<
>

Contador wins Spanish Vuelta; first Spaniard to win cycling's big three

9/21/2008

MADRID, Spain -- Spaniard Alberto Contador
won the Spanish Vuelta on Sunday to become the first rider in 25
years to win all three of cycling's major stage races.

Second overall and 46 seconds behind the 25-year-old Astana
rider was Levi Leipheimer of the United States. Carlos Sastre of
Spain was third at four minutes and 12 seconds.

"I feel like an enormous weight's been taken off my
shoulders," Contador told Spanish television after completing
the final stage from San Sebastian de los Reyes to Madrid, won
by Dane Matti Breschel.

"They've been calling me the winner of the race since
February and that's a lot of pressure.

"But I'm not going to get a big head now, my family know how
to keep my feet on the ground."

After winning the Tour de France in 2007 and the Giro
d'Italia this year, the Spanish Vuelta was Contador's third
victory in a major tour in 15 months.

No rider has taken all three major races since Frenchman
Bernard Hinault in 1983.

Only five riders -- Hinault, Jacques Anquetil of France,
Belgian Eddy Merckx, Felice Gimondi of Italy and now Contador --
have completed the so-called "grand slam."

Contador, from Pinto near Madrid, based victory in his home
race on back-to-back mountain stage wins.

After keeping within range of his rivals in the first two
weeks, Contador broke away alone on the ascent of the daunting
Alto de L'Angliru climb on stage 13 to take the lead.

The Spaniard then strengthened his overall advantage with
his second victory in 24 hours on the Fuentes de Invierno summit
finish.

Barring one crash which left him slightly injured, Contador
had a trouble-free final week, with American teammate
Leipheimer taking a fourth win for the Astana squad in
Saturday's mountain time trial.

"I had some tough days in the mountain stages in the
Pyrenees, I was worried I couldn't drop my rivals," Contador
told reporters on Saturday.

"But when we got to the Angliru, the team set me up
perfectly for the stage win and I felt I was on top of my game.

"In any case, victories always feel better when you've had
problems.

"Before 2007 I couldn't possibly imagine that I'd win all
three major tours in such a short time. Each victory in each of
the 'big three' had its own importance, but in any case I'm not
going to stop trying to take more wins."