Team Saxo Bank rider Alberto Contador of Spain crosses the finish line to win the 17th stage of the Tour of Spain “La Vuelta” cycling race between Santander and Fuente De, September 5, 2012. (REUTERS/Miguel Vidal)
By Alasdair Fotheringham
FUENTE DE, Spain, Sept 5 – A surprise attack netted Alberto Contador a stage win and the overall lead in the Vuelta a Espana on Wednesday.
As the Vuelta began its third and final week, Contador was trailing overnight leader Joaquim Rodriguez of Spain by 28 seconds and seemed to be facing almost certain defeat.
On a seemingly straightforward stage through the hills of Cantabria culminating in a long, steady climb to Fuente De deep in the Picos de Europa mountains, Contador took off with a group of 18 riders, then shed them one by one to go solo 13 kilometers from the line.
Rodriguez tried desperately to limit the gap with his fellow Spaniard but Contador crossed the finish line alone six seconds ahead of Alejandro Valverde and Colombia’s Sergio Henao.
The double Tour de France winner, who completed a doping ban on Aug. 5, now leads compatriot Valverde by one minute 52 seconds. Rodriguez, 10th in the stage 2:38 back, is third at 2:28 overall.
The 30-year-old Contador fought back tears as he told reporters that his attack on the ascent of the third-category climb of Collado de La Hoz had come after a “devilish little voice in my ear said: ‘Go for it, go for it’.
“At first I didn’t want to listen, but a move had already gone so I decided to go across to it and see what happened. It was a bit of a kamikaze move, but I thought I might as well try.”
Rodriguez and his team mate Alberto Losada desperately gave chase on the ascent to Fuente De but the overnight leader said it was an impossible task.
“I’ve lost the race but I couldn’t do anything else, Alberto was super-strong,” Rodriguez told reporters.
“I’d had millions of texts and emails from people telling me I’d as good as won the Vuelta and then look what happens on a day when you least expect it.
“But nobody could have expected it. This was a real surprise attack. At no point could I have expected a disaster like this to happen. He caught us all out, it was impossible to predict.”
Contador had repeatedly attacked Rodriguez on the Vuelta’s previous mountain stages, without success. He was cautious about whether he could now add a second Vuelta victory to his previous triumph in his home race in 2008.
“I don’t want to think about the future, I just want to enjoy the feelings I have now,” Contador said after hugging his mother and brother at the finish. “This is enough for me now.”
Four days of racing remain in the Vuelta, with one mountainous stage on Saturday to a summit finish at La Bola del Mundo in the Sierras of Madrid.