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by Shane Stokes
September 15, 2014
Playing things cautiously rather than taking chances in the wet, technical conditions, Alberto Contador sealed victory in the Vuelta a España with a conservative ride in the final time trial in Santiago de Compostela.
The Spaniard notched up the sixth Grand Tour win of his career at the end of the 9.7 kilometre test, celebrating inside the final kilometre while also negotiating some tricky, damp corners.
He coasted in for 101st place, but wasn’t worried about the placing; like the other general classification contenders – and unlike those who started earlier in the evening – he had to contend with drying roads which still posted a threat of a crash.
Contador put the emphasis on staying safe. Closest rival Chris Froome (Sky) pushed things a little more while also not taking any real risks. He finished 63rd, while Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) sealed his own place on the podium with a quicker 32nd.
Fastest in the time trial was the Italian Adriano Malori, who bookended his Movistar team’s Vuelta after it had also won the opening day team time trial. He went off in dry conditions and clocked an impressive 11 minutes 12 seconds for the 9.7 kilometre distance; this was eight seconds better than Jesse Sergent (Trek Factory Racing) and a further second quicker than Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing Team), who had looked to be on course to win the test but who crashed towards the end of his effort.
The final TT result saw Contador end the race one minute ten seconds clear of Froome and one minute 50 up on Valverde. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Fabio Aru (Astana) were fourth and fifth, three minutes 25 seconds and four minutes 48 seconds back respectively.
John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) took the green points jersey ahead of Valverde and Contador, while Luis Leon Sanchez (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) was best climber. Contador was second in that contest and won the combination classification.
“This has been a great Vuelta for the team,” said a very pleased Malori. “I won the last stage, Valverde is on the podium. Taking a stage victory here is great, it is another one for the team.
“Many of the big time trial specialists left the race before but there were still some very good riders here so I can take pleasure from the result in the time trial.”
However he ruled out any notion that he could have beaten Tony Martin if he had still been in the race. “No, no,” he smiled, when asked. “Obviously these guys are huge specialists.”
The final time trial of the Vuelta a España was much more typical of a prologue, with its short 9.7 kilometre distance and resulting high speeds more typically seen at the start of a three week tour rather than at the end.
The race organisers had hoped that overall gaps would be tight and thus there would still be something to fight for in terms of the general classification but, given the amount of tough climbing stages, it was always going to be unlikely that the short test would be a decider.
So it proved, with the GC time gaps at the start of the stage unlikely to change without crashes or serious mechanical issues.
Italian rider Adriano Malori (Movistar) set the early best time, eight seconds faster than Jesse Sergent (Trek Factory Racing). He accepted after the race that he was unsure about holding on, given the calibre of riders yet to roll out, but one the rain started falling it made things much more secure for him.
Despite that, Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing Team) appeared to be a threat when he went fastest at the final time split, but crashed coming in towards the finish and lost his chance. He ended up nine seconds back and rued what might have been.
The general classification riders got underway but it quickly became clear that they would not be troubling Malori’s marker. Safety was the priority and with numerous twists and turns on the course, as well as pavestones and other such road surfaces, it was impossible to fight for the stage without taking serious risks.
The GC riders came and went without anyone going close. Contador started his test looking focussed, but with his crash in the Tour de France still fresh on his mind he was certain not to overcook things. Chris Froome was fully committed, looking to take what would be – unbelievably – Sky’s first Grand Tour stage victory of the year and, in the case of any weakness or problems for Contador, the final red jersey.
However he too would have to exercise caution, thus making his stage-hunting goal very difficult.
Fabo Aru came in for a provisional 100th place, while Rodriguez was considerably better with 55th. Valverde was also giving it everything, riding flat out on the straight roads but also being forced to show caution on the bends. He ended up a provisional 32nd, ending the race well.
Froome thundered in towards the finish but lost too much time on the twist and turns, ending the test in a provisional 63rd.
Wearing the red jersey, Contador was the last rider on the course and rode along to huge support from the Spanish fans. He was visibly more guarded than Froome, riding with restraint and caution. He raced in for 101st, raising his right fist in the air several times in celebration and grinning broadly.
His ride saw him seal the sixth Grand Tour of his career and third Vuelta a España title; it also saw him bounce back from a fracture in the Tour de France, clocking up a performance which moves him back to the top of the WorldTour standings and which caps off what has been one of the best seasons of his career.