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Alberto Contador entered the 2016 Vuelta as an...

Late-stage crash could ruin Contador’s Vuelta plans

Alberto Contador crashes at one of the worst possible times in the Vuelta. With three big mountain stages ahead, the Tinkoff leader is on the back foot.

Alberto Contador cannot buy any luck this season, at least not the good kind. After crashing out of the Tour de France in July, the veteran Spaniard hit the deck in Friday’s transition stage at the Vuelta a España.

The high-speed crash, after bumping wheels with another rider at about 500m to go in Friday’s seventh stage, left Tinkoff’s leader battered and bloodied ahead of three decisive stages across the mountains of northern Spain.

“It seems like I didn’t see him touching the brake, and we went to the ground,” Contador told journalists at the finish line. “Right now, I am all banged up. My whole left side is ripped up. My calf is also very bad, and that’s when I am still warm. It’s going to be very complicated.

“It hurts a lot but it seems that there’s nothing broken. We have a long transfer to the hotel of 120km now,” he said later. “I will rest for the night and tomorrow morning we will assess my situation.”

Coming into a sweeping left turn as the peloton ramped up for the final sprint, Contador was riding near the front of the bunch to protect his already tenuous GC position. It appeared Contador bumped shoulders with a rider from Lotto – Soudal, causing the Spaniard to crash hard on his left side. Other riders also crashed or got caught up in his wake, including Samuel Sánchez (BMC Racing) and Chris Froome (Sky).

The three-time Vuelta champion crossed the line 93rd, and visibly upset, with his left elbow, shoulder, and knee bleeding through a torn jersey. The extent of his injuries was not immediately known. He did not lose time because the mishap happened within 3km to go, when time differences are not taken for crashes and mechanicals on flatter stages.

The hard-luck Contador started the stage 12th at 1:52, and another high-impact fall following his painful exit from the Tour barely a month ago was the last thing he needed going into three decisive stages across northern Spain.

“For Alberto, we will know more later (of his injuries). It’s not ideal timing with three tough stages coming up, so we keep our fingers crossed,” said Tinkoff sport director Sean Yates. “As far as we know it’s just cuts and bruises, but he came down pretty hard and we’ll know more after he gets further checks. It looked like he got squeezed on the corner – he’s been caught out this season by being too far back, and today he was right up the front and still was involved, so it’s real bad luck.”

Contador’s revenge Vuelta campaign opened on the back foot, when Tinkoff lost 52 seconds to archrivals Sky and Movistar in the opening team time trial. He ceded more time to Froome and others up the Izaro climb in stage 3.

The Vuelta continues Saturday with the first of three decisive climbing stages stacked up across northern Spain. Saturday’s summit finale at La Camperona is flat during most of its 181.5km parcours, but features the first major summit of the 2016 Vuelta. The average grade of 7.5 percent on 8.5km doesn’t paint the true picture. The climb stair-steps up an exposed, barren slope, with ramps as steep as 25 percent. Sunday finishes atop the short by explosive Alto de Naranco, and Monday tackles the famed steeps at Lagos de Covadonga.

A banged-up Contador will find the stages even more difficult to manage, and he certainly cannot afford to give up more time to such rivals as Froome, Nairo Quintana (Movistar), and race leader Darwin Atapuma (BMC Racing).