Contador – winner of three Vuelta a España titles and two each in the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France – suffered from day one in his home tour.
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On Wednesday, mobbed by fans at the finish along Spain’s coast after the Santa Lucía short summit finish in Alcossebre, he could finally smile.
“The sensations are better than the other day,” Contador said, referring to the Andorra stage where lost 2-33 minutes.
“It’s more in line with how I was feeling ahead of the race. We can’t lose our heads, though, it was a short climb, very explosive. The longer climbs come in the second week.”
The 3.4-kilometre climb rose 330 metres above the coastline near Valencia. Contador rode alongside red jersey leader Chris Froome (Sky) and led the small group over the line, 4-31 minutes behind the early escape group.
He had said the Vuelta would be his final race in a long career. The decision came shortly after the Tour de France, where he crashed early in the race and later, after switching focused to taking a stage win, suffered to show that old spark.
The 34-year-old had planned on racing through the 2018 Giro d’Italia, but he decided the Vuelta would be it.
“The first thing was to see how I felt and thankfully I regained the feelings a little,” continued Contador. “Now, I need to analyse what’s most interesting or right. The overall classification is complicated and this parcours is good for Froome.”
Contador warned those Spanish journalists listening and their readers not to hope for too much.
“We cannot let this go to our head, just one day of good feelings, now the important thing is to recover and see what happens in the race,” he added.
“There are times when I feel pretty good on the bike. Before it was not so bad, but it wasn’t so well, just that anybody seeing the TV images of the Andorra stage knows that wasn’t my usual level. But cycling’s like that.
“And regardless of what happens, I’m going to enjoy every kilometre of this Vuelta for sure.”
Contador looked around and heard the cheers. He commented that it felt as if he was racing into his hometown giving the fans applauding for him along the roads and at the finish.