It’s rare that a rider can end his career how he wants, when he wants, where he wants. So the fact that Alberto Contador did just that makes his solo stage win on Angliru that much more spectacular. An iconic climb for an iconic rider. Right behind Baby Blackbird today was Chris Froome (okay, technically Wout Poels then Froome), who made sure he got up that climb without incident and without sacrificing any time to any of his rivals to be just one stage away from doing the Tour-Vuelta double. Vincenzo Nibali kept his second step on the podium while Ilnur Zakarin toppled Wilco Kelderman to finish third in the GC.
Rider of the RaceEmbed from Getty Images
Alberto Contador is just one stage away from retirement – something that has put his fans into a deep funk. But he will go out in the racing style that has set him apart from just about every other rider in the current peloton. Losing a whole load of time in Andorra at the start of the grand tour, it was always going to be a quixotic effort to win the Vuelta, but Baby Blackbird made sure that he put on a show and gave us enough attacking during the stages to make an otherwise controlled Vuelta unpredictable.
Today was no different. He said he would ride with everything he had and leave it all out on the road. That he would make the most of his last mountain stage ever. And he did just that, winning solo atop of the brutal and iconic Angliru, after a thrilling ride – often hindered by roadside clowns – that had him grimacing and fighting up double-digit inclines while an awakened Sky pair made a dash to catch him up. From an advantage of around 1.25 at one point on the road to a mere 17 seconds when Poels and Froome crossed the line behind him, Contador had to work hard for this victory and it’s all the sweeter for it.
Chapeau, Baby Blackbird. We will miss you.
Doing the double
The high drama and emotion of the finish of this stage did overshadow Chris Froome‘s accomplishment – or near accomplishment as he still has to cross the finish line in Madrid tomorrow – which will be only the third rider in history to win the Tour/Vuelta double in the same year. The last time this happened was 1978 with Bernard Hinault while Jacques Anquetil was the first rider to accomplish the feat, in 1963. By tomorrow evening, Froome will have won 5 grand tours – but he still has a ways to go to match his fellow doublers for overall grand tour wins – Anquetil has 8 and Hinault has 10.
Froome donned the red jersey on stage 3 and only on the rare occasion did it look like he might give it up. This was largely due to the way his team rode for him – that familiar Skytrain that blows everyone off the French mountains in July did the same in Spain as summer turned to autumn. Froome was rarely isolated in stages and the team were better drilled and stronger for longer than any other. The fact that the stage wins were dominated by break winners (I can think of 10 off the top of my head) – and many of those were maiden grand tour or WorldTour victories for the winners – showed that Sky was going to keep the other GC contenders well and truly under their thumb and they didn’t want any dramatics. It’s not the kind of grand tour racing that makes my heart palpitate but as John Galloway of the Velocast often says, Sky’s job is to win, not entertain. They did their job perfectly.
Little kids in specs
There’s nothing I love more than little kids in specs – except maybe dogs in wigs. This little guy is a joy.
And here’s a dog in a wig – but he wasn’t at the Vuelta.
Top 5 stage
1 Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) 3:31:33
2 Wout Poels (Team Sky) +0:17
3 Chris Froome (Team Sky) same time
4 Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) +0:35
5 Franco Pellizotti (Bahrain-Merida) +0:51
Top 5 GC
1 Chris Froome (Sky) 79:23:37
2 Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain Merida) +2:15
3 Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) +2:51
4 Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) +3:11
5 Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) +3:15
All the jerseys
Leader: Chris Froome (Sky)
Points: Chris Froome (Sky)
KOM: Davide Villella (Cannondale-Drapac)
Combined: Chris Froome (Sky)
Team Classification: Astana
Most Aggressive Rider: Enric Mas (Quick-Step)
For race reviews, go to CyclingNews; official La Vuelta website is here
Header image: Alberto Contador ©GETTY / AFP / Jose Jordan
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Awesome Stage, one of the most exciting in the last few years. Thanks for the chronicle.