Contador displays improved form in Tirreno-Adriatico stage win

Alberto Contador nabbed his first WorldTour victory in more than a year Saturday at Tirreno-Adriatico, a sign he is back to form

SELVAROTONDA, Italy (VN) — Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) won his first UCI WorldTour race in a year and a half Saturday at Tirreno-Adriatico. On the fourth stage, the mountaintop finish in Lazio, the Spaniard over-powered Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and moved closer to the overall lead.

“After a difficult year, he’s back,” Tinkoff sport director Phillippe Mauduit told VeloNews. “The team worked, Roman [Kreuziger] attacked and the boss won.”

Contador put one second into Quintana but 20 seconds, including bonuses, into overall leader Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step). He now sits only 16 seconds behind with tomorrow’s stage to Guardiagrele. It is a good spot to be in after a dry spell.

Contador’s last big win came via the Vuelta a España overall title in 2012. Last year he won only one race, a stage in the 2.1-ranked Tour de San Luis. The season was nowhere near as good as his pre-doping ban years and it was his worst season in terms of victories since his rookie year in 2003.

The 31-year-old, who lives near Madrid, tried but was unable to out-gun his rivals the way he used to at the 2013 Tour de France. He won two titles before but last year he managed only a fourth-place finish. Instead of pushing on to defend his Vuelta title, he eased off ahead of 2014.

“We spoke a lot about what he did last year,” Mauduit said. “What happened last year was normal after all the years of fighting against teammates, against teams, against other things. He had to breathe last year. Mentally it was hard. He kept fighting and kept working but it was simply hard. Everyone can understand that, he’s human.”

Contador appears to have put 2013 behind him after a stage victory at the Volta ao Algarve last month and the win Saturday after 244 kilometers, which included a 14km climb to Selvarotonda. The blue overall leader’s jersey is within Contador’s reach tomorrow.

“It’s a great win,” Contador said at the sunny but cold finish in Selvarotonda. “It gives me confidence and confirms that all the work that I’ve been doing in the winter is paying off. I’m content to win, but the GC is going to be hard to crack. I’ll try though.”

The yellow and blue Russian-Danish team has tried over the last four days. In the opening day team time trial, team manager Bjarne Riis hugged his riders after they crossed the line. Their fourth-place performance, though not a win, put Contador in contention. Tinkoff lined out the stage finish on Friday, and delivered Contador with the leader’s group.

On Saturday’s final climb, Movistar rode at the front, but Tinkoff attacked. Riis sent Kreuziger up the road with just under 7km left to attract rival teams. Robert Kiserlovski (Trek Factory Racing) and Michele Scarponi (Astana) responded. Quintana and Contador followed. After a lull, Contador surged ahead in the final 500 meters.

“It’s going well and we are seeing what we want to see,” Riis told VeloNews. “He is sharp, good, motivated, and hungry for winning. It’s beautiful to see.”