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Alberto Contador's 50km to go winning attack
Sep 6th, 12. Alberto Contador is now a stage winner and the Vuelta Espana tour leader after a daring attack 50km before the finish line saw him leave Joaquim Rodriguez, who he had been trailling by 22sec on GC, behind for good.
Rodriguez (Katusha), who had the red leader's jersey for the last 13 stages, finished today's Stage 17 2m38s down, giving Contador the tour lead 1m52s ahead of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) who also had a fantastic day today.
The mountain top finishes of the last stages of this tour have seen great duels between Contador (SaxoBank Tinkoff Bank) and Rodriguez, but today Contador did not wait for the final kilometres to launch his attacks.
His first threatening move came in the first hour of racing when he and Valverde gained a gap on Rodriguez.
Katusha, however, were able to counter that move.
After Contador went again later, on the Cat 2 Collado La Hoz climb, he had gained a 16sec advantage on Valverde and Rodriguez by the summit, with 49km left to race.
With former teammate Paulo Tiralongo (Astana) with him, Contador kept up the fast pace then went on solo on what he later called a bit of a kamikazi mission - but a mission which ended with one of the best wins of his career.
“I had been thinking about attacking for 3km. A devil was telling me 'attack', and an angel on the other side was telling me to be careful ... but I decided to attack”, said Contador, who later thanked Tirolongo for his support.
With 11km to go, on the Cat 2 climb to the finish line, Contador had caught the last of an earlier breakaway and was alone at the front of the race with the chasers almost 2min behind.
Seeing an opportunity, Valverde launched from the group in chase of Contador.
While a few teammates followed, Rodriguez and former GC favourite Chris Froome (Team Sky) had no response.
Valverde and co. worked hard to find the front of the race. With 5km to go they were still 1min behind, but they kept reducing the time gap.
Contador was able to take the stage win, but only just. He won 6sec ahead of Valverde with Sergio Montoya (Team Sky) 3rd, also +6sec.
"I knew I had to try. I'm not at my best but I really wanted to do it, because while a second place is good - you always prefer to win," Contador said. "Today we have taken an important step towards overall victory.”
Rodriguez, who said he actually felt in good shape today, noted Contador put in a great performance.
“Alberto proved once again to be a great champion. Obviously I’m disappointed right now, but that’s cycling: you need to accept both victories and losses. Anyways, Vuelta has not finished yet: I will do my best to try to win in Bola de Mundo, trying to gain as many seconds as possible before Madrid."
Not surprisingly, Contador was awarded the Most Aggressive Rider today. Whilst Rodriguez lost his red leader's jersey, he retained the lead in both the Sprint and Combination classifications.
(The commentary is hard to understand, but the images are good)
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