Vuelta a España
Vuelta a España | August 29-September 3 | Spain
As everyone who has followed his career over the past decade would have expected, Alberto Contador (Trek-segafredo) is bowing out of the pro peloton in style.
Throughout the second week of the Vuelta a España, he produced an exhibition of attacking racing — sometimes successful, sometimes unsuccessful, but always thrilling to watch.
It is, however, also clear why the 34-year old has chosen to make this race his last before retiring. He remains as eager as ever to put on a show, and retains the ability to shake up a race — on stage 12, for instance, the pressure he caused by attacking on a second-category climb just over 20km from the finish indirectly contributed to overall leader Chris Froome (Sky) crashing twice on the following descent.
But Contador these days lacks the consistency that helped win him seven Grand Tours in the past. He again attempted a long-range move three days later on the huge summit finish to Sierra Nevada, but ultimately ended up losing time when a steadily paced Sky-led peloton gradually caught back up to him and spat him out the back.
Nevertheless, despite failing to mount a genuine challenge to the indomitable Froome, Contador continued to be mobbed at the start and finish of week two’s stages throughout Andalusia, and it became clear just how much those Spanish fans will miss him when he’s gone.
Following Joaquim Rodriguez’s retirement last year and doubts whether a 37-year old Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) will ever be able to return to his best following a horrific crash at the Tour de France, the Vuelta raises questions over who will take Contador’s mantle as Spain’s biggest stage race hope.
After two weeks of racing, the home nation was still without a stage win, while Contador was their only rider in the top 10. When compared to Italy, Colombia and even Poland — each of which enjoyed another two stage wins this week — those results look especially disappointing. Mikel Landa, who is not racing the Vuelta, looks most likely to step into Contador’s shoes, but is yet to win a Grand Tour.
There’s every chance still that Contador will bow out in glory with a stage win or some other success, but his retirement would appear to signal the end of a golden era for Spanish cycling.
Contador: still Spain’s favourite son