There were no ‘pistolero’ gestures into Santander – it wasn’t a moment for playing to the photo opportunity.
Just sheer joy of a man being back where he belongs – if you’ve taken the knocks and clawed back, then you’ll know that feeling.
Alberto Contador Velasco has taken the knocks; he was close to death in 2004 when he suffered a cerebral cavernoma during the Vuelta a Asturias; in 2009 he had to fight not only the other 21 teams in the race but also half of his own Astana team as Lance made his ill-starred return; and he had to watch as his name was crossed off last year’s Giro result as a result of a controversial ‘positive.’
A slight, wiry man, simpatico and approachable, he’s not a seeker of the limelight off the bike – but on that Specialized he’s a ruthless, killer.
When it became apparent that Rodriguez was having a post-rest day ‘blockage,’ as the red jersey struggled in the face of a flurry of early attacks, Contador exploited the situation immediately and with one goal in mind – to take that red jersey.
With 48 kilometres covered in the first hour the live TV feed kicked in with only 30-odd kilometres until the finish.
Contador was in the break with team mate, Sergio Paulinho.
The Portuguese is a quality rider with World U23 TT and Olympic Road Race medals to his name as well as stage wins in the Vuelta and Tour.
But when he gestured he was about to swing off, Contador was having none of it, barking at his team mate to stay put and give him the last drops.
The reason became clear soon after as Contador went for the sprint bonus – every second a prisoner in his race for red.
Only his amigo and former team mate Paolo Tiralongo could go with him – and remember that stage win ‘Bert’ gave him in 2011 at the Giro?
The wiry Italian gave his all for Contador; with the Saxo-Tinkoff team car rewarding the Astana man’s labours with a fresh bidon.
But once he was ‘empty’ Contador was away, solo without a backward glance.
Behind, Rodriguez didn’t look like the rider we’ve been watching for the last two weeks, I sent a text to Dan Fleeman; ‘has he sold it?’
Dan’s reply was succinct; ‘No chance!‘
Katusha have been paying 10,000 Euros a time to helicopter him off the mountain top finishes.
Plus he must be sick of podium finishes but not getting the win.’
The other thought I had was that perhaps his legs were ‘blocked’ after the rest day; Dave Chapman heard that Rodriguez didn’t go for a leg loosener on Tuesday.
“Blocked legs after the rest day is likely; but also a bit of complacency – this wasn’t expected to be a hard day.”
Whatever the reason, Rodriguez was completely isolated; initially he had Losada – but a man can only work at that level for so long…
Valverde was another of Contador’s victims; but he had help in the form of team mate Intxausti who had originally been in the break with the Saxo-Tinkoff man and ‘came back’ to his boss.
Valverde is another man who has no problems with a leader’s role; ‘Vamos!’ he yelled at his Intxausti as he sat on his team mate’s wheel.
Just like at Saxo-Tinkoff, you earn that big monthly salary on Movistar.
But despite Valverde’s best efforts, the day was all about Alberto Contador – untwisting his wiry frame like a spring being unleashed as he crossed the line, roaring with joy and revealing those perfect teeth of his.
Valverde took second place in Santander and the bonus which goes with it, just six seconds back, whilst Rodriguez trailed in tenth at 2’38”, not as bad as it could have been, but bad enough to drop to third on GC.
It was hard not to feel sympathy for the gallant Catalan, but the Grand Tours are a shark pool and whilst Contador may not look like Great White, he has the instincts of one, and more.
Let’s not say that the race is won, we said that about Rodriguez and look what happened.
But we can say that it will be very hard for anyone to wrest that red jersey from Contador and those skinny, self sacrificing animated skeletons he has around him.
And before we go, let’s have a look at what the Spanish Press has to say, courtesy of ‘our man in Havana’ – well, Alicante actually, Al Hamilton.
Sports daily, AS has gone with “Contador, for Eternity“;
“An historical exhibition by Alberto Contador, the Tour leader and virtual champion […]
“An offensive which reminds us of Hinault in 1983 and Perico Delgado in 1985.
“We must go back nearly thirty years in the history of the Vuelta to find an attack as risky as the counter attack which will eventually change the winner of the race.”
Marca headlines: “Contador le da la Vuelta“;
“‘I had a devil in my ear telling me to attack’ Alberto Contador said upon his arrival at Fuente Dé, where he won the stage and is now leader of the Vuelta, with today a day which will remain in the memory of all.”
It’s going to grim when the Vuelta ends on Sunday – thank goodness it’s only another week until the Worlds.
Thank you Alberto and commiserations and respect to you, Joaquim.
Results - La Vuelta a España 2012 - Stage 17
2 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:06
3 Sergio Luis Henao Montoya (Col) Sky Procycling
4 Gorka Verdugo Marcotegui (Spa) Euskaltel – Euskadi
5 Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale 0:00:19
6 Jan Bakelants (Bel) Radioshack-Nissan 0:00:55
7 Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:13
8 Alexandre Geniez (Fra) Argos-Shimano 0:01:40
9 Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:02:13
10 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 0:02:38
11 Jesus Hernandez Blazquez (Spa) Saxo Bank – Tinkoff Bank
12 Nairo Alexander Quintana Rojas (Col) Movistar Team
13 Arnold Jeannesson (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat 0:03:03
14 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre – ISD 0:03:18
15 Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:04:05
16 Mikel Landa Meana (Spa) Euskaltel – Euskadi 0:04:17
17 Przemyslaw Niemiec (Pol) Lampre – ISD 0:04:48
18 Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin – Sharp
19 Gianni Meersman (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team
20 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team
21 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team
22 Tomasz Marczynski (Pol) Vacansoleil-Dcm Pro Cycling Team
23 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Radioshack-Nissan
24 Bart De Clercq (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team
25 Eros Capecchi (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale
26 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale
27 Maxime Bouet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
28 Winner Anacona Gomez (Col) Lampre – ISD
29 Rémi Pauriol (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat
30 Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa) Euskaltel – Euskadi
31 David Moncoutie (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne
32 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:04:58
33 Sergio Miguel Moreira Paulinho (Por) Saxo Bank – Tinkoff Bank 0:05:10
34 Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling 0:05:19
35 Serge Pauwels (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quickstep
36 Javier Moreno Bazan (Spa) Movistar Team
37 Andre Fernando S. Martins Cardoso (Por) Caja Rural 0:05:28
38 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team
39 Marcos Garcia (Spa) Caja Rural 0:05:32
40 Ivan Velasco Murillo (Spa) Euskaltel – Euskadi 0:05:43
41 Alessandro Ballan (Ita) BMC Racing Team 0:06:01
42 Leonardo Fabio Duque (Col) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne 0:07:14
43 Kevin De Weert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quickstep 0:07:55
44 Bruno Pires (Por) Saxo Bank – Tinkoff Bank
45 Mikel Astarloza Chaurreau (Spa) Euskaltel – Euskadi 0:09:21
46 Marco Marzano (Ita) Lampre – ISD
47 Rafal Majka (Pol) Saxo Bank – Tinkoff Bank 0:12:31
48 Ben Swift (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:18:29
49 Danny Pate (USA) Sky Procycling
50 Alberto Losada Alguacil (Spa) Katusha Team 0:20:22
51 Yukihiro Doi (Jpn) Argos-Shimano 0:20:51
52 Stef Clement (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team
53 Kristof Vandewalle (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quickstep
54 Dario Cataldo (Ita) Omega Pharma-Quickstep
55 Martijn Keizer (Ned) Vacansoleil-Dcm Pro Cycling Team
56 Fredrik Carl Wilhelm Kessiakoff (Swe) Astana Pro Team
57 Bertjan Lindeman (Ned) Vacansoleil-Dcm Pro Cycling Team
58 Wesley Sulzberger (Aus) Orica – GreenEdge
59 Cayetano José Sarmiento Tunarrosa (Col) Liquigas-Cannondale
60 Koldo Fernandez (Spa) Garmin – Sharp
61 Hernani Broco (Por) Caja Rural
62 Tiago Machado (Por) Radioshack-Nissan
63 Kevin Seeldraeyers (Bel) Astana Pro Team
64 Ruben Perez Moreno (Spa) Euskaltel – Euskadi
65 Jesus Rosendo Prado (Spa) Andalucia
66 Elia Viviani (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale
67 Maciej Paterski (Pol) Liquigas-Cannondale
68 Julian Dean (NZl) Orica – GreenEdge
69 Rudy Molard (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne
70 Egoitz Garcia Echeguibel (Spa) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne
71 Danail Andonov Petrov (Bul) Caja Rural
72 Mauro Da Dalto (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale
73 Michel Kreder (Ned) Garmin – Sharp
74 Markel Irizar Aranburu (Spa) Radioshack-Nissan
75 Cristiano Salerno (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale
76 Mickaël Buffaz (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne
77 Luis Angel Mate Mardones (Spa) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne
78 Juan Jose Oroz Ugalde (Spa) Euskaltel – Euskadi
79 Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Movistar Team
80 Vicente Reynes Mimo (Spa) Lotto Belisol Team
81 Amets Txurruka (Spa) Euskaltel – Euskadi
82 Grégory Rast (Swi) Radioshack-Nissan
83 Jose Vicente Toribio Alcolea (Spa) Andalucia
84 Florent Barle (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne
85 Johannes Fröhlinger (Ger) Argos-Shimano
86 Romain Sicard (Fra) Euskaltel – Euskadi
87 Frantisek Rabon (Cze) Omega Pharma-Quickstep
88 Maciej Bodnar (Pol) Liquigas-Cannondale
89 Frederik Willems (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team
90 Ben Gastauer (Lux) AG2R La Mondiale
91 Linus Gerdemann (Ger) Radioshack-Nissan
92 Javier Ramirez Abeja (Spa) Andalucia
93 Klaas Lodewyck (Bel) BMC Racing Team
94 Adrian Palomares Villaplana (Spa) Andalucia
95 Daniel Navarro Garcia (Spa) Saxo Bank – Tinkoff Bank
96 Matteo Montaguti (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale
97 Thierry Hupond (Fra) Argos-Shimano
98 Pavel Brutt (Rus) Katusha Team
99 Mauro Santambrogio (Ita) BMC Racing Team
100 Oleksandr Kvachuk (Ukr) Lampre – ISD
101 Pablo Lastras Garcia (Spa) Movistar Team
102 Gatis Smukulis (Lat) Katusha Team
103 Nicki Sörensen (Den) Saxo Bank – Tinkoff Bank
104 Blel Kadri (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
105 Matti Breschel (Den) Rabobank Cycling Team
106 Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Omega Pharma-Quickstep
107 Simon Clarke (Aus) Orica – GreenEdge
108 Benjamin Noval Gonzalez (Spa) Saxo Bank – Tinkoff Bank
109 Thomas Dekker (Ned) Garmin – Sharp
110 Matteo Tosatto (Ita) Saxo Bank – Tinkoff Bank
111 Lloyd Mondory (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
112 Juan Manuel Garate (Spa) Rabobank Cycling Team
113 Xavier Florencio Cabre (Spa) Katusha Team
114 Daniel Teklehaymanot (Eri) Orica – GreenEdge
115 Wouter Mol (Ned) Vacansoleil-Dcm Pro Cycling Team
116 Grischa Niermann (Ger) Rabobank Cycling Team
117 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing Team
118 Lars Boom (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team
119 Imanol Erviti Ollo (Spa) Movistar Team
120 Pieter Weening (Ned) Orica – GreenEdge
121 Denis Menchov (Rus) Katusha Team
122 Tiziano Dall’antonia (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale
123 Sergio Carrasco Garcia (Spa) Andalucia
124 Gabriel Rasch (Nor) FDJ-Big Mat
125 Gert Steegmans (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quickstep
126 Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Spa) Sky Procycling
127 Adam Hansen (Aus) Lotto Belisol Team
128 Mikhail Ignatyev (Rus) Katusha Team
129 Gustavo Cesar Veloso (Spa) Andalucia
130 David De La Fuente Rasilla (Spa) Caja Rural