Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Contador Returns to His Winning Ways with a Stage Victory in Spain

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Contador Returns to His Winning Ways with a Stage Victory in Spain

Article excerpt

Alberto Contador seems to have a comfortable lead as the Vuelta a Espana winds toward the finish on Sunday. But whatever the outcome, the race has strengthened his popularity despite his recent doping ban.

When Alberto Contador used to win cycling races, the Spanish rider known as El Pistolero (The Gunman) would cross the finish line with one arm drawn out, pretending to take aim with a revolver and shoot.

But on Wednesday, when Contador won his first stage on the Vuelta a Espana this year -- giving him what appears to be a comfortable lead before the finish of the race Sunday in Madrid -- his celebrations were more akin to those of a rookie tasting victory for the first time. As he completed a stunning breakaway mountain climb, Contador put both arms up, clenched his fists and let out two large shouts.

Later on, an emotional Contador seemed to struggle to choke back tears, as he dedicated his victory to his family and friends and the supporters who helped put him back in the lead of a major race, only a month after his return from a doping ban.

Still, he also insisted that even his surprise attack Wednesday in the mountains of northern Spain, which he began about 50 kilometers, or 30 miles, from the finish line in Fuente De, had been more a crazy gamble that had paid off rather than an example of perfect racing tactics.

"I am not in my best moment, but I had a really strong desire to win," he said after his stage victory. As to whether his attack had been carefully planned, Contador described it as a kamikaze decision, which he made despite being riddled with doubt: "I had a devil who encouraged me to jump ahead, and on the other side an angel telling me to preserve strength."

He retained the overall lead on Thursday and again on Friday. But before the closing stage Sunday in Madrid, Contador will face a tough test Saturday, with the climb to the Bola del Mundo, in the Guadarrama mountain range on the outskirts of the Spanish capital.

Whatever the outcome, however, this Vuelta has helped strengthen the popularity in this sports-mad country of a cycling champion who never really fell from his pedestal, despite his recent doping ban.

The drug scandal has somehow even added to his commercial clout. Contador recently appeared in a nationwide advertising campaign for a mattress company, in which he is seen training and warning: "If they thought I would stay in bed, that's because they don't know me."

Contador tested positive for clenbuterol, a banned weight-loss and muscle-building drug, in July 2010, during the Tour de France.

The Spanish cycling authorities eventually cleared Contador of any wrongdoing. Their decision was then overruled last February by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which found Contador guilty of doping and stripped him of his victory in the 2010 Tour, as well as 12 other victories. …

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