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Vuelta a Espana 2017: Contador conquers the Angliru to go out in style

Martin James
9 Sep 2017

El Pistolero finally gets his stage win as Chris Froome rides away from everyone else

Alberto Contador of Trek-Segafredo rounded out his Grand Tour career in style by winning Stage 20 of the 2017 Vuelta a Espana at the summit of the Alto d'Angliru.

Contador attacked at the base of the 13km climb, quickly building a gap of a minute then holding on as the climb hit 20%-plus gradients over the final few kilometres.

Chris Froome (Team Sky), meanwhile, never looked in danger of conceding time to his closest rival at the start of the day, Bahrain-Merida's Vincenzo Nibali, finishing the stage strongly with teammate Wout Pouls at his side after Nibali cracked on the steepest sections of the Angliru.

Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha), starting the day fourth, distanced his nearest rival Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb) to take his place on the podium, with Contador moving up to fourth.

How it unfolded

And so the 2017 Vuelta came down to the climax we always thought it would.

By sticking the Vuelta's hardest climb at the end of its shortest stage on the penultimate day of the race, the organisers weren't exactly being subtle about their intentions: to keep the race in the balance right up to the final weekend.

The got what they wanted. For three weeks the main GC contenders had taken each other on at every opportunity, fighting for every last second, day after day. But now the punch and counter-punch was over: it was time to deliver the knockout blow. Whoever stood tall at the top of the Angliru would be a worthy winner.

Even on a climb as hard as the Angliru, it was hard to see anyone other than Nibali having a realistic chance to take the red jersey off of Froome's shoulders - and even then it was a long shot.

But the rest of the podium was still far from settled, and both the moutains and points jerseys were still in play too.

Then there was the small matter of the stage win itself. Any victory on the Angliru is special, but for Contador it would be especially so as the final act of his long Grand Tour career. Plus the Spanish still hadn't won a stage of their own Grand Tour.

And so after two days of a large breakaway group disappearing into the distance to fight for the stage between them, it was telling that when another big group went clear early on today, Trek-Segafredo went straight to the front, not letting the gap go beyond a couple of minutes.

Aside from the Angliru there was also a pair of 1st category climbs to be negotiated, all crammed into the last 40km of the stage. With rain falling steadily throughout the day, there was also the added challenge of descending safely on wet and slippery roads. 

The breakaway group was still about a minute and a half clear over the top of the first climb of the day, the 1,195m Alto de la Cobertoria, though their numbers had dwindled significantly. A high-speed 10km descent followed down the other side, then it was straight into the second climb of the day, the 790m Alto del Cordal.

Trek-Segafredo's Jarlinson Pantano was now driving the pace at the front of the peloton for Contador, and his efforts dropped Astana duo Fabio Aru and Miguel Angel Lopez, while Zakarin was also distanced, though he was able to get back in touch.

Marc Soler (Movistar) took the points over the top of the climb, but in trying to build his advantage on the descent he misjudged a corner and came down, with Tomasz Marczynski (Lotto Soudal) flying past.

Then Nibali, who is considered a demon descender, took a tumble himself, but was quickly up and away again, and was able to regain contact.

Then it was onto the Angliru, and Contador immediately attacked, trusty lieutenant Pantano going with him before the Colombian peeled off having completely emptied himself in service of his team leader.

Contador pushed on without him, quickly catching Marczynski. Initially Soler was able to go with him, having recovered from his crash, then he too was dropped and with 5km to go Contador was riding alone at the front, with a lead of just under a minute to Froome, Nibali, Kelderman and Zakarin behind, alongside a handful of others.

But the last 5km of the Angliru are the hardest - this was by no means over. Behind him, Steven Kruijswijk (Lotto-NL Jumbo) then attacked, feeling strong and sensing the possibility of a stage win, if he could catch Contador.

At this point, Froome still had the luxury of teammate Pouls for company, and when the gradient kicked up in the final kilometres, the pair simply rode away from everyone else to take second and third on the stage, emphatically sealing a Tour-Vuelta double for the Englishman.