Vuelta a Espana

Contador promises one more fight

NIMES, France (VN) — Alberto Contador promises to go down swinging in the curtain call of his 15-year career. The three-time Vuelta a España winner lines up Saturday for his final grand tour. A winner of seven major tours, the 34-year-old Spaniard promises to go out all…

NIMES, France (VN) — Alberto Contador promises to go down swinging in the curtain call of his 15-year career.

The three-time Vuelta a España winner lines up Saturday for his final grand tour. A winner of seven major tours, the 34-year-old Spaniard promises to go out all guns a-blazing.

“I want to enjoy every moment of this Vuelta, but don’t get me wrong, I want to win,” Contador said at a press conference Friday. “I’ve been super-professional, and I will be that way until the final pedal strokes. But this Vuelta is special. I feel something special to be able to say goodbye at this race.”

Contador opened the press conference expressing his condolences to victims of the terrorist attacked in Barcelona on Thursday.

With Contador’s pending exit, Vuelta a España officials know that cycling will be missing one of the sport’s most influential riders.

“Cycling loses something special when Contador retires,” said Vuelta race director Javier Guillén. “It’s not only his palmares that set him apart, but how he raced. There are very few in the peloton who bring his aggressive style of racing.”

Contador started four Vueltas, and won three, with victories in 2008, 2012 and 2014. In last year’s Vuelta, he was fourth overall, but still managed to be the rider who dictated the tactics. His attacks on the road to Formigal during stage 15 opened the door for Nairo Quintana (Movistar) to take important gains on Chris Froome (Sky).

Contador’s grand tour track record is impressive by any standard. In 17 grand tour starts, he officially won seven, and only never finished out of the top-5 in grand tour he finished until was ninth last month at the Tour de France.

He is one of only six riders who have won all three grand tours in his career.

Contador’s legacy is also marked by his controversial clenbuterol case in 2010. He was handed down a back-dated ban of two years, and saw his 2010 Tour and 2011 Giro d’Italia victories stripped from his official palmares.

Known for his stubborn, never-give-up character, Contador clashed with some of the biggest stars over two generations. Across his career, he back the likes of Lance Armstrong and Carlos Sastre as a younger pro, and later Fabio Aru and Froome as he advanced.

Contador never put much focus on the world championships or the one-day classics, only racing in nine monuments during his career.

He was prolific in stage racing, winning nearly every major stage race he started at least once. At his best, he was lethal on the climbs and dependable against the clock.

After his 2010 disqualification, he tried in vain to win another Tour. In 2013, in his return to the Tour following his ban, Froome humiliated Contador on the climbs. Crashes took him out of the 2014 and 2016 editions.

This year, crashes once again handicapped his performance. Midway through the Tour, Contador had made up his mind the time was right to retire.

“It was a decision that I had already been thinking about a lot,” Contador said. “We were talking about extending the contract through next year’s Giro d’Italia. I had a moment during the Tour that made me realize that this would be the end.”

What does cycling lose? Contador was always a factor in every grand tour he started. He wasn’t afraid to attack, and would often take big risks to try to win. Sometimes they would backfire, but when they worked, the result was spectacular.

On Saturday, he will start with the No. 1 bib. Spanish fans will be saying goodbye for the next three weeks. A few of his rivals, however, might quietly be happy to see him go. Nothing could ruin a bike race quicker than being on the wrong end of a Contador attack.