Yet, he went into his final mountain stage to the infamous Alto de l’Angliru with mixed feelings.
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“I had a bit of a bad taste in my mouth because I wasn’t getting the results I felt I should have been based on the numbers I was producing – I knew I had to win today,” the Spaniard revealed after taking a thrilling solo victory on the Asturian summit.
“I couldn’t have had a more beautiful finish than this. To win on the Angliru in the last mountain stage of my career is incredible,” he said.
“I felt this morning that it was clear it was going to be my day and said in the team meeting [prior to the stage] that I wanted to enjoy it. I wanted to say goodbye in the best way possible.”
Contador admitted he felt tense before the start. He got his team to keep a tight leash on the break, then made his initial move on the treacherous descent of the first-category Cordal, which had been made even more testing by heavy rain.
“I knew that the Cordal has a history, that there’ve been lot of crashes there. It was the right moment to try something. I could see that Chris Froome was on the limit in some of the corners, so I pushed it a little bit,” Contador explained.
“Then Jarlinson Pantano went to the front. Sky were blocking me a bit from passing, but once I got through, we went down full on. He was like a kamikaze and I could barely stay with him.”
Helped initially by Trek teammate Pantano and then by Quick-Step’s Enric Mas, a former member of Contador’s development team, the Spaniard caught and dropped the riders who had been in the break. Contador then struck out on his own.
“It was still a long way from the finish, but I enjoyed these last mountains of my sporting life,” he continued.
“There was a lot of water on the road and I found it hard to stand on the pedals and had to climb in the saddle. But hearing the fans urging me on gave me goosebumps and motivated me. It was a great day. I’m truly happy.”
Although he missed out on a podium finish by just 20 seconds, Contador said the stage victory was more important than finishing third on GC.
“Without a doubt, I wanted to win the stage. Ending with victory on the Angliru can’t be bettered. I knew it would be complicated, but the team did a great job,” he said.
“I wanted to do it for myself and for all the fans who’ve always supported me.”
Asked to reflect on his career and the change that retirement will bring, Contador said: “I feel very blessed with what I have experienced in my sporting career and being able to say goodbye like this. I’ve so many things ahead of me in life and now I can enjoy things that I could never before. I’m truly content.
“I’m sure I’ll miss it from time to time, but now it’s time to rest and relax a bit in life.”