By Andrew Hood

Alberto Contador’s “Revenge Tour 2008” continued Monday as the Astana rider uncorked a blistering acceleration on the last of seven climbs to bolt away from a soggy and cold peloton in the 137km opener at the Vuelta al País Vasco.

Contador won the stage three seconds ahead of Ezequiel Mosquera (Karpin-Galicia) and takes an unexpected eight-second lead on his main adversaries in an exciting opening day of the six-day Basque Country tour.

“It’s a beautiful victory today, not what I expected. I just opened up a gap and I just kept working and I was able to drive to the finish line to even gain a little time on my rivals that could be very important,” Contador said at the line. “The objective here this week is to win the race, so it couldn’t have started off in a better manner.”

Contador, third in the 2005 Basque tour, will carry a slender lead into the middle part of the race ahead of Friday’s challenging climbing stage and Saturday’s hilly 20km time trial that should decide the final podium.

Fresh off winning the Vuelta a Castilla y León last month, the 25-year-old seems intent on showing anyone and everyone that he’s not happy with the decision by Tour de France officials to leave his Astana team out of the 2008 edition.

Contador was intent on making the first blow against an all-star field that includes last year’s Tour runner-up Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto). The Australian finished safely in a front chase group eight seconds behind Contador.

While Evans is keeping one eye on July’s Tour de France, Contador is taking advantage of every opportunity he has.

“He’s the best rider in the world and he just proved it again today,” Astana sport director Sean Yates told VeloNews. “He just rode it off the wheel and took it all the way to the line. That’s the way to stick it to them, eh?”

His Astana team was not invited to any races organized by Tour owner, Amaury Sports Organisation, and Contador’s been bent on winning just to prove he’s cycling’s alpha male despite being thwarted of a chance to defend his Tour title.

“Alberto is gutted he’s not going to the Tour. He wants to prove a point. He likes to win and wants to show he’s a champion,” Yates said. “It’s sort of sunk in now, but when you’re the defending champ, it’s going to be hard on them to not be back at the Tour.”

Astana rode like it’s the Tour de France on Monday through rain, wind and frigid temperatures as a cold front broiled across northern Spain.

Iban Mayoz (Karin-Galicia) and Egoi Martínez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) featured in the day’s main breakaway when the pair pulled away in the opening 15km of the bumpy, seven-climb course around Legazpi. Mickael Buffaz (Cofidis) hitched a ride but later faded to leave Martínez and Mayoz trying in vain to make it over the final Cat. 2 Alto de Descarga with 6km to go.

Astana drilled the pace to the base of the climb when Contador surged away from the main pack. None of the top favorites could immediately answer and Contador danced up the wet, twisting climb clogged with rowdy fans in the heart of Spain’s cycling-crazed Basque Country.

Mosquera jumped first out of the pack, but Contador wasn’t going to let anyone spoil his afternoon. The defending Tour champ caught him on the Descarga summit and then dropped him with 1.3km to go solo in for the victory.

“I don’t have to prove anything, this is my style of riding. I’m an attacker and this was my terrain,” Contador said. “The decision to attack was made at the moment. It’s not like we started the morning to say we were going to attack on the last climb. My legs felt good at the moment and I just wanted to make a test. I was able to gain some important seconds to my rivals.”

Damiano Cunego (Lampre) led the chase among the fractured peloton and came through with a group of 24 riders at eight seconds back.

Other pre-race favorites among the front group included Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto), Robert Gesink and Thomas Dekker (Rabobank), Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval) and Frank Schleck (CSC).

Two-time defending world champ Paolo Bettini (Quick Step), who slid off-course while trying an unsuccessful counter-attack midway through the stage, led a second group across the line at 15 seconds back. Yaroslav Popovych (Silence-Lotto), third overall at Paris-Nice, lost 1:06 in 51st.

Without any summit finishes or time bonuses, the Basque Country race is now Astana’s to control. The team already showed it was up to the task to control the race Monday.

“We have a prologue effect similar to what we had at Castilla y León,” Yates said. “We have a time gap and it’s easier to control. Alberto wants to win the overall and showed that today.”

These days, what Contador wants, he’s been getting with spades.

The 48th Basque Country tour continues Tuesday with the 153km second stage from Legapzi to Erandio. The course features five rated climbs, including the Cat. 1 Alto de Ixua at 46km, but the final 45km are over rolling roads and could deliver a bunch sprint.

Results


1. CONTADOR, Alberto, (Sp), Astana 3:39:22
2. MOSQUERA, Ezequiel, (Sp), Karpin-Galicia, at 3
3. HERRERO, David, (Sp), Karpin-Galicia, at 8
4. CUNEGO, Damiano, (I), Lampre, at 8
5. RICCO, Riccardo, (I), Saunier-Duval, at 8
6. REBELLIN, Davide, (I), Gerolsteiner, at 8
7. VELITS, Peter, (Svk), Milram, at 8
8. MONFORT, Maxime, (B), Cofidis, at 8
9. RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin, (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, at 8
10. TROFIMOV, Yury, (Rus), Bouygues Telecom, at 8
11. TSCHOPP, Johann, (Swi), Bouygues Telecom, at 8
12. ASTARLOZA, Mikel, (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 8
13. ARDILA, Mauricio, (Col), Rabobank, at 8
14. DE LA FUENTE, David, (Sp), Saunier-Duval, at 8
15. EVANS, Cadel, (Aus), Silence-Lotto, at 8
16. LOBATO, Rubén, (Sp), Saunier-Duval, at 8
17. ANTÓN, Igor, (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 8
18. VILA, Patxi Javier, (Sp), Lampre, at 8
19. CAMAÑO, Iker, (Sp), Saunier-Duval, at 8
20. DEKKER, Thomas, (Nl), Rabobank, at 8
21. SCHLECK, Frank, (Lux), CSC, at 8
22. GESINK, Robert, (Nl), Rabobank, at 8
23. KIRCHEN, Kim, (Lux), High Road, at 8
24. GÓMEZ MARCHANTE, J. A., (Sp), Saunier-Duval, at 8
25. MOLETTA, Andrea, (I), Gerolsteiner, at 8
26. FDEZ. DE LA PUEBLA, A., (Sp), Saunier-Duval, at 8
27. BETTINI, Paolo, (I), Quick Step, at 15
28. CAUCCHIOLI, Pietro, (I), Crédit Agricole, at 15
29. PINOTTI, Marco, (I), High Road, at 15
30. JULICH, Bobby, (USA), CSC, at 15
31. EFIMKIN, Alexander, (Rus), Quick Step, at 15
32. SASTRE, Carlos, (Sp), CSC, at 15
33. MARZANO, Marco, (I), Lampre, at 15
34. FLORENCIO, Xavier, (Sp), Bouygues Telecom, at 15
35. CASAR, Sandy, (F), Française des Jeux, at 15
36. POSSONI, Morris, (I), High Road, at 15
37. TIRALONGO, Paolo, (I), Lampre, at 15
38. VEIKKANEN, Jussi, (Fin), Française des Jeux, at 15
39. LÓPEZ, David, (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, at 15
40. NAVARRO, Daniel, (Sp), Astana, at 29
41. GRIVKO, Andriy, (Ukr), Milram, at 29
42. VORGANOV, Eduard, (Rus), Karpin-Galicia, at 29
43. SÁNCHEZ, Luis León, (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, at 29
44. TEN DAM, Laurens, (Nl), Rabobank, at 29
45. FOFONOV, Dmitriy, (Kz), Crédit Agricole, at 29
46. YAKOVLEV, Serguei, (Kz), Astana, at 29
47. BILEKA, Volodymyr, (Ukr), Silence-Lotto, at 29
48. SCHUMACHER, Stefan, (G), Gerolsteiner, at 48
49. GARCÍA, David, (Sp), Karpin-Galicia, at 48
50. DUQUE, Leonardo, (Col), Cofidis, at 1:07
51. POPOVYCH, Yaroslav, (Ukr), Silence-Lotto, at 1:07
52. KARPETS, Vladimir, (Rus), Caisse d’Epargne, at 1:07
53. ASTARLOA, Igor, (Sp), Milram, at 1:07
54. AGNOLI, Valerio, (I), Liquigas, at 1:07
55. AERTS, Mario, (B), Silence-Lotto, at 1:07
56. BELTRÁN, Manuel, (Sp), Liquigas, at 1:07
57. SCHWAB, Hubert, (Swi), Quick Step, at 1:07
58. ZAUGG, Oliver, (Swi), Gerolsteiner, at 1:07
59. LLOYD, Matthew, (Aus), Silence-Lotto, at 1:07
60. WEGMANN, Fabian, (G), Gerolsteiner, at 1:07
61. MOINARD, Amaël, (F), Cofidis, at 1:07
62. GHISALBERTI, Sergio, (I), Milram, at 1:07
63. NOCENTINI, Rinaldo, (I), Ag2r-La Mondiale, at 1:16
64. NOVAL, Benjamín, (Sp), Astana, at 1:19
65. EFIMKIN, Vladimir, (Rus), Ag2r-La Mondiale, at 1:19
66. VAN DE WALLE, Jurgen, (B), Quick Step, at 1:19
67. GAVAZZI, Francesco, (I), Lampre, at 1:19
68. LE MEVEL, Christophe, (F), Crédit Agricole, at 1:19
69. MARTENS, Paul, (G), Rabobank, at 1:19
70. RUJANO GUILLEN, José, (Vz), Caisse d’Epargne, at 1:19
71. GUSTOV, Volodymir, (Ukr), CSC, at 1:19
72. CATALDO, Dario, (I), Liquigas, at 1:19
73. TONTI, Andrea, (I), Quick Step, at 1:19
74. ZAMPIERI, Steve, (Swi), Cofidis, at 1:59
75. AZANZA, Jorge, (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 1:59
76. TXURRUKA, Amets, (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 1:59
77. DUPONT, Hubert, (F), Ag2r-La Mondiale, at 1:59
78. VELASCO, Iban, (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 1:59
79. LANDALUZE, Iñigo, (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 1:59
80. CARLSTRÖM, Kjell, (Fin), Liquigas, at 1:59
81. MOURÓN, Juan Francisco, (Sp), Karpin-Galicia, at 1:59
82. MUGERLI, Matej, (Slo), Liquigas, at 1:59
83. SORENSEN, Nicki, (Dk), CSC, at 1:59
84. IGLINSKIY, Maxim, (Kz), Astana, at 1:59
85. PAULINHO, Sergio, (P), Astana, at 1:59
86. RIGHI, Daniele, (I), Lampre, at 1:59
87. CUESTA, Iñigo, (Sp), CSC, at 1:59
88. SPRICK, Matthieu, (F), Bouygues Telecom, at 1:59
89. BOTCHAROV, Alexandre, (Rus), Crédit Agricole, at 1:59
90. BONO, Matteo, (I), Lampre, at 1:59
91. ARROYO, David, (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, at 1:59
92. DAVIS, Scott, (Aus), High Road, at 1:59
93. CIONI, Dario David, (I), Silence-Lotto, at 1:59
94. PIEPOLI, Leonardo, (I), Saunier-Duval, at 1:59
95. VAN DEN BROECK, Jurgen, (B), Silence-Lotto, at 1:59
96. INTXAUSTI, Beñat, (Sp), Saunier-Duval, at 2:54
97. SCHWAGER, Sebastian, (G), Milram, at 3:44
98. BRUSEGHIN, Marzio, (I), Lampre, at 3:44
99. BERNAUDEAU, Giovanni, (F), Bouygues Telecom, at 3:44
100. GERRANS, Simon, (Aus), Crédit Agricole, at 3:44
101. MARTÍNEZ, Egoi, (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 3:44
102. BRANDT, Christophe, (B), Silence-Lotto, at 3:44
103. LEFEVRE, Laurent, (F), Bouygues Telecom, at 3:44
104. GOUBERT, Stéphane, (F), Ag2r-La Mondiale, at 3:44
105. ALBASINI, Michael, (Swi), Liquigas, at 4:42
106. HORRACH, Joan, (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, at 4:42
107. LÖVKVIST, Thomas SWE THR, at 4:42
108. ISASI, Inaki, (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 4:42
109. ZANDIO, Xabier, (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, at 4:42
110. FERNÁNDEZ, Bingen, (Sp), Cofidis, at 5:32
111. ARRIETA, José Luis, (Sp), Ag2r-La Mondiale, at 5:39
112. SIUTSOU, Kanstantsin BLR THR, at 6:42
113. HORNER, Christopher, (USA), Astana, at 7:03
114. BARRY, Michael, (Can), High Road, at 7:15
115. ROELS, Dominik, (G), Milram, at 7:15
116. DEVINE, John, (USA), High Road, at 7:15
117. SCHRÖDER, Björn, (G), Milram, at 7:15
118. NIERMANN, Grischa, (G), Rabobank, at 7:15
119. MEDEREL, Maxime, (F), Crédit Agricole, at 7:15
120. LEVARLET, Guillaume, (F), Française des Jeux, at 7:15
121. SCHLECK, Andy, (Lux), CSC, at 7:15
122. ELTINK, Theo, (Nl), Rabobank, at 7:15
123. KOHL, Bernhard, (A), Gerolsteiner, at 7:15
124. MAYOZ, Iban, (Sp), Karpin-Galicia, at 7:15
125. MOUREY, Francis, (F), Française des Jeux, at 7:15
126. RUBIERA, José Luis, (Sp), Astana, at 7:20
127. KERN, Christophe, (F), Crédit Agricole, at 7:20
128. BERTAGNOLLI, Leonardo, (I), Liquigas, at 9:37
129. EL FARES, Julien, (F), Cofidis, at 9:37
130. ROUX, Anthony, (F), Française des Jeux, at 9:37
131. JURCO, Matej, (Svk), Milram, at 9:37
132. HALGAND, Patrice, (F), Crédit Agricole, at 9:37
133. GARATE, Juan Manuel, (Sp), Quick Step, at 9:37
134. BUFFAZ, Mickaël, (F), Cofidis, at 9:37
135. MOERENHOUT, Koos, (Nl), Rabobank, at 9:37
136. STUBBE, Tom, (B), Française des Jeux, at 9:37
137. SOKOLOV, Evgeny, (Rus), Bouygues Telecom, at 9:37
138. BARREDO, Carlos, (Sp), Quick Step, at 9:37
139. SÖRENSEN, Chris, (Dk), CSC, at 9:37
140. ENGELS, Addy, (Nl), Quick Step, at 9:37
141. ROY, Jérémy, (F), Française des Jeux, at 16:43
142. SONNERY, Blaise, (F), Ag2r-La Mondiale, at 16:43
143. RUSS, Matthias, (G), Gerolsteiner, at 16:43
144. DEIGNAN, Philip, (Irl), Ag2r-La Mondiale, at 16:43
145. MANDRI, Rene, (Est), Ag2r-La Mondiale, at 16:43
146. SANTAROMITA, Ivan, (I), Liquigas, at 16:43
147. FOTHEN, Markus, (G), Gerolsteiner, at 16:43
148. CHAMPION, Dimitri, (F), Bouygues Telecom, at 16:43
149. PALEO, Alejandro, (Sp), Karpin-Galicia, at 19:04
150. PORTAL, Sébastien, (F), Cofidis, at 21:47