April 12 (Reuters) – Alberto Contador produced a blistering time trial performance and easily held off nearest challenger and fellow Spaniard Alejandro Valverde to wrap up his third triumph at the Tour of the Basque Country on Saturday.
Tinkoff-Saxo rider Contador, who won the race in northern Spain in 2008 and 2009, showed he is getting back to something close to his best with the Tour de France starting in just under three months when he came in second behind German Tony Martin in the sixth and final stage.
Omega Pharma-Quick-Step’s Martin, a time trial specialist, completed the 26-kilometre course in 38 minutes and 33 seconds, with Contador a mere seven seconds slower in second and Martin’s team mate Michal Kwiatkowski a further eight seconds behind.
Valverde of Movistar Team, who was 12 seconds behind Contador in second overall overnight, was eighth in the time trial and missed out on a podium place in fifth.
Pole Kwiatkowski was second overall and Frenchman Jean-Christophe Peraud of Ag2r La Mondiale third.
“I am extremely pleased,” Contador, who last month won the Tirreno-Adriatico and was second in the Tour of Catalunya, said on the race website (www.vueltapaisvasco.diariovasco.com).
“Winning the time trial or not was of secondary importance, I was close, but being second behind Martin is like a victory,” he added.
“I couldn’t have imagined things would go so well this season and in this race.”
A two-time Tour de France winner, Contador is expected to mount more of a challenge in the 2014 edition of cycling’s most prestigious race, which starts in the English city of Leeds on July 5.
(Writing by Iain Rogers in Madrid, editing by Martyn Herman)