The end-of-season battle for the UCI WorldTour title between Alberto Contador and Alejandro Valverde, along with their Tinkoff-Saxo and Movistar teams, is going down to the wire.
Contador saw his slender, 14-point lead to archrival Valverde dissolve in a wild finale Sunday at the Giro di Lombardia, with Contador kissing the pavement. Valverde dashed to second behind winner Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp), and retook the WorldTour lead.
Valverde earned 80 points to bounce back into the top spot, with the five-day Tour of Beijing set to decide the WorldTour crown. Contador was well placed in the lead chase group, but crashed in the final corner and missed out on points awarded to the top-10 finishers in the Italian monument. He crossed the line 34th, and was worried after falling heavily on the same knee he injured in his crash at the Tour de France in July.
“In the final corner, someone crashed right in front of me and I didn’t have time to react. I went down and several riders came from behind and crashed into me. There was simply nothing I could do,” Contador said in a press release after the race.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t escape unharmed,” he said. “I’ve sustained an injury to my left knee, which is the same one I hurt in the Tour and I also have some bruises on my elbow. It’s unlucky that it was the knee again but I think it’s not too serious. I’ll put some ice on it and hopefully I’ll be ready to go.”
Contador’s knee was swollen after the fall, and now he might not race the Beijing tour. If he decides not to go, the individual title will be assured for Valverde.
“Right now, the most important thing is to see how my knee feels tonight and tomorrow morning, when the initial swelling has subsided,” Contador said. “Right now it’s not important. He gained points and is now 66 points ahead of me. I will keep my eyes on Tour of Beijing and hopefully I’ll be able to compete.”
Valverde and Contador have been seesawing for the WorldTour lead all season. Contador held an early lead following his phenomenal spring, but his early exit from the Tour de France allowed Valverde to battle back. He backed up his fourth place overall at the Tour with victory at the Clásica San Sebastian to take the WorldTour lead.
Contador took it back with an overall victory at the Vuelta a España, but Sunday’s Lombardia could very well tip the scale to Valverde.
Valverde now leads with 686 points to Contador’s 620. Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) is a distant third with 478 points.
On Sunday, Martin uncorked a long sprint to surprise Valverde, who managed to cross the line second in the Italian classic, pushing him back into the WorldTour lead.
“I had the legs to win the race and I’m a bit sad about that, but nothing is taken for granted in pro cycling,” Valverde said in a team release. “Everyone was looking at me when Martin attacked, they left all responsibility on my shoulders to go after him. I just couldn’t control everything in the end and we had to sprint for second place.”
Valverde retakes the WorldTour lead, a testament to his impressive consistency across the 2014 season. In 77 days of racing this season, Valverde has won 11 races, finished on the podium 27 times, and rode into the top-10 another 43 occasions.
Valverde will be in the driver’s seat going into Beijing, which has 100 points up for grabs for the winner, and more for stages and placings.
“I am happy about the day’s result,” Valverde said. “The team worked well, and I achieved the goal of retaking the WorldTour lead. Things look good going into the final race, so we can manage things well in Beijing.”
Movistar also widened its team standings lead to Tinkoff, with 1,440 points to 1,186 points.