It’s the stuff of legends.
In the ultimate mountain stage of the 2017 Vuelta a Espana, with rain making for a treacherous race, Alberto Contador, as he has done hundreds of times in his career, attacked.
After following teammate Jarlinson Pantano’s acceleration on the slick and dangerous descent ahead of the 12-kilometer climb that ended stage 20, Contador set off at the bottom and by the top of the iconic ascent had added one final, glorious stamp to his amazing passport of palmarès.
Contador’s celebration will be his last, and certainly, it will be one of his most meaningful. It has been a roller coaster ride in his final season, never achieving what he hoped for, but only legends can rise to the occasion in the last opportunity, and Contador did just that with a fantastic and historic win atop the Angliru.
Contador said: “The truth is it has been a very, very special day. I think it’s very difficult to say good bye in a better way than this, in this place, in this event. In the end, it’s a full stop at the end of a career in which I have done everything I wanted. I think it’s been a beautiful Vuelta even though I am not on the podium. But perhaps if I had been in contention for the overall podium I would have ridden in a different way, more conservative, and instead I have ridden the race I have ridden – I look at the photos, and almost every day there are pictures of me alone because I have been on the attack.”
Contador fell short of the final podium by 20 seconds, but it mattered little – he finished his career on top, and he did it in the only way he knows how. It was a thrilling show of panache as he fought his way up the Angliru in front of thousands of home country fans, and when he pointed his famous gesture for the final time as he crossed the line, it gave goosebumps to even the most stoic.
“I knew it was going to be a very special day, the road full of people and everyone watching the stage, and I set the goal for myself of winning on the Angliru,” continued Contador. “This morning I wanted to win, and when I crossed the line, I thought to myself: goal completed.”
“In the end, we couldn’t take the podium, but this is not what’s important,” added Contador. “What’s important is to take the victory of the stage and finish with this result for the rest of my life.”
All this was made possible by the warriors surrounding Contador. His teammates pulled in the first half of the short 117.5-kilometer stage to keep an 18-man breakaway in check, keeping them at roughly one minute.
When the climbing started his trusted lieutenant, Pantano, went to work. Pantano not only paced Contador up the ascents but also led him safely down the other side, crucial on the final slick descent where numerous crashes occurred. It was here that the pair created a gap on the rivals, which opened the door for his last attack.
“I spoke with teammates ahead yesterday and said that tomorrow could be one day for the history. They gave 100% to control the first part of the race. All the riders helped me, and especially Pantano for the descent of the Cordal. We started the Angliru with some seconds to the rivals, and then I knew it was my time and I needed to give the maximum until the top and try to win,” explained Contador.
“Today’s attack was different because it was an attack on the descent. It’s unusual in the history of cycling for this on a dangerous descent, but Jarlinson attacked, and I went with him,” he added.
That gap was all they needed. Pantano threw everything he had left into the first part of the Angliru, emptying himself to a standstill, and Contador finished his work, paying back his team with a victory, and giving the fans a farewell to remember.
“I have been able to enjoy the affection of all the people who say thank you to me. It’s been a remarkable month, unforgettable,” ended Contador. “I think in the future it’ll be remembered that in my last day of competition, I finished it with a win.”