Contador, in his black jacket, rides under the escort of his Trek-Segafredo team (Colin Flockton)
Stage 3, April 5: Vitoria-Gasteiz – Donostia (San Sebastián), 160.5 km
Alberto Contador finished with the main pack at three seconds off the winning time today in Stage 3 of the Vuelta al País Vasco. After a legbreaker of a day, a true Basque rompepiernas that included six categorized climbs, late-stage escapee David de la Cruz snatched the win from the jaws of the ferocious peloton. De la Cruz is the new race leader.
Contador got through the day with no particular story to tell, and no mishap other than losing teammate Ruben Guerreiro to a stomach illness. Trek-Segafredo's veteran Basque super-domestique, Haimar Zubeldia, made a few comments about the stage at the team website.
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 3, 33rd (0:03 David de la Cruz - 3:54:25). Contador in GC, 41st (O:O3 David de la Cruz - 12:14:54)
TOP THREE: 1 De la Cruz, 2 McCarthy (0:03), 3 Valverde (0:03)
Follow us at @Contador_Notebk for the latest headlines and daily live coverage from the 57th Vuelta al País Vasco.
Stage 2, April 4: Iruña (Pamplona) – Rioja Alavesa-Elciego, 173.4 km
The Trek-Segafredo boys did their job to get Contador to the finish line safe and sound (Colin Flockton)
Alberto Contador had another close call today, when he suffered a puncture while riding at speed 50 kilometers before the finish of Stage 2 of the Vuelta al País Vasco. However, as they say in Spain, Bien está lo que bien acaba, and the results show that everything did in fact end well. Contador recovered from the mishap and finished in the same time as stage winner Michael Albasini. Michael Matthews maintained the leader’s jersey.
Stage 2 was a Tour de France-style transitional stage – unusual for Basque Country - ridden at a leisurely pace and uneventful until the mad-dash finale. Experts had predicted a windy ride. “It was a stage during which you had to pay close attention due to the wind,” Contador reported, “but it didn’t blow hard enough to split the peloton.”
The trouble came from a different quarter. “I must have caught something in my wheel, but I switched with a teammate, Cardoso, and we rectified it without problems. The team helped me get through the day well,” said Contador. He rode like the wind after taking Cardoso's wheel to catch back up to the peloton, and was soon joined by Basque teammate Markel Irizar, who had dropped back to assist. Irizar stayed with him as the race moved into a fast and nervous final phase.
“We had to pay close attention,” Contador continued. “There was a lot of tension, and any crash in the final kilometers makes it so that you can lose time.”
Six categorized climbs are on the agenda for Wednesday, when the GC men will go to work. “When the mountains get here, the nerves go away. Everybody rides according to how his legs are functioning, and the race will calm down. But we’ll have to pay attention because there are very explosive riders here and there could be action.”
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 2, 86th (s.t. Michael Albasini - 4:35:22). Contador in GC, 113th (s.t. Michael Matthews - 8:20:29).
TOP FIVE: 1 Matthews, 2 Richeze (s.t.), 3 De Bie (s.t.), 4 Scwarzmann (s.t.), 5 Valverde (s.t.)
Follow us at @Contador_Notebk for the latest headlines and daily live coverage from the 57th Vuelta al País Vasco.
Alberto Contador rolled gently to the line after a spill at 700 meters before the finish. No harm done. (Colin Flockton)
Stage 1, April 3: Iruña (Pamplona) – Eguesibar-Sarriguren, 153.27 km
Alberto Contador took a tumble in the final kilometer of what was otherwise a tranquil opening stage of the Vuelta al País Vasco today. After hours of riding calmly chock a block across the road, the peloton whipped itself to a fury in the last ten kilometers. The result was a field sprint win for Michael Matthews and a crash without serious consequences for Contador.
"In the final 700 meters, a couple of riders went off the road and I had no option other than to go with them,” Contador explained. “Luckily we landed on the grass and avoided a heavy crash. No problem, aside from a moment's scare."
Contador, alone, rolled easily to the finish line, 1:05 in arrears, with no visible signs of injury or distress. Because the incident happened within the 3-km safety zone, he was given the same finishing time as the stage winner. "I finished calmly, knowing that the delay wouldn't count against me. And at least at the moment, I don't hurt."
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 1, 136th (s.t. Michael Matthews - 3:45:07). Contador in GC, 136th (s.t. Matthews - 3:45:07)
TOP THREE: 1 Matthews, 2 McCarthy (s.t.), 3 Gerrans (s.t.)
Trek-Segafredo lines up at the País Vasco teams' presentation before the start in Pamplona. Contador is second from the right. (Trek-Segafredo)
AS.COM | Alberto Contador spoke to reporters before the start of Stage 1 of the Vuelta al País Vasco in Pamplona today. Hoping to win his fifth overall title in the Basque race this week, he has come to the race rested after a frenetic month of March, during which he disputed both Paris-Nice and the Volta a Catalunya.
Contador commented that this route is less well-suited to him than those of his other successful campaigns. "This week I'm devoting myself to recovery. My body is already noticing the effort of doing back-to-back races, but I think there's room for one more."
Contador knows that the 2017 route is not as good for him as those of past editions, since this time the riders will be tasked with less difficult work in the mountains. "This year's Itzulia is less suited to me. It's going to be more complicated to get time differences in the mountain stages and it's going to be more open in the time trial, especially bearing in mind that it's a less difficult and longer time trial. It's all a challenge."
Asked about the possibility of capturing his fifth txapela, Contador kept his cards close to the chest. "Inside of six days we could talk about managing to get five 'txapelas.' It's still too early for that. There's a chance but we'll have to take it one day at a time, and we'll see, but it will be difficult."
Alberto Contador and a Trek-Segafredo squad strong in Iberians will compete in the fifty-seventh edition of the Vuelta al País Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country/Itzulia) starting tomorrow, April 3, through Saturday, April 8.
Stage 1 leaves the start line in Pamplona at 13:25 CEST. Follow us at @Contador_Notebk for live coverage during all the stages.
Riding for Trek-Segafredo: 1 Alberto Contador, 2 Julien Bernard, 3 André Cardoso, 4 Lauret Didier, 5 Ruben Guerreiro, 6 Jesús Hernández, 7 Markel Irizar, 8 Haimair Zubeldia
Alberto Contador did a short interview in English last Sunday after the final stage of the Volta a Catalunya. To watch the interview, go to ESPN and scroll to 0:20.
Veteran cycling photographer Graham Watson has retired after four decades at the races. He has posted at his website a retrospective gallery of 1,000 photographs, including several fine ones of Alberto Contador.
Visit the gallery: 40 YEARS OF CYCLING
Jarlinson Pantano is Contador's new best friend
VELONEWS | by Andrew Hood | Jarlinson Pantano will be one of Alberto Contador's key lieutenants in the mountains this season.
(Photo of Pantano and Contador, right, by Colin Flockton)
Trek-Segafredo’s Alberto Contador has a new best friend and an even better ally. His name is Jarlinson Pantano. The 28-year-old Colombian climber has emerged as a valuable new weapon for the veteran Spaniard as he dares to take on Chris Froome and the Team Sky machine in this year’s Tour de France.
In both Paris-Nice and Volta a Catalunya, Pantano played an integral role in setting up Contador for the decisive mountain climbs. It’s that kind of help that has Contador optimistic about the looming battle awaiting in July.
“All I can say is thanks, thanks, thanks,” Contador gushed at Paris-Nice after Pantano helped blow up the race. “He’s an incredible guy, and we’re really good friends. He will be crucial for me, especially in July.”
Though Contador came up just two seconds short of victory at Paris-Nice and finished second at Catalunya last week, things are looking up for Contador as he pedals toward the Tour.
Why? At Trek, Contador is finding the kind of support he never saw the past few seasons at Tinkoff. As the team backed by the outspoken Russian magnate started to disintegrate, it was every man for himself, with Peter Sagan chasing stage wins and the points jersey, and Rafal Majka chasing mountain jerseys and stage wins. Contador was often left isolated and with little help deep in the mountains. Out-gunned by a team of climbers surrounding Chris Froome at Team Sky, there was little Contador could do during the past few Tours.
That looks to be changing at Trek, where Contador will get support in the mountains he hasn’t seen in years. In addition to Pantano, Contador will be able to count on help from Bauke Mollema, Pete Stetina, and Haimar Zubeldia. Even with the team bringing John Degenkolb to hunt stages during the Tour de France, the squad likely won’t split along the fracture lines seen at Tinkoff.
For Pantano, the chance to ride for Contador is something he is relishing.
“I am very excited to be on the team,” Pantano said at a team camp. “It’s an incredible opportunity to be able to learn from a rider like Contador. I am looking forward to working for him and learning from him.”
For Pantano, the move to Trek comes at a decisive moment in his promising career. After his breakout 2016 season that included stage victories at the Tour de Suisse and Tour de France (and two more second places), many teams came calling. He chose Trek to be at Contador’s side.
“My role changes at Trek, and now I will be working for Contador,” he said. “But that is something that really motivates me. It’s a big honor to be able to work for a rider like Contador.”
Trek is going all-in with Contador for the Tour. Last year’s GC man Bauke Mollema has humbly stepped aside (at least for 2017), and decided to take on the Giro d’Italia, and will ride the Tour to help Contador. Pantano is doubling down as well, sacrificing his chances to be a leader on another team while taking notes as he watches Contador take on Froome.
“We’ll have a very strong team, and I think we’ll have realistic options to reach our main objective, which is to win the Tour de France,” Pantano said. “And Contador is a rider that I want to learn from for the good of my own future. He has so much more experience than me, and he is truly a team leader. He’s one of the best leaders ever for grand tours, so that’s clearly going to help me for the future.”
Who is Pantano? He’s yet another superb climber coming out of Colombia. This latest wave of climbing talent is surpassing even the legends of the 1980s. Led by Nairo Quintana, Rigoberto Urán, and Esteban Chaves, Pantano is making his presence known. A few years older than Chaves and Quintana, it’s taken Pantano a little longer to find his place in Europe.
“Cycling has really grown in Colombia, and people really follow the sport,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen when a Colombian finally wins the Tour, but the Colombians will go crazy!”
A son of an amateur cyclist from Cali, Pantano raced with Colombia es Pasión from 2007 to 2011 and turned pro with Colombia-Coldeportes, riding with the team from 2012-2014 — an experience that left him frustrated and out of the spotlight. Pantano criticized the former management of the team, which eventually closed without fulfilling its goal of promoting Colombian cycling to the top level in Europe. Like many of his compatriots, he had to find a new home on a European team. His break came with IAM Cycling, which finally gave him freedom to ride for his own results in 2015 and 2016. Last year, he earned the breakout rider award at the Tour de France.
“It was the best year of my career, but that only motivates me to keep working,” he said. “Here at Trek, I will get some chances. The idea is to get better step by step, and hopefully one day be able to challenge for a grand tour.”
This year, he might get his chances at a race like the Tour de Suisse (with Contador likely racing the Critérium du Dauphiné) and again at the Vuelta a España. It all depends on how Contador goes in the Tour. Even at Catalunya, he nearly won the final stage, finishing second to winner Alejandro Valverde of Movistar.
And why not? Pantano said he believes he could one day challenge for the yellow jersey. Despite only racing two Tours — he was 19th in both 2015 and 2016 — he believes his best years are ahead of him.
“I believe the right questions isn’t if a Colombian is going to win the Tour, but when,” he said. “Nairo has already shown he can do it. Chaves is very strong. I won’t dare say when it will happen, because Froome is very strong. He only prepares for the Tour, and he’s shown he can win it year after year. Right now, it’s complicated, but one day it will happen.
“Could it be me to be the first Colombian to win the Tour? Well, it’s something I dream of!” he continued. “First, I dream of being in contention for the podium. I’ve demonstrated I can be in the top 10 of a big race [4th at the Tour de Suisse], but I have to keep working and keep learning. I know it’s difficult, but maybe someday.
“That’s why this is team is perfect for me right now. I can learn from Alberto and continue my progression.”
Contador and Pantano are now bosom buddies. Pantano is hoping some of Contador’s winning ways will rub off.
GO TO VELONEWS
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 7, 15th (s.t. Valverde - 3:08:50). Contador in GC, 2nd (1:03 Valverde - 25:27:15)
TOP TEN: 1 Valverde, 2 Contador (1:03), 3 Soler (1:16), 4 A. Yates (1:31), 5 Van Garderen (1:34), 6 D. Martin (2:29), 7 Kruijswijk (2:56), 8 Verona (3:00), 9 Bennett (3:01), 10 Bardet (3:05)
Final 28 kilometers (Commentary by Carlton Kirby and Matt Stephens)
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 6, 27th (s.t. Impey - 4:34:14). Contador in GC, 2nd (0:53 Valverde - 22:18:35)
TOP TEN: 1 Valverde, 2 Contador (0:53), 3 Soler (1:06), 4 A. Yates (1:21), 5 Van Garderen (1:24), 6 D. Martin (2:19), 7 Kruijswijk (2:46), 8 Verona (2:50), 9 Bennett (2:51), 10 Bardet (2:55)
Full broadcast (Commentary by Carlton Kirby and Magnus Backstedt)
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 5, 3rd (0:13 Valverde - 4:14:52). Contador in GC, 3rd (0:47 Valverde - 17:44:27)
TOP 10: 1 Valverde, 2 Froome (0:21), 3 Contador (0:47), 4 Soler (1:00), 5 A. Yates (1:15), 6 Van Garderen (1:18), 7 Thomas (1:34), 8 S. Sánchez (1:59), 9 D. Martin (2:13), 10 Kruijswijk (2:40)
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 4, 16th (s.t. Nacer Bouhanni - 3:04:27). Contador in GC, 7th (1:13 Van Garderen - 13:29:00)
TOP TEN: 1 Van Garderen, 2 S. Sánchez (0:41), 3 Thomas (0:44), 4 Valverde (0:45), 5 Froome (0:49:, 6 Soler (1:10), 7 Contador (1:13), 8 A. Yates (1:18), 9 Mollema (1:25), 10 Pantano (1:25)
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 3, 7th (0:03 Valverde - 5:07:12). Contador in GC, 7th (1:13 Van Garderen - 10:24:33)
TOP TEN: 1 Van Garderen, 2 S. Sánchez (0:41), 3 Thomas (0:44), 4 Valverde (0:45), 5 Froome (0:49:, 6 Soler (1:10), 7 Contador (1:13), 8 A. Yates (1:18), 9 Mollema (1:25), 10 Pantano (1:25)
Trek-Segafredo in the start house, ready to begin Stage 2 (@JeanPierre267)
Stage 2, March 21: Pla de l’Estany (Banyoles – Banyoles), 41.3 (TTT)
Updated, March 23: The UCI has decided to penalize the Movistar squad for Rojas' push of teammates in Stage 2. BMC takes the win, and Valverde loses 1:00. Contador is now 0:15 from Valverde in GC.
Alberto Contador and his Trek-Segafedo team put in an excellent ride today in the Stage 2 team time trial of the Volta a Catalunya. Unfortunately, three other teams did better and now Contador finds himself 1:15 behind the new race leader, Alejandro Valverde.
Valverde inherited the jersey from his teammate, J.J. Rojas, when Rojas was penalized for giving two teammates a little push on a climb during the competition. After Trek and BMC lodged a protest, Rojas was relegated by 3:00, and the teammates who received the pushes by 1:00 and 2:00, respectively. Although nearly half of the eight-man squad were implicated, the Movistar team as a whole were not punished, and now occupy the top places in the general classification.
“I'm happy. We gave it everything,” said Contador, visibly disappointed, after the stage. “We were quite organized, and we did a good time trial. But the truth is that we finished far behind our direct rivals. A minute and fifteen seconds behind Valverde is a lot of time.”
What’s done is done, and the race moves on toward Barcelona. “The thing to do now is to look to the stages that are coming up,” Alberto continued. “Tomorrow La Molina is not too tough and there won’t be big time differences; maybe the greatest differences will be made via bonifications. Obviously, it’s gotten complicated for us because both Van Garderen and all of Team Sky, and Valverde are ahead of us, but in the end we have to take it one day at a time and see what it is that we can do.”
Trek-Segafredo were the fourth team to start, which made it impossible for them to benefit from knowing the splits of their serious rivals, all of whom started later. They set the best time by a wide margin at the intermediate check, but soon BMC, then Movistar, beat that time with plenty of room to spare. Movistar won the day by just two seconds over BMC, leaving Trek more than a minute back.
Alberto continued, "In recent years, La Volta has been won or lost by five or seven seconds. And these time differences, after the time trial, strike me as being really large to make up, but there are five stages ahead of us and we’ll have to give it a try.”
“Honestly, I felt well and the team rode very well. I can only congratulate the other teams. Now the important thing is to recover and to think about tomorrow’s stage.”
Bauke Mollema, Contador's teammate: "It was still a big difference with the first teams, so it was not what we were hoping for, for sure. We gave the maximum; there were just three teams faster. It was technical in the first 15 kilometers, and after that, we gave everything. We did a good tactic to save Matthias (Brändle) for the last flat part.
"When we passed the finish line I had a good feeling. We had worked well together. We lost two guys in the first 10-kilometers, I think, but after we stayed together with six until the finish. We saw the parcours five times, so there was nothing we did wrong."
Josu Larrazabal, Trek-Segafredo head trainer: "We are satisfied. When you see with 28 kilometers to go that we were only six riders, then you realize the great performance they did. The first part was challenging with climbs, and so it was not easy to keep the balance of the team, and we lost two a little earlier than expected. But overall, we are satisfied because we saw how strong our leaders are: Alberto, Bauke, and Jarlinson. And also how strong the team, in general, is for the coming week. This gives us motivation for the stages ahead, and, of course, the race is not finished; we are ready to give our maximum."
Alejandro Valverde, race leader: “It was a very demanding time trial. We knew that it was going to be tough because we had reconned it as many as five times in recent days. It was a very technical time trial, and doing it so many times was key. We had a little scare with the appearance of rain, but in the end we were lucky and we all managed to get through it unscathed.
“We’re going to take it one day at a time, but we’ve taken a pretty significant time difference on our problematic rivals. Tomorrow will be a very complicated day and I’m worried about managing to avoid the rain, which I hope we do. I felt good, I’m confident that I’ll be able to hang on, but it’s clear that rivals like Contador and Froome are going to make it difficult for us.”
RESULTS: Trek-Segafredo in Stage 2, 4th (1:15 Movistar – 00:48:55). Contador in GC, 22nd (1:15 Valverde - 5:17:16)
TOP FOUR (in Stage 2): 1 Movistar, 2 BMC (0:02), 3 Sky (0:46), 4 Trek-Segafredo (1:15)
TOP FIVE (GC): 1 Valverde (5:17:16), 2 R. Fernández (s.t.), 3 Erviti (s.t.), 4 Soler (m.t.), 5 Castroviejo (s.t.)
Alberto Contador in Stage 1 of the Volta a Catalunya (Josep Lago/AFP)
Stage 1, March 20: Calella - Calella, 178.9 km
Alberto Contador and his Trek-Segafredo team finished the inaugural stage of the 97th Volta a Catalunya safely with the pack today in Calella. A taxing day at work went off without incident as Contador and his rivals tried to conserve forces for tomorrow's difficult team time trial. Davide Cimolai pipped Nacer Bouhanni at the line to take the stage win and a 10” bonus.
“It was a fast stage for the first point of contact with the race,” Contador said at the finish line, “and one in which you had to pay very close attention. I tried to save as much energy as possible, thinking about tomorrow, which will be a crucial day."
The Stage 2 team time trial consists of 41.3 kilometers of relentless terrain, climbing and descending without respite. Contador’s comments about the test are tempered, as usual, but he knows that his team is no slouch. Tomorrow he will have the help of, among others, climbers Mollema and Pantano, as well as Basque veterans Zubeldia, always a fine climber, and Irizar, a strong time-trialist.
“We’re going to do the best TTT possible and see where we end up,” Alberto said. “The truth is that having 41 kilometers of TTT in a week-long race commands respect because the time differences could be really big, and the fight for the GC could be predicated on them.
“But in the end, I have a really great team here, and I have confidence in them. Sky, BMC and Movistar always do good TTTs and, accordingly, they’re big rivals for the GC,” he said before heading to the team bus.
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 1, 57th (s.t. Davide Cimolai - 4:28:21). Contador in GC, 57th (0:10 Cimolia - 4:28:11)
TOP THREE: 1 Cimolai, 2 Bouhanni (0:04), 3 Sbaragli (0:06)
Alberto Contador's next race, the 97th edition of the Volta a Catalunya, kicks off tomorrow, Monday, March 20 and runs through Sunday, March 26, 2017.
200 riders from 25 teams will cover a total of 1,113.2 kilometers in this demanding edition. The climbing starts on day one. In fact, from the kickoff in Calella to the traditional Montjuïc circuit finale in Barcelona, the course is hardly ever flat.
Stage 2 offers the first team time trial since 2005, and sets an extraordinary task for the 8-man squads: 41.3 tough kilometers of contant ups and downs. Stage 3, with three first-category climbs in the second half of the course, sends the riders up La Molina twice. This will loosen them up for the hors-categorie summit finish at Lo Port in Stage 5, the 20-km daredevil descent to the finish in Stage 6 and eight times up the Alt de Montjuïc on the final day.
Alberto Contador knows what he's about in Catalunya. He won the 2011 edition, although this hard-fought victory does not appear in the official record books. This week, with a strong Trek-Segafredo squad, he'll face perhaps the stiffest test yet this season as he continues his preparation for his main goal, the Tour de France.
Riding for Trek-Segafredo: 71 Alberto Contador, 72 Bauke Mollema, 73 Jarlinson Pantano, 74 Michael Gogl, 75 Haimar Zubeldia, 76 Peter Stetina, 77 Markel Irizar, 78 Matthias Braendle. DS: Steven de Jongh
Paris-Nice final podium: Alberto Contador (2nd), Sergio Henao (1st), Dan Martin (3rd) (Colin Flockton)
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 8, 2nd (s.t. Davod De la Cruz - 2:48:53). Contador in GC, 2nd (0:02 Sergio Henao - 29:50:29).
TOP TEN: 1 Henao, 2 Contador (0:02), 3 D. Martin (0:30), 4 G. Izaguirre (1:00), 5 Alaphilippe (1:22), 6 Zakarin (1:34), 7 J. Izaguirre (1:41), 8 Barguil (1:41), 9 S. Yates (4:39), 10 Gallopin (9:14)
De la Cruz slips ahead of Contador at the last moment to get the Stage 8 win and maxium bonification (Colin Flockton)
Alberto Contador wheels to the finish ahead of all those in contention (Colin Flockton)
Stage 7, March 11: Nice – Col de la Couillole, 177 km
Alberto Contador attacked and fought to within striking distance of the overall title today in Paris-Nice Stage 7. With the help of teammate Jarlinson Pantano, Contador dropped all of his direct rivals on the final climb and vaulted to 3rd overall, 31” from new race leader, Sergio Henao. Richie Porte escaped alone to win the stage.
“In today’s stage I played my cards closer to my chest than yesterday, waiting a little to see what could be done on the final climb,” Alberto explained at the finish line. “We were going at a good clip, but I told Jarlinson to set a fast tempo so that the GC men would be dropped. He did an extraordinary job for me, and no mistake. He whittled down the group and broke it completely apart.”
Pantano’s efforts unhitched the yellow jersey, Alaphilippe, plus Gallopin and others, eventually leaving only a handful of riders in the battle. Contador, looking fighting fit, was weighing his options when Richie Porte attacked.
“Maybe I was a little anxious about the stage win and that made me waver for a second between going for the stage win or the GC. That created a moment of hesitation that Richie capitalized on to attack and get a gap,” said Contador. “Then I started to analyze the situation to see what we could do, and I decided to push really hard to put time into the people ahead of me in the GC and see if we could catch Richie.”
Contador and Henao collaborated to gain time on the others. With the Colombian safely in the virtual yellow jersey, Contador went ahead by himself. He came to the line alone, second to Porte, while Martin clawed back and snatched the remaining bonus from Henao. “At first I went with Henao, but in the end he was dropped and lost just a few seconds. The one who’s still there is Dan Martin,” said Contador.
With one stage remaining, the overall victory is a big ask. Contador will be looking for opportunities. “I’m feeling well and happy because physically I felt better than I did yesterday, and tomorrow we have a new day. It’s a shame that it’s not a summit finish, but we’ll see what happens,” he said.
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 7, 2nd (0:21 Richie Porte – 5:01:35). Contador in GC, 3rd (0:31 Sergio Henao - 27:01:15).
TOP TEN: 1 Henao, 2 D. Martin (0:30), 3 Contador (0:31), 4 G. Izaguirre (1:00), 5 Alaphilippe (1:22), 6 Zakarin (1:34), 7 J. Izaguirre (1:41), 8 Gallopin (3:22), 9 Barguil (4:07), 10 S. Yates (4:39)
Contador rounds a hairpin curve with his most direct rivals on the Col de Bourigaille (Colin Flockton)
Stage 6, March 10: Aubagne – Fayence, 193.5 km
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 6, 8th (0:32 S. Yates - 4:37:51). Contador in GC, 7th (1:34 Alaphilippe - 21:58:22).
TOP TEN: 1 Alaphilippe, 2 Gallopin (0:36), 3 Henao (0:46), 4 G. Izaguirre (0:57), 5 D. Martin (1:20), 6 Zakarin (1:31), 7 Contador (1:34), 8 S. Yates (1:37), 9 J. Izaguirre (2:04), 10 Barguil (3:08)
REUTERS | by Julien Pretot, AIX EN PROVENCE | Alberto Contador, who hopes to be remembered as an “anti-conformist”, believes he can still win the Tour de France staying true to his swashbuckling style. Speaking to Reuters after the fifth stage of Paris-Nice, the twice Tour champion said he will always be ready to risk everything in order to win. “It’s important for me to race for victory, regardless of the race,” the Spaniard said on Thursday night after dinner in his team hotel in southern France.
Style, however, matters to Contador, who has built a reputation as a flamboyant rider who would rather be seen as a beautiful loser than an ugly winner. “I am more satisfied with myself after a ride like Paris-Nice last year (when he attacked early on looking to unsettle eventual winner Geraint Thomas) than after a straightforward win that means nothing,” he said. “I hope that I will be remembered as an anti-conformist.”
Contador, one of only six riders with titles in all three grand tours – France, Italy and Spain – is regarded as one of the most aggressive riders in history, having overturned a desperate situation in the 2012 Vuelta or in the 2015 Giro. “To me, the most important thing is to fight on my bike regardless of the race, it’s the only way I can enjoy being a bike rider,” he said.
Contador is seventh overall in Paris-Nice, 1:34 off the pace but still with a chance of victory ahead of Saturday’s decisive mountain stage. While many riders, including three-times Tour champion Chris Froome, often use second-tier races just to fine-tune their preparations, Contador admits he struggles to stay quiet when he sees opportunities to win. “Since last November, I have been trying to visualise going to the (Tour warm-up race) Dauphine only to prepare for the Tour, not to go full gas,” he said. “It’s always hard for me to go to a race and refrain from attacking.”
TRICKY ALLIANCE Contador, 34, will be looking to save his energy for the Tour, a race he has not managed to win since 2009, fuelling speculation that his best days are behind him. “I’ve had bad luck with crashes in 2014 and 2016, and in 2015, riding and winning the Giro in 2015 took too much strength out of me. So that’s why I’m still motivated to win the Tour and believe I can do it – I have not been able to show my best in the last three years,” he said.
Contador can also draw motivation from the route of the Tour, which seems tailor-made for him. “It’s a course that I like, with short stages and several successive climbs. It gives opportunities to aggressive riders,” he said. It will, however, be difficult to shake up Team Sky, whose often conservative way of riding has always made it hard for their rivals to break free. Contador could try to blow up the race with the complicity of several other riders such as France’s Romain Bardet, second overall last year, but alliances are not easy to forge. “It is always difficult to set up alliances because everyone has their own interest at heart, but depending on the circumstances, it still is a possibility,” he said. Contador this year will rely on a strong Trek Segafredo team, which he joined during the close season after the Tinkoff outfit folded. “It was quite easy to blend in as we’re about a dozen riders who are new to the team,” he said.
Contador works with teammate Jarlinson Pantano in the peloton (Colin Flockton)
Stage 5, Wednesday, March 9: Quincié-en-Beaujolais – Bourg-de-Péage, 199.5 km
Alberto Contador reached the finish line safely in the pack again today in Stage 5 of Paris-Nice, arriving in the same time as stage winner Andre Greipel. In the general classification he remains 1:31 off the lead.
“It was a day of considerable wear and tear in first part of the stage, with lots of ups and downs, lots of curves, changes of pace, and the bike did well because the asphalt was not very good. That’s punishing, it was grueling,” said Alberto after the stage. “Tomorrow the mountains begin and we’ll have to see how the legs respond. The finish is very promising for the race leader, Alaphilippe, because there’s a wall similar to Huy, the one in Fleche Wallone. There are riders here who do really well in finishes like this, like Henao or Dan Martin. We’ll see how each rider’s legs are feeling.
“The weather is improving and that's an important development for avoiding additional risks due to rain. It seems that, from here on, the sun will come out a little and that will make the race go better. Plus, every day my health is improving. I hope to finish Paris-Nice well,” said Alberto.
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 5, 55th (s.t. Greipel – 4:43:35). Contador in GC, 9th (1:31 Alaphilippe – 17:20:02).
TOP TEN: 1 Alaphilippe, 2 Gallopin (0:33), 3 G. Izaguirre (0:47), 4 Henao (1:05), 5 D. Martin (1:20), 6 Gilbert (1:24), 7 Zakarin (1:28), 8 Demare (1:29), 9 Contador (1:31), 10 Molard (1:32)
Contador gives his all on Mont Brouilly (Colin Flockton)
Stage 4, March 8: Beujeu – Mont Brouilly, 14.5 km (ITT)
Alberto Contador put in an excellent performance at today’s Stage 4 time trial in Paris-Nice, but victory nevertheless slipped through fingers. After besting everyone else in the 14.5-km test ending on Mont Brouilly, Alberto had to give up the leader’s seat of honor to young Julian Alaphilippe, the next-to-last rider to finish. The Frenchman was faster by 19”, which gained him both the stage win and the yellow jersey.
“I think that we’ve done a good time trial, but Alaphilippe got away, especially on the part going into the climb. My congratulations to him, he’s a really big talent. Now it’s time to think about tomorrow,” said Contador before heading to the team bus.
Contador is now in 8th place in the general classification, 1:31 off Alaphilippe’s lead. Winning the overall title will be difficult. Other riders, like Tony Gallopin – who had better luck than Alberto in the wind and rain of Stage 1 – are more direct rivals to the new race leader. “The race could be a duel between Alaphilippe and Gallopin. Those two are the favorites now, and I’ll be on a second plane. We’ll see what can be done, but winning Paris-Nice will be really complicated,” he said.
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 4, 2nd (0:19 Alaphillipe - 21:39). Contador in GC, 8th (1:31 Alaphilippe - 12:36:27).
TOP TEN: 1 Alaphilippe, 2 Gallopin (0:33), 3 G. Izaguirre (0:47), 4 Henao (1:05), 5 D. Martin (1:20), 6 Gilbert (1:24), 7 Zakarin (1:28), 8 Contador (1:31), 9 Molard (1:32), 10 Demare (1:35)
Coverage of Contador's ride begins at at 1:02
Alberto Contador in Paris Nice Stage 3 (Bettini/Trek-Segafredo)
Stage 3, March 7: Chablis – Chalon-sur-Saône, 190 km
Alberto Contador finished Stage 3 of Paris-Nice calmly in the peloton today thanks to a break in the stormy spring weather. As the pack left northern France, heading southeast from Chablis through Burgundy, the March winds abated and there was sunshine amid the showers. Irishman Sam Bennett won the sprint finale; Contador and about a hundred other riders finished in the same time.
“It was a slightly calmer stage,” said Alberto at the finish line, “at least regarding the wind, which wasn’t that strong, and it only rained a little. We appreciated riding on dry roads. We survived the day without any problems.”
As a televised sporting event, today was more travelogue and less blood-in-the-arena. For the riders, it was a chance for to recover on the eve of the individual time trial. “Every day is important, and we’ll have to see what kind of legs we’ve got after these first three days,” said Alberto.
Wednesday’s 14.5-km race against the clock ends with the climb of Mont Brouilly, and will help to define which GC men will be fighting for the title in the mountains this weekend. “Tomorrow I think that there will be big time differences,” Contador said. “We’ll see how we’ve recovered, because it’s an important day and we’ll have to give it everything we can, and then we’ll see where we end up.”
“On paper it’s a flat route in the beginning with the final three kilometers uphill, but I’m not going to see it until tomorrow morning. Also, it will be difficult to get a look at it, because the hotel is more than 100 kilometers away, but at least I’ll see it once. I think that it’s good for me thanks to the uphill final part.”
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 2, 54th (s.t. Bennett – 4:31:14). Contador in GC, 21st (1:18 Demare – 12:14:42).
TOP FIVE: 1 Demare, 2 Alaphilippe (0:06), 3 Kristoff (0:13), 4 Gilbert (0:17), 5 Gallopin (0:19)
Stage 2 weather was even worse than Stage 1 (Philippe López/AFP)
Stage 2, March 6: Rochefort-en-Yvelines – Amilly, 195 km
Alberto Contador finished safely in the front group today in Stage 2 of Paris-Nice after brutal weather once again triggered chaos on the road. Teammate John Degenkolb narrowly missed the win, which went to Sonny Colbrelli. Arnaud Demare held onto the lead in the GC.
Wind, cold and rain created a grisly scenario on the road for the second day in a row. Today, however, Contador and Trek-Segafredo turned in an excellent performance.
“The truth is that it was a hellish day from the very beginning,” said Alberto at the finish line. “By the time we’d gone 10 kilometers the peloton had already started to split into a thousand groups. There was unbelievable tension, and the peloton was split to pieces.”
He continued, “I was riding in a pretty good position, but later I fell back to a different group behind. In the end the team did well because several teammates bridged from the back and set a high pace that enabled them to catch the front group of as many as twenty riders, and, well, in the end we were able to get through the day without problems.”
Degenkolb would have dogeared this stage in his route book for the win and had been the lone Trek-Segafredo rider in the front group all along. Alberto commiserated, but was also clearly grateful for what he and Trek’s domestiques Rast, Gogl, Theuns and Zubeldia had achieved in pulling him back into contention: “It’s a shame that we weren’t able to get the stage win with John, but we got through a day that was dangerous due to the wind, the cold, the rain… It’s been one of those days that my legs will remember for a long time, but we managed to bridge to the front. Now it’s time to recover as well as possible and get warm. Tomorrow’s another day.”
As for yesterday’s time loss, there’s no denying reality, but Contador is not discouraged. “The time differences to some riders yesterday were really big, but a lot of stages remain and a thousand things could happen. The most important thing is to recover well day by day to see what we can do when we reach our turf, and see if we get through this first part.”
A final note: There were relatively few mishaps today, but two of those that did occur will be significant for Alberto. First, the anticipated duel between Contador and Richie Porte is already over. Porte was dropped today and lost more than fourteen minutes. Second, Jesús Hernández, Contador’s best friend and roommate on the road, has abandoned with stomach flu.
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 2, 36th (s.t. Colbrelli – 4:20:59). Contador in GC, 19th (1:18 Demare – 7:23:48).
TOP FIVE: 1 Demare, 2 Alaphilippe (0:06), 3 Gilbert (0:17), 4 Kristoff (0:19), 5 Gallopin (0:19)
Stage 1 was a mess from start to finish, thanks to foul weather (Paris-Nice)
Stage 1, March 5th: Bois-d’Arcy – Bois-d’Arcy, 148.5 km
The hopes of Alberto Contador and his Trek-Segafredo team were materially damaged right off the bat today as foul weather made a mess of Stage 1 of Paris-Nice.
“It was an extremely tough stage, one hundred percent Paris-Nice,” said a cheerful Contador after the stage. “From the outset there was a lot of pressure, danger, wind… that’s Paris-Nice all over. They call it the Race to the Sun, but I don’t know why,” he said with a smile.
Strong winds broke the peloton into echelons early in the stage. A few GC men made the front split, but others – among them Contador, Porte, and Bardet – were left behind and forced to play a desperate game of catchup.
Chaos was unleashed when Bardet crashed at 22 kilometers before the finish. The accident detained Trek’s Degenkolb, who had been a likely candidate for the win, as well as Contador’s gregario Pantano, who was then nearly knocked off the bike by a team car from another squad. Bardet's way out of the pickle was to use his team car to catapult him back into the action. He was expelled from the race.
Arnaud Demare won the stage over a reduced field of clasicómanos.
Trek-Segafredo had some issues performing as a unit, perhaps due to early-season growing pains or simply because of a deluge of complicating factors. The sad truth is that Contador was left to fight on his own on a day when success depended on support. Nevertheless, he finished 20th, but ended up losing 17” to Porte and 1:04 to Demare.
“I think that I’ve lost precious time,” Contador said stoically. “I think that you always have to look at it from this point of view, but there were two or three times that we came close to crashing but didn’t, so all things considered, things are not as bad as they would’ve been if we’d crashed.”
“Of course, stages like this are key because often in Paris-Nice these stages turn out to have more impact than the mountain ones and the time trials, as today has demonstrated,” Alberto explained. “In the end we lost time to the favorites, but we were on the brink of hitting the ground and stayed upright. Tomorrow’s another day.”
He continued, “The team did well. At some difficult moments the team was riding as a unit, but in the final part Degenkolb and Pantano were caught up in the crash and that was hard for me because I had to be fighting for position going into the finale and I used up a lot energy. When Richie Porte attacked, my legs felt really heavy and I couldn’t follow him. But tomorrow’s another day.”
Paris-Nice has barely begun; lots of opportunities and lots of unknowns remain. “First of all, we need to know what happens tomorrow, and afterwards we’ll see if we’re able to push it to the max,” Alberto said. “A lot of things could happen tomorrow, too.”
Steven de Jongh, Trek-Segafredo DS: "We lost Dege and Pantano with the crash, but they luckily didn't crash, and in the final, Alberto also lost some seconds to Porte. It's a lot of time [lost] to some rivals, but tomorrow is another day like this. Paris-Nice is very difficult at the end of the last three stages, so still a lot can happen. Okay, it could have been better for us today, but we still have a lot to play."
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 1, 20th (1:04 Demare – 3:22:43). Contador in GC, 20th (1:14 Demare – 3:22:33).
TOP FIVE: 1 Demare, 2 Alaphilippe (0:04), 3 Kristoff (0:15), 4 Gilbert (0:16), 5 Gallopin (0:17)
The 75th edition of Paris-Nice, the Race to the Sun, starts this Sunday, March 5, and runs through next Sunday, March 12.
Alberto Contador will lead his new Trek-Segafredo team in the north-to-south ramble that forms one of his favorite preparation races. Joined by German classics man cum sprinter John Degenkolb, Colombian ITT champion Jarlinson Pantano and a rock-solid list of helpers, Contador will aim high in his most demanding race of the year to date.
Join us daily during the stages at @Contador_Notebk. Get to know the route at our RACE ATLAS, and check back here for reports, press items and photos.
Riding for Trek-Segafredo: 11 Alberto Contador, 12 John Degenkolb, 13 Michael Gogl, 14 Jesús Hernández, 15 Jarlinson Pantano, 16 Gregory Rast, 17 Edward Theuns, 18 Haimar Zubeldia