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Alberto Contador is poised to take the third Vuelta a España and sixth Grand Tour of his career on Sunday, with the Spaniard further bolstering his race lead with his second mountaintop victory in the race. Speaking after dropping Chris Froome to win atop the Puerto de Ancares, Contador said that beating the Briton has fired him up for the 2015 season.
“It’s very motivating because he’s the point of reference of world’s cycling,” he said post-race. “To be with him and to be able to beat him brings an extra motivation.”
Contador’s stage victory was important for a number of reasons. It prevented Froome from achieving his goal of getting closer to the race leader prior to the final time trial on Sunday and, of course, extended the Spaniard’s overall lead.
The time gain plus the bonus on offer will see him start Sunday’s final stage one minute and 37 seconds clear; barring a crash or another unforeseen misfortune, his lead will be more than enough to defend over the 9.7 kilometres against the clock.
In addition to that, the victory means that Contador has scored an important psychological point in the advance of a long off-season. Froome will have to wait for several months before he can try to bounce back against the Tinkoff Saxo rider in the mountains again, and that period may gnaw at his confidence.
Of course, Contador knows that the opposite could happen and it might give the Briton motivation to work even harder and to come back stronger. Because of that, he’s taking nothing for granted.
“Once next year will start, we’ll start everything from scratch again,” he said.
Nevertheless, even accepting that what is achieved today does not guarantee the same success in the future, he said that the victory was very important for him. “It’s very motivating to try and beat a rider of this calibre,” he said. “Considering the record book he’s got and the rhythm at which he’s able to ride, it’s encouraging to be able to challenge him.
“You always like to win against the world’s best riders. Truly, it’s motivating to win when it’s difficult.”
Contador knows how Froome feels; he was decisively beaten by the Sky rider in the 2013 Tour de France. He went into that race believing he could win but instead cracked in the final week and finished fourth.
“It was a challenge for me to return at the highest level,” he said, explaining how he had to turn things around. “Last year it seemed that my best years were behind me. I knew that I had many circumstances that prevented me from reaching my best level in 2013.
“It helped me to increase my motivation to work in every little way. I’ve never worked so hard. I remain frustrated not knowing what I could have done at the Tour but the rest of the season has been incredible.
Contador’s 2014 success started with a stage win in the Volta ao Algarve, and continued on with two stages plus the overall in Tirreno-Adriatico. His next victories were a stage and the overall in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco. He has finished on the podium of every stage race he has completed this season, although crashing out of the Tour de France was clearly a disappointment.
“This season has been a challenge. When I was asked if the Tour de France was my goal, I answered the whole season was my goal,” he said. “I managed to finish all my races in first or second position, minus the where I fell. It’s been a tremendous season.
Despite that, though, he is insisting that he will hold firm on his previous decision not to ride the world road race championships. The race is taking place in two weeks’ time on home soil but, even though the Ponferrada event might well be his only chance to win a world title in Spain, he said that he won’t be swayed.
The Spanish coach Javier Minguez has included him on his pre-selection list for the worlds, but Contador insists he’s not going.
“No, no, no. The truth is no,” he said, when asked if he had any last minute change of heart. “As I said, I took my decision. I told the coach. He included me in his pre-selection but it doesn’t change anything.
“Other riders will make the team and deliver a good race. The Spanish team is a favourite to get a medal. I think my colleagues will do a great job.”
For him, his focus is completely on a different jersey. He’s all but guaranteed to don the final red leader’s jersey Sunday evening in Santiago de Compostela and that, rather than the rainbow bands, is what he is concentrating on.