Spanish star Alberto Contador says that he's enjoying racing the Vuelta a España his way in his last ever appearance as a professional cyclist – but warns that he will put on weight after retirement
“I like slim-fit clothes, so I may have to change my wardrobe! The people around me are already working on it,” the 34-year-old Spaniard said. “I’ll gain weight, you’ll make jokes about it when you see me, but I’ll try to keep it under control.”
Contador chose his home Grand Tour to end a highly successful career. He says that he is “savouring every minute” of the race, but rather than relaxing into retirement, he is fighting hard for a podium place in Madrid on Sunday and racing his way.
Had it not been for one bad day on stage three when he was suffering from illness, the seven-time Grand Tour winner could already be in a podium position. As it stands, he is currently in ninth place and three minutes and 59 seconds behind race leader Chris Froome (Team Sky). It now seems out of reach that Contador can add a fourth Vuelta title to his palmarès.
“I’m pretty happy with my Vuelta so far,” reflected Contador on the race’s second rest day on Monday.
“On the Andorra stage, I was sick and struggling all day. Without that stage, it would all look very different now. But on the other side, there have been some great stages, and I’ve done pretty well. Yesterday [Sunday, stage 15], with hindsight, it would have been better to have been in the group, but you ride for your own reasons.
“Now, I’ll take it day by day, but I have to say that I’m immensely enjoying this race, with all the public affection being showered on me. I’m savoring every minute.”
Contador says that he will continue to launch attacks on the general classification favourites in the hope of making his move stick to gain time – not for showboating in front of his fans.
“I don’t attack because I lose my head because of the public affection,” Contador explained. “I do it because it’s my way of racing and, given the condition I have, and the moment of form, because I can. Obviously, you can be more conservative and try to finish fourth or fifth or third or eighth, and lose the minimum possible, but that way of racing is not for me.”
After the rest day, the Vuelta resumes for the race’s final week on Tuesday with a 40.2-kilometre individual time trial. Then there are two summits finishes on stages 17 and 18 on Wednesday and Thursday. All could be key to achieving a final podium position.
“It is going to be difficult to finish on the podium, but there are still major stages to come and it is still possible to see what I can do. It’s obviously a long way off,” said Contador.
He continued: “I hadn’t realised tomorrow would be the final TT of my career: it’s a big one!
“I’ve always worked on the discipline and fought for victories in Grand Tour TT’s, Before, when I was a neo pro, you used to think how you could be more competitive in certain types of TT. You looked at the equipment, the route, every tiny detail.
“Now, with team budgets much bigger, more wind tunnel testing than ever, better bikes, it’s difficult to compete with the pure specialists. If they don’t put a mountain in the middle of the route, it’s hard for me. “
“Tomorrow we’ll see how it goes for me. There are going to be big gaps, and it should favour me.”
Whatever the result, Contador appears happy to be racing his final Grand Tour his way. Not compromising his tactics, and at the same time giving his fans what they want to see.
“For me it is satisfying to enjoy the Vuelta a España the way I am doing, independent of the final result. I think people will remember my final result of this Vuelta less than other results in my career. Personally, I’m going to remember the sensation more than the result.”
When the race finishes on Sunday, Contador says that he’ll be happy to give up the regimented life of a pro – particularly when it comes to food.
“Every morning without looking at the scales, neither at night nor in the morning. I’ll be able to eat jamón con tocino [ham/bacon] in the morning. My life will be normal, without crossing the demands and slavery of top level cycling.”