Alberto Contador and his mid-climb sprints

Yesterday’s Vuelta stage was about recovering from pain. A long climb creates deep-rooted, constant physical discomfort and then Alberto Contador garnishes it with sudden sprints that bring an extra layer of acute agony.

There aren’t many sports where you have to recover from sudden intense activity while still putting in a reasonable amount of effort. If you’re running, the sprint is generally the entire event or is only at the end of the race. In cycling, the massive benefits of riding directly behind someone else mean you might have to endure a whole series of sprints and recover from each of them.

Contador’s a bastard for this. He’s forever accelerating, launching himself 40 yards uphill, compelling you to follow or resign yourself to defeat. It’s painful for him, but at least he knows when it’s going to happen. Everyone else is left screaming: “Wait a minute. I’m not ready yet. I haven’t recovered from the last attack, you arsehole.”

He shook most of his competitors – most notably Chris Froome, who lost a fair bit of time – but he couldn’t quite shake Joaquim Rodriguez. The little sod slowly dragged himself back to Contador just in time for the run-in to the finish.

Contador can attack again and again, but the final sprint of the day is different – you don’t need to recover. You just judge how far you can sprint and then go as fast as you can. In these situations, no-one is faster than Rodriguez. The man has a near-monopoly on bonus seconds.


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