GIJON, Spain (VN) — Alberto Contador ends his glorious and sometimes controversial racing career Saturday on Spain’s hardest climb.
The curtain officially comes down Sunday in Madrid for the final stage of the Vuelta a España, but it’s fitting that Contador’s last major mountain climb will be the summit finale on the Anglirú.
“Madness!” Contador said when asked what he expects Saturday. “It’s going to be complete madness, with the rain, the cold, and a short stage.”
Are those the ingredients for one final Contador raid? Some are daring to dream, including ex-pro Ivan Basso.
“Alberto can still win the Vuelta,” Basso said. “Anything can happen on a climb like the Anglirú. Alberto will not be holding anything back.”
As sure as the sun is to rise in the east, Contador will attack Saturday. With forecasters calling for rain, cold, and wind, it will be an infernal setting for Contador’s last charge.
On Friday’s lumpy run into Gijón, Contador provided a preview of what’s in store. In the day’s final climb with 15km to go, he bolted clear of the main GC group, quickly carving a one-minute wedge. Trek-Segafredo sent two riders up the road, and Contador’s personal mechanic had put an extra-large 55-tooth plate on the front. Nothing is as spontaneous as it seems.
What is authentic, and still very dangerous, is Contador’s endless attacking spirit in his final grand tour.
Race leader Chris Froome (Sky) won’t let down his guard against a Contador angling to go out with a bang.
“That was a big attack,” Froome said. “He took almost one minute very quickly to our group, and we were not going slowly. It was impressive, and I can imagine that we can expect the same tomorrow.”
Contador has been Froome’s bête noire at the Vuelta. Even when Froome wasn’t directly beaten by Contador, like in 2012 and 2014, the Spaniard played a huge factor in derailing a likely Froome victory last year.
“I think he will want to end tomorrow with absolutely no regrets,” Froome said. “And leave absolutely everything on the road.”
That’s certainly how Contador’s been racing so far this Vuelta.
He’s attacked just about every time the Vuelta has tipped upward. An early setback in Andorra spoiled his chances for outright victory, but it also served to set up the thrilling three-week-long “adios” that Spanish fans have been savoring.
With no direct pressure to defend a leader’s jersey, Contador has been liberated to attack whenever he feels like it. And so far, that’s been just about every stage.
Signs line the road and his named is painted across the pavement. Huge crowds line up outside the Trek-Segafredo bus every morning to catch a glimpse of the Spanish superstar.
For Contador, Saturday’s stage represents his final chance to paint a masterpiece.
“I’ve been taking this Vuelta differently. Without pressure, and I’ve really been enjoying it,” Contador said. “Now I am going to enjoy these final two days. And then I will move on to other things.”
Contador has spent a career being the disruptor, the agitator and the indefatigable fighter. Whether it was beating a brain aneurism, the controversial clenbuterol positive in 2010, or Lance Armstrong in the 2009 Tour de France, Contador never gives up.
Contador’s been discreetly saying his goodbyes to his friends and rivals in the peloton. In Thursday’s stage, everyone in the pack was teasing him, asking Contador, “When are you going to attack?”
“I had a nice chat with Froome,” Contador said Thursday. “I told him in [three] days’ time, I won’t be attacking him anymore.”
The Contador loyalists will be out en masse tomorrow. The narrow strip of asphalt that is the excuse of a road up the side of the Anglirú’s rocky slab summit will be lined with thousands of fans. Come rain or shine, Contador’s army won’t miss one last chance to cheer their hero.
Contador will not disappoint them. He will attack, just as he always does.