Spain’s Alberto Contador, racing his first Grand Tour since returning from a two-year doping ban last month, won his second Tour of Spain crown on Sunday.
The Saxo-Bank rider, also a two-time Tour de France winner who lost his 2010 Tour and 2011 Giro titles after testing positive for clenbuterol in 2010, safely negotiated the 21st and final 115km largely flat stage from Cercedilla to Madrid to claim victory.
“This is the culmination of many months of work and sacrifices and not sparing any effort,” said Contador.
“People sometimes think it is easy but it is not. I dedicate this victory to those who stuck by me in the good and bad moments. It is because of them that I sacrificed myself.”
Contador added: “You feel like laughing, crying, it is a series of emotions that you can’t express with words. It is incredible.
”It has been hard from the beginning, but the more things cost you the better they taste. Given the background that I arrived here with, this victory is very special for me. I had not competed for a long time and things were complicated.“
Germany’s John Degenkolb of the Argos-Shimano team won the final stage in 2hr 44min 57sec, Contador coming through buried in the main lead peloton in 54th spot.
The 29-year-old Contador clocked 84hr 59min 49sec for the race that covered a total distance of 3,300 kilometres, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) completing an all-Spanish podium.
Valverde was 1min 16sec off Contador’s pace, with long-time leader Rodriguez a further 21sec adrift.
”I am super happy, in the end we won points. It was a good Vuelta for the team, I want to thank them for fighting for me,“ said Valverde.
”Purito“ Rodriguez vowed to carry on battling after the disappointment of losing out to his Spanish compatriots.
”We did everything we could,“ Rodriguez said. ”Sometimes things do not turn out like one wants, but I am not going to stop fighting and trying to win a major tour.
“Where and when I don’t know, but I will try again.”
Contador had only words of praise for Rodriguez, saying: “Purito was very strong, he endured the climbs very well.
”It was very hard to win this race but I enjoyed it very much because it was a spectacular Vuelta.“
Contador had taken control of the Vuelta on Wednesday’s Fuente De stage 17, producing a long-distance attack a day after having failed to shake off Rodriguez on the climb of the Cuitu Negru on stage 16.
His precious lead of 1:35 came under attack on Saturday in the gruelling climb of the Bola del Mundo, with both Rodriguez and Valverde attacking the Pinto-born Contador.
But the champion showed all his experience to hold his nerve for a remarkable victory, the Spanish heavyweight trio having called a truce as the sprinters battled for the stage win on Sunday.
A breakaway of six riders were hauled back with one lap of the final 5.7km circuit left, and the Argos-Shimano team managed to get Degenkolb into position for his record-breaking five stage wins on the Vuelta.
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