Alberto Contador knew it was going to be difficult to defend his slight race lead in the Vuelta a Andalucía Friday in the 11.9-kilometer time trial, and when he sprinted across the finish, he missed only one second to keep claim of the red jersey.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) completed the undulating time trial in a time of 14:55:510, one second behind eventual stage winner Victor Campenaerts (LottoNL-Jumbo), and all eyes turned to the final two finishers.
When Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) arrived nine seconds slower, and news has already trickled out that Ion Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida) had an unfortunate crash, it was only Contador who could better Valverde for the race lead. In the intermediate time at the halfway point, Contador was five seconds down. It was going to be close.
With firm determination, Contador threw everything into the last meters and sprinted for the line. But the official time clocked him at 15:01:499, a mere second too slow! He crossed the finish for third place on the stage, six seconds behind Valverde and ceding the race lead to his Spanish compatriot.
"My feeling wasn't bad, I had good legs, but the truth is that I just started racing and even though I felt my legs were really good, I also felt I lack still a bit of competition rhythm," Contador said. "But in the end, the sensations were really good, and it was a matter of only a few seconds today. Obviously, Alejandro did a really good job today, and I congratulate him for that."
Fabio Felline ©Bettiniphoto
With all the attention directed at Contador, Fabio Felline quietly put in a splendid time trial, finishing in 5th place (+9") and with Matthias Brändle placing 10th (+28"), Trek-Segafredo placed three in the top 10. A solid showing for the pinstriped sqaud.
In a reversal of most stage races, the final two stages tip toward breakaways or mass sprint endings, giving little opportunity for Contador and the team to take back the time, small as it may be.
It's a pity that there are not two more mountain stages where Alejandro and I could continue the fight between us.
"It's a pity that there are not two more mountain stages where Alejandro and I could continue the fight between us," continued Contador. "For me, I think it's complicated to take the overall because the two stages left are more designed for sprinters. This year this race is a bit unusual, with the hardest stages at the beginning and that limits the possibilities a lot."
"But this week is going already way better than I expected, it's my first race, and obviously I knew that the parcours of the stages didn't really suit me. But you know, once I am in a race, even though Paris-Nice is my first real goal of the season, I do give it my all to make the best result possible."
The words inscribed on Alberto's customized Project One Trek Émonda say it all: Querer es poder. Where there is a will, there is a way.
This race is far from over.