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Xavier Tondo (Cervélo TestTeam) is a revelation at the Vuelta a España at the ripe age of 31.
Going into Friday’s stage, the Spanish rider is quietly poised in third overall at the halfway point, just 1:04 back of race leader Igor Antón (Euskaltel-Euskadi). On Wednesday’s decisive stage into Andorra, Tondo attacked in the final kilometer and nearly captured the stage victory, crossing the line third at nine seconds back.
“I know this ascent to Pal very well. With the head wind, I’ve thought it was better not to follow Mosquera, Rodriguez and Nibali when they accelerated. I’ve preferred to keep my own rhythm and finish strongly,” Tondo said at the line. “I’ve caught Nibali, I finish third of the stage and I’ve very happy because Igor Antón was unbeatable anyway. I’m only one minute down on him on GC and there is still a long way to go at the Vuelta.”
Officially, Tondo came to the Vuelta to help 2008 Tour de France champion Carlos Sastre. Behind the scenes, Cervélo hopes that Spanish veteran can give the soon-to-be-closing team a triumphant exit through the “puerta grande” in its last major tour.
“I came into the Vuelta with some fears about my shape because I crashed at the Tour of Poland, but my condition is good,” Tondo told VeloNews. “I hope that we can fight for the victory.”
Tondo joined Cervélo this season after bouncing around minor Portuguese and Spanish teams throughout this career. A pro since 2003, he won the Tour of Portugal in 2007 and the Subida a Naranco in northern Spain in 2008. Last year with Andalucía-CajaSur, Tondo finally started his first grand tour at the Vuelta.
Those results finally earned him a ticket to the bigs with Cervélo, and he quickly made an impression, winning a stage at Paris-Nice and then claiming a stage and finishing second overall at the Volta a Catalunya on home roads.
Tondo should do even better in the brutal stages that await in northern Spain this weekend. A solid climber, Tondo can also defend in the time trial, so the podium is a very real option the way things stack up right now.
“Last year, I came into the Vuelta with big ambitions even if it was my first grand tour, but I crashed twice in the first week and it wasn’t possible to finish the race,” Tondo said. “Now I having good luck so far and I think we can go far.”
With Cervélo closing at the end of the year, Tondo’s future is already secure. He was one of the first riders to secure a contract, penning a deal to join Movistar (former Caisse d’Epargne) for 2011.
That’s a long road from small, minor teams to the most important Spanish team with a legacy that dates back to the Delgado-Indurain glory days of Banesto.
“It’s very important for me to be on the most important Spanish team,” Tondo explained. “I have always dreamed to race with this team. The team has a lot of future, and I hope I can be good there.”