Alberto Contador wins Volta ao Algarve

By Skip Bandele [email protected]

The winner of the 36th Tour of the Algarve seemed to be a foregone conclusion after top favourite and 2009 victor Alberto Contador had put over 15 seconds between himself and the remainder of the field at the end of Friday’s Castro Marim-Alto do Malhão 173km climb.

By the time the peloton had reached Tavira on Saturday, however, the 27-year-old Spaniard was being pursued by a bunched field with only one minute covering the first 15 on the leader board ahead of Sunday’s concluding Lagoa-Portimão 17.2km individual time trial.

The close proximity of sprint specialists David Millar, world champion in 2007, and Andreas Kloden made sure of a grand stand climax to the European cycling season’s opening event with the 2010 crown up for grabs right up to the end.

“This is my first race of the year,” said Millar prior to the off. “The truth is that I have suffered a lot over the past days.” The Briton, the 33-year-old son of a former RAF pilot, was still expected to make up ground hand over fist on top quartet Contador, Tiago Machado, Levi Leipheimer and Samuel Sanchez – unfortunately a flying start was followed by a crash 5km into the test putting him out of contention.

Combined with a mediocre (15th) performance from Kloden, it was left to Spain’s Leon Sanchez to seize the initiative and come home 13 seconds clear of compatriot Contador, who was thus able to seal a second comprehensive overall victory in as many years.

The first foreign rider to achieve this back-to-back feat had almost 20 seconds to spare by the time the finishing line was crossed in Portimão leaving Sanchez in second and Portugal’s highest placed competitor, Tiago Machado (RadioShack), in third. Palmeiras Resort Tavira’s three-time Tour of Portugal winner David Blanco had to be content with 18th place, 2.26 minutes off the pace.

“The truth is that this victory belongs to my team,” Contador said afterwards. “We have started the year well and are on the way to the Tour” (de France). Rival Lance Armstrong, whose team was represented by Machado as well as Leipheimer, Kloden and Sérgio Paulinho amongst the top finishers in the Algarve, will have taken note.