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Contador winds down season with big win in Italy

Contador says he's mulling the Giro after his Milan-Torino win, but Tour is top goal for 2013 and with a reinforced Saxo Bank squad

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LEON, Spain (VN) — Hot off his victory Wednesday at Milan-Torino, Alberto Contador wraps up an emotional, intense season this weekend with the Giro di Lombardia.

The midweek semi-classic was Contador’s first one-day victory of his career and caps a rollercoaster year marked by the disappointment of his clenbuterol ban in February and the triumph of his victorious return at the Vuelta a España earlier this month.

“I weigh 2.4kg more than I did at the Vuelta,” Contador said. “This win was a full effort. And a special victory as well.”

Contador dedicated the win to Victor Cadebo, the young Euskaltel-Euskadi rider killed last week when he collided with a car and fell into a ravine during a training ride in Spain.

The Italian semi-classic, back after a four-year hiatus, marked a milestone of sorts for Contador. Renowned as a stage racer, other than the Spanish national time trial title, he had never won a one-day race before in his career.

All that changed Wednesday when Contador nailed the victory with a well-timed attack up the Superga, a win that comes on the heels of his equally explosive racing during the elite men’s world championship road race on Sunday in the Netherlands.

Not counting his disqualified results from the 2010 Tour through this summer, Contador is the king of stage races.

Since 2003, he has won 15 stage races and 31 stages. He had five stage races — the 2010 Tour, 2011 Giro and the 2011 Murcia, Castilla y León and Catalunya tours — erased by the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling this year.

With Saturday’s Lombardia classic, the “Pistolero del Pinto” has one more shot before pulling the plug on 2012 for good. And with that, he will close another chaotic chapter in his sometimes-tumultuous career.

Just how rough a ride Contador has had this season is exemplified by the simple decision of when he wanted to end his season.

Contador was planning on racing the Tour of Beijing next month, but the UCI has refused to budge on its tough stance of not allowing points to be awarded to riders coming off a ban for two additional years.

That ruling has put Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank on the ropes, at least until the arrival of new Russian backer Oleg Tinkov, who is giving team boss Bjarne Riis the purse strings to sign riders with top points to assure the team’s presence in the WorldTour in 2013.

Riis is challenging the rule at the CAS and said he would not take Contador to China to support a race owned by the UCI when the cycling federation, at least in Riis’ view, is treating Contador unfairly.

McQuaid defended the rules, saying last week that the points ban is one more deterrent for would-be cheaters.

“We need to put as many regulations into the system to assure that dopers, past dopers, and their entourage are kept out of the sport,” McQuaid said. “It’s another means to insure that riders think twice before they go into a doping program. It’s not against Alberto Contador or Saxo Bank. The rule is there for everybody.”

Contador, meanwhile, is already looking to put his troubles behind him and plan for the 2013 season, with the Tour de France as the primary objective.

“The Tour will be the top goal next season,” Contador said. “I want to arrive at the Tour in peak form and try to win the yellow jersey again. We have to see what kind of course is offered, but the Tour will be the main objective.”

Speaking to La Gazzetta dello Sport, Contador said he is also considering racing the Giro d’Italia, which he won in 2008 and again in 2011 until that victory was annulled by the CAS as part of his backdated, two-year ban.

“The Giro is a possibility,” Contador said after Wednesday’s emotional victory run up the Superga climb above Torino. “I love racing in Italy. Ever since I discovered Italy in 2008 when I came unexpectedly to the Giro, the fans have embraced me. There’s a special charm of racing in Italy that’s unique.”

Contador, however, is likely playing nice to the local media. If the Tour is indeed his top goal next season, he will almost certainly not want to race the Giro before hitting the demands of the French tour.

Last year, Contador faltered in the Tour after racing and winning a grueling Giro. Though he raced the 2011 Tour unexpectedly after his CAS hearing was delayed, opening the door for his start, Contador never fully recovered from the hard Giro effort and finished fifth overall, his worst Tour showing since he was 30th in his Tour debut in 2005.

Though both the 2011 Giro win and 2010 Tour victory were erased from his official palmarès as a result of the CAS ruling, last year’s Tour was the first grand tour he did not win since his 2005 debut.

Contador’s impressive grand tour record continued with this year’s Vuelta, which came down to the wire in an intense battle against a stubborn Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha). It took a daring, improvised attack that caught Rodríguez off-guard on the road to Fuente Dé to snatch away the red leader’s jersey.

Riis warned that Contador next season will be even stronger than what the peloton saw in the 2012 Vuelta.

“Alberto came into the Vuelta far from his best. He did not race since February. He prepared the best he could, but he was clearly not at his top form,” Riis said. “The Vuelta will make him stronger. Next year we can have a proper approach to the Tour.”

If Contador will race two grand tours, it would more likely be the Vuelta after the Tour. Contador’s presence in this year’s Vuelta pumped new energy into the Spanish tour and organizers can be expected to produce another Contador-friendly route for the 2013 edition.

A much deeper Saxo Bank squad will give Contador much more support throughout the season as well. Confirmed arrivals include Roman Kreuziger, Alexandr Kolobnev, Marzio Bruseghin, Olivier Zaugg, Nicholas Roche, Matti Breschel and Daniele Bennati. David Arroyo, second in the 2010 Giro, is also said to be ready to join Saxo Bank next season. The team is expected to announce additional signings soon.

“Having a stronger team will only be a plus,” Contador said. “You need a strong team to win grand tours. Riis has done a great job and has pulled everything together perfectly.”

Love him or hate him, Contador is back and promising to keep racing guns a’ blazing.

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