ALL GUNS BLAZING

Procycling - - Alberto Contador - WRITER: A las­dai r Fother in­g­ham IM­AGE : S imon Gi l l

The Vuelta a Es­paña was the inal race of Al­berto Con­ta­dor's ca­reer and on home roads, for the last time, he un­leashed an on­slaught of at­tacks be­fore se­cur­ing a fairy­tale win atop the leg­endary Angliru. El Pis­tolero re­fused to bow out qui­etly

pos­si­ble and went out in con­sid­er­able style, rid­ing into the sport­ing sun­set with a vic­tory on Spain’s iconic Alto de l’Angliru. It might have looked like he was go­ing down all guns blazing, but his rear­guard ac­tion proved suc­cess­ful. Froome ad­mit­ted he was im­pressed. “It’s pretty ro­man­tic and com­mend­able what Al­berto did to­day, be­ing his last ever race and he’s so com­pet­i­tive and so fierce up the front,” he said on the evening of that stage, the race’s penul­ti­mate. “What a way to end his ca­reer. If I can do that when I de­cide to call it quits, I’d be chuffed to bits.”

The fi­nal vic­tory salute of Con­ta­dor’s ca­reer – his usual ‘pis­tolero’ cocked and fired gun - also felt like poetic jus­tice af­ter three weeks and a bliz­zard of at­tacks. They be­came more and more fre­quent, the closer he came to the end. Of the 11 dif­fer­ent Vuelta stages where Con­ta­dor blasted off the front, eight came in near daily suc­ces­sion from stages 11 to 20. He was off the front of the race for a to­tal of 101km, 38 of them alone. That might not sound much, es­pe­cially in a sea­son when Lotto Soudal rider Thomas De Gendt spent 1,280km in breaks at the Tour de France. But De Gendt is a break­away spe­cial­ist, Con­ta­dor is a GC con­tender and has a lot less lee­way than rid­ers who are in the lower reaches of the over­all clas­si­fi­ca­tion.

In the fi­nal 10 days of the Vuelta, dis­count­ing the time trial at Logroño, Con­ta­dor only spent two days in the pelo­ton from start to fin­ish: the rolling stage to To­mares won by Mat­teo Trentin, and the fi­nal stage in Madrid. On stage 18 on the sec­ond cat­e­gory Col­lado de la Hoz Con­ta­dor at­tacked no fewer than seven times. “I’ve promised Froome I won’t play with his balls for at least two days,” he promised with a grin at the fin­ish, be­fore promptly at­tack­ing on a third cat­e­gory climb 24 hours later. He was ir­re­press­ible.

The Col­lado de la Hoz of course was where Con­ta­dor forged his leg­endary long-dis­tance at­tack to Fuente Dé and vic­tory in the 2012 Vuelta. Once asked to de­scribe why he had started that move, Con­ta­dor said, “I felt like I had an an­gel on one shoul­der, say­ing ‘Play it care­ful, wait to at­tack,’ and a devil on the other shoul­der say­ing, ‘Go for it, you’ve got noth­ing to lose.’ I lis­tened to the devil.”

In the 2017 Vuelta Con­ta­dor seem­ingly only lis­tened to his in­ner demons for the en­tire three weeks. In fact, apart from the stom­ach prob­lems which put him out of the over­all run­ning on stage 3, he looked to be at his strong­est in a grand tour since the 2015 Giro d’Italia, which was his last GC win in a three-week race.

Yet even had he not con­stantly at­tacked, Con­ta­dor’s level of pop­u­lar­ity in Spain at this year’s Vuelta was among the great­est seen in a re­cent grand tour, save per­haps Richard Virenque in the 1997 Tour at the height of ‘Virenque ma­nia’. In Spain 20 years later ev­i­dence of Al­berto-ma­nia was ev­ery­where: from the hundreds of the over­all win­ner Chris Froome was tak­ing ques­tions in the race’s mo­bile press cen­tre, an in­flat­able pav­il­ion erected just a stone’s throw away from the fin­ish line on Madrid’s Paseo de la Castel­lana boule­vard. But his an­swers were all but be­ing drowned out by the racket made by the thou­sands of fans in the square out­side. A full two hours af­ter the stage had fin­ished, they were still chant­ing, “Con­ta­dor, Con­ta­dor, Con­ta­dor”.

Froome might have con­quered the Vuelta at last. But the deaf­en­ing noise out­side the press tent showed clearly which rider had con­quered the hearts of the fans: Al­berto Con­ta­dor.

Con­ta­dor’s Vuelta was his swansong, but he hadn’t treated it as a vic­tory lap, or photo op­por­tu­nity. He showed his at­tack­ing spirit right up to the last stage At 10pm on the fi­nal Sun­day of the Vuelta a Es­paña,

"It's pretty ro­man­tic and com­mend­able what Al­berto did on the Angliru. He's so com­pet­i­tive and ierce. What a way to end his ca­reer. If I can do that when I call it quits, I'd be chuffed to bits" Chris Froome

Con­ta­dor ires one inal vic­tory shot atop the Angliru af­ter seal­ing the stage win

Fans turned out in force each day to pay trib­ute to their home- grown hero

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