VN Show: Contador’s epic farewell

Editor’s note: This VeloNews Show includes images from,, Flickr Creative Commons,, Vuelta a Espana

On this week’s episode of The VeloNews Show we analyze Alberto Contador’s awesome farewell attack on the Alto de l’Angliru, one of the steepest climbs in Europe. Where does Contador’s epic raid stack up in the canon of Angliru battles? How does his goodbye compare to those of the sport’s other recent retirees? We take a peek.

Plus, Vuelta winner Chris Froome showcased a hidden talent during the race’s final stage.

Finally, Cannondale-Drapac has been saved, thanks to the addition of a new title sponsor EF Education First.

All that and more on this week’s The VeloNews Show.

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Photo Essay: The Vuelta’s homestretch

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Contador retirement marks end of Spanish armada

Alberto Contador’s emotional goodbye Sunday marks an end of an era for Spanish cycling.

Contador, 34, was the leading light of a golden generation of Spanish riders dubbed the “Spanish armada” that dominated much of the peloton over the past 15 years.

With Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) struggling with a career-threatening knee injury, Spanish cycling looks to enter its next generational cycle without a clear leader poised to take over.

“After 15 very hard years of fighting, today is a special day,” Contador said at the line Sunday. “When I started as a pro, I dreamed of racing the Tour de France, and then winning it. I also dreamed of finishing like this, at the top of the sport. I couldn’t ask for a better goodbye.”

Contador, with 68 professional victories and countless thrilling attacks, will leave a big void to fill.

The self-styled “Pistolero” officially won seven grand tours, with two taken away as part of his controversial clenbuterol case. His eternal attacking style, his never-say-die attitude, and his penchant for delivering unexpected coups makes him one of Spain’s greatest cyclists.

“With Contador goes the last of the crazy adventurers, a rider capable of turning a race on its head,” said former ONCE manager Manolo Saíz. “There are not riders like him anymore. Cycling today is too predictable, too controlled. [Vincenzo] Nibali is a bit like him, but he’s almost at the end as well. It will be difficult to replace him. Today, riders don’t even dare to attack until 2km to go.”

Saíz, speaking to the Spanish wire service EFE, helped Contador turn pro in 2003. He quickly left his mark, and become one of the top stars in the post-Miguel Indurain era. At his best, Contador dominated stage racing, winning nearly two dozen other stage races during the arc of his career.

During its heyday, the “Spanish Armada” was a dominant force, even challenging Lance Armstrong during the Texan’s scandal-marred, seven-year run at the Tour de France.

Beyond Valverde and Contador, there was Joaquim Rodríguez, Carlos Sastre, Joseba Beloki, Oscar Freire, and 2008 Olympic champion Samuel Sánchez.

Yet as Sánchez’s inexplicable doping positive at the start of this Vuelta revealed, more than a few riders during that era were marked by doping scandal. Valverde served a two-year sanction for links to the Operación Puerto doping ring and Contador was handed down a two-year, back-dated ban for testing positive for traces of clenbuterol during the 2010 Tour.

The Spanish stars also helped the Spanish peloton endure some hard times during what was called “la crisis,” the economic downturn that swept the Spanish economy in 2008. What was once a thriving cycling scene, with four major teams, has now been dramatically reduced.

The only remaining WorldTour team is Movistar, with such teams as Euskaltel-Euskadi and the former ONCE and Kelme teams closing down as sponsorship dollars dried up.

The Spanish cycling calendar has also taken a beating, with many races either being canceled or reducing their race to just a one-day event.

While the Spanish scene struggled, Spanish riders went international. Contador raced for Astana, Discovery Channel, and Saxo Bank. Rodríguez landed at Katusha and Freire went to Rabobank and Mapei.

As the Spanish economy has recovered, there is hope that more teams could emerge to help provide a launching pad for the next generation of riders. Caja Rural remains at the Pro Continental level, while other teams such as Euskadi-Murias and Burgos BH have big plans for the future.

Many see Mikel Landa, set to join Movistar next season, as the rider who can carry the torch into the future for Spain. A grand tour victory would go a long way toward cementing his position as heir apparent.

“We believe Mikel can emerge as a major grand tour rider,” said Movistar general manager Eusebio Unzué. “We’ve seen his class, now he is position to confirm it. We believe he can win a race like the Giro d’Italia or perhaps even the Tour someday.”

Landa, 27, is already at the highest level, with big performances in the 2015 Giro and a fourth overall at the Tour this summer. Others waiting in the wings include David de la Cruz and Enric Mas (Quick-Step Floors) and Marc Soler (Movistar).

Landa, however, is the only one who seems to have the natural charisma and determination to possibly fill the Contador void.

No matter who might emerge in Spain, it will be hard to replace Contador.

He was the lone rider who engaged the larger Spanish public often more obsessed with soccer. His fearless attacks and trademark determination won him fans across Spain and the world.

“Alberto was a unique rider, someone who could capture the imagination of the fans,” said Vuelta director Javier Guillén. “He marked his era, and we were honored that he chose to race the Vuelta as his final race. Every day has been special on the road.”

On Sunday, Contador savored his final day in the saddle. The peloton let him ride alone onto the final circuit in central Madrid. He even sat up in the final sprint to enjoy the moment, something that allowed Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) to nudge into fourth overall. Contador later rode a lap of honor with his Trek-Segafredo teammates and waved a Spanish flag over his head.

“I don’t have words to explain this moment,” Contador said. “Now is the right moment to stop. I did everything with my heart. I always gave 100 percent. Cycling is a sport where the victory is the most important thing, but I also believe that the spectacle is important as well. I did everything I could in this Vuelta.”

His teammates and fans teased him with chants of “one more year!” but Contador is resolute in his decision to retire at the top of his game. Fans, housewives, and even a few journalists were tearful when Contador soloed to victory Saturday up the Anglirú. They know they won’t be seeing the likes of Contador for a long time.

It was the perfect parting shot for a rider who marked his generation.

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British media shows praise but little fanfare for Froome

LONDON (AFP) — Chris Froome was hailed in the British press on Monday for completing a historic Tour de France-Vuelta a Espana double, but coverage of his feat was relatively low-key.

The 32-year-old joins Frenchmen Jacques Anquetil (1963) and Bernard Hinault (1978) as the only riders to win the Tour and Vuelta in the same year. But Froome is the first man to win both races since the Vuelta was moved to after the Tour in the racing calendar in 1995.

The Times called it a “monumental achievement” and The Daily Mirror said he had pulled off “one of the most outstanding feats in British sporting history.”

In the eyes of The Daily Telegraph, the four-time Tour de France champion now deserves to be considered “one of the greats, not simply of cycling but of British sport.”

The Guardian emphasized the role played by Team Sky and said Froome’s dominance of stage races had “not been seen since Miguel Indurain’s purple patch between 1991 and 1995.”

However, The Guardian was the only paper in which Froome’s achievement was the leading sports story of the day, with soccer dominating headlines elsewhere.

Despite his phenomenal success, the quietly spoken Froome has never captured hearts in the same way as his charismatic former Sky teammate Bradley Wiggins did.

Explanations for his relative lack of popularity range from the fact he was born in Kenya to the doping suspicions that continue to swirl around his team.

“Raised in Africa, resident in Monaco” was how The Times summed up how Froome is viewed in Britain.

British former cyclist David Millar, writing in The Telegraph, said Froome “would probably admit deep down that he feels more African than British.”

In a piece entitled “So, why can’t we warm to Froome?” The Mail’s chief sports writer Matt Lawton said doubts about Sky’s practices and doping in cycling in general were also held against the rider.

Lawton said professional road racing was still perceived to take place against a “backdrop of suspicion.”

He also highlighted revelations about Wiggins’s use of therapeutic use exemptions while racing for Sky and the team’s failure to satisfactorily explain a mysterious package that was sent to him during a 2011 race.

The Guardian’s Will Fotheringham wrote: “Team Sky have singularly failed to endear themselves to those with a romantic vision of cycling or doubts over the sport’s ethical issues.”

After winning his third Tour de France last year, Froome was surprisingly left off the shortlist for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award. The award, voted for by the general public, rewards the outstanding performer in British sport in each calendar year.

Millar said it would be “criminal” if Froome was not shortlisted this year.

Froome is currently the second favorite to win the award behind Britain’s world heavyweight boxing champion Anthony Joshua.

When asked about his chances of winning this year’s award, Froome told British papers: “I am not going to hold my breath.”

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Vuelta: Woods, Villella paced Cannondale through emotional race

FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Cannondale-Drapac’s roller coaster Vuelta a España ride, resulting in a king of the mountains jersey and a seventh place overall finish, marks a new beginning for the American WorldTour team.

Canadian Michael Woods, in only his second grand tour at 30 years old, placed seventh at 8:27 behind overall winner Chris Froome (Sky) Sunday night in Madrid. His Italian teammate Davide Villella carried the mountains jersey all the way through the bumpy three-week race.

The news arrived two weeks ago that the team faced closure in 2018 without a new sponsor and management had released its riders from their contracts. Woods, Villella, and the others not only had to deal with that uncertainty, but the race’s hardships. They only found out on the eve of the Vuelta’s Madrid finish that management secured a new 2018 deal.

“Before [stage 9], we had a long talk on the bus,” Woods explained. “We were all reeling from the bad news. We were distracted. Juanma [sports director Juan Manuel Gárate] stood up on the bus and gave a really emotional speech. He told us that he understood if we needed to seek results and focus on ourselves, individually. And then he presented option two, that we work as a team and focus on our original goals. Every guy on that bus raised his hand for that second option.

“Then we got off the bus and rode on the front all day. We proved that we belonged and that we weren’t going to go down without a fight. We raced like champions. I didn’t win, which would have been the perfect ending, but I had the best race of my life up until that point to come away with third.”

Woods raced head-to-head with Froome that day and many others. He explained, though wanting to stay with Slipstream, that he was also considering other teams so that he would not be unemployed in 2018. He explained how “it was difficult to manage both” and that he tried to focus just on the race.

Froome took note of the team in stage 9. “I think they can take a lot away from that [ride],” Froome said.” They committed their faith in Woods, the team was on the front all day and we are still talking about it. I’d like to see more of that racing from them.”

Woods added, “We could all feel a sense of pride within the group, and we got a lot of respect from the peloton. The way we rode allowed us to move forward with our heads high and with positive momentum we could draw from throughout the race.”

Villella already has plans to join team Astana in 2018. However, he fought alongside Woods daily to make sure he accumulated enough mountain points to stand on the Madrid podium with the white and blue polka-dot jersey.

Their rides complemented the backroom staff’s search for a new backer. Manager Jonathan Vaughters welcomed EF Education First for 2018 and Woods confirmed he would ride for two more years with the team.

Woods started in the sport late but always had the team’s faith. Cannondale-Drapac allowed him to race his first grand tour this May at the Giro d’Italia and to lead the Vuelta team.

“I think the biggest lesson learned here is that I’m able to ride with some of the best riders in the world,” Woods added. “Prior to this race, I thought I might have the legs. I was putting out numbers that showed I was capable of having a performance like this, but I didn’t yet have it between the ears. I really found my mojo during this race.”

Said Gárate, “Until stage 10, we never mentioned the words ‘general classification’ to Mike. We didn’t call him our leader. I didn’t forget him, but I wasn’t showing that we were taking care of him because I didn’t want to put that pressure on his shoulders from the first day. It was only after the uphill final on stage 9 that we started talking about the GC.”

The work paid off on the road and back in the United States. Two weeks after the bombshell news dropped of the team’s imminent demise, the team has a new sponsor, a mountains jersey, and a top-10 finish in the Vuelta a España.

“I’m really proud of how the riders, staff, and everyone managed the sad news,” Gárate continued. “What we did here and the way we did it, despite the extra mental challenges, says a lot about who we are as a team and how we work together.”

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