www.albertocontadornotebook.info - Alberto Contador Fans Notebook


Stage 21 - September 21: San Sebastián de los Reyes - Madrid, 102.2km

Triple champion

Contador and the Triple Crown trophy (Jaime Reina/AFP/Getty Images)

Alberto Contador rode his bicycle home today. Home from Granada, from Andorra, from Angliru, from Navacerrada. Home to Madrid, after a three week tour of Spain. The journey took him through adversity: heat, wind, rain, injury, severity of terrain.

There were many trials. Some of them he suffered. In the face of others, he triumphed.

There were also blessings. A gold jersey. Eight loyal teammates who sacrificed to shelter him, and to send him farther, faster, higher. Thousands of his countrymen lining the road, who had come to witness his gifts first hand, and to encourage him.

When Alberto reached Madrid, he was proclaimed winner of the 63rd edition of the Vuelta a España. This title opened the door to another: Alberto Contador is now the fifth cyclist in history to win all three grand tours.

Contador becomes the first Spaniard to join the select group of Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Felice Gimondi, and Bernard Hinault. He's the youngest winner, and his victories came within 14 months of each other--the quickest succession ever.

The prize for this achievement? A place in the history books, and a heavy bronze trophy in the shape of three laurel wreaths, an ironic late arrival of the bronze medal he narrowly missed in Beijing.

The 25-year-old, a mature and confident person, wasn't quick to crow about his achievements. After defending his lead at yesterday's time trial at Navacerrada, the press proclaimed him winner, discounting the possibilites for bad luck along today's final processional route.


Alberto said after the stage today, "Yes, now I’m the winner of the Vuelta. I’ve always said that you can’t start the victory chorus until after you cross the finish line. At three kilometers from the line a crash happened, but I was able to dodge it.

“This victory is a weight off my shoulders. I started the season in February and in March they already expected me to win the Vuelta. When they load you with that much pressure, it’s harder to achieve your goals, and even my own teammate tightened the screws yesterday.

"Otherwise, the Vuelta has been a pleasure for me, and a tribute from thousands and thousands of people who encouraged me.

"What I’ve achieved still hasn't hit me. It’s been a long three weeks, and the race was difficult to win. I haven’t had a chance to reflect, but I am sure in the coming weeks I'll have a chance to enjoy it more.”

RESULTS: Contador on Stage 21 - 50th, s.t. Matti Breschel (CSC). Contador on GC - 1st. Combinada classification - 1st. Triple corona.

TOP FIVE: 1st - Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer (0.46), Carlos Sastre (4.12), Ezequiel Mosquera (5.19), Alejandro Valverde (6.00)

Stage 20 - September 20: La Granja de San Ildefonso - Alto de Navacerrada (ITT), 17.1km

All over but the shouting

Across the finish line and into history (Jaime Reina/AFP/Getty Images)

Contador carried out his plan to maintain the leader jersey today with a strong solo ride up "his mountain," the Alto de Navacerrada.

It was an exciting race, with fascinating data. Astana teammate Levi Leipheimer won the day with a powerful time trial that kept spectators biting their nails. Would he unseat Contador, and destroy Alberto's historic bid for a triple slam? Could Alberto's own fantastic time trial skills keep the jersey safe, or would he pass it to his teammate?

It was a performance by both riders reminiscent of Stage 19 of last year's Tour. Only this time, after all they've been through together in this bizarre and turbulent year, there was a palpable feeling of brotherhood.

Leipheimer didn't intend to take the leadership, but he held nothing back, leaving defense of the jersey to Contador.

In the end, Alberto held his lead at 46 seconds, and Leipheimer claimed his second Vuelta stage win. Discounting time bonuses, the two Astana riders--who dominated the three-week race--would have ridden into Madrid with a tied score.

It was a compelling and emotional race, one of utter beauty and magic.


Alberto answered questions about his Stage 19 ride, his position as virtual winner of the 2008 Vuelta, and his future at the post-stage press conference.

What did you think when they told you about the margin between you and Leipheimer?

I saw that I didn’t feel great and my teammate was very strong. When I saw that winning was going to be difficult I focused my thoughts on the general.

Was there ever a time when you thought you could lose the race?

When you’re suffering you think of everything. My teammate was riding very hard, and if you start thinking about that the triumph can slip away, because any incident can put you over the edge. But when things are difficult, you enjoy them more.

Did you ever dream you’d win all three grand tours in 15 months?

It was beyond imagination. Last year I went to the Tour and won, this year I was told I couldn’t go and I went to the Giro on the rebound, and I won. It was great. That was a full season. Then I went to the Vuelta under pressure. I was the favorite and everything centered on me. It was difficult to fathom what’s happened to me.

You’re becoming a legend, one of five riders who have won all three grand tours, with Anquetil, Hinault, Merckx, and Gimondi, something that will never fade.

It's not much on my mind at the moment, I haven’t stopped to think about making history. I can’t forget about it because they’ve asked me 40,000 times about it. I don’t want to dwell on it, but it is very important.

Which of your three grand tour victories was most fulfilling?

Each of the victories, to a certain extent. The one that really struck me, that gave me the most joy, the one that changed my life was the Tour, but I have great memories of all three. The ones from the Giro are tops. I suffered a lot, but the welcome the tifosi gave me is by far my favorite memory.

The Vuelta has been a tribute, it’s been like racing at home, and it's had a following that it hasn’t had in years. And with the Vuelta came the privilege of getting a win in all three grand tours.

What differences do you see between the three grand tours?

In the Tour, the tension during the first week is murder, and you also notice the heat, the mileage, and the climbs. In the Giro, it was really cold compared to the Tour and the Vuelta. The climbs are different, with steeper gradients, planned for entertainment value.

In the Vuelta you’re in your own country, at home, where you know everything. You feel more stable, more in the race, and with a more familiar atmosphere.

Is this epoch-making?

I’m not concerned about that. I’ll bust a gut to keep winning, but I don’t set goals like that for myself.

What do you want to win now?

After winning the Tour they asked me “What now?” I said that I wanted, that I had dreamed about becoming a professional, going to the Tour, and winning it. I’ve won the Tour, the Giro, and the Vuelta, which is to say, the most important ones. I want to keep winning.

Did you have moments of weakness in the Vuelta?

Some days I didn’t know how my legs were, compared to my rivals. As the race went on I gained confidence and things went better. In Andorra I had doubts, and in the time trial, but I kept improving.

Now they’ll make it more difficult for you in each competition.

In any race I’ve always tried to be the man to beat, and that will keep happening. I’m not worried about it.

This year you won the Giro and the Vuelta, Carlos Sastre the Tour, and Samuel Sanchez the Olympic gold medal. To what does Spanish cycling owe all these victories?

Spanish cycling is at its best point in history. Any competition we go to, we can win. It’s not due to anything special, some years are like that, although Spain can pride itself on having the best riders in the world.

Have you thought about how you’re going to celebrate this victory?

I haven’t thought too much about the celebration. Some friends are expecting me back at the room. Today we’ll eat something other than pasta and fish, but tomorrow we’ll have a big party.

RESULTS: Contador on Stage 20 - 2nd, at 0.31. Contador on GC - 1st. Combinada classification - 1st.

TOP FIVE: 1st - Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer (0.46), Carlos Sastre (4.12), Ezequiel Mosquera (5.19), Alejandro Valverde (6.00)

Stage 19 - September 19: Las Rozas - Segovia, 145.5 km

What have the Romans ever done for us?

It would take an aqueduct to fill all those bidons (Jaime Reina/AFP/Getty Images)

Today's stage, with its two first category climbs, caused a good case of the jitters in the peloton. All that was left of La Vuelta 08 was tomorrow's time trial and Sunday's anticipated calm ride to Madrid, so attacks flew right and left as riders tried to get in one last bit of fun before the tour's end.

The route through the Sierra de Madrid covers roads that Alberto regularly uses in training--it's home to him. He knows the climbs (Navacerrada and Navafría) like the back of his hand. In fact, he won Stage 4 of the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon on the Navacerrada in 2007.

Maybe Astana felt too secure and let its guard down, or maybe there was extraordinary tension caused by swatting the swarm of attacks. Whatever the reason, they found themselves scrambling.

Astana had to assert itself to get control after some nervous episodes (i.e. attacks by Sastre and Rodríguez) on the climbs. With that job done, they turned over the tempo to Caisse d'Epargne.

Valverde's team worked like men possessed. Their plan was to get their leader in position for an assault, but the result was a fast-paced draft for Astana and a stage win for David Arroyo, who managed to preserve just a scrap of breakaway time.

Valverde finished fourth, but couldn't improve his GC time. Alberto arrived with him in a large group at 0.11.


Alberto said after the stage:

“The stage was more hectic than we would’ve liked. We began very fast and, although an eleven-man escape got away, one that suited us, halfway up the Navacerrada Joaquín Rodríguez attacked. He caught me out when I was changing bikes because I noticed a strange noise and I didn’t want to risk anything, but I opted not to respond and to stay with the rest of the team.”

Contador kept a cool head, but still there were tricky moments. “The team got split up a little, but at last Paulinho, Klöden, and Chechu got in and then it was calmer. In Navafría they tested us and Carlos Sastre attacked, but the legs responded well and nothing happened.”

Contador knew this stage thoroughly and for that reason he believes that he “respected it less than the others. Because I know the course nearly perfectly, I didn’t expect anything like this to happen. But in the end the team showed that it’s very strong.”

About tomorrow’s time trial, Contador only hopes to finish with the leader’s jersey. “The advantage of 1:17 over Leipheimer should be more than enough, because it’s a very good time trial for me. I know the climb very well and if I have a good day I can even try to win it, although certainly the highest priority is to fight to keep the leadership.”

His strategy is clear. “The distance is very good for my characteristics. I’ve got to start strong, but not full gas, because then you’ll pay in the last seven kilometers, and I’ll have important rivals. Besides Leipheimer there are also other candidates for the victory, Alejandro Valverde and Ezequiel Mosquera, who are doing better as the days go by.”

In fact, Alejandro Valverde beat Contador in the time trial in Murcia at the beginning of the season by five seconds, although Alberto considers tomorrow to be different. “That was hard, too, but Navacerrada is an ascent more for a climber and that was a race for power. Also,” he concluded, “my form wasn’t very good then.”

RESULTS: Contador on Stage 19 - 9th, at 0.11. Contador on GC - 1st. Combinada classification - 1st.

TOP SIX: 1st - Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer (1.17), Carlos Sastre (3.41), Ezequiel Mosquera (4.35), Robert Gesink (5.49), Alejandro Valverde (6.00)

Stage 18 - September 18: Valladolid - Las Rozas, 167.4km

Stage 18

Alberto signals friends and family from the podium (REUTERS)

Alberto Contador is counting the hours until the crucial uphill time trial at Navacerrada on Saturday. He stayed safe in the peloton today, arriving with the pack well behind winner Imanol Erviti of Caisse d'Epargne.

RESULTS: Contador on Stage 18 - 26th, at 7.29. Contador on GC - 1st. Combinada classification - 1st.

TOP SIX: 1st - Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer (1.17), Carlos Sastre (3.41), Ezequiel Mosquera (4.35), Robert Gesink (5.49), Alejandro Valverde (6.00)

Stage 17 - September 17: Zamora - Valladolid, 148.2km

Stage 17!

In the pack on Stage 17 (Jaime Reina/AFP/Getty Images)

Alberto arrived safe after another day protected by his teammates. He finished in the pack at 42nd, same time as winner Wouter Weylandt.

Each stage brings him closer to Madrid and the overall title. But first, the time trial on Saturday at Navacerrada.


“Every day is one step closer to victory. I’m looking forward to the climbing time trial. I’ve raced and trained there often and I will have a lot of family and friends there to cheer me on. I have a strong team supporting me, but you cannot lose concentration at any moment."

RESULTS: Contador on Stage 17 - 42th, s.t. Weylandt. Contador on GC - Still 1st. Combinada classification - 1st.

TOP SIX: 1st - Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer (1.17), Carlos Sastre (3.41), Ezequiel Mosquera (4.35), Robert Gesink (5.49), Alejandro Valverde (6.00)

Stage 16 - September 16: Ponferrada - Zamora, 186.4km

Flecha's a Yankee Doodle Dandy!

Flecha yanks the flag from poor antler man (Felix Ordonez/REUTERS)

The remarkable thing about today was the snail's pace of the peloton. They crept to Zamora, with not much to report. Tom Boonen won the sprint.

Alberto passed the day with no problem, and crossed the line next to Benjamin Noval.

“The start was very hard and people are really wiped out. It there had been a battle, they would’ve opened up non-recoverable differences. The escape couldn’t go anywhere, we knew it wasn’t going to stay away because there were long straight sections and a headwind. In the end, it was tedious, but these days are going well.”

The highlight of the stage otherwise came when Juan Antonio Flecha stole the American flag from Vuelta 08 unofficial mascot, apparently a fan of Levi Leipheimer. The guy, whose schtick is to run along the road in a helmet with antlers while carrying the flag, lost Old Glory to Flecha, who carried it on his bike as a joke.

When that's the news, you know there's no news.

Also, no news is good news regarding any ill effects from Alberto pitching into the ditch yesterday.


"Maybe it’s not so bad to have a quiet stage sometimes. It’s good to reserve some energy. At the end it was a bit dangerous again, lots of corners, etc. but we made it.”

“I feel good. It was a bit more difficult to sleep only on my right side, but during the race, I didn't feel anything wrong. Again, we’re a day closer to Madrid."

More about Contador's crash. At about 40 km from the end at Ponferrada, he put his front wheel into a crack and flew over the handlebars.

Contador said, “It was a left turn. I didn’t see it, so it was an unexpected fall. I tried to break the fall with my hands and I hit the ground on my left side. I hit hard all down my side, shoulder, arm, knee.”

Commenting after Stage 15, he said, “Right now in the heat of the moment it doesn’t bother me too much.”

”We’ll see how it is when I’ve cooled off. Now we’ll try to see the effect of this accident at the hotel. What I can say for sure is that I’ve got several bruises.”

“I’m not worried. It doesn’t bother me too much and I hope it’s only scratches and dents.”

“Now I suppose nobody will ask me anymore whether the Vuelta is a done deal. Was it right or not to say that the race isn’t won until we cross the finish line in Madrid?"

RESULTS: Contador on Stage 16 - 32th, s.t. Boonen. Contador on GC - Still 1st. Points classification - 1st. Combinada classification - 1st.

TOP SIX: 1st - Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer (1.17), Carlos Sastre (3.41), Ezequiel Mosquera (4.35), Robert Gesink (5.49), Alejandro Valverde (6.00)

Stage 15 - September 15: Cudillero - Ponferrada, 202km

#%$&!! It could've been much worse (Rodolfo Espinosa/MARCA)

Alberto was scraped and bruised in a minor crash today. He was seen receiving treatment to the left knee from the race doctor's car.

He and the other favorites finished well behind a large breakaway group. The group was away all day, a move allowed by Astana, the team controlling the peloton. The GC is unchanged.


Alberto wrote in his personal blog at his OFFICIAL WEBSITE:

"Today I got a good scare. The front wheel of my bike got caught in a crack in the road so that I was thrown over the top of the bike. I fell on my left side and in spite of the impact and the bruises, I must say that I escaped unscathed. I hope to have a good night and to be able to get some rest."

Contador also commented, "This is a sport where anything can happen on any given day. Luckily there are no broken bones, but of course I have some soreness and bruising on my left shoulder and left knee."

"I may have to change my sleeping position, but we will do our best to continue the defense of the gold jersey."

RESULTS: Contador on Stage 15 - 20th, at 14.23 behind winner David Garcia Dapena. Contador on GC - 1st. Points classification - Contador, 1st. Combinada classification - Contador, 1st.

TOP SIX: 1st - Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer (1.17), Carlos Sastre (3.41), Ezequiel Mosquera (4.35), Robert Gesink (5.49), Alejandro Valverde (6.00)

Stage 14 - September 14: Oviedo - E. E. Fuentes de Invierno, 158.4km

Doin' the double

A different day, a different mountain top (Jaime Reina/AFP/Getty Images)

After a decisive victory on the monster Angliru yesterday, who would’ve thought Contador could do it again today?

Today’s win was no less commanding. The Angliru is now on his palmares, so the pressure was off. Today’s triumph was picture perfect, costumed and choreographed.

A large escape group was absorbed little by little on the long gradual climb to the finish at Fuentes de Invierno, a ski resort. By the last eight kilometers, various maneuvers had played out resulting in a group of race favorites in front.

Mosquera, Valverde, Contador, Leipheimer, and a struggling Carlos Sastre pushed on together. At about 4 km, Valverde started losing his grip, and Sastre snapped. That left Alberto and Leipheimer with Mosquera still on pace.

The nature of the group of three suggested that perhaps Contador would give the stage to Leipheimer, a thank-you gift for helping him take the Angliru the day before. Another choice might have been for the two stronger Astana men to keep close but allow Mosquera to take the stage.

But life is uncertain, and a pragmatic view says it’s foolish to give away on one day what you might dearly need the next. Alberto attacked in the last 2 km. Dancing, he receded into the distance, shooting uphill.

He danced, sitting on the front of the saddle, then standing on the pedals. A gold streak with Astana-blue accents. It was a beautiful sight. Alberto Contador’s dance. Ballet, with a grudge and a finish line.

*RESULTS: Contador on Stage 14 – 1st. Contador on GC, 1st.

TOP SIX: 1st - Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer (1.17), Carlos Sastre (3.41), Ezequiel Mosquera (4.35), Robert Gesink (5.49), Alejandro Valverde (6.00)

*Alberto appeared at the prize ceremony so many times today he must have worn a rut in the podium. And with each prize, something to wear: Stage winner (Contador) – Asturian hat; Overall leader (Contador) – gold jersey; Combinada classification (Contador) – white jersey; Points leader (Contador) - blue jersey.

Stage 13 - September 13: San Vicente de la Barquera - Alto de L'Angliru, 209.5km

Angliru anger

Angliru accomplished (Jaime Reina/AFP/Getty Images)

It was the long-awaited drama, the great day, the hell of the Angliru. A red letter day to Alberto Contador for many months, especially since when on July 17—while others were riding the Tour de France, competing for a title he was not allowed to defend—he and his team visited the mountain.

On that day, he learned from his Asturian teammates and from his own heart, lungs, and legs what it would take to triumph in Stage 13 of the Vuelta.

Conditions on the Asturian beast were mild today. The sun shone. And what we saw was not a malignant bitch, but green mountains, checkerboard pastures, and the shining road, running from peak to ridge like the Great Wall of China.

RESULTS: Contador on Stage 13 - 1st. Contador on GC - 1st.

TOP FIVE: Alberto Contador; Levi Leipheimer (1.07); Carlos Sastre (3.01); Ezequiel Mosquera (4.19); Alejandro Valverde (4.40)

Rest day 2 - September 12 - INTERVIEW: “I’m excited about climbing the Angliru”

Alberto Contador did light training today, with a mid-morning session on the rollers instead of going out on the road in rainy weather. The remainder of the day was devoted to rest and recovery, including a good nap. Tomorrow he’ll fit his bike with a specially-selected low gear ratio to climb the Anglíru: 36 x 28.

What will be your tactics in Asturias?

To pay attention, keep my cool, think about all the other days still to come and look forward to the chance to prove myself.


Stage 12 - September 11: Burgos - Suances, 186.4km

One of Contador's main rivals for the Vuelta title sank out of contention today on the rain-drenched roads of northern Spain.

When Alejandro Valverde experienced problems, it was more than Caisse d'Epargne could do to bring him back.

Astana put the hammer down, escorting Contador and Leipheimer to the final tricky kilometers. It looked like April in Beligium in the final uphill kilometer.

Alberto attacked. He shot toward the goal, just to shake 'em up, then left it to the classics men to finish.

In a gut-popping last km, Paolo Bettini heaved across the line too spent to look triumphant. Rebellin, Cunego, Ballan, and our man Alberto landed one second later.

Valverde lost over three minutes and dropped out of the top ten. But thanks to a strong Astana squad, Contador and Leipheimer will rest easy tomorrow, and face Saturday's queen stage with confidence.


Alberto said after the stage:

“Today we knew the descents at the finish would be dangerous, but at the start line we thought it would be a good stage for Valverde to collect some bonuses. At the end of the day, on the other hand, it worked out well for us,” commented Alberto Contador about the unexpected outcome of the race.

The time loss by Valverde, who was probably not well, was significant for the overall. “We realized that Alejandro didn’t come with our group, and since I had a fantastic team,” Contador said, “we started to drive. My mates have done extraordinary work. I’m very proud of them because they gapped Valverde, and that gives us great peace of mind.”

Contador explained that the Portillo de Lunada “was not climbed very quickly, but the descent was treacherous and it was really cold. All I know is one moment a teammate told me that Alejandro didn’t make the group, and the next the team got the order to crack down, and that’s where it all started.”

Although it was expected that the GC would be shaken up on the Angliru, it happened today. “The seconds that we got today will be hard to get on the weekend, unless somebody cracks. It worked out very well for all of us, for the team and for me, but it’s not time for a victory chant. Something like this motivates us to pay very close attention as we continue, because the same thing could happen to me. For that reason, the prime objective now is to rest and recover in the best way possible.”

With the second rest day in sight, tomorrow Contador plans “to go out on a little ride of about 50 kilometers or so, because the really hard stages are coming up, and then every day will be non-stop, because the rest days are over. I will dedicate the day to as much rest as possible."

Stage 11 - September 10: Calahorra - Burgos, 178km

September 10, 2008

Alberto Contador with his friend and mentor, Johan Bruyneel
(Rodolfo Espinosa/MARCA)

Contador's Astana team continued in transit to Burgos today, another step closer to grappling with the monster mountain Angliru in Asturias on Saturday.

Through the wide hoop of the universe they rode, under a vast eternal sky that seemed to mock the vain struggles of humanity. News and race commentary fell heavily under the influence of Lance Armstrong's announced return to competition in 2009.

Alberto is riding the Vuelta, not a time to be frazzled by questions about next season. If there's any wisdom to be got from the clouds, he has one more transitional stage to receive it. Friday the peloton will rest before they fight Angliru.


Some of Alberto's comments about the hot topic of the day:

“If we both wanted to win the Tour, yes, it could produce some complications, but if that happens it would be a race with different factors to consider. It’s not necessary to think about it right now.”

“It’s good news for cycling because it will stir up a lot of interest, and we would be glad to receive him with open doors.”

“It’s distracting news, but it doesn’t worry me. I’m focused on the Vuelta. The decisive stages are coming and I want to win the Vuelta and have all three grand tours in my palmarés."

RESULTS: Contador on Stage 11 - 46th, s.t. sprint winner Oscar Freire. Contador on G.C. - still 3rd, at 0.32.

Stage 10 - September 9: Sabiñánigo - Zaragoza, 151.3km


Girasoles (AFP)

Today's stage was transitional, through the powerful winds of Aragon. Astana worked near the front of the peloton all day, sheltering Contador and Leipheimer and keeping tabs on the other favorites. With no gold jersey to defend, they could afford to relax, but only slightly, since the gaps in the GC are too small to give them much peace of mind.


“Today was nervous with a lot of wind, far from tranquilo. It might have looked calm on TV, but it’s not like that at all. It was constantly up and down and a strong breeze,” Alberto said. “I'm feeling good, the team is going well, and I am feeling very well-protected, so let’s hope I can feel good going into the final week when it counts.”

Alberto completed his third day in the white combinada, or combined category jersey. The GC rankings remained the same.

About the possible return to the pro peloton of Armstrong, he told the press, "I don't know what will become of the rumor, but it seems surprising, a strange thing. I think it's a rumor that would revolutionize the world of cycling. He'd be a good teammate and a unique experience, and it would be something to be proud of, because I've greatly admired him as a rider.

"As far as whether he could win the Tour, I believe that whatever he sets out to do, he can achieve."

RESULTS: Contador on Stage 10 - 44th, (s.t. Sebastian Hinault/Credit Agricole). Contador on GC - 3rd, at 0.32 (Martinez/Euskaltel Euskadi)

TOP FIVE: Martinez; Leipheimer (0.11); Contador (0.21); Valverde (0.49); Sastre (1.27)

Stage 9 - September 8: Viella - Sabiñánigo, 200.8km

Stage 9

Egoi Martinez is Astana's ally (Rodolfo Espinosa/MARCA)

A Convenient Leader: Astana supports Egoi Martinez by turning Euskaltel into an ally

from El País:

“We got it and we’re happy with the results.”

The person who said these words after the stage wasn’t Egoi Martinez, the Euskaltel rider wearing the gold jersey. It wasn’t Jon Odriozola, the young director of the Basque team either. Nor Greg van Avermaet, the sprinter from Lotto that won the stage by getting the better of seasoned pros like Rebellin, Cunego, and Nocentini. Nor his director, Hendrik Redant, who was perhaps surprised by the unexpected victory.

No. It was Johan Bruyneel, Astana’s manager, with a big smile and a glance despite just losing the gold jersey that showcased his second in command, Levi Leipheimer. “Part of it [the gold jersey] is mine and part is Johan’s, with whom I have a fantastic relationship,” acknowledged Egoi Martinez, the happiest man on earth, knowing full well that he is a leader of convenience, the happy fruit of a tangible pact of various interests.

It unsettled Astana for Leipheimer to have the leadership. It forced them to labor until the decisive days in Asturias this weekend. It required him to function as team leader while not currently being in that position. That would only happen if Alberto Contador “bonks,” as Alejandro Valverde would say.

At any rate, having Leipheimer let go of the jersey was a complicated job. Basically, Astana didn’t want to be the leader in Sabiñánigo. Euskaltel was a good alibi: a good team that needed a success as a reward for its effort, a group unable to control the race until the bitter end to defend the gold jersey. An ideal friend. Still more, if the new leader were Martinez, a good friend of Bruyneel, there would be twice the joy: the gaining of an ally and the rewarding of a colleague.

Odriozola, Euskaltel’s director, summed it up very well at the end of the stage. “What Johan Bruyneel wanted [to lose the leadership] was good for us.” Bruyneel had already announced to Egoi before the departure, “If you want, today's a good day to catch an escape and give it a try.”

The pact was in effect, but strangely, Martinez was the last one to join the escape of 12 riders after the nervous attempts at the start of the stage, which began precisely at the foot of the Alto del Túnel de Vielha.

Egoi tarried, but joined because the escape looked good: it was large and full of prestigious riders, strong and ambitious, ready for the toboggan ride and the ascents that lead from Vielha to Sabiñánigo. In addition, he had young Alan Pérez by his side, a superdomestique. “He sacrificed himself for me and gave up contesting the stage win,” Martinez, the leader, said with thanks.

They all set off. Astana wasn’t going to pull and the others didn’t want to be worn out in minor skirmishes. The game was clear: Astana would control the gap so that Egoi got the leadership (by a whisker), and CSC and Caisse d’Epargne would control it to save themselves. Their plan was to avoid mistakes, and to ruin the move for Contador’s team.

And so they rode, kilometer after kilometer, with no other goal than to watch the clock, to calculate, to measure, while in the escape group Perez, mouth agape, suffering, pulled and pulled. His small figure contrasted with the frame of Egoi, always behind him. Pull, pull, pull to get the jersey, while others vied for the stage victory.

And in the end, CSC and Caisse d’Epargne came out of hiding. With less than six kilometers to go, they drove the peloton to keep Egoi - or in other words Euskaltel - from taking the leadership, and so that Astana would be obliged to work from now until the base of the Angliru.

But no deal. The gamble was too little too late, leaving a perfect situation for the Basque-Kazakh pair. It was a triumph of tactical cycling, legitimate, one that rewarded the combativity of Euskatel and the cerebral machinations of Astana, although in an indirect way. (Eduardo Rodrigálvarez)

RESULTS: Contador in Stage 9 - 30th, at 6.42 (Van Avermaet/Silence Lotto). Contador in GC - 3rd, a 0.32 (Martinez/Euskaltel-Euskadi)

TOP SEVEN: Martinez; Leipheimer (0.11); Contador (0.21); Valverde (0.49); Mosquera (1.59); Sastre (1.27); Antón (2.12)

Stage 8 - September 7: Andorra - Pla de Beret, 151km

Pipped at the pass Valverde gets the win on Contador's steam (Diego Tuson/AFP/Getty Images)

Contador launched a second offensive for time gains in the Pyrenees today. It worked to his favor, and even more to the benefit of his team, Astana.

Andreas Klöden and Chechu Rubiera led the way as the powerful squad blasted a path up a series of peaks for Contador their leader, and for second-in-command Levi Leipheimer.

The day belonged to David Moncoutié of Cofidis, who rode heroically for a comeback victory after suffering health problems last year.

The Vuelta's three archrivals locked in battle for second place: Contador--the strong one--with Valverde and Sastre, plus a newcomer, Igor Antón of Euskaltel. Sastre tried hard to stay afloat despite a case of cramp. Valverde remained hale enough to hang on Contador's wheel during the tough part, and just pip him on the Pla de Beret.

Leipheimer was not far behind, and regained the gold jersey for Astana.

On the whole, a good day for Alberto, but not quite good enough. He finished perplexed by Valverde's behaviour.


“I’m leaving the Pyrenees happy, with some pretty good results, although I would’ve liked to have gotten more time, but that didn’t happen. The climb today wasn’t very hard and achieving it was complicated,” said Alberto Contador after the stage.

Contador also talked about Valverde, who didn’t do his share of the work. “Alejandro had a good day and I believe that he was trying to defend his interests. I would’ve liked it if we could have taken time on Sastre, but he wasn’t interested in cooperating. That surprised me, because if we had cooperated we could’ve distanced him, but I didn’t want to give back anything, either.”

The best thing for Contador was verifying that he had “a really strong team, which did great work, and that I’m in very good shape, even better than I hoped. Now we have to recover and charge our batteries for the next set of mountains.”

The Asturian stages next weekend will be the decisive ones. “Yes, those stages will make their mark on the Vuelta, because the Pyrenees have made less of a mark, although I’m leaving them in a very good situation. In Asturias, we’ll find out how the Vuelta will end. And don’t forget the time trial at Navacerrada—that’s a place I know really well.”

Contador was also glad that Leipheimer regained the race leadership. “It’s good for us that Levi is the leader again. It shows that the team is very strong, and the sponsors also deserve it, because they’ve taken a big gamble on us.”

Finally, about the riders who remain his strongest rivals now that the Pyrennes are finished, Contador repeated what he’s said before. “They’re still the ones. It’s true that Sastre and Valverde remain the real threats, but now Igor Antón has joined them, who on the contrary has not had a bad day and must be taken into account. Also Ezequiel Mosquera, who will go after whatever he can get.”

Read Andrew Hood's report at VeloNews.

RESULTS: Contador on Stage 8 - 3rd at 0.34 (Moncoutie/Cofidis). Contador on GC - 2nd, at 0.21 (Leipheimer/Astana)

TOP SIX: Leipheimer; Contador (0.21); Valverde (0.49); Mosquera (1.59); Sastre (1.27); Antón (2.12)

Stage 7 - September 6: Barbastro - Andorra, 233.2km

Trying to catch the cold The Guardia Civil failed to apprehend the evil weather man (Dani Cardona/REUTERS)

The atmospheric conditions in Andorra today were so different from the Vuelta start at Granada, the race might have migrated to another hemisphere. Cold and rain put an extra burden on the riders, as they strove to stay fueled and focused in the mountains.

The fans felt the elements, too, even those at home in their armchairs, as the weather fouled up transmissions from the Pyrenees. No pictures, no sound, and no comments from live reports made Superfan a dull boy.

Cycling.tv seems to have become a lost cause during the Vuelta. And so, Superfan, who paid up like a good 'un for his subscription, is worse than dull. He is curt and stabby.

The race went on, however. The mind's ear can supply the sizzle of rain on the asphalt during the entire 233 kilometers. It was a killer day. Apparently cyclists like this sort of torture, and some thrive on it.

Contador was brought along all day by Astana, and had enough gas in his tank in the final 5 km to attack. He dumped Valverde and Sastre, and ran off to the finish line in third place with bonifications. The performance earned him valuable time, and he finished the day 0.26 ahead of Valverde and 0.53 ahead of Sastre in the GC.

Valverde, when asked what happened, answered, "I bonked."


Contador said, “It’s not a lot of time, but the legs felt good and I wanted to try in the end. No one moved until the end and then I tried something. It’s too bad that it was so cold and rainy today and that we couldn’t take something more out of this stage. The team rode great today.”

Contador earned his positive result on a stage that he considered “very hard from the beginning, because of both the rain and the total kilometers. It was a very long stage and people were totally gutted when it was over.”

Having previously trained on the mountain, he wasn't surprised that “the final climb wasn't too tough, and it was difficult to get away. In spite of that, I was able to gain a few seconds on most people and quite a bit on others. When I attacked, my idea was to do the maximum damage to all my rivals, I didn’t even know if Valverde stayed back, it was an attack to get a margin, but it was small because I couldn’t shake them until the last 500 meters.”

“The team gave an exemplary performance, and the bad part was not being able to capitalize on it more, but I’m happy with the result.”

“It was an extremely hard stage, so hard that we had to eat and drink all day, and I want to thank the team for the work they’ve done. They’ve demonstrated that they’re one of the best in the world.”

His predictions for tomorrow’s stage include “many attacks on El Cantó. It might be a really crazy day, and the team will have to work hard. I hope we can all recover well from today’s effort, because if we go fast, after this stage, we can pick up important time gains, possibly bigger than the ones today, which were minimal.”

RESULTS: Contador on Stage 7 - 3rd, at 2.45 (Ballan/Lampre). Contador on GC - 4th, at 1:34 (Ballan/Lampre).

TOP SIX: Ballan; Leipheimer (1.00); Chavanel (1.21); Contador (1.34); Valverde (2.06); Sastre (2.27)

Rest day - September 5 - Interview: “There’s no need to rack our brains over strategy”

Keeping the tone

Just training (photo by Christine Kahane)

Alberto Contador took a few minutes on the rest day to reflect on his first week at the Vuelta a España.

Contador at 25 is a dedicated Tour de France man, and didn't expect to be riding the Vuelta so soon in his career. But Fate landed him in his home tour on August 30, and presented him with the very special opportunity to win all three of cycling's grand tours before his 26th birthday.

On a day of light training and hanging out at the hotel, he shared some thoughts about the race, his rivals, and his team, Astana.

How are you on the rest day, and what’s your account of the first part of the race?

I’m fine, and I don’t think that physically I’ve gotten beaten up too badly. I hope the past few days have polished my form for the key stages, next. I hope I can play a good role tomorrow.


Stage 6 - September 4: Ciudad Real - Toledo, 150.1km

Three favorites

Friends and foes: Contador, Valverde, and Sastre (EFE)

The Astana boys hung on to finish a bumpy windy ride today, not too much worse for the wear.

The pace was fast. Vuelta organizers had moved the start time up 20 minutes, worried that the riders would miss the train that would take them 500 kilometers northward, to their rest day hotels. The travel scramble set the tone for a day of pile ups and jumpy nerves.

A crash about five kilometers from the goal split the pack. Contador got trapped between Leipheimer and Carlos Sastre and failed to hang on to the front.The splintered group charged into Toledo, up a short sharp climb, followed by a manic descent to the finish.

It looked more like a Belgian classic than the Vuelta. Sure enough, the classics riders ruled the day. Paolo Bettini won the tussle for the line, followed by Philippe Gilbert. Valverde managed to nab eight bonus seconds by finishing third.

The Cofidis team kept their leader Sylvain Chavanel in position, allowing him to pick up 12 bonus seconds and take over the gold jersey from Astana’s Levi Leipheimer.


After the stage, Contador told reporters he hoped Cofidis would play fair and work in the mountains. “We’ll see if Cofidis does any of the pulling in the first mountain stage, to defend the gold jersey so we don’t have to do all the dirty work,” he said.

He commented about the difficult final kilometers of the stage, where he lost 14 seconds to Valverde. “We survived a bad finish, with a lot of tension. The peloton was tightly packed and there were lots of jittery moments.”

Contador boarded the high speed train (AVE) for Lérida, anxious to get to his own turf, the mountains. “So far, so good. Now it’s time to rest and think about La Rabassa. The long transfer doesn’t worry me, there were transfers like that in the Giro.”

RESULTS: Contador on Stage 6 – 15th, at 0.6 (Bettini/Quick Step). Contador on GC – still 4th, at 0.57 (Chavanel/Cofidis). Astana leads the team competition.

TOP FIVE: Chavanel; Leipheimer (0.2); Valverde (0.26); Contador (0.57); Sastre (1.37).

Stage 5 - September 3: Ciudad Real - Ciudad Real (ITT) , 42.5km

Movin' up

Don't point that helmet at me! (Rodolfo Espinosa/MARCA)

Today's stage had been Contador's focal point for the early part of the Vuelta. He arrived mentally sound, and physically solid despite an injured knee, a souvenir of the Stage 4 debacle at 3 km.

Contador left the gate, and shot away, bullet-like, a tight knot of energy. His usual souplesse was not what struck the eye this time. Instead, he looked tucked in, tightly coiled and controlled. Even extraneous gestures like throwing aside the water bottle were energy-packed, efficient, and lightning quick.

The day was to have been a showdown with Carlos Sastre, but the first look at Sastre coming off the ramp suggested that there would be no real comparison on the road. The CSC rider's performance suited his mild-mannered personality, excellent but no match for Contador's fire.

Sure enough, Alberto rode steadily away from Sastre, overtaking his 2-minute man and looking forward to a significant gain on Valverde.

The real hero of the day was Alberto's teammate, Levi Leipheimer. Leipheimer, the only American in the Vuelta, was masterful on the TT bike. His unique aerodynamic position got every ounce of power from his small body and thrust him across the line for the stage win and the maillot oro.

Contador and Leipheimer rejoiced in their success, for each other and for the team. Leipheimer said, “In this Vuelta we have many mountains to come. Personally, I believe Alberto is the best climber in the world.

"He has something that nobody else has: He can accelerate in the mountains. He can follow the best riders and I think Alberto will continue to get better as the Vuelta continues. He hasn’t raced much since the Giro, but he is the leader of the team. He has won the Tour and the Giro and we are now all here to help him win the Vuelta.

"For me, I won a stage, I wear the leader’s jersey ... It’s very nice for me, but I think Alberto is the strongest rider on this team.”

Leipheimer added. “No one’s going to be able to follow him up the Rabassa and Angliru climbs. He skipped the Tour, so he’s fresh and motivated. I’m here to help him.”


Contador was more than satisfied with the day. “I’m happy with this result, because it was a time trial where I could control my effort from the beginning, since I could refer to Levi’s time checks. At the end it’s true that he opened the gap a little, but he finished strong, and as for me, on the other hand, I was consistent,” Alberto Contador commented after the stage in Ciudad Real.

After the time trial, Contador is happy with his “position in the overall, not far from the leader’s time, only a few seconds from Valverde, and with some advantage on the other favorites. "And the most important thing is that I feel good on the bike. Today I was really comfortable with my cadence and I think that, since I’m a little lighter than in the other races—which cost me in the time trial—it’ll be just the opposite in the mountains.”

Alberto also acknowledged the good work done by all his rivals. “Everybody did a good time trial and that makes the race interesting, for better or worse, I’m ready to get to the mountains.”

About the consequences of yesterday’s incident at the 3 km mark, Contador said that he has “a hematoma on my left knee because of an injury, but it doesn’t bother me much, only until I’m warmed up. I hope the hematoma disappears in a few days.”

Finally, he congratulated Leipheimer. “Levi deserved this victory, and I congratulate him. This strengthens Astana’s options, because it’s always better to have two candidates than only one. He has an advantage now in the overall and it’s up to our rivals to try to get time on him, not me.”

RESULTS: Contador on Stage 5 - 4th, at 0.49 (Leipheimer). Contador GC - 5th, at 0.47 (Leipheimer). Astana leads the team competition.

Stage 4 - September 2: Córdoba - Puertollano , 170.3km

Him against me?

Profiles in courgae (Dani Cardona/REUTERS)

Stage 4 was a routine day for Alberto. He logged some rehearsal time on the road from Córdoba to Puertollano, continuing to ride his legs into form for the Pyrenees.

The cameras showed him and his Astana teammates relaxing early in the stage. Tomas Vaitkus, who had been whacked by the heat the day before, seemed to have recovered enough to work near the front, possibly preparing to sprint for a stage win. Chechu Rubiera, an Aquarius (the Water Bearer), loaded his shirt with water bottles and worked his way back to his teammates at leisure. Alberto was copacetic, spinning and snacking on gels.

With 10 km to go, at Almodóvar del Campo, Contador sprang out of the pack to catch two bonus seconds at the sprint point. It was delightful spectacle, and smart, too. Differences between the favorites are minimal, but who knows what will come by quirky Fate? Alberto seized the chance to glean a small bonus as insurance, and in the process made our adrenalin pop. Nice.

Unfortunately about 100 meters before the 3 km mark, a massive crash occurred that put a crimp in the day. Contador stayed upright, but got snarled with Leipheimer and bumped his knee. Bennati and seven other riders missed the crash and sprinted for the win, but the entire Astana team lost time. Contador’s main rivals were also affected. No harm, no foul.


Alberto Contador finished today’s stage happy, mainly because he was close to the crash that happened at three kilometers from the goal but escaped without a scratch. “Levi Leipheimer and I got our bikes hooked together, but we didn’t fall. We were lucky.”

Contador didn’t lose time on the other favorites, and he earned two bonus seconds at one of the sprint points. “Seconds are seconds, whether it’s now or in the time trial, so it’s good to take them wherever you can,” he commented.

About the time trial tomorrow, Contador has already scoped the course twice by bike, and will review it later today in the car, so that tomorrow he can concentrate on getting ready for the race. “Without a doubt, I feel better every day,” he said after today’s stage.

“Today I got into a more refined rhythm on uneven terrain that definitely wears people down little by little. I feel a more fluid cadence than on the first day of the race and I think that, although I haven’t peaked yet because that wasn’t my intention, I’m coming to the time trial in solid shape.”

He doesn’t think tomorrow’s route has “much mystery, it starts with a very wide road which demands staying in an aerodynamic position, without any hard climbs, then it goes on to a section with more curves, but nothing dangerous. The last 10-12 kilometers is an interminable flat road stretching all the way to Ciudad Real that will seem very long. There’ll be differences if this heat continues and it’s windy, but I don’t believe the differences will be spectacular.”

His opinion about the stage: “I don’t like it and I don’t dislike it, I just have to gain time, or at least not give it up to anybody else. Of course, the favorite is my teammate Leipheimer, who’s been concentrating on this stage since day one.”

RESULTS: Contador on Stage 4 - 33rd, at 0.19 (Bennati). Contador GC - 24th, at 1:15 (Bennati).

Stage 3 - September 1: Jaén - Córdoba , 168.6km

The weather for Stage 3 was hot, hot, hot, but--for the most part--the action was not. After a scorching day on the road, things started to cook near the goal, but Alberto and his Astana mates were up to the challenge.

Tom Boonen won the sprint. Alberto finished in the pack at 33rd, same time. He and the brave guard that scored for Astana in the TTT are still lined up in the general classification, starting with Alberto at 37th, 0.34 off (dashing) leader Daniele Bennati.

It's still a waiting game for Contador. The object today, once again, will be to stay out of trouble. Tomorrow's time trial at Ciudad Real looks more like Leipheimer than Contador, but Alberto's looking forward to the test.


Alberto wrote in his blog yesterday:

"Today the heat was suffocating, it rose off the highway and punched you with a full body blow. We really had to hydrate ourselves all during the stage to keep from hitting the wall or getting cramps. The highlight of this stage was the last few kilometers where we had to go to work to stay out of jeopardy. Generally the stage was pretty relaxed.

"I feel good and my legs are responding very well. Every day I’m getting more into the swing of competition and even though I still won’t be at 100% for the time trial, I’ll be at a good level. These stages are going very well, even in the heat--but I wish it were a little cooler."

Stage 2 - August 31: Granada - Jaén , 167.3km

In a blur

Stage 2 is all a blur (EFE)

The peloton assembled itself today in Stage 2, one big gnarly mass of riders, as opposed to the tidy nine-man knots of yesterday. And so began life on the road in Vuelta 08.

For Contador, today was a day to stay upright and avoid losing time. Mission accomplished: Alejandro Valverde sparkled at the finish line, a la Tour de France Stage 1, pleasing the crowd and earning the maillot oro, but getting only a tiny gap.

Alberto hustled to keep position, and arrived safely two seconds later with the 98 next guys in the pack. He placed 20th.

The GC bears the imprint of yesterday's TTT. Contador is currently 42nd, surrounded by his dream team escort of Rubiera, Leipheimer, Kloden, and Paulinho at 0.27.

He's not too worried about those 27 seconds. Here are his comments:


Alberto, after completing the first road stage of the Vuelta a España in 20th place, commented that it had been “a more nervous day than we expected in theory, maybe because the finish was dangerous and we could’ve lost time.”

“Forty kilometers from the end, it got really tense, with Liquigas trying to control things, also with a lot of people jockeying for position, since we were all riding with a lot of power from the beginning. In the last two kilometers there was a big effort to maintain a good position in front, since in finishes like this anybody can get cut off and lose valuable seconds.”

Contador continues to feel better and better on the bike, although he says he’s not yet one hundred percent. “I still need a few more days to get the pedal rhythm that I like, but I think I’ll get to the time trial in good shape.”

About Valverde’s victory, Contador said it shows that “Alejandro is competitive in any race, and in the Vuelta he has to be taken into account. Valverde is in very good form and has already accumulated some seconds that will be hard to take back. Also, I congratulate him for winning today like a champion.”

RESULTS: Alberto, 20th on Stage 1, 0.2 behind Valverde. He's 42nd in the GC, .27 off the lead (also Valverde).

Hands down favorites

Alberto and Chechu pose just for the Notebook (photo by Christine Kahane)

Stage 1 - August 30: Granada - Granada (TTT), 7km


Alberto Contador was Astana’s first man across the finish line, even though his team lost 14 seconds to the winner of the first stage of the Vuelta today.

The margin, in his opinion, was insignificant. “This first stage was a beautiful show and the team gave everything it had, that’s the idea we brought to the Vuelta. Everything went well, because considering the other favorites—Sastre and Valverde—the differences were minimal and shouldn’t be considered important.”

Contador said that the team “gave it everything, but without taking risks in the curves, because the main thing was to avoid falling. What’s incredible is the public response. A huge number of people came, and I’m very happy about the welcome by the people of Granada.”

“I’m very happy with the motivation that the whole team brought to the Vuelta--although today the key was to be cautious in the curves, and that’s what made the difference. But what I like most is the attitude of the entire team, that I felt really good, that my legs are good, and that, to sum it up, we’ve gotten through a transitional stage.

“I’d also like to thank the people of Granada for their welcome. I’m completely bowled over by people’s affection and I think we’re getting back to an atmosphere at the races like it used to be, with a great feeling of expectation among the fans.”

RESULTS: Alberto's placed 55th, at 0.14; Astana 9th at 0.14.

Christine and Alberto

Christine and Alberto before the TTT (photo by Christine Kahane)


Meditations of a matador: Contador in Granada (photo by Christine Kahane)

All text © 2007-2008 Rebecca Bell, contadorfans@hotmail.com.
Web design by Nicky Orr and Modem Operandi. Masthead photo credits: (1) bbc.co.uk (2) Liz Kreutz, kreutzphotography.com.