Alberto Contador said his final farewell in stage 21 of the Vuelta a Espana Sunday, fittingly arriving alone onto the start of the local circuits in Madrid, which signaled the end of the ceremonial parade and for the racing to begin.
"I have no words to explain the feeling I had for this moment," said Contador. "It was incredible coming across the finish line alone, in my home city. It's been an amazing day. I rode through a lot of roads that I know and received the affection of all the people; I feel blessed."
"I think the next time I come through here it will be in the car and I won't have the roads all to myself," he added smiling. "For me, this has been a very special day; it's a dream, and I could not imagine a goodbye better than this."
The final laps were fast and furious and finished as expected with the sprinters getting one last go at glory. While Edward Theuns couldn't find his sprinting legs after three hard weeks of climbs and selfless team support for Contador and finished in 13th place, Matteo Trentin (Quick-Step Floors) sprinted to his fourth victory.
And arriving seconds later was Contador, crossing his last finish line in front of his hometown fans to officially end his incredible 15-year career.
Contador has left behind a legendary palmarès that will forever be etched into the history of cycling. Although he never reached the podium of his final Vuelta, his panache was brilliant throughout. And fitting for a legend, Contador ended his last race in stage 20 with a victory atop the mythical alto de l'Angliru.
"For sure I feel this is the moment to stop. When I started as a professional I said when I finish I want to finish at the top level and I think now is the perfect moment for this," he explained. "I gave everything in this Vuelta, and I must say thanks to Trek-Segafredo for giving me the opportunity to attack when I wanted, and be able to enjoy my last race."
With all the public affection being showered on me, I can only say thanks, thanks, and thanks.
His attacking style will be missed. When Contador fell ill in the first mountain test of the three-week race and lost over two and a half minutes, his bid for overall victory was all but finished. But it opened the door for Contador to race as he knew how: on heart.
"I have to say that I immensely enjoyed this race; I savored every minute," continued Contador. "With all the public affection being showered on me, I can only say thanks, thanks, and thanks. I gave maximum effort, 100 percent, in every race for the last 15 years, I trained very hard, and I did all with my heart. I think this is very important. Of course, cycling is a sport where the most important thing is the victory, but I also think it's important to give a spectacle."
"I attack because it's my way of racing. Obviously, you can be more conservative and try to finish 4th or 5th or 3rd or 8th, and lose the minimum possible, but that way of racing is not for me," he added.
It was a special day for Contador, shared by his teammates as they pedaled a ceremonial lap to salute the fans, and then enjoyed a podium celebration to honor a legend.
"I'm very proud. I heard 'Vamos Alberto' over and over throughout the race, and it can only mean that people have enjoyed watching your performances, and they recognize your work. I couldn't have chosen a better time or place to retire. For me, it was a hard Vuelta, but I enjoyed every minute of it. On a climb, when your legs are really hurting, and you see a sign and hear shouts of encouragement, that is like a present for me," Contador said.
"Today has been a magical day. A day I will always remember."