ALL GUNS BLAZING
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