There was no easing into the season for Alberto Contador in the first stage at the Vuelta a Andalucia Wednesday with a category one climb tucked into the final kilometers, but for the feisty Spaniard it played to his panache perfectly and made for a thrilling start to the year.
The Trek-Segafredo team led the peloton into the business end of the race, first driving the pace to catch back the breakaway, then continuing their searing speed to lead Contador into the decisive climb.
Haimar Zubeldia hauled the peloton onto the bottom slopes until Team Movistar grabbed the reins, and the damage was quick and severe: the bunch shattered leaving a skeleton group, and that's when Contador pulled the first of his many punches.
Jesús Hernández was relaxed and ready on the start line of his first race. ©Bettiniphoto
"I am very happy with my feelings, and with the team, everything worked very well today," said Contador. "We were brave to take control. In the last climb, nobody was given continuity to the rhythm, but I was not able to make the differences I hoped for."
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) was the only rider able to match Contador's first acceleration, but when he was unwilling to work, the move neutralized, and dropped riders clawed their way back to their wheels.
"He had to try to play his tricks," explained Contador about Valverde. " I told him to collaborate and go together, but he did not think about that possibility. If we went together, we could be more calm and play the race between us, but he did not want to. It's normal; everyone has his tactics. Tomorrow will be another day."
Contador continued to test the waters on the category one climb, hurting many legs in his never-say-die style, and was quick to match the only attack by Valverde in the final meters of the long uphill. The two crested together and on the descent Valverde created a small gap, but by the bottom a group formed with four riders that swelled to six men three kilometers from the end.
"You have to reinvent yourself at all levels, going up, in the flat and in descent, to optimize the performance to the maximum," explained Contador about the tactical final kilometers.
Although the terrain of the first day played out with a select six-man group sprint and more to the tune of Valverde, who took the stage honors, tomorrow's summit finish should prove more selective, but Contador was uncertain by how much.
"We will see about tomorrow because I think the last climb is harder on paper than in reality," he pointed out.
Although Valverde will wear the leader's jersey into the queen stage tomorrow, the top six riders are within the same time in the overall classification.