LOGRONO, Spain (VN) — Alberto Contador is living up to his promise to go down swinging.
Sunday’s “Hail Mary” attack at the Vuelta a Espana was intercepted by Team Sky’s full rush, but the Trek-Segafredo captain wants to make his final week of racing count. After saying he had “no regrets” about his performance Sunday, he admitted a podium finish is unlikely in the final grand tour of his career.
“It’s going to be difficult to finish on the podium,” Contador admitted in a rest-day press conference Monday. “After Andorra, everyone thought my podium chances were done, but I told my teammates it was still possible. After Sunday, it’s more difficult.”
Contador’s final showdown with Chris Froome hasn’t gone the way he wanted. Some have wondered if Contador’s desire to put on a big show for his adoring fans in his final days on the bike have backfired when more attrition-style racing might have seen him climb higher on GC. A bad day in Andorra in stage 3 sent him tumbling out of the GC frame, but he’s picked his way back with his trademark attacks and unconventional racing.
Contador swung for the fences Sunday via a long-distance attack with 26km to go on the long, grinding climb up Sierra Nevada. Miguel Ángel López (Astana) followed him and eventually dropped him to win the stage. Contador struggled, and ended up losing more time to race leader Froome in the final rush to the line.
Contador shrugged off suggestions that his prime-time style of racing is costing him in the GC.
“I don’t attack just to make the public happy,” Contador said. “I do it because that’s the way I race. It’s based on my form at the moment, on the conditions of the race. Maybe the smart thing to do is ride more conservatively, and to try to finish fourth or fifth or third or eighth, and limit the losses. But that way of racing is not for me.”
Now ninth at 3:59 back, Contador knows one more miracle is unlikely. With Team Sky throttling the race with a Tour de France-style dominance, weary rivals are afraid to attack until the final kilometers from the line.
Not Contador. His big push Sunday was eventually gobbled up by Sky’s steady pressure. Only an on-form López, not quite yet a direct GC threat to Froome, was able to hold on to win the stage.
“For me it’s satisfying to enjoy this Vuelta the way that I am racing, regardless of the final result,” he said. “I think people will remember me more for my other results in my career than the final GC in this Vuelta. For me, I am going to remember more the sensations than the classification.”
For Contador, the realization of the end of his racing career is becoming more succinct. On Monday, he gave his final grand tour rest-day press conference. On Tuesday, it will be his final individual time trial. There are two more mountaintop finales where he will have his last chances to win a stage. And then comes the final romp into Madrid to end his career.
“In hindsight, it would have been smarter to have stayed in the group Sunday, but everyone races for their own reasons,” Contador said. “Now I will take it day to day. I will say that I am thoroughly enjoying this race. The affection that the fans have showered on me is impressive. I am enjoying every minute.”
Contador said he’s enjoying his farewell, even if his result might not be as he had hoped when he started in Nimes, France, two weeks ago.
“I’m proud to hear the fans yell out, ‘Gracias, Alberto!’ I hear it over and over again, and that can only mean that they’ve enjoyed watching the racing,” Contador said. “I couldn’t have chosen a better place to retire. On these climbs, when your legs are really hurting, you see a sign and hear the shouts, and it’s like a present for me.”
Contador has only known one way to race. He’s not going to change now.