Alberto Contador has taken his first win since he was cleared of doping by the Spanish Cycling Federation, powering ahead in the mountainous stage two of the Tour of Murcia to claim both the day's win and the overall lead.
Contador attacked over the summit of the last climb of the day, the Collado Bermejo, and despite taking some big risks on a dangerous descent to the finish, opened a slender advantage of just five seconds on Denis Menchov (Geox-TMC) and Jerome Coppel (Saur-Sojasun). Charly Wegelius (United Health Care) was best Brit on the stage, in 28th spot around three minutes back.
Numerous riders crashed on the Collado Bermejo climb, with two Movistar riders, Ruben Plaza and Maurizio Soler, ending up in hospital, as well as Euskaltel-Euskadi's Mikel Landa. Calum Wilkinson (Endura) was amongst those who abandoned.
It was Contador's first win of the season, as it was for his team, Saxo Bank-Sungard, and he dedicated his victory to the squad. Rather than making his characteristic ‘gunslinger' salute, he deliberately pointed at his jersey as he celebrated the win on the podium, in a clear sign of gratitude.
Contador thanked his team as well as those who have supported him during the last six months, before going on to point out that the race was far from over.
Overall, the Spaniard is only three seconds ahead of Coppel and five seconds up on Denis Menchov with a 12.5 kilometre flat time trial to go. With the rest of the field nearly a minute back, one of these three should win.
On paper, Menchov is by far the greater danger. As far as such a concept can be said to exist, the Russian has become a specialist in the Tour of Murcia: he finished second overall last year, won the race outright in 2009 and finished eighth there in 2007.
By a strange coincidence, Contador's victory came just hours after UCI President Pat McQuaid had told reporters that there would be a March 24 deadline for the UCI's decision whether or not to appeal over the Spaniard being cleared of doping by his Federation.
The UCI's chief lawyer is set to start work on the full archives of the case on Monday, McQuaid said.
Regardless of what the UCI decide, WADA then have a further 21 days to reach their own conclusions, meaning that Contador will have to wait until around April 15th to be sure that appeals are not going to be made - something far from certain. Meanwhile, he's back to winning, again.
Tour of Murcia 2011, stage two: Estrella de Levante (Murcia) to Centro de Interpretacion de Sierra Espuna, 183.2 km
1. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo Bank-Sungard
2. Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank at 5 secs
3. Jerome Coppel (Fra) Saur-Sojasun at same time
4. Fabio Andres Duarte Arevalo (Col) Geox-TMC at 25 secs
5. Wout Poels (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM at 27 secs
6. Alexandre Geniez (Fra) Skil-Shimano at 57 secs
7. Lars Petter Nordhaug (Nor) Team Sky at 1-17
8. Guillaume Levarlet (Fra) Saur-Sojasun
9. Fabrice Jeandesboz (Fra) Saur-Sojasun
10. David Blanco (Spa) Geox-TMCat same time
Overall classification after stage two
1. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo Bank-Sungard in 9-13-08
2. Jerome Coppel (Fra) Saur-Sojasun
3. Denis Menchov (Rus) Geox-TMC
4. Fabio Andres Duarte (Col) Geox-TMC
5. Wout Poels (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM at same time
Alberto Contador wins the stage and takes the overall lead
Tour of Murcia 2011, stage one: Matthews outpaces Downing in opening stage
Preview: Contador heads field in three-day Tour of Murcia
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