Tinkoff leader Alberto Contador took the GC win at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco with an exceptional performance in the final day’s time trial that saw him take both the stage win and the overall GC. At the end of stage 6, Alberto won the TT with a time of 29:13 – five seconds ahead of second place – and winning the race overall with a time of 22:44:43 – twelve seconds ahead of the next placed rider. The País Vasco becomes the first race Alberto has won four times in his professional career, and with this victory he equals the record of wins at the famous Spanish race.
The final stage of the 2016 Vuelta al Pais Vasco may have been a time trial, but while there were some aero helmets, there were few time trial bikes to be seen on the course today. The 16.5km route, starting and finishing in Eibar was brutally steep in places and a technical descent and final kilometre meant riders had to have full control over their bikes on their way to the finish.
Going into the final day, Alberto was second in the GC, six seconds behind the leader. After a hard week’s riding, where he showed confidence in attacking his rivals on some of the Vuelta’s steepest climbs, it was all going to come down to a race against the clock. After the week’s riding, Sport Director, Sean Yates, was clear of Alberto’s challenge. “It’s been a long week, with the time trial looming at the end, and as we predicted it was always going to be the deciding stage of the race. Before this you have to bide your time, not lose time and take time where you can – this is exactly what Alberto and the team did here and it all came together today.”
On the day, weather conditions were wet, meaning there was potential for wheels to slip on the climbs with the riders out of the saddle, while on the descents, standing water and wet road markings made the conditions even more treacherous. Riders had the option of being cautious and potentially losing time, or pushing their bikes and their bike-handling skills to the limit and risk crashing. Alberto was smooth and in control, although pushing hard, throughout the stage, summing up his ride from the finish. “I rode cautiously and tried to avoid taking unnecessary risks and at some point I was close to losing the stage win. However, that was secondary and in the end, I also got that. I now have to rest and recover after an intense start to the season.”
With both the stage win and the GC taken care of, Alberto was thankful for all the support he had received. “The fans were crazy today at the time-trial. I consider the Basque fans to probably be the best in the world and since my amateur days I have strong links to this place. For me it was a pleasure racing and winning the Vuelta al Pais Vasco. It’s a very hard race, one that is difficult to control and where a thousand things can happen. When I think about it, it still seems incredible that I won. I’d like to dedicate this victory to all the fans and to Oleg Tinkov for his support, his passion and for making this team a reality. This victory goes to him.”
After an exceptionally hard week’s racing, over one of the most mountainous stage races on the UC World Tour, Yates had nothing but praise for Alberto and the team. “He’s in great shape and deserves this win after his second places in Algarve, Paris-Nice and Catalunya. We had a few injuries and illness coming into the race and lost three guys along the way but the team stayed solid. Things played into our favour this race, and never taking the leaders jersey worked for us, as we didn’t have to ride and defend. And now the stage win is the icing on the cake.”
On the podium, celebrating his stage win, Alberto made his trademark ‘El Pistolero’ salute, and pointed with pride at his Tinkoff jersey. The win was well-deserved, Yates concluded. “It’s Alberto’s fourth win in this race, and as always he dedicated a lot of time and effort to be in great shape. The whole team is really happy with the result today.”
While Alberto had announced earlier in the season that 2016 would be his final year as a professional cyclist, this victory may well have delayed that decision. “Recently, I have been pondering and thinking about my future with my entourage and most probably I will continue riding. I’m sure this isn’t the last time I come here. To be honest, I don’t like finishing second. After two second places in Paris-Nice and Catalanuya, this is a nice victory. However, I’m aware that the level of the peloton is always very high and there are strong rivals. However, it’s good to finish this part of the season and go to a much-need rest with a victory.”