Contador Attacks (w/"Cojones"!), Takes Lead

Bold move confirms Vuelta a España as 2012's best grand tour
Staff Writer

Yesterday's Stage 17 of the Vuelta a España proved vindicating for one Spaniard and heartbreaking for another. After a weekend of relentlessly attacking race leader Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) on punishing mountain stages, Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) finally sprung a surprise attack that did the trick, taking over two minutes from his rival and putting him in the race leader's red jersey with only four stages remaining.

The day's racing proved vindicating for Contador, who just last month came off a controversial two-year ban for clenbuterol (a ban that stripped his 2010 Tour de France and 2011 Giro d'Italia titles). With 50km (31 miles) to go in the stage, he attacked the main group, putting time into Rodriguez and third place Alejandro Valverde (Movistar). Out ahead, he linked up with two teammates who were part of an 11-man breakaway and worked with them to build his lead to nearly a minute. He then found an ally in former teammate Paolo Tiralongo (Astana), who helped extend his lead to two minutes. Finally, Contador soloed the last 12km (7.5 miles), holding off a charging Valverde to take the overall race lead.

It was a heartbreaking day for Rodríguez, who watched his lead evaporate. Not only had he led the race for 13 straight stages, he also lost the lead in this year's Giro d'Italia on the final stage. Now he sits 2:28 back, and is already admitting defeat.

“To tell the truth, I didn’t expect this today, but when I saw how Saxo Bank was riding today, I knew they were up to something,” Rodríguez said in a post-race press conference. “What Alberto did today was something spectacular. Sure, I will be sad about it later, but today we lived something for the history books. And he did it dos cojones.”

The epic rivalry between the two Spaniards, El Purito (Rodriguez) and El Pistolero (Contador) has made this the most exciting Grand Tour of 2012. Throw in wild card Valverde (who himself had an amazing day yesterday, moving into 2nd overall)  and one-time favorite Chris Froome (Sky), and you have what's so far been a fireworks-filled 2,700 km (1,677 miles) of racing. Check out Andrew Hood's analysis of what's improving the race over at VeloNews.

See how it played out in this highlight reel.