It was a crazy day.
After crashing with just over 30 kilometers to go, changing to his spare bike, suffering another mechanical and swapping bikes with Julien Bernard at the bottom of the last climb, Alberto Contador just wanted to see the finish line of stage four at the Vuelta a Pais Vasco.
But his misfortunes were not over. In the final 400 meters, Alberto managed to avoid a crash in the final right-hander but sustained a front flat tire. At this point, Alberto was safely within the UCI's three-kilometer rule, and could calmly wait for Shimano's neutral support.
The stress, at least, was over.
"Today has been incredible," said Contador. "If I have saved this day, I believe that I can save any other."
It was an hour of racing before the break finally established in the 174-kilometer stage four. The pace eased in the middle part of the race, the peloton in no hurry to catch the four men who escaped, but this all changed as they charged into Bilbao for the final 30-kilometer circuit that included a dangerous category-two climb cresting 14 kilometers from the end.
The peloton sped into Bilbao, blanketing across the wide boulevard peppered with green bollards and orange cones. In the peloton, it was impossible to see, and ultimately avoid, the dangers.
"There was a narrowing in the road, and a rider hit one of the green bollards and I do not know how many have crashed," explained Contador about his first incident. "It was impossible to avoid. There are times when it comes to you, and it does not matter that you are well placed. In this case, the only remedy was to get up and go."
A swift bike change from the team car and Alberto was quickly back into the peloton. At the start of the crucial last climb with around 18 kilometers remaining, Contador had to change bikes again, this time relying on teammate Julien Bernard, who is the same height at 174cms. Andre Cardoso then helped pace Contador back to the front – another possible disaster avoided.
While a few of the favorites tested the waters over the top of the climb, a bruised Contador on a borrowed bike was happy to follow wheels, hoping to arrive down the descent and ensuing kilometers without more problems.
He almost made it. A late crash in the last kilometer was easily avoided - Contador was only held up - but not a late puncture.
"Just there I noticed that the wheel was without pressure," Contador said, referring to his flat tire. "I had already noticed earlier it might be losing air, and that's when I changed it."
In the end, safely within the three-kilometer ruling, Contador was given the same time as the front group the numbered around 40 strong. He heads into the crucial final two stages a little worse for wear, but his GC intact.
"It has been a pretty bad crash, for sure it's going to be a complicated night and tomorrow is a very important day," added Contador. "We were going fast and those who fell first suffered the most. I think that this finish, with so many cones on the road, they should maybe rethink it. We have no choice but to dodge them and we have to have a lot of attention.
"At least I was able to finish the day. I do not worry too much because I only have to do the efforts of tomorrow and after tomorrow before leaving for a few days of vacation. It is true that I have taken blows in many places, some muscular, like in the left quadriceps, so if tomorrow I am well, perfect, but if not, I will do what I can."
A post-race analysis revealed Contador has bruising on both shoulders, left arm, elbow, hip, and quadriceps.