Critérium du Dauphiné final podium: 1 Brajkovic, 2 Contador, 3 Van Garderen (Photo by AC press room)
Alberto Contador finished the Critérium du Dauphiné today by sprinting for the points classification, in which he prevailed over Jani Brajkovic at the finish line, adding the green jersey to his second place in the final general classification. “I’m very happy with how I’ve finished this race,” he said. Astana’s leader got wins in the prologue at Évian—his second time trial victory of the season—and on the mythic ascent of Alpe d’Huez, which he visited for the first time in his career.
“The balance that I’m drawing from this week of competition is very positive. It was very good preparation for the Tour de France, and besides, I was able to win two stages,” said Alberto. “And it was also a very good performance by the whole team, including the win by Dani Navarro. All of my teammates have been at a great level and that gives me a lot of peace of mind.”
Starting tomorrow, Alberto Contador will spend two days doing reconnaissance of both of the Tour’s Alps stages, Rousses-Morzine Avoriaz and the impressive Morzine-Saint Jean de Maurienne, taking in the climbs of the Colombiere, Aravis, Saisies and the Madeleine. He’ll scout out these stages with Benjamín Noval, Jesús Hernández, Paulo Tiralongo and Dani Navarro, all of whom are on Astana’s short list for the Tour.
After returning to Spain, Contador plans to do a final training camp in the Sierra de Madrid as a final tune-up, mainly “at high tempo on the mountain peaks.” He is virtually certain that he will also take the start in the Spanish National Time Trial Championship, which will allow him to finish adjustments on his new bike in advance of the prologue of the Tour de France in Rotterdam. (Official press release, AC press room)
June 13, Stage 7: Allevard – Sallanches, 150 km
The key to Stage 7 for Contador lies in the math.
To begin, both Alberto Contador and Jani Brajkovic rode without incident from start to finish today, despite periods of bad weather. Contador wore the green points jersey as runner-up in that classification.
After the thrilling ride in Stage 6 to the top of the Alpe d’Huez—a fight that was won by Contador in what ended up being a duel with Brajkovic—the Slovenian, in yellow, was also owner of the green by a margin of 4 points over Contador (Brajkovic 87, Contador 83).
The two arrived at the finish in a group of six, 40” behind stage winner Edvald Boassen Hagen (Team Sky). Contador—who has proven before that he has a head for numbers, notably in last year’s Tour at Arcalis and at the Annecy time trial—used an ounce more fuel and sprinted at the line for the 15 points available to the 6th-placed rider. Brajkovic received 11 points for arriving in 10th.
With both riders now tied at 98 points, a tie-breaker rule went into effect that declared the rider with the most stage wins the winner of the points classification. Contador’s wins in the prologue and in Stage 6 on the Alpe d’Huez outweighed Brajkovic’s win in the Stage 3 time trial.
The Dauphine was a resounding success for Contador and Astana. A GC win?—no, but that had never been the objective.
The plan had been for Contador himself to test and fine-tune his form and equipment. Seeing the extent to which he was willing to push the test on the Alpe d’Huez was marvelous. Pain equaled gain, in assessing point of form, equipment, allergies, and to the palmarés
It was also crucial for Contador’s new squad to test (and stretch) their ability to perform the work that will confront them at the Tour, which they did with full marks.
The team were always there for Alberto. They shielded him and got into breakaways. Navarro’s solo win is a beacon to them.
Astana’s impressive pack of mountain men—Navarro, De la Fuente, Hernández and Tiralongo—delivered their captain to the upper slopes with skill and dedication that deserve the envy of other team leaders. Brajkovic, in particular, was not able to muster similar help from his own team.
As for Brajkovic—bravo! It’s important that all rivals to Contador who play fair do well. The ranks of elite cycling are not large, and due to the slings and arrows that cause riders to get into difficulties—injuries, sanctions—the sport is not overstocked with cyclists of a caliber to dispute a race with Contador. Cycling needs gifted, sportsmanlike riders like Jani Brajkovic.
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 7, 6th (0:40 Edvald Boassen Hagen). Contador in the GC, 2nd (1:41 Brajkovic). Points classification winner.
TOP FIVE: 1 Brajkovic (28:06:28), 2 Contador(1:41), 3 Van Garderen (2:41), 4 Van den Broek (3:46), 5 Coppel (4:17)
PHOTO GALLERY - UPDATED PALMARÈS
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Alberto Contador added the Giant Alpe to his palmares today - bravo! (Photo by AC press room)
“Winning on Alpe d’Huez is a dream come true”
Alberto Contador accomplished his goal today, winning on the legendary peak of Alpe d’Huez in his first attempt, after a great performance, besides, by the Astana team. “I’m happy to have won here and to have been able to finish off my team’s great work. Winning on Alpe d’Huez is a dream come true,” he said.
After a climb in which he fought mano a mano with race leader, Brajkovic, who also showed great determination, Contador said that he had mainly been looking for the stage win, more than the general. “Everybody always likes to win, but today my physical condition didn’t permit anything else. I attacked thinking about winning the stage, not the general, besides there was a block headwind and Brajkovic was also strong.”
After finishing the Dauphiné, Alberto’s schedule prior to the Tour de France will be “reconning the two Alps stages in the Tour, which I’m not familiar with, taking a short break and, then, probably competing for the Spanish National Time Trial Championship and doing a final training camp in the Sierra de Madrid, near home.”
Alberto admitted that his physical condition at the time being “isn’t excellent, but I wanted to win here, and last night I was watching videos online about how Pantani, Lance and other riders won to get familiar with the mountain. I went to bed with winning to win on Alpe d’Huez and this will be a stage I’ll always remember.”
Contador said that he “accomplished the mission” that he brought to the Dauphiné. “The goal was doing a tune-up for the Tour, winning or not, like last year, when I didn’t win any stages, but finished third. This year I’m more satisfied with my performance, but if you can win, even better.”
And, over all, he’s happy “with the performance of the team, that’s the best part. A lot of people here lack a little, but everyone that’s here is at a terrific level and that really puts my mind at ease.” (Official press release, AC press room)
Dani Navarro's first career stage win was absolutely brilliant! (Photo by AC press room)
Dani Navarro: "I'm the happiest man in the world"
Alberto Contador: “This win makes me almost more excited than if it were mine”
Dani Navarro earned the first victory of his career today after six seasons as a professional, and that’s why he said that he feels like “the happiest man in the world” at the finish line in Grenoble.
Navarro based his triumph on an attack on the final climb of the day, carrying out orders by Alberto Contador. “Yes, the whole team was very well-positioned, but riders started attacking and Alberto told me and Fofonov that we could go ahead and try it.
"I felt brilliant and I didn’t think twice. I started to catch riders and that boosted my morale. I thought that I had to get the biggest gap climbing because I don’t consider myself a great descender and I didn’t want to risk too much.”
Alberto said that Dani’s victory “shows that the whole team is very strong. We’re coming here without pressure, working towards the Tour, and things are going fantastically. This victory makes me almost more excited than if it were mine—Dani deserves it.”
Dani Navarro said that he now hopes that this victory “won’t be the last, but for me, I’ve really done it, because this victory has a special value, because winning is always difficult and more so being on good teams.”
Dani was only sure of winning in the last two kilometers. “My legs felt really good, I had power, but I got cramp on the descent and, with four kilometers to go, on a left curve, I had a really strong one and I thought that if I couldn’t pedal they were going to catch me, but it went away and I said to myself that I didn’t care about the pain, that I had to keep on to the finish.
Finally, Dani said that tomorrow, on the Alpe d’Huez, “although I still haven’t spoken with Alberto, I think that he’s surely going to try something and will order us to pull—we’ll see if we win another.” (Official press release, AC press room)
June 11, Stage 5 : Serre-Chevalier – Grenoble, 143.5 km
Astana’s Dani Navarro attacked at 38 km before the finish line today and claimed with authority his first career win in Stage 5 of the Critérium du Dauphiné.
Navarro, who began the day in 44th place at 7:27, was given the green light by his leader Alberto Contador. Contador had plenty of help from Paolo Tiralongo, David De la Fuente and other teammates, and had no designs on the stage win himself. In fact, he rode comfortably, smiling and chatting, alongside maillot jaune-wearer Jani Brajkovic.
Stage 5 crossed 143.5 kilometers of choice Tour de France territory. Many traditional Tour climbs were in the immediate vicinity—for expample, the Galibier and Bourg d’Oisans—but only two were scheduled for today: the first-category Col du Lauteret and the hors-categorie Chamrousse.
The rider from Asturias in the north of Spain powered consistently over the Chamrousse, never skipping a beat. A determined chase group of two, Eros Capecchi of Footon Servetto and Thibault Pinot of Française des Jeux, pursued him for the 29-km descent and final 4 km of flat run-in to Grenoble. Navarro kept the hounds at bay, prevailing by 33” and looking, during his victory salute at the finish line, more like Alberto Contador than anyone had probably ever imagined.
The victory propels Navarro to 19th place in the GC, 4:23 behind Brajkovic, and pulls Astana to the top of the teams classification.
Dani Navarro is one of a loyal few riders who bridged with Contador from the old Astana team of 2009. His joy in this moment today and the new entry to his palmarés will be substantial rewards for weathering the transition.
“I’m very happy, I can’t believe it,” said Navarro at the finish line. “My job is always to work for my leaders since I’ve been on good teams. Today Alberto told me to try on the final climb because he was protected by a lot of guys. The truth is that I felt really well and it was brilliant. I don’t consider myself a great descender but I gambled for victory and it was very bad knowing that it was so difficult that they could erase my advantage.
“I come to all the races to work for Alberto, although he’s taken it much easier in the Dauphiné and he gave me the chance to get a great win. I’m never going to forget it and we have to celebrate it in a big way.”
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 5, 55th (3:04 Navarro). Alberto Contador in GC, 3rd (1:41)
TOP 6: 1 Jani Brajkovic (19:55:04), 2 Van Garderen (1:15), 3 Alberto Contador (1:41), 4 Millar (1:56), 5 Vogondy (2:43), Menchov (2:55).
Photo top right by Graham Watson
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Risoul was a good test of Tour form for Astana and Alberto, in spite of allergies (Photo by AC press room)
Alberto Contador crossed the finish line today in fourth place, just behind leader Brajkovic, after having been one of the main players in the climb to Risoul. Astana also proved to be at a good moment of form on the mountain, with Paolo Tiralongo, Jesús Hernández and Dani Navarro working hard in the final kilometers. Contador, neverthless, says that nothing has changed in his plans. “I’m continuing with the same plan. I attacked a little just to give it a try, but it wasn’t planned and I wasn’t sure of my state of form.” (AUDIO)
“It was a tough stage, very hot and very long, with over six hours on the bike,” explained Alberto. “On the final climb I was waiting but I saw that the kilometers were passing and nobody decided to attack.” As for Astana, the team was also trying out their legs in the last part of the climb. “The team also has to adopt the Tour philosophy. They’re at a good level and they also have to do a tune-up. What better test could there be, although that doesn’t mean the we’re going to take on any responsibility.”
Alberto is happy with his teammates. “They’re very motivated. They could’ve gone faster, but I didn’t encourage them because I was suffering a bit from allergies, although at the end I felt good.” The climb to Risoul seemed “complicated, because there was a stiff headwind and I was comfortable drafting, but I was thankful not to have to go it alone. After this, I’m concentrating on recovery. If I’ve got good legs, so much the better, and if not, that’s fine, too, because the goal is still the Tour de France,” he concluded. (Official press release, AC press room)
June 10, Stage 4: Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux – Risoul, 211.5 km
The action in Stage 5, the longest stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné, started in earnest on the slopes of the Risoul, the finale.
Astana stayed within the peloton during the long ride through the Durance valley, allowing new race leader Jani Brajkovic's team and other more ambitious riders to do the work. Alberto, with impressive help from Navarro, Hernández and Tiralongo moved forward during the last kilometers.
At 2.2 kilometers to go, Contador launched a short exploratory attack that was countered by Brajkovic. At 1 kilometer before the finish, no one was putting in a decisive more, perhaps they were unable to believe that Contador would refrain from delivering the fatal blow.
Contador attacked again, a little harder, but the Slovenian rider was able to stick with him. Meanwhile, Nicolas Vogondy of Bbox escaped and won the stage.
Brajkovic and Contador finished in 3rd and 4th with the same time. Contador now has a total time of 16:27:25 in four stages.
It was a nice show by Astana, boding well for the Tour.
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 4, 4th (0:15 Vogondy). Contador in the GC, 3rd (1:41 Brajkovic)
TOP SIX: 1 Brajkovic (16:25:44), 2 Van Garderen (1:15), 3 Alberto Contador (1:41), 4 Millar (1:56), 5 Vogondy (2:43), Menchov (2:55)
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Contador took the long Stage 3 time trial as a learning experience (Photo by AC press room)
Alberto Contador finished today’s time trial with sixth-best time, riding over a route that was not a perfect fit for his characteristics—very flat, with poor road conditions and a strong wind. At any rate, Contador played down the result and remembered that he’s in the Dauphiné to prepare for the Tour de France. “I ended up never hitting my pedal stroke.” he said, summarizing how he felt on the bike. (AUDIO)
Contador explained that he took the start intending to “hit a tempo, mainly at the beginning. I tried to regulate it a little, and although I thought about pushing it at the end, it wasn’t a super day.”
Alberto didn’t want to risk a crash, either, because he knew that the clock was not on his side. “On the curves I didn’t want to go for broke, because I knew that I wasn’t producing the best times. These days I’m taking advantage of getting into the tempo of Tour de France.”
As for the general classification, he repeats once again that he didn’t come here to win it. “Like I said before the start of the race, the goal here is to do a tune-up for the Tour and, like in past few years, the preparation that I’ve done this year has been ideal. Fighting for the general is for other riders, in my case I’m going to dedicate myself to going along a bit farther back as a spectator.” (Official press release, AC press room)
June 9, Stage 3: Monteux – Sorgues – 49 km. (ITT)
Alberto Contador’s result today in Stage 3 wasn’t remarkable, except to whoever hasn’t been listening to his statements for the last two weeks concerning preparation and goals.
His comments in the official press release say it all. The time splits confirm it: Alberto arrived at the first check (at 15 km) 31” slower than Brajkovic. He continued to lose time, avoiding catastrophe on the deteriorated asphalt with gravel, rough patches, and even sleeping policemen. His time had slipped to -55” at the second check, and ended 1:46 behind Brajkovic after a test of 1:03:37.
Contador wasn’t the only favorite to lose time. Chris Horner lost 3:41 and Samuel Sánchez lost 4:14. Denis Menchov, on the other hand, improved dramatically, rising from 89th to 5th place in the GC.
The win went to Jani Brajkovic, the Slovenian time trial champion. Jani put in a stellar ride, especially after experiencing a technical that forced a bike change after the climb. He was fastest at every check and won athoritatively—great sport and well done.
Brajkovic, who rode with Contador from 2007-2009, said about his former teammate, " He is not our enemy. He's a rider among others and he's the best in the world. The Dauphiné isn't the number one race he wants to win. I believe he'll reach his top level at the Tour de France. That leaves a chance to another rider to get glory here."
Television cameras were missing for a great deal of Contador’s ride. The leader of the Dauphiné and the reigning Tour de France king was more than 15 km into the course—already over the climb at La Roche-sur-Pernes—before any camera covered him, and there were no views of the start gate whatsoever.
When the camera caught up, the pictures showed him in a skinsuit the color of the maillot jaune with Spanish time trial champion colors saved for the helmet, gloves, socks and shoe covers.
This edition of the Dauphiné is not, so far, a great showing for Spanish talent. Of the 26 Spaniards who began the race, only six are among the top fifty riders.
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 3, 6th (1:46 Brajkovic). Contador in the GC, 4th (1:41 Brajkovic).
TOP SIX: 1 Jani Brakovic (10:22:04), 2 David Millar (0:26), 3 Edvald Boassen Hagen (0:43), 4 Tejay Van Garderen (0:53), 5 Denis Menchov (0:55), 6 Alberto Contador (1:46)
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Contador riding to/with the Chartreuse (Photo by AC press room)
Alberto Contador kept hold of the leader’s jersey today in the Dauphiné despite neither he nor his team having plans to defend it.
The race circumstances worked in favor of Astana this time and Alberto got to the finish line in the front group after managing to avoid the dangerous crashes in the final kilometers.
“Today everybody wanted to be in front and there were many concerns. Although we didn’t have much interest in keeping the jersey and we preferred to let an escape get away,” said Contador, “other people did the work. At the end we preferred to be in front to avoid risks, since there were a lot of crashes.”
Contador isn’t changing his tactics in any way after this stage and still maintains the expectations he had on the first day. “Today was a relatively calm stage but nevertheless my legs are suffering from the effects of so many days without competing. But there were almost 200 kilometers, and normally you don’t take this pace in training.
"I’ll have to take it little by little and think about doing a test in the time trial, because there are people that are in better form than I am,” he said in reference to the general classification.
In fact, hanging on to the maillot jaune until the end doesn’t enter into his calculations. “I’m still thinking exactly the same. Today the arrival was “grupo compacto” so I kept it, but I haven’t changed my mind.”
That means, more than anything else, that he’ll test himself in the time trial on the day after tomorrow. “Yes, even though I’m thinking that there are people who are better prepared.
"Yesterday it was a short time trial, which is totally different, and on top of that, today I’ve noticed my allergies, because everything is much greener here than in Spain. If it rains in the next few days I’ll do better than if it’s sunny.” (Official press release, AC press room)
June 7, Stage 1: Évian-les-Bains – Saint-Laurent-du-Pont, 191 km
Slovenian rider Grega Bole (Lampre-Farnese Vini) won today’s stage after a bad crash shattered the pack in the final kilometers.
Photo: Alberto was well and happy after dangerous Stage 1 (Photo by Kahane)
Astana was under no pressure to keep the maillot jaune today, and was therefore willing to watch a long-term break escape after km 13. They refrained from pulling for nearly the entire stage, instead concentrating on surrounding Contador.
As the race neared the end, the crash split the peloton approximately in half. Benjamín Noval was delayed, and worse for the GC rivalry, Denis Menchov lost 1.11.
Contador made the large front group that assembled in the crash’s jittery aftermath, which also contained his gregarios De la Fuente, Tiralongo and Navarro, who saw their team leader safely home.
Whether Astana’s main interest is conducting a successful tech week leading up to the Tour, not riding for victory, is a moot point. So far the yellow jersey is clinging stubbornly to Alberto Contador, “the alpha and omega and the ultimate point of everything for Astana,” as the Spanish press put it last week. Astana’s raison d’etre is to defend him in yellow in the Tour, so—win or no win at the Dauphiné—logically there’s value in rehearsing in full costume and makeup.
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 1, 38th (s.t. Bole). Contador in GC, 1st (4:55:58)
TOP THREE: 1 Alberto Contador, 2 Tejay Van Garderen, 3 Jani Brajkovic
Alberto's main goal at the Dauphiné is training, but why not pick up a stage win too? (Photo by AC press room)
Alberto Contador rode to victory today in the prologue of the Critérium du Dauphiné on his new time trial bicycle, using the opening stage of the race to introduce the model he’ll use in competition in the Tour de France.
“It was a bit of a surprise, but I also knew that it’d be a good time trial because the route and the distance were very good for me.”
Contador also said that neither he nor his team, Astana, were going to defend the race leader’s maillot jaune. “No, we’re not going to do it, because both for me and my team it requires a huge effort and we’re here thinking about the Tour de France. Besides, there are a lot of riders in great form here who are hunting for the victory while I’m still not at my best level.”
Alberto said that he feels very satisfied with the performance of his bicycle. “We’ve spoken a lot with the engineers from Specialized about building this bike, in order to make it a little smaller and to adapt it better to my size, and I think that we’ve gotten what we were after. There’s still a lot of work to do on it, but I think that we’ll have a great time trial bike for the Tour.”
This is Alberto Contador’s second time-trial win of the season, following his success in the last edition of the Vuelta a Castilla y León, where he also won the overall. In this case, nevertheless, Contador is ruling out fighting for the win. “The goal is still the Tour and trying to win this race requires an exhausting physical effort, so my goal is still the same one that I announced before the start.” (Official press release, AC press room)
June 6, Prologue: Evian-les Bains – Evian-les-Bains, 6.8 km (ITT)
Alberto Contador won the prologue of the Critérium du Dauphiné today after a fiery ride on the shore of Lac Léman that couldn’t help but stir up memories of Annecy.
In Spanish champion’s kit, he made an all-out effort to test the capacity of his new Specialized time-trial bike, a super-aerodynamic machine with wheels hardly wider than a compact disc.
Many big names against the clock are absent from this Dauphiné, and those that rode today didn’t steal the show. David Millar suffered a mechanical, Menchov—also a candidate for the general—was lackluster in 35th place. Samuel Sánchez, an allrounder named by Alberto as an important rival, came in at only 80th place, 0:35 behind.
American Tejay Van Garderen (0:02) and Slovenian Jani Brajkovic (0:05) were the closest threats.
Contador’s performance earned him the stage, the maillot jaune, the KOM jersey and the sprinter jersey. He’ll wear yellow tomorrow, while Van Garderen takes green. Jérôme Coppel will wear the KOM jersey, thanks to being the next-fastest man at the checkpoint.
Today’s course was a 6.8 km circuit at Évian-les-Bains with only one time check (also the KOM), which occurred 2.8 kilometers into the stage—4 km from the finish line—at the top of the 4th-category Chemin de Chez Constantin.
The slow pull upwards suited Alberto and gave viewers plenty of chance to see him test his power and to assimilate his look on the bike.
RESULTS: Alberto Contador in the prologue: winner (8:34). Alberto Contador in the GC: leader. (total time: 08:34)
TOP THREE: 1 Alberto Contador, 2 Tejay Van Garderen, 3 Jani Brajkovic
To see maps, profiles and notes about each day's stage, visit our new creation: ALBERTO CONTADOR NOTEBOOK ATLAS.
The Critérium du Dauphiné, known as the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré before being absorbed by the ASO, begins on Sunday in Evian-les-Bains.
The eight stages will cover 1,080 kilometers in route to a finale a week from Sunday in Sallanches.
Our correspondent Christine Kahane will attend the race.
The Dauphiné is always a race for climbers, but this year’s route in particular offers gems for the escaladores.
Riders will encounter two time trials in this edition—a 6-kilometer prologue and a 49-kilometer test in Stage 3.
The remaining six road stages require significant climbing, including two summit finishes—the first-category climb to Risoul in Stage 4, and the queen stage, Stage 6, over the hors-categorie Col du Glandon and ending on top of the mythic Alpe d’Huez. The final stage concludes with a circuit: five climbs of a 3rd-category peak descending into Sallanches.
Riding for Astana: Alberto Contador, David de la Fuente, Dimitriy Fofonov, Jesús Hernández, Daniel Navarro, Benjamín Noval, Paulo Tiralongo, Andrey Zeits. DS: Giuseppe Martinelli.
Contador congratulates Vino in the form of a big hug (AC press room)
Alberto Contador applied the brakes to a full-throttle drive by Andy Schleck and Philippe Gilbert today, gaining his Kazakh teammate time to secure a quest for the title at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Alexander Vinokourov beat Alexandr Kolobnev in a thrilling chase to the line for his second career win at La Doyenne, the last of the spring classics. A big win for Astana.
“Vino winning is like winning myself”
“It was impressive, I’m very happy that Vino won, it’s like winning myself,” said Alberto Contador after congratulating Alexander Vinokourov at the finish line after his victory in Liège. (AUDIO)
“It’s been the result of work by the whole team and I’m very happy,” he continued. “We talked before the start about playing it with two options, mine happened by attacking on the St. Nicolás or on the Roche aux Faucons.
"But I started a bit late, I managed to get away with Andy Schleck, but they caught us and when Vino went away, I tried my best to act like a set of brakes, mainly on the Schleck brothers and Joaquim Rodríguez.”
“I saw that Vino was very strong and I got goosebumps listening as they encouraged him over the radio. When I found out that he had won, it made me very happy,” he said.
Contador, in addition, congratulated the team for the job they had done. “We were really in sync. We had two good options for victory and when Vino went away I saw it clearly: I had to do the same thing that Saxo Bank did last year with Andy Schleck. The result was perfect.”
Alberto Contador leaves the Ardennes feeling very good. “These races have left me with a great feeling, even though today I noticed the allergies much more than in Flèche, but I managed to get through the day because I felt well otherwise.
"I only had a hint of cramp while going over the St. Nicolás and in the last 500 meters of the race. In both places I chose to stay steady because I thought that the cramp might not go away.”
”I would’ve signed the balance sheet for this first part of the season at the beginning of the year,” says Alberto. “I was competitive or even winning all the races I was in and, in the ones where I wasn’t—like here at Liège—I was doing good work. The first part of the season has been excellent.” (Official press release, AC press room)
RESULTS: Contador finished in 10th place, (1:07 Vinokourov).
TOP TEN: 1 Vinokourvo, 2 Kolobnev (0:06), 3 Valverde (1:04), 4 Gilbert (1:04), 5 Evans (1:04), 6 Andy Schleck (1:07), 7 Antón (1:07), 8 Horner(1:07), 9 Frank Schleck (1:07), 10 Contador (1:07).
Complete report soon
Official race website: LIÈGE-BASTOGNE-LIÈGE 2010
La Flèche Wallonne podium exhibits the strongest fighters in a tough race: Rodriguez, Evans (winner) and Contador (AC press room)
CONTADOR 3RD IN LA FLÈCHE WALLONNE: Drama on the Mur de Hoy ends with podium place for Alberto
Wednesday, April 21: Charleroi - Huy 198 km
Alberto Contador finished third today in La Flèche Wallonne and did honor to the Ardennes classics, where he brought the same combative spirit that he tends to show in all competitions.
Victory escaped him only by a hair, owing to the excellent performance by Cadel Evans and Joaquim Rodriquez, as well as Igor Antón, who was the first to attack on the Huy, where Alberto was the first to respond. The last 200 meters were decisive, since Evans and Rodríguez passed Contador in the final sprint.
Contador said that perhaps he might have needed for the Mur de Hoy “to be a little longer in order to use my characteristics to advantage. I’m not a classics specialist, because my best quality is recuperation but, despite that, I’m happy with how I’ve done today. Considering the circumstances of the trip here, it’s not bad, but it’s also true that when you’re so close it’s no consolation to come in third.”
Alberto repeated that his goal this week is to “get experience in these races and that’s why I’m happy with how I’ve done.
"Now we have Liège, on Sunday, but I don’t know what’ll happen. I’m going to try to recuperate and I’d like to do well, but you have to take into account that it’s a different race. In Flèche you pass the finish line three times, but not in Liège. I don’t know how I’ll respond there.”
Contador also appreciated the work of his teammates. “The whole team put their money on me and they did a great job. It was a shame not to be able to win, but I’ve never come third in a classic of this caliber either, and that’s why I’m happy. We’ll see how it goes on Sunday,” he concluded. (Official press release, AC press room)
RESULTS: Contador, 3rd (s.t. Cadel Evans)
TOP FIVE: 1 Cadel Evans (4:39:24), 2 Joaquim Rodriguez (s.t.), 3 Alberto Contador (s.t.), 4. Igor Anton (0:06), 5 Damiano Cunego (0:09)
PLAYBOOK: The drama in the 74th edition of La Flèche Wallonne reached its climax after 196 kilometers, focusing on the legendary 1.3-km climb known as the Wall, or Mur de Huy. The dense pack jostled as they rounded a bend and began to climb.
Two riders were in the latter phase of short-term attacks when the pack passed under the red kite. Igor Antón of Euskaltel moved to the front with two teammates, Andreas Klöden and Contador abreast.
Klöden fired the opening shot, launching a spectacular effort that no one could match—surely the winning move. Gravity got the better of him, however, but not before a few dozen meters of frightening display.
On Klöden’s trail, a selection was made. As riders like Antón, Contador, Evans, Rodríguez, Cunego, Horner, and Andy Schleck swallowed up the German, the masses were reduced to a group of distinct individuals.
Next a move from the Basque, Antón, who won the queen stage over Contador only five days ago at Castilla y León. Alberto countered, setting up what looked like the familiar scene that ends with a pistol shot at the line. Bikes wobbled, and the Spaniards together got a few meters’ gap.
Contador pushed ahead of Antón with authority. His flexible figure pedaled with enough power to draw iron out of the earth’s core. Battling the Huy’s laws of physics, Antón lost ground. Evans (BMC) labored like a monster a few meters behind them, with Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) churning in his wake.
Contador’s explosive acceleration was clearly muffled by the Mur de Huy, but he stretched his lead to a dozen bike lengths. He still looked strong when he began glancing over his shoulder. To spectators’ disbelief, Cadel Evans passed him.
With a cool head and perfect timing, the reigning World Champion powered smoothly across the line, Rodríguez slipping in behind him. Alberto arrived 3rd, same time as Evans and Rodríguez. Next came Antón, Cunego, Gilbert, Horner, Valverde, Andy Schleck, Hesjedal and the others.
The entire pueblo de Contador would have preferred a victory, of course. But there are no great champions without great rivals.
In an age when sponsorship is iffy and the media disregards a talented field in favor of cooked-up duels and trashy polemics, the name of sport demands that riders like Evans, Rodríguez and Antón challenge Contador. And sometimes win.
Evans credited his victory to years of experience tackling La Flèche Wallonne. As he spoke after the stage, Evans the irascible runner-up was gone, replaced by a savvy and temperate World Champion. It's a good role for him.
Alberto came to Flèche for experience. He left the podium in Santiago de Compostela for a 2,000-kilometer drive, and three days later was at the top of the Mur de Huy, finishing in the same time as the winner. To miss victory by only a semiquaver is a victory in itself.
Reports, results, and photos for the XXV Vuelta a Castilla y León can be found at RACE WATCH CASTILLA Y LEÓN
Alberto sprang back to life in the time trial (AC press room)
Alberto Contador concluded the Criterium International with an excellent second place in the final time trial, only 2 seconds behind stage winner David Millar, who got a great win while Perrick Fedrigo successfully defended the maillot jaune against skilled rivals like Cadel Evans and Samuel Sánchez, who were unable to snatch the overall victory.
Alberto Contador said that today his allergy problem “was different, this was a short and explosive effort. I was able to get through the day well. It certainly didn’t do much more than raise the pulse, but I’m happy with my time trial,” he said in reference to his recovery of form today after yesterday’s suffering.
About the overall winner, Fedrigo, he commented that yesterday he was “very strong. He pulled away and nobody could follow him. He’s a fine winner.”
About himself, he admitted that today “I felt up to doing it well, to fighting for the win, and we got within a tiny margin. That means that what I had yesterday was an allergy problem. I’m happy today, keeping in mind the muscle pain that a day like this always leaves you with.
"I always like to win, sure, but Millar is very competitive,” he said, acknowledging the Briton’s merits.
Contador also responded to a question about the 17 seconds of advantage over Armstrong, although he didn’t see it as significant. “I still don’t know the times of the others. Seventeen seconds is pretty good, but really, it’s not a big deal.”
He also congratulated himself because the best thing about the weekend, in his opinion, “was the team, which did terrific work. If I'd had a good day yesterday, the tactics would have gone perfectly. I’m very happy with my teammates.
"Beyond that, we’re still perfecting the time trial bike, we’re evolving it little by little and, all told, both my legs and my preparation are going perfectly,” he concluded. (Official press release, AC press room)
PLAYBOOK, STAGES 2 and 3:
The first half of Sunday's double dip was a morning road stage of 75 kilometers out and back from Porto Vecchio.
The stage passed uneventfully for Contador and ended in a bunch sprint. A break that got away at km 3.5 stayed away until the combined efforts Sky and Columbia shut it down in the last 10 kilometers. The win went to British rider Russell Downing of Team Sky. Contador and the favorites received the same time as Downing.
After a rest break of about two and a half hours, riders began leaving the gate at 13:46 for the afternoon event, a 7.7-kilometer time trial looping around Porto Vecchio.
According to the official race website, the time trial course was “a rather tricky one. It starts uphill with a hard little bump followed by a winding descent. The finale is completely flat but wind could be a factor.”
Contador confirmed on his Twitter profile during the rest break that it was a windy afternoon.
To close the book on the “duel” that had occupied virtually every pre-race headline, Lance Armstrong, starting the day in 50th place, registered only 8th fastest at the intermediate checkpoint. He finished the stage in what was 2nd place at the time and held on to the slot until ousted by Peter Velits a short while later.
Alberto, however, was firing on all cyclinders. He was very strong, and rode aggressively with palpable determination, or rather, refusal to be thwarted by circumstances. He was fastest at the intermediate check and stayed on top of the leaderboard with a final time of 9:51 until British TT ace David Millar of Garmin-Transistions knocked him only 2 seconds back. Victory: Millar.
RESULTS: Alberto Contador in Stage 2, 41st (s.t. Russell Downing). Alberto Contador in GC, 22nd (1:23 Fedrigo)
RESULTS: Alberto Contador in Stage 3, 2nd (0:02 Millar). Alberto Contador in GC, 15th (1:08 Fedrigo)
TOP FIVE and riders of interest: 1 Fedrigo (total 7:11:59), 2 Rogers (0:14), 3 Machado (0:15), 4 Sanchez (0:19), 5 Millar (0:19), 6 Evans (0:22), 7 Horner (0:25), 15 Contador (1:8), 25 Vino (2:06), 27 Pinotti (2:21), 47 Armstrong (5:05), 96 Grabsch (22.15)
Spring was in the Corsican air today - bad news for allergy sufferers (AC press room)
Alberto Contador was unable to deliver the knockout punch today owing to an allergy attack that adversely affected his breathing on the final climb, where he decided to ride his own tempo in the last three kilometers.
Astana’s leader congratulated his team on a job well done and said that, in cycling, “a lot of factors have an influence and this just goes to show that you can’t always win.”
“It’s been a pretty tough day,” said Contador, “the team has worked very well, there was a very strong headwind and it started out a very nice day, very sunny, but that’s what caused the allergies to flare up. They really kicked in, and in the last three kilometers I told Vino that I was stopping because it was too hard to breathe. That kept my legs from being well-oxygenated, and I decided that the best thing to do was to ride my own tempo and get calmly to the finish line,” he explained.
Contador had already feared the possibility of an allergy attack when he arrived in Corsica and saw how advanced the blooming season was. “Yes, but I had hopes for a stuffier day, like the last few days when there’s been higher humidity, but it wasn’t like that.
"I’m happy about the team’s work, although it’s a shame I couldn’t finish it off. Now I’ve got to keep going calmly with the preparation, recover and just see what I can do tomorrow, because we have a good time trial.”
What happens tomorrow depends, says Alberto, “on how I recover and how I feel with the allergies, but it’s a good route for me and I also allowed myself to go at a more relaxed pace at the end than other riders.”
Finally, Contador says clearly that’s he’s not disappointed by the result. “I don’t feel disappointed,” he said, “people have to understand that you can’t always win. There's a huge number of factors that intervene in sport and especially in cycling. Like I’ve already said, nobody’s unbeatable.”
In fact, despite making a good start to the stage, “the wind really stirred up the pollen and I only have to look at my legs to notice that they’ve retained fluid as a consequence of the allergies,” he concluded. (Official press release, AC press room)
PLAYBOOK, CRITERIUM INTERNATIONAL STAGE 1:
Prior to the start, days of media hype had whetted the fans' appetite for a good clean fight between the two great champions who, in a bizarre twist, were employed by the same team last year.
The scene was Corsica and Stage 1 of the Criterium International, 177 tough kilometers ending on the summit of L'Ospedale.
After an early attempt was shut down at km 8, another two riders escaped. The peloton unreeled a long leash on Cedric Pineau (Roubaix Lille Metropole) and Albert Timmer (Skil Shimano) which yo-yo’d until km 110, stretching as far as 10:00 in front of the pack.
When Timmer and Pineau crossed the first intermediate sprint, it was left to whomever was at the sharp end of the pack to take the 1 remaining bonus second, 7:20 later. Alberto Contador seized the opportunity for the bonus.
Alberto repeated the move at km 158 in Ponte Vecchio, gathering another bonification behind two Frenchmen riding 50” ahead.
Expecting a slim margin at the finish line, it was clear that Alberto was aggressively pursuing every chance for time. Teammates Vinokourov, Fofonov and Navarro pulled for him as the climb of L’Ospedale began.
At around 5 km to go, Vino upped the pace. Lance Armstrong faltered and shot out the back of the group, in spite of competent help from his team, sinking to an eventual loss of almost 5:00.
In the last 3 km, Alberto disappeared from the head of the race, we did not know why. A group containing aces Cadel Evans (BMC) and Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel) pushed on. Attacks flew, by Machado, Moncoutie and Fedrigo.
Perrick Fedrigo of Bbox Bouyges Telecom attacked again at the red kite and won the race by 10” over Machado and 12” over Samu.
It was a strange race, both for spectators and according to riders’ comments. When Armstrong’s efforts amounted to nothing, then Contador, suffocating, struggled due to an allergy attack, the whole event was thrown into identity crisis.
It’s up to an as-yet unidentified rider to define the overall race tomorrow.
RESULTS: Alberto Contador in Stage 1, 23rd at 1:13 (Fedrigo, total time - 5:19:45). Alberto Contador in GC, 22nd at 1:21
Alberto recons the Sunday TT route (AC press room)
Alberto Contador returns to competition today in the Criterium International, an ASO-sponsored stage race consisting of three stages spread over two days.
The 2010 edition boasts two important firsts. This year the race, usually held in the north, will be held on the island of Corsica for the first time in the event's history. Perhaps more important to the press and many fans, Contador will meet Lance Armstrong on the road today as an opponent for the first time in 2010.
Saturday's stage features a demanding route that ends on the summit of L'Ospedale, trés Contador. On Sunday, a flat road stage will be followed by a short time trial, also mostly flat.
OFFICIAL RACE WEBSITE
PRESS CONFERENCE: Alberto Contador held a press conference this afternoon prior to the Criterium International after having reconned the route of Sunday’s time trial. Contador, who scouted tomorrow’s summit finish at L’Ospedale yesterday, says that he’s coming to ride the Criterium International “with the intention of improving my preparation and riding to win the race.”
What have you done since you arrived in Corsica?
I only used yesterday for going to see the climb of L’Ospedale. It was amazing, because at first there was very good weather, but on top there was a lot of fog and rain and it was cold. This morning I went to see Sunday’s time trial.
Stage 1 ends at the summit of L'Ospedale
Have you come to the Criterium with the intention of sending a message to Lance Armstrong?
No, I didn’t want to send a message to anyone. I’ve come because I think that it’s the best thing for my preparation.
When you changed your schedule, was it due to fatigue after Paris-Nice or because you were thinking about making your schedule coincide with Armstrong’s for three races?
I changed the schedule due to many factors, first of all because my preparation for the Tour is excellent now, I’ve got good results and I don’t have to punish myself too much. Paris-Nice was hard and Catalunya was seven days over a route not very well-suited to my characteristics. The Criterium, on the other hand, is only two days and over a route that’s good for me. Then I decided to go to Castilla y León because it’s closer to the classics and I can arrive with those miles in my legs, although I’ll go there mainly for experience.
At the Tour you were alone at your press conferences, but here you’re with your manager. What has changed?
Many things. That Yvon is here signifies the support that he’s giving me and the backing of all the team. All the riders are working with the same goal of doing well in July, but also thinking about the races that come before. This is a symptom of the motivation we all have.
You say that you want to go to the classics to get experience, but you’ve already won all three grand tours. Does that mean that it’s your ambition to add one of these races to your palmarés, that your goal is not just the Tour?
Yes, in the future I would like to win a classic, but as of today there are riders better able than I am and it’s also a time of year that’s not very good for me, because it’s allergy season. But without doubt, it’s a great motivation for the future to try to win a classic.
Are you coming to the Criterium with the intention of winning, what do you think of the climb of L’Ospedale?
I’m coming with the intention of improving my preraration and riding to win the race, but there are very strong and very important rivals. I previewed the time trial this morning and it left me with a good impression. The climb, on the other hand, isn’t very hard, but we’re going to reach it after a very tough stage and our power will be limited.
Can you name your top rivals in order, 1 through 5?
No, there are many, many very strong riders. I couldn’t possibly say them all, because I’m still not familiar with the start list, and also because I don’t like to name names, because I might forget somebody. At any rate, there’s one who’s very strong, Cadel Evans.
What sort of advantage would you like to have before the time trail, a lot, a little…?
Since you ask, a lot, clearly, but the margins will be small tomorrow, even though whatever advantage there is will really put a stamp on the race.
How is your relationship with Vinokourov and what does it mean that he’s on the team here?
Vino is a very important rider and riding with him here is also motivation for me. It’s very important to compete together and, of course, my relationship with him is excellent.
You mention Evans among the favorites but not Armstrong. Is he just another rider here, aren’t you worried?
I’ve mentioned Evans because he’s very strong right now after doing a great Tirreno. There are other very strong riders, but in the case of Lance, I think that at the moment there are other riders farther ahead in form.
Are you worried about being at peak form before the Tour?
No, I’ll get to the Tour quite a lot better than I am now.
(Question to Yvon Sanquer)
Who are the most dangerous rivals and what time gaps can they get on L’Ospedale?
I agree with Alberto that Evans is one of the strongest because he’s coming from doing a great Tirreno and it’s a good race for him. About the time gaps tomorrow, it’s difficult to assess, but if the race is fast, there’ll be some pretty good gaps. On the other hand, the time trial is good for Alberto and he’ll also have some cards to play there.
Some people have said that you could win this race with only one leg, how do you respond to that?
No, I don’t agree at all. That’s just to put a little more pressure on me and take it off the rivals. There are very strong rivals and winning is always very difficult and the fruit of training and sacrifice. There’s a big group of favorites that can win the race.
What motivates you to win races now?
I always like to do well whenever I compete. When I train and sacrifice, I do it thinking about getting to a race in good shape and each time that I compete I like to be at a high level. There are times when you can win, like this year, and other times when you can’t, but I always like to reach a high level and to be in the fight. I’m not motivated to train to go to a race without a having good level.
Will the Criterium International be work or play for you?
It’s a very demanding competition and it’ll be good for maintaining my rhythm and my motivation. It’s not play, because each time that I get on the bike, I concentrate and think only about what I have to do. (Official press release, AC press room)
Sunday is a double-header: a road stage and a short time trial
Contador prepares for Critérium International at La Morcuega (AC press room)
Alberto Contador arrived in Ajaccio this afternoon, ready to take the start in the Critérium International this weekend.
This will be the first time the event has ever been staged on the island of Corsica.
The race has a rather unusual format made up of a Saturday stage with summit finish, with a double-header on Sunday morning consisting of a road stage over flat terrain followed by a short 7-kilometer time trial.
Riding with Alberto Contador will be Alexander Vinokourov, Dimitri Fofonov, Maxim Gourov, Roman Kireyev, Dani Navarro, Benjamín Noval and Bolat Raimbekov, under the direction of Guido Bontempi.
Alberto has scheduled a press conference for 3:30 in the afternoon tomorrow, Friday, March 28, at the Hotel Goelan, situated at La Marine in Porto Vecchio. (Official press release, AC press room)
The first pistol is fired in France in 2010 (AC press room)
GO TO PARIS-NICE RACE WATCH
Stage 5 - Sunday, February 21: - Portimão
Contador, in Spanish national colors, thriving in the face of adversity (Reuters)
Alberto Contador recorded second-best time in the final time trial of the Volta ao Algarve today, only 13 seconds behind stage winner Luis León Sánchez. The score translated into victory in the final general classification with full marks over his two closest rivals, Tiago Machado and Levi Leipheimer, who was knocked out of third place on the podium.
In spite of having suffered continuous setbacks owing to the last-minute ban on use of his new time trial bike and being forced to prepare urgently an obsolete frame in order to continue his quest for the title, Alberto Contador proved that he is a rider who thrives in the face of adversity. It was also thanks to the swift reaction of Specialized and his mechanics that he was able to rise to this difficult challenge facing him in his first race of the season.
But Contador wanted more than anything to highlight the merit of his team, who proved to him at the season's first opportunity that they’re up to his level. “It was a very important victory for the team’s morale,“ he said after the stage, referring to his teammates’ fine work.
“This race is extremely important, especially for my team, because they’ve done an excellent job during the entire tour. We’ve had to take responsibility knowing that other riders who were flying under the radar might be able to win the race, but they've worked their butts off, every one of them. They’ve ended up very tired, but we’re very happy,” repeated the leader of Astana.
Contador said that he feels “very happy, because the results have been really good. I had my doubts, especially yesterday, when I tried out the bike and it felt pretty bad. This morning we made some adjustments and it was a little better, but I still had my doubts. Mainly, the bike was very different when I stood up, but things went very well and in the end the results were good, and I’ve been able to remain leader.”
About the significance of this victory for him, he said that he didn’t know “if I was going to get it, because I was fine, but I didn’t know in regards to the other riders who were coming with more miles in their legs. I’m very happy because it’s always a confidence-booster, especially for my team.”
To finish, he referred to the next race on his calendar, Paris-Nice, where he’ll “keep working with the Tour in mind. I hope to arrive in good form, but there are also other riders and other teams very interested in this race. I’ll go and do the best I can,” he concluded. (AC press room)
RESULTS: Alberto Contador in Stage 5, 2nd (0:13 LL Sanchez). Alberto Contador in final GC, WINNER (19:57:48)
TOP FIVE OVERALL: 1 Alberto Contador, 2 Luis León Sanchez (0:30), 3 Tiago Machado (0:32), 4 Levi Leipheimer (0:37), 5 Samuel Sanchez (0:57)
Stage 4 - Saturday, February 20: V.R.St Antonio - Cacela, 216 km
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 4, 19th (3:00). Contador in the GC, 1st (19:36:03)
TOP FIVE: 1 Alberto Contador, 2 Tiago Machado (0:15), 3 Levi Leipheimer (0:28), 4th Samuel Sánchez (0:35), Tejay Van Garderen (0:35)
Stage 3 - Friday, February 19: Castro Marim - Loulé (Alto do Malhão), 180 km
"An act of affirmation"
Contador wins the queen stage of the Algarve alone to vindicate his Astana
El País - Perhaps the person who least needed to win the queen stage, the short and tough climb of the Malhão, in Loulé, (2.7 km at 9.25%), or the entire Volta ao Algarve was Alberto Contador, who already has the Portuguese winter race in his palmarés, who also already has two Tours, a Giro, a Vuelta and more besides.
But perhaps also, not the person, but the organization who could benefit most from a pistol shot of self-esteem was his team, the new Astana, built at the last moment with riders from here and there after Lance Armstrong left in order to create RadioShack with the best of Astana 2009.
That’s why, the fuller and heavier (2.5 kilos more than his weight in form) Contador sacrificed one more day and dedicated the queen stage to building the team. First he ordered them to pull, to control the escape, to close the doors in the peloton; later, when they delivered him to the foot of the mountain and David de la Fuente launched him, he assumed his responsibility, he attacked and didn’t stop until getting a victory that justified his teammates, vindicated their quality and rewarded their work.
“It’s not my victory, it belongs to my team, who have been incredible,” said Contador, new leader of the race by an advantage of 15 seconds over the Portuguese rider Tiago Machado and 28 seconds over American Levi Leipheimer. That both cyclists ride precisely for RadioShack outwardly added breadth, fortunately, to the message sent yesterday by Contador in the first summit finish of the year.
The title will be decided tomorrow with a time trial of 17.5 kilometers in Portimão. Contador, who cemented the victory in 2009 in the final time trial, is the natural favorite, although he’ll leave the start with a handicap in the form of a last-minute decision by the UCI not to approve the bike on which he’s practiced in recent weeks, due to the way that the parts are assembled. Contador will have to adapt himself in the time trial to a Specialized model from 2008. (Carlos Arribas)
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 3, WINNER (5:02:55). Contador in GC, 1st
TOP FIVE: 1st Alberto Contador, 2nd Tiago Machado (0:15), 3rd Levi Leipheimer (0:22), 4th Samuel Sánchez (0:35), Tejay Van Garderen (0:35)
De la Fuente for Alberto, like Chechu for Lance (Specialized)
Stage 2 - Thursday, February 18: Sagres - Lagos, 207.5 km
Director Lorenzo Lapage's speed on the wet tarmac met with disproval from Jane the GPS (Photo by Kahane)
Alberto Contador stayed within the safety of the peloton in Stage 2 of the Volta ao Algarve today. Foul weather was the order of the day, in fact, it rained constantly and was so dark at the finish line that the photo finish went awry.
The stage was won by sprinter André Greipel of Team HTC-Columbia. Known as the Incredible Hulk, the massive German hunted down the lone survivor of the day’s escape, David Vitoria, overtaking him at the finish line to record his sixth win of the season.
Tomorrow is the queen stage, which ends at the summit of the Alto de Malhão. This second-category climb will be Contador’s first mountain test of the year.
The stage finishing at Malhão was also the centerpiece of last year’s edition. Although Contador only got second place, the performance put him within four seconds of the race lead, which he took over after winning the time trial on the following day.
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 2, 22nd (0.06 Greipel). Contador in GC, 14th (0.20 Greipel).
RACE LEADER: André Greipel (6:06:39)
Stage 1 - Wednesday, February 17: Faro - Albufeira, 157.5km
Contador focuses before Stage 1 of the Volta ao Algarve (Photo by Kahane)
Alberto Contador put a little heat in the fickle winter weather of southern Portugal today in Stage 1 of the Volta ao Algarve.
The season's first day's work was a test of both form and patience as waterproofs were wrestled on and off again with each passing squall.
In spite of having played down the importance of the Algarve as anything beyond a warm-up for Paris-Nice, Contador produced a bit of razzle-dazzle in the final kilometer.
The winner of the 2009 Tour de France shot off the front of the pack for a few solo meters, attacking on a rise near the end just to test his legs.
"What mattered today was knowing how my legs were, and they felt good," he said with satisfaction after finishing 16th in an edgy stage.
“I’m very happy with the team,” he stressed. “My teammates have worked to perfection, although it was only a transitional stage, in advance of what’s coming up in the next few days.”
RESULTS: Contador in Stage 1 - 16th, at 0:05. Contador in GC - 18th, at 0:15 due to bonifications
RACE LEADER: Benoit Vougrenard (4:10:42)
It was 18º with moody skies as 183 riders from 23 teams departed from the Faro football stadium. The action commenced at 11:00.
After 8 km, a break was established by four riders: Jerome Baugnies (TopSport Vlaanderen-Mercator), Pedro Lopes (CC Loulé-Louletano-Orbitur-Aquashow, Luís Pinheiro (Madeinox-Boavista) and Hugo Sabido (LA-Paredes Rota dos Móveis. The gap had lengthened to 0:28 by the 11-km mark, and continued to grow, reaching as much as 9:20.
The peloton allowed these four to remain the major protagonists of the day, choosing caution over ambition, and easing the tempo in rainy sections so the riders could don and doff their macs.
The quartet capitalized on the chance to gain all the points on offer in Stage 1, at both the meta volante (sprint) and KOM intermediary goals.
At about the halfway point, the pack tightened the reins, thanks to Columbia-HTC, who kept the pace gentle to avoid catching the break too soon and increasing the odds of a chaotic final sprint.
The escape was caught at around 14.5 km from the goal. The pack hurtled toward the finish.
Nerves flared when a crash occurred at 8 km to go. Word that the police in Albufeira had not closed the roads to motor traffic didn’t help. That problem was solved as the pack reached the final 4 km.
On a slight ascent about a kilometer from the finish, a lethal-looking Alberto Contador bounded away from the pack. Contador, who had not raced in 205 days, put the cat among the pigeons with the short display.
The combined distraction of countering his attack and negotiating a roundabout let Francaise des Jeux’s Benoit Vaugrenard dart like the tongue of a snake from the center of the pack.
Vaugrenard managed the stage win in spite of the howling pursuit of Joan Horrach and André Greipel, with the pack at their heels.
"When Alberto came out of the bus he was, as always, assailed by a pack of journalists and photographers who followed him all the way to the departure line and did not give him any respite until the departure of the race. Alberto is always gracious and straighforward with everybody even when you think that anyone in his place would get mad."
GO TO THE FANS' NOTEBOOK
Alberto's press officer (Photo by Christine Kahane)
Contador is ready to confront the international peloton in Portugal (Photo AC press room)
Alberto Contador returns to competition tomorrow after the longest voluntary rest period of his career, which makes the Volta ao Algarve a race that Astana’s leader has looked forward to with great desire, even though he also says, precisely for that reason, that “I won't have the same possibilities as in 2009, when I won the general.”
You’ve reached the first race of 2010—how are you doing?
I can’t wait. I’m a rider that likes to compete and that’s what motivates me. I think that I’m getting to a good level, but not like at this time in 2009, when I won. I’m fine, but what I’m looking for is doing a good warm-up for Paris-Nice, which I do want to ride to win.
Can you compare how you feel now with how you felt last year?
I feel good, but in 2009 I came from training camp in the United States where I worked really well, but this year there’s been very bad weather in Madrid and I haven’t trained the way I’d like. Anyway, it’s the first race of the year and there’s no need to worry about it too much.
Have you changed your winter preparation or have you continued as in past years?
No, I’ve done more or less the same as in the past, maybe with more long training sessions than in 2009, with the idea of tweaking my weight a little, because I’m still at 63.5 kg, two kilograms above my Tour weight, and it’s noticeable.
How's the route of Volta ao Algarve 2010 for you, better or worse than last year?
It’s very good for a warm-up, but it’s a little worse for me than in 2009, because it’s got a time trial that’s shorter and totally flat, they tell me. Last year’s race was very hard and that allowed me to take some time differences. This year, on the other hand, there are other riders better suited to this route.
What’s the participation going to be like? Who are the favorites?
Lacking confirmation of official bib numbers, I know that Leipheimer, Klöden, Luis León Sánchez, Iván Gutiérrez, Samuel Sánchez and Vande Velde are coming. And you have to take into account, among others, Chavanel, Ezequiel Mosquera and Joaquín Rodriguez, and not forget the riders from the Portuguese teams, who are very good and will have special motivation at home.
Do you want to check how you measure up to your rivals?
No, I only want to check my state of form and how I respond in a race, it’s not a question of making comparisons.
This has been the longest period of time that you’ve ever experienced out of competition, did time seem to drag for you?
Not at all, but starting up again is a handicap because you’re just a shade off the mark, it’s not like I finished at the Worlds. You have to train a lot in order to reach the same point, although there’s a good side to it, too. In the long run, it saves effort and the body appreciates it.
In 2010 do you think that you’ll be able to improve your performance and, if so, in the time trial? In the mountains? Where?
Yes, I think that I’m going to improve. In training sessions I’m very focused on working 100% and I think that I can improve both in the mountains and against the clock. I’m doing some tests and the results are even better that last year. I hope that that manifests itself in competition. (Interview by AC press room)
Alberto Contador’s season starts tomorrow at the Volta ao Algarve, February 17-21. This hilly five-day stage race in southern Portugal will be the first test of form for the winner of the 2009 Tour de France.
Note: Our correspondent Christine Kahane will be present for the entire race and will be sending reports from Portugal.
The rugged course will provide a point of reference for Contador regarding many of the new elements being incorporated into his schematic for this year. The Algarve will be a first for his partnership with director Giuseppe Martinelli, his new teammates Maxim Gourov, Andrey Grivko and David de la Fuente and the recently re-built Astana organization, including everything from staff cars to the press team.
Fans, friends and foes of Contador, the reigning Spanish Time Trial champion, are anticipating the premiere of bikes by Specialized. He’ll try out the prototype of his new crono bike for the first time in competition on Sunday and, simultaneously, debut the smart new national champion kit design.
Alberto won last year’s edition of the Volta ao Algarve, but in spite of riding as defending champion, he may or may not be looking for the overall victory. He told El País last month: “It’s true that last year I got the victory, but this year I don’t think that I’ll reach the same level as last, but it’ll be a good warm-up for the rest of the races.”
However, for a rider with a proven thirst to win and whose mantra is “I like to race,” a wait-and-see approach is advisable.
This year’s parcours is four hilly stages marked by the summit finish of the Category 2 Alto de Malhão in Stage 3. Alberto lost to Toni Colom by a bike length here last year but was satisfied with the result in his first test of form in the mountains.
Stage 5 is a 17.2-kilometer ITT over rolling ground, with two intermediate time checks. Alberto won the Algarve TT last year—a longer test occuring the day after the climb of the Malhão—saying that “everybody likes to start with a victory,” and adding, “Yesterday I felt like I went a bit in debt to my teammates, so this triumph is for all of them.”
The choice peloton at the Algarve promises good things for spectators. The other star of the 2009 edition, Heinrich Haussler, will be back. More stars with GC capability: Samuel Sánchez, Luis León Sánchez, Christian Vande Velde, Vladimir Karpets, Andreas Klöden. There’s an entertaining field of sprinters—André Greipel, Robbie McEwen, Thor Hushoved, Gert Steegmans—and crono specialists like David Millar, David Zabriskie and Levi Leipheimer, a TT/GC double whammy.
Contador’s seven teammates are beginning a five-month audition process for the Tour de France team. The Algarve roster consists of five Spaniards, two Kazakhs and one Ukranian. It’s worth noting that Benjamín Noval is back at Contador’s side. Noval raced the Algarve with Alberto last year, so did Sergey Renev.
Riding for Astana at the Volta ao Algarve: Alberto Contador, Jesús Hernández, David de la Fuente, Andrey Grivko, Maxim Gourov, Dani Navarro, Benjamín Noval, Sergey Renev.
Stay tuned for daily coverage of Alberto Contador's first race of 2010. More information at JORNAL CICLISMO
Race reports: Spanish Championship, Dauphiné Libéré, País Vasco, Castilla y León, Paris-Nice, Volta ao Algarve, criteriums
GO TO RACE WATCH 2009
The Year of the Triple Crown: Reports, results, photos, comments
GO TO RACE WATCH 2008