Alberto Contador finished in 6th place of the summit finish in stage five of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, losing three seconds in the final meters after he was hindered by BMC's Samuel Sanchez's crash. The top five riders hold the same time in the overall classification, with Contador in sixth place at three seconds, setting up tomorrow's stage as an ultimate showdown in 'the race of truth'. The final time trial, a lengthy 27 kilometers, will decide it all.
"I felt well, much better than expected because this morning I was quite sore," explained Alberto. "I'm happy. I was always able to be in the front, and in the end, controlling all the movements. Maybe I've been more conservative than other times because of yesterday's crash, but I am satisfied to be in the group of those who played the stage."
The queen stage of the six-day race was short at 140 kilometers but packed with hefty climbs, and the fireworks erupted on the final of six ascents. Despite a few searing attacks by Michael Woods (Cannondale-Drapac) and fierce accelerations by Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), a group of seven were together in the final two kilometers as the gradient eased.
Contador, who seems to be riding under a black cloud in the Basque Country Tour, can't catch a break, the sole victim hindered by Sanchez's tumble with around 500 meters to go.
Valverde won the stage, outsprinting four riders, while Alberto crossed moments later, three precious seconds lost to another mishap. This week he has endured crashes, punctures, and numerous bike changes, but incredibly avoided any time loss until today.
Contador brushed off the incident, as he has done all week, focusing instead on how well his legs responded after his hard crash yesterday:
"Samuel had a very bad crash right in front of me," said Alberto. "Fortunately, I was able to dodge it, but that made me lose some meters and lose three seconds with the others. At the end, these are just race circumstances; the important thing is that the body has responded well and now we must think about the time trial. The race is still wide open because people behind can recover time too. The time trial is very long, and the differences can be very big.
"Last year was a very hard TT with a hard climb that was very good for me. This year the climb is more bearable, and the rest of the road goes down. Riders of more power will fare better than I do, but in the end, the key is to give the maximum and go to the finish."
All photos ©Bettiniphoto