Alberto Contador’s dream comeback became reality in Madrid on Sunday as he confirmed his victory in this year’s Vuelta a España.
The Madrileño, who was racing in his first major race after completing a two-year ban for doping on August 5, had all-but assured the win following a calculated performance in Saturday’s penultimate stage in the Madrid mountains. But his second Vuelta triumph, after his victory in 2008, became his to savor after a final stage won by German sprinter John Degenkolb.
Alejandro Valverde finished overall second and Joaquim “Purito” Rodríguez was third to complete an all-Spanish podium.
Contador had expertly managed the gap between himself and Rodríguez and Valverde on Saturday’s 170.7-kilometer Stage 20 La Faisanera Golf to the peak of Bola del Mundo.
It was a stage that was very painful on the knees, but I will always remember it”
Both Valverde and Rodríguez broke away during the final kilometers of the stage, which was won by Russian Denis Menchov of Katusha, but Contador ensured they never troubled his cushion in the overall standings.
The Saxo Bank rider finished the stage 1:16 clear of second-place Valverde and 1:37 ahead of Rodríguez.
“It was a stage that was very painful on the knees, but I will always remember it,” he said.
“I devoted myself to controlling Alejandro and Joaquim. I knew that as each kilometer passed, I was closer to achieving it. When Purito attacked there was less than 1,500 meters to go and I was conscious that the differences on La Bola are minimal, so I tried to stay attentive.”
Contador had turned the Vuelta upside down in the Cantabrian mountains on Wednesday’s Stage 17 from Santander to Fuente Dé when he attacked 13 kilometers from the line to earn his first stage win of the Vuelta and snatch the overall lead from Rodríguez.
“There were moments when it was difficult, but I thought I had a chance and bet on myself. Because if I hadn’t trusted in what I was capable of I wouldn’t have attacked in Fuente Dé," said the Spaniard, who had not competed for six months.
In February the Court of Arbitration for Sport handed him a backdated two-year ban and stripped him of his 2010 Tour de France and 2011 Giro d’Italia titles for testing positive for the banned substance clenbuterol during the 2010 Tour. “Due to the history that came with it, this victory is very special for me,” said Contador.