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Nairo Quintana won his first Vuelta a España in large part thanks to Alberto Contador, who blew apart the race on the way to Formigal last weekend, allowing the Colombian to take decisive gains against Sky’s Chris Froome.
Without Contador’s help in that decisive stage, it’s very likely Froome could have won this Vuelta, especially with the time he regained in Friday’s time trial.
Yet in Saturday’s final stage to Alto de Aitana, Movistar didn’t return the favor when Contador saw his third-place podium spot come under fire from Orica – BikeExchange.
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“Of course, you’d always like to have the podium instead of being fourth, but that [the podium] wasn’t the objective of the race, anyway” Contador said at the line. “You have to tip your hat to Orica for their tactics. I thought that Movistar might have lent a hand for what happened on the day to Formigal, but it didn’t work out that way. I spoke to [Alejandro] Valverde, but they were not up to it.”
Riding much of the final stage alone, Contador couldn’t counter Orica’s tactics and finishes just 12 seconds out of third place.
Contador wasn’t happy to see the Vuelta a España podium slip away in the final mountain stage. After falling behind in Friday’s time trial, Colombian Esteban Chaves (Orica) made a brave, late-stage attack to catch out Contador.
Riding with limited help from his teammates, Contador could only watch as Chaves knocked him down to fourth place with one day to go. And Movistar wasn’t about to risk its position against the ever-dangerous Froome to help Contador.
The fourth place in Sunday’s final stage will keep alive Contador’s unique run in grand tours. Of his seven podium finishes, all are victories. That seems to confirm Contador is a rider willing to risk losing to try to win. That’s certainly how this Vuelta played out, and despite the odds, Contador raced to win, including the surprise attack in Formigal that Movistar quickly capitalized upon.
Contador wasn’t overly bitter, and said he enjoyed the Vuelta in his last season in a Tinkoff jersey. He is expected to move to Trek – Segafredo in 2017, but the deal has yet to be announced, spurring some speculation that he still could end up elsewhere.
“I want to congratulate Nairo, Froome, and Chaves for the race,” Contador continued. “I learned a lot ahead of next season, like how to race alone. We brought a good team here, and they supported me, but in the mountains they suffered. We only have one life, and we have to enjoy it. That’s what I came here for, and I achieved it. Now it’s time to rest.”
With Contador out of contention, this is the first time since 1996 a Spanish rider is not on the Vuelta podium.