Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) put on a demonstration in Tirreno-Adriatico today that followers have not seen since the days before his doping ban. He danced away solo on his pedals, won the stage, fired his imaginary pistol and just about locked the overall win.
Team Manager Bjarne Riis said, "He always had that pistol but maybe it was not loaded at times!"
Contador fired away as he had not done since he won the 2010 Tour de France and 2011 Giro d'Italia. A positive test in the Tour that year, however, saw those results stripped. He won the 2012 Vuelta a España in his return but he struggled on the way. Last year, he won only one race, a stage in the 2.1-ranked Tour de San Luis. It was his worst season since his rookie year in terms of wins.
In the 2013 Tour de France, he placed fourth but hardly looked like his former El Pistolero self. The difficult year forced the rider from Madrid's outskirts to nix his Vuelta a España plans to recover for 2014.
"The problem is that we expect this [wins] from him," Riis said. "He's just not able to deliver all the time. He worked very heard to be back on that level. He knows he has to deliver, he's not a cheap guy."
That level could worry Team Sky. Contador appears biggest threat to Chris Froome's Tour de France defence. Worse yet, Froome had to skip Tirreno-Adriatico with a back injury and his helper Richie Porte abandoned today feeling sick.
"Froome will be very concentrated on his work and training for the next races," said Contador. "He wants to win every race that he starts."
"They are sitting home and watching, no doubt about that but I don't know if they are worried," Riis added. "This is competition. If you want to win you need to be good. If you want to beat the rest you need to be the best."
Contador proved to be the best. He dislodged previous leader, 24-year-old Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) on the Passo Lanciano. He rode solo up to an early escape and attacked them on the 30 per cent climb up to Guardiagrele.
He put 1-51 minutes into his nearest rival Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and 6-03 into Kwiatkowski. He now leads Quintana, second behind Froome at the Tour, by 2-08. All that stands between Contador and his first WorldTour win since the 2012 Vuelta is a flat sprinters' stage and a short time trial.
"He said this morning, I want to arrive alone if it's possible," Riis said. "It's important for him to be able to do that. It's a demonstration. He needed that. He wanted to show that he's there and strong."
Alberto Contador stamps his mark on Tirreno-Adriatico, taking his second consecutive stage win and the race lead
Michal Kwiatkowski hangs on to overall Tirreno-Adriatico lead as Alberto Contador moves up to second
Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1