had to do his own work. I really appreciated his gesture, I admit, but we absolutely did not talk about cooperating because I had no intention of trying for the stage win today. Luisle did the right thing, and he deserved to win. We’re friends, and I’m glad for him.”
After Luis León’s attack, Contador, unable to find anyone to cooperate, had to respond alone. “It was hard, because they all left me stranded. It’s normal for each guy to defend his own interests, and the pity is that I didn’t have any teammates in the final kilometers, because they just weren’t there.”
In the general classification, Contador is realistic about his chances. “The shoe’s on the other foot now. Now my goal is to try to recover as well as possible, but we’re all finishing this Paris-Nice really beat up. Tomorrow we’ll see.”
As for the rest of this race, Contador assures that he’s satisfied. “I’m very happy, because I’ve been able to see evidence of my improvement against the clock, after so much training, and I’ve also tried a different kind of test on the Montagne de Lure, attacking much farther from the finish line to see what difference it made. By all means, we all like to win, but I can’t always be the winner. It’s good to see that everybody’s legs give out, although I’m very happy about what’s been done in this race. It’s one more step in my preparation.”
In conclusion, he praised Luis León Sánchez. “Congratulations to him, because he was the strongest and did a really great stage.” (AC press room)
Stage 6 - March 13: St-Paul-Trois-Châteaux - La Montagne de Lure, 182.5km
Chapeau to Chavanel, but the yellow will go to Alberto (Pascal Pavani/AFP/Getty Images)
Contador fired up a powerful diesel engine on the Montagne de Lure today, and rumbled to the finish line for a commanding victory in Stage 6 of Paris-Nice.
Everyone expected him to attack, and many people expected him to win. So it was, but today we saw something new. Contador - with two extra kilos and new reasons for motivation - rides like a Big Cat, and the Ventoux's Little Sister knows it.
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 5 - WINNER. Contador in GC: LEADER
Top Four - Alberto Contador, Luis León Sanchez (1.13), Sylain Chavanel (1.24), Frank Schleck (1.38)
Alberto Contador proved that he’s the toughest rider in the race today, in the queen stage of Paris-Nice. There are two stages yet to come, however, and they won't be easy. Nevertheless, after today’s victory at Montagne de Lure, Contador was happy. “It went better than expected,” he said, in reference to the time differences taken on his opponents.
”I thought about attacking a little later, but the race situation called for a try at 8 km to go, and the end result was very good,” said the new leader of Paris-Nice. “The more advantage you have in time, the calmer you can be, but now come two very tough days. This margin will allow us to have better control over the race.”
Contador was also very satisfied with the work of his teammates. “The team worked all day, because we took on responsibility from the the beginning. I’m really happy to have done all that good work for a victory.”
"Our team was criticized after the echelon stage to Vichy, for leaving me alone in the final section, but the whole team worked really hard for hours before. Believe me, they’re ready for the next two days," he said.
The victory on this summit was “very important for me,” Contador assured, “because I’ve thought about this stage for a long time and it gave me extra motivation to return to Paris-Nice and do it well.”
Contador said that the final ascent turned out to be even “harder because of the wind than because of the road itself. It was far from easy. I was okay, but I had to go through hell to take back time. I knew I had to sacrifice myself. Now I’ve got some impressive leg pain, but it was worth the trouble. I hope I can recover well for tomorrow.”
Alberto Contador refused to consider the race already won. ”Absolutely not,“ he said. “I have a considerable margin, but there are still two tough days and this race is very difficult to control. There a lot of people behind by only a little who could possiblly steal away in an escape, and we can’t be over-confident. Riders like Luis León, Colom, Samuel Sánchez or Frank Schleck could create plenty of problems.”
Stage 5 - March 12: Annonay - Vallon-Pont-d'Arc, 204km
Contador works the crowd, or they work him (Pascal Pavani/AFP/Getty Images)
It's hard to imagine a day with seven categorized climbs being piano, but that was the effect of Stage 5 today. Coming after days of being pummeled by the weather, plus the consequences of Contador being left unprotected in Stage 3, mountain-climbing on a sunny day could be managed with no problem.
Contador rode with his Astana escort through untroubled territory, passing close-cropped leafless orchards along the Rhône and the majestic rock formation, Pont d'Arc.
At around 14 km before the finish, Portuguese rider Sergio Paulinho of Astana—a longtime ally of Contador—crashed, but was able to pick himself up and continue.
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 5 - 32nd, 2.33 behind stage winner Jérémy Roy (Française des Jeux). Contador in GC: still 4th (0.36 Chavanel)
Top six - Chavanel, Gárate (0.06), Flecha (0.36), Contador (0.36), Seeldrayers (0.37), Luis León Sanchez (0.45)
“This was the calmest stage so far”
Today Alberto Contador finished a stage uneventful enough for him to describe it as “the calmest so far in the tour.” Tomorrow he will ride the queen stage ending on the Montagne de Lure, a summit worthy of its nickname, “Mont Ventoux’s Little Sister.” The climb is expected to create a selection among the closely-placed riders in the general classification.
“Today we hit the mountains just after the start line, and starting right after the break got away, the peloton spent the rest of the day managing the gap. The breakaway made good time, and that’s why the peloton kept a fast tempo, but I was comfortable on the climbs,” said Contador about the stage.
Only at the end was it necessary to get aggressive “because we had to crack down to control the gap to the break,” explained Contador, who is already thinking about tomorrow. “What I hope is simply to do well, because this is the day where differences can be taken. It’ll be a beautiful stage for the fans to see. I hope that both my team and I are able to profit,” he said.
About who will be his strongest opponents, Contador indicated that they are already there “in the general. We need to distance ourselves from Chavanel, same for Gárate, who seems to be doing really well. Then there’s a series of riders only a little distance away, like Colom, Luis León and even Samuel Sánchez, who could put up a serious fight, also including Schleck and the other guys, except the ones who’re already out of contention.”
Finally, Contador indicated that luckily “Paulinho’s crash didn’t seem to affect him too much. He has bruises, but he’s okay now,” he said about his teammate and friend. (AC press room)
Stage 4 - March 11: Vichy - Saint-Étienne, 173.5km
Contador takes matters into his own hands again (Pascal Pavani/AFP/Getty Images)
Today in Stage 4 of Paris-Nice, Alberto Contador decided to take a poke at his rival Sylvain Chavanel to gain back time lost in yesterday's blustery rainy mess.
Contador launched a lone attack in the final 10 km, just to gage the response from some of his chief opponents. It was spectacular, and it worked.
Alberto climbed to within 36 seconds of Quick Step's Chavanel, and is now lurking in 4th place. American favorite Christian Vande Velde won the stage with a gutsy solo in the last 20 km.
Contador's best moments so far at Paris-Nice have all been solo efforts: his time trial victory on Sunday, yesterday's single-handed bridging up to avoid a debilitating time loss, and today's bit of spectacle. Questions: Where are the Astana boys? Is Contador getting the team support he needs to be victorious?
Even a champion as great as Alberto can't win races alone.
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 4 - 12th, 0.14 behind stage winner Vande Velde (Garmin). Contador in GC: 4th (0.36 Chavanel)
Top six - Chavanel, Gárate (0.06), Flecha (0.36), Contador (0.36), Seeldrayers (0.37), Luis León Sánchez (0.45)
Alberto Contador surprised his rivals with an attack on the last ascent of the day, the third category Côte de Rochetaillée, where he charged ahead single-handedly in the wake of stage winner Christian Vandevelde. “I didn’t think about it, I just decided to try it on the fly to see what people would do,” said Contador, who didn’t know “anything about this finale, so there was no plan in place. I just improvised.”
“All in all, it’s been a better day that it looked at first, because I was able to surprise Chavanel and gain a few seconds on him,” said Astana’s leader, who is without a doubt the rider kept under closest watch by the favorites. “It was another very hard day, and we were all pretty punch drunk, including me. That’s why I wanted to give it a try.”
Going over the last climb on his own, Contador flirted with the possibility of taking back time on all his rivals, but it was too far to the goal. “I wasn’t able to wipe out the margins with most of them, but I took Chavanel by surprise, so that the attack was good for something,” he commented. “It’s obvious that yesterday’s stage, with five hours in the rain and wind, told on everybody. And today the escape was away for a long time, and that, too, made people fight fair at the end.”
"I only wanted to test Chavanel," said Contador after finishing in Saint-Etienne. "When I realized he was not able to react, I decided to keep going. At the end, there wasn't a big difference, but psychologically, it can have an impact. For me, it's positive. It shows there is room for winning Paris-Nice."
To Contador, the general classification hasn’t changed much. “I see it like yesterday, difficult, because you can see that there are a lot of riders who are strong. It will be hard to win, even though there’s still time. I’m guarding all my options. It won’t be for lack of trying,” he concluded.
From Astana DS Alain Gallopin:
"Alberto and his whole team were huff after what happened the day before. His attack was not planned at all, but Alberto likes to follow his instinct and make a spectacle. In one kilometre he is able to create a big gap, but he has to learn how to spare some energy. He learns from his mistakes. He's the kind of rider who needs to be given some freedom to attack when he feels like it."
"The race is far from over. It's better for Alberto to have less than 40 seconds deficit on Chavanel than to have more than a minute. The Montagne de Lure is long but less steep than the Mont Serein we did last year. With the condition he has, Chavanel can limit the damage up there."
"Alberto is motivated like a beginner. I'd like him to win Paris-Nice and keep quiet after that until the Tour de France."
Stage 3 - March 10: Orval - Vichy, 178km
Contador acts to save Astana's sinking ship (Pascal Pavani/AFP/Getty Images)
Things went awry for the Astana team today. As the team slogged with the peloton through relentlessly foul weather in a death march to Vichy, Rabobank began pummeling away at the tempo in the last quarter of the race.
Just as Alberto had described yesterday, the Dutch team increased pressure at around 45 km to go, splintering the pack in the rain and wind. What happened to Contador's teammates, no one seems to know. He was left unprotected, and in spite of a very plucky move on his part to bridge up, he lost a minute to Sylvain Chavanel, who also took Alberto's yellow jersey.
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 2 - 31st, 1.09 behind stage winner Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step). Contador in GC: 6th (1.03 Chavanel)
Top six - Chavanel, Garate (0.33), Flecha (0.36), Seeldrayers (0.37), Roelandts (0.40), Contador (1.03)
“It was a typical stage for Paris-Nice, rainy and windy,” said Alberto Contador, describing today’s tough stage. Contador managed to minimize damage, arriving sixth in the general classification, at 1:03 behind the new leader.
“The day was rainy from the start, and it also got windy near the end, when the sprinters’ teams went to work. There were moments when the team was a bit disorganized, and we got caught napping,” admitted Contador. “When it’s windy, if there’s no organization in the team it’s very hard to fight. In stages like this, you know that when you ease off a little, things get more complicated, and that’s what happened today.”
Nevertheless, Contador reacted with a solo effort to bridge up to the group containing the main contenders. Considering this the only solution, he said, “When we got cut off, I saw that the guys weren’t there. The situation was very difficult, but when I saw a short climb I took off, because that was the only chance to save the ship. I think that, for the most part, it worked.”
After checking his new position in the general, Contador recognizes that being “a minute behind a rider like Chavanel—who’s doing really well—is complicated, the same’s true for Juanma Gárate. But there’s still a lot of race left. I know that it’ll be complicated and very difficult, but looking at the classification, it could’ve been much worse,” he concluded. (AC press room)
Stage 2 - March 9: St-Brisson-sur-Loire - La Chapelle-Saint-Ursin, 195.5km
Surviving Stage 2 (Pascal Pavani/AFP/Getty Images)
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 2 - 97th (s.t. Heinrich Haussler/Cervelo Test Team).
General classification (unchanged) - Alberto Contador, 1st overall. Top five - Contador, Wiggins (0.07), LL Sánchez (0.09), Martin (0.11), Millar (0.14)
Alberto Contador finished the second stage of Paris-Nice in the leader position, in spite of being involved in a crash two kilometers from the goal. “I’ve been enormously lucky,” he said, referring to a problem with the front wheel of his bicycle that threatened to bring him to the ground.
“It was a typical stage for Paris-Nice,” commented Contador, “with a four-man escape and with us behind them, controlling things so they didn’t get too much of an advantage.”
Fortunately for everyone, it didn’t rain today, although the wind certainly made the final part the most dangerous of the day. “With about 60 or 70 km to go, the sprinters’ teams put the pressure on, and it was pretty jittery because of the crosswind. Rabobank and Cervelo were the most active, and it was dangerous and very tense, as it always is in a race like this, even though I was protected very well by my team,” said the head of the Astana squad.
In the last crash, Contador said that he only had problems “with the bike, which broke some spokes on the front wheel, but I didn’t hit the ground, because I grabbed hold of another rider.” As per the leadership, Contador confirmed that it’s not important at the moment. “Maintaining the leadership was secondary, but it’s also complicated to give it up, because we’re all close together in the standings and nobody can afford to give much of an advantage. So as soon as the sprinters’ teams see their chance, they drop the ax on the escapes.” (AC press room)
Stage 1 - March 8: Amilly - Amilly (ITT), 9.3km
A very happy triumph for Alberto (Pascal Pavani/AFP/Getty Images)
Alberto Contador came in like a lion today, marking his return to France by seizing the leadership of the 67th edition of Paris-Nice with an emphatic victory in the Stage 1 time trial.
Contador beat the experts at their own game, again, this time in the pouring rain at Amilly. He blew away Bradley Wiggins and said goodbye to David Millar, and for that matter, everybody else.
All this was done in eleven minutes on a flat parcours and rain-soaked roads.
Alberto says he's not a specialist. We say he certainly is special.
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 1 - 1st (11.05). Points classicfication - 1st.
General classification - Alberto Contador, 1st overall, 1st points classification. Top five - Contador, Wiggins (0.07), LL Sánchez (0.09), Martin (0.11), Millar (0.14)
Have you changed anything about your bike or are you still using last year’s model?
The bike is exactly the same as last year’s. We’ve decided not to change anything, but what we are doing is working extremely hard against the clock.
What did you do this past winter?
I simply trained for hours and hours on the time trial bike so I could maintain position for a long time, plus I worked on changes of pace.
How were you today?
I felt very well, although the first checkpoint wasn’t very good. Still, near the end, where people seemed to get a little bogged down, I did really well, even though I didn’t expect to win.
Did you know that you had won when you crossed the line?
No, I thought then that Wiggins had won by a second or so. But the most important thing hasn’t been winning, but just being at the front and not losing time to the favorites.
How did your opponents look?
I haven’t analyzed the classification yet, but the race has only just begun, and although it’s good to have a few seconds advantage, these times don’t mean too much.
How did you get along in the rain?
Bad weather doesn’t bother me. When I got underway it was raining, but when you get into the race, you don’t notice it so much anymore.
Is it meaningful to have returned to France with a victory?
Everybody likes to win, even more so in a race like Paris-Nice, but I didn’t begin the day fixated on victory. To put it simply, it’s important for this race, but it doesn’t have any special significance for me.
Are you the favorite now, or is there still too much left of Paris-Nice?
I’m not the favorite, because this is only the beginning, and I’ve got to stay very calm. We need to let go of the jersey, because this race can’t be controlled by one team alone. To me, it’s like Paris-Nice really starts tomorrow. (AC press room)
Alberto will return to the roads of France on Sunday, for the race many consider to be the official start of the cycling season, Paris-Nice (March 8-15).
Although blissfully nicknamed "The Race to the Sun," Paris-Nice consists of eight stages so grueling it could be called a mini-Tour de France.
This year's edition will provide plenty of excitement for Contador fans. The start this Sunday in Amilly, a 9.3 km time trial, will mark the first time he has raced in France since winning the Tour in 2007. In his last appearance at Paris-Nice, he won the race, becoming the only second Spanish rider in history to capture the overall title.
Contador refers to Paris-Nice as the race that introduced him to the world. Since his victory in 2007, he has won the general classification in all three of cycling's grand tours--the Tour de France, the Giro d'Italia, and the Vuelta a Espana--and no longer needs an introduction in any circle where pro cycling is known.
Riding for Astana: Alberto Contador, Alexandr Dyachenko, Daniel Navarro, Sergio Paulinho, Yaroslav Popovych, Benjamín Noval, Michael Schär & Haimar Zubeldia. DS: Alain Gallopin & Viatcheslav Ekimov
Today from EUROSPORT
Stage 1 - March 8: Amilly - Amilly (ITT), 9.3km
Stage 2 - March 9: St-Brisson-sur-Loire - La Chapelle-Saint-Ursin, 195.5km
Stage 3 - March 10: Orval - Vichy, 178km
Stage 4 - March 11: Vichy - Saint-Étienne, 173.5km
Stage 5 - March 12: Annonay - Vallon-Pont-d'Arc, 204km
Stage 6 - March 13: St-Paul-Trois-Châteaux - La Montagne de Lure, 182.5km
Stage 7 - March 14: Manosque - Fayence, 191km
Stage 8 - March 15: Nice - Nice, 119km
Contador celebrates his first overall title of the year (Photo: as.com)
Stage 5 - February 22: Vila do Bispo - Portimao, 168.8 km
CONTADOR WINS VOLTA AO ALGARVE 2009
“The year is off to a great start”
February 22, 2009 - Today Alberto Contador claimed the prize he earned in Saturday’s race against the clock by taking the overall victory in the Volta ao Algarve, his first race of 2009.
"The year is off to a great start,” he said, beaming with joy. “Coming here to ride has been a success, once and for all, because we’ve had great luck with the weather, a basic element in a race prepared with other goals.”
Asked if he had come to the Volta ao Algarve with winning in mind or only as a training ride, Contador said that the real goal “was to get into good form for Paris-Nice, but I also knew that I was going to come close to a victory if I felt good on the bike. So that’s just what happened, and I was able to win the race.”
Contador will now proceed with his race program, although he says, “There’re still a few things to see about, but the idea is that I’ll race Paris-Nice, Castilla y León, and País Vasco. We’ll then see if I’ll extend this first phase of the season to some classics, because I don’t want to get too used up at the beginning of the year.” And after resting, “I’ll ride the Dauphiné, which will be the last race to tighten up my form for the Tour de France,” he said.
Will he include the World Championships as one of his major goals this year? Contador’s answer is that the race “is usually not for pure climbers, so it’s a bit complicated to think about winning a World Championship.” The Tour, on the other hand, is at the top of his priority list. “Without a doubt, that’s my primary goal this year, keeping in mind that there are other races,” he said, alluding to the quest for other yellow jerseys at other times.
Contador denied that this victory contained a message for Lance Armstrong, as suggested by reporters. “Absolutely not. I just dedicate myself to going to the races. If I win, good, because that’s what I like to do—to ride my bike. Of course this has not been a message for Lance. He’s my teammate,” he concluded. (AC press room)
Contador on Stage 5: 96th, s.t. Heinrich Haussler (CERVELO TEST TEAM)
Final General classification: 1. Alberto Contador (ASTANA), 2. Sylvain Chavanel (QUICK STEP), 1.06; 5. Andreas Klöden (ASTANA), 1.09
Stage 4 - February 21: Castro Marim - Tavira, 33.7 km (ITT)
Alberto Contador smashed the opposition today in the Stage 4 time trial at the Volta ao Algarve.
His dominant performance put an emphatic stamp on the Portuguese tour as he wasted yesterday's hero Toni Colom and left TT strong men David Millar and Bert Grabsch in the dust.
From the press room
“Everybody likes to start with a victory”
Alberto Contador got his first triumph of the year today in Stage 4 of the Volta ao Algarve. After placing second yesterday, Contador proved that his good sensations are no fluke as he took the stage win and the race leader’s yellow jersey in today’s 33.7 km time trial. “I’m very happy,” he said after stepping down from the podium, “because everybody likes to start the year with a victory.”
“Yesterday I felt like I went a bit in debt to my teammates,” he said, referring to the labor of his team, “so this triumph is for all of them.”
In reference to today’s stage, he said that the route “was pretty long for this time of the season, and it ended up being the hardest, with a lot of little climbs. The course was too demanding, but it went well,” he acknowledged.
Contador commented that he wasn’t able to use “the new stuff that we’re preparing for this year, so I stuck with last year’s position and it gave us a good result.”
Asked how he felt about this week in Portugal, Contador said that he likes riding in the Algarve. “I think that it was absolutely right to choose this race to start the season. It’s the first of four races that I’ll ride before resting and starting to prepare for the Tour. I’ve found what I needed to find—good weather and good cycling—because it’s hard to win in Portugal.”
Tomorrow, Sunday, the Volta ao Algarve concludes with a stage that on paper poses few problems for Astana’s leader. Two summits in the middle of the route will open the way to a likely sprint finish, since the last summit is 60 km from the finish line. (AC press room)
Stage 4: Alberto Contador, winner.
General classification: 1. Alberto Contador (ASTANA), 2. Sylvain Chavanel (QUICK STEP), 0.33; 3. Andreas Klöden (ASTANA), 0.36
Stage 3 - February 20: VR Santo Antonio - Alto do Malhão, 175 km
Stage 3: Photo finish tells the truth on the Alto de Malhão (Race website)
Alberto Contador and ex-teammate Toni Colom (Katusha) duked it out on the slopes of the Alto de Malhão today, in Stage 3 of the Volta ao Algarve.
Only one man could win, and that man was Colom. But Contador more than reached his goal for the day, to get an idea, "more or less," of how his legs work so far in 2009.
The two riders escaped on the steep 2.5 km slope leading to the finish line shortly after Contador's teammate Andreas Klöden had tried unsuccesfully to get away. They fought mano a mano up the Malhão.
When the two landed at the goal, Colom claimed the victory, more proof of the top competitive form that earned him the overall victory in the Mallorca Challenge last week.
Contador came to Portugal to train into form for Paris-Nice, his first major challenge of the year, still more than two weeks away. The duel with Colom was a sparring match for Contador, who today gave his fans reason to circle the Paris-Nice departure date, March 8, in red ink.
Results: Contador on Stage 3 - 2nd, s.t. Toni Colom. General classification: 1. Colom, 2. Contador (0.04), 3. Ruben Plaza (0.12)
From the Press Room
“For the year’s first test, I’m satisfied with the result”
Alberto Contador finished second today in Stage 3 of the Volta ao Algarve. Contador got over the 2.5 km final ascent with only one rival, Toni Colom. ”I’m satisfied with the result because it was my first test of the season, and it was pretty good,” Contador said after the stage.
The deciding factor was the last climb, which was too short to let him do serious damage to his opponent. “We were all together until the last 800 meters,” added Contador. “I would have preferred a faster climb, but it wasn’t possible. Then Klöden went ahead at one point, and when he was caught, I tried an attack.”
Colom caught the Astana man’s wheel, and the two rode away alone, each man for himself. Neither could get a margin. At 300 meters to go, Contador launched a final attack. But it was too late, and Colom, also very strong, took him in the sprint.
“I’m happy with the result, but I owe the team, because they worked hard all day so that I could win,” Contador explained. “Tomorrow in the time trial I’ll aim high again, of course, because I’m well-placed in the GC, but just like today, without getting hung up on victory. The time trial will be complicated, too, because Colom and Rubén Plaza have shown that they’re very strong. We’ll soon see what the day brings.” AC press room
Stage 2 - February 19: Lagoa - Lagos, 183.5 km
Alberto completed Stage 2 in the pack at 42nd. Koldo Fernandez (Euskaltel) won the stage and now leads the race.
Alberto on GC: 89th at 0.14
Twitter: Live coverage of the Volta ao Algarve is only available through live ticker in Portuguese. We will do our best to relay ticker information to Contador fans in English during stages 3 - 5 via Twitter.
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More to come
Stage 2 of the Volta ao Algarve runs from Lagoa to Lagos over sharply undulating terrain. Much of the last 40 km is gently rolling, but the stage finishes with a short sudden incline in the last kilometer.
Weather at the finish line: Clear and chilly.
Stage 1 - February 18: Albufeira - Olhao, 173.6 km
Heinrich Haussler (Cervelo)
Dennis Van Winden (Rabobank)
Koldo Fernandez (Euskaltel)
Alberto finished in the pack at 127th, 10 seconds behind sprinter Haussler.
Alberto Contador's first race of 2009, the Volta ao Algarve, began at 11:00 this morning in the city of Albufeira, Portugal.
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Stay tuned here for reports, results, photos, and comments
Stage 1, to Olhao, is a hilly 173.6 km, ending with 20 km of flat road. Weather forecast is sunny and 17 C, with winds from the NNE at 8 km/hour.
The Volta ao Algarve is a five-stage tour of southern Portugal. Contador will be accompanied by a crackerjack team, including Portuguese teammate Sergio Paulinho, silver medalist at Athens in 2004.
Complete roster for Astana: Alberto Contador, Sergio Paulinho, Benjamin Noval, Andreas Klöden, Dmitriy Muravyev, Sergey Renev, Michael Schär, Tomas Vaitkus
The peloton is packed with talent. Among others riding are Damiano Cunego, Stijn Devolder, Philippe Gilbert, Robbie McEwen, Toni Colom--fresh off his GC victory in Mallorca--and Sylvain Chavanel.
Two taps over the heart and a pistol shot straight ahead
"In some ways, this is my trademark. When I show my heart, I want to thank all the people who support me. Today, on the final climb, the crowd was tremendous. I suffered a lot but the satisfaction at the end was enormous."
The Year of the Triple Crown: Reports, results, photos, comments
GO TO RACE WATCH 2008