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La Vuelta a España 2012 – Stage 17: Santander – Power 187.3 km

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There were no ‘pistolero’ gestures into Santander – it wasn’t a moment for playing to the photo opportunity.

Just sheer joy of a man being back where he belongs – if you’ve taken the knocks and clawed back, then you’ll know that feeling.

Alberto Contador Velasco has taken the knocks; he was close to death in 2004 when he suffered a cerebral cavernoma during the Vuelta a Asturias; in 2009 he had to fight not only the other 21 teams in the race but also half of his own Astana team as Lance made his ill-starred return; and he had to watch as his name was crossed off last year’s Giro result as a result of a controversial ‘positive.’

Santander
Bert takes over the lead.

A slight, wiry man, simpatico and approachable, he’s not a seeker of the limelight off the bike – but on that Specialized he’s a ruthless, killer.

When it became apparent that Rodriguez was having a post-rest day ‘blockage,’ as the red jersey struggled in the face of a flurry of early attacks, Contador exploited the situation immediately and with one goal in mind – to take that red jersey.

With 48 kilometres covered in the first hour the live TV feed kicked in with only 30-odd kilometres until the finish.

Contador was in the break with team mate, Sergio Paulinho.

The Portuguese is a quality rider with World U23 TT and Olympic Road Race medals to his name as well as stage wins in the Vuelta and Tour.

But when he gestured he was about to swing off, Contador was having none of it, barking at his team mate to stay put and give him the last drops.

The reason became clear soon after as Contador went for the sprint bonus – every second a prisoner in his race for red.

Only his amigo and former team mate Paolo Tiralongo could go with him – and remember that stage win ‘Bert’ gave him in 2011 at the Giro?

Santander
It was payback time.

The wiry Italian gave his all for Contador; with the Saxo-Tinkoff team car rewarding the Astana man’s labours with a fresh bidon.

But once he was ‘empty’ Contador was away, solo without a backward glance.

Behind, Rodriguez didn’t look like the rider we’ve been watching for the last two weeks, I sent a text to Dan Fleeman; ‘has he sold it?’

Dan’s reply was succinct; ‘No chance!

Katusha have been paying 10,000 Euros a time to helicopter him off the mountain top finishes.

Plus he must be sick of podium finishes but not getting the win.’

Santander
Rodriguez took the day’s events with a philosophical shrug.

The other thought I had was that perhaps his legs were ‘blocked’ after the rest day; Dave Chapman heard that Rodriguez didn’t go for a leg loosener on Tuesday.

Dan reckons;

“Blocked legs after the rest day is likely; but also a bit of complacency – this wasn’t expected to be a hard day.”

Whatever the reason, Rodriguez was completely isolated; initially he had Losada – but a man can only work at that level for so long…

Valverde was another of Contador’s victims; but he had help in the form of team mate Intxausti who had originally been in the break with the Saxo-Tinkoff man and ‘came back’ to his boss.

Santander
Valverde deserves to be on the podium here.

Valverde is another man who has no problems with a leader’s role; ‘Vamos!’ he yelled at his Intxausti as he sat on his team mate’s wheel.

Just like at Saxo-Tinkoff, you earn that big monthly salary on Movistar.

But despite Valverde’s best efforts, the day was all about Alberto Contador – untwisting his wiry frame like a spring being unleashed as he crossed the line, roaring with joy and revealing those perfect teeth of his.