Published: Sep 23, 7:00a ET
Updated: Apr 9, 12:19p ET

Tour of Spain winner Contador is world's top stage racer

MADRID -- Alberto Contador's win in the Tour of Spain on Sunday confirmed him as the world's top stage racer after his victories in the 2007 Tour de France and this year's Giro d'Italia.

Born 25 years ago in Pinto, a dormitory town near Madrid, Contador first got serious about bike racing at age 15 when his brother Fran, an amateur racer, lent him a bike.

Convinced of his own potential, Contador packed in his university studies and rode as an amateur with the prestigious Iberdrola squad.

Contador's climbing skills as a young rider earned him the nickname Pantani, after the Italian winner of the Tour de France in 1998, Marco Pantani.

He showed all-round talent when he took his first professional win in 2003, the time-trial stage of the Tour of Poland.

Contador's career took a setback in 2004 when he suffered a cavernoma -- a vascular disorder in the brain -- and needed six months to recover.

Back on the bike in January 2005, Contador rode his first Tour de France the same year, finishing 31st.

Contador's team were barred from the 2006 Tour because of the Operacion Puerto anti-doping investigation. The rider himself was cleared of any wrongdoing.

In the 2007 Tour, after taking a mountain-top stage win in the Pyrenees, Contador inherited the yellow jersey when Dane Michael Rasmussen was kicked out of the race.

The Spaniard proved himself a worthy winner when he defended his lead in the final time trial against Australian Cadel Evans, and clinched his first victory in a three-week stage race.

After signing for Astana in 2008, Contador once more was barred from riding the Tour because of doping scandals in the Kazakh team dating from 2007.

When Astana were given a last-minute invitation to the Giro in May, the Spaniard bounced back with a stunning victory in cycling's second-iggest stage race.

Contador's win in the Tour of Spain four months later makes him the fifth rider and first Spaniard to take all three major Tours.

Only Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault of France, Eddy Merckx of Belgium and Felice Gimondi of Italy have pulled off the so-called 'grand slam.'

LIFE CHANGING

Contador said on Saturday that winning all three major Tours will change his life forever.

It "will make for a truly exceptional year, one that will change my life forever", he told reporters after stage 20.

Having already won the 2007 Tour de France and 2008 Tour of Italy, Contador's victory in the Tour of Spain means he completed the so-called 'grand slam' in 15 months.

No rider has done it in such a short period of time.

"I'm still not thinking about it too hard, although I'm really happy to have achieved this," said the 25-year-old from the town of Pinto, near Madrid.

"I just want to go on winning races, and now I've taken the three biggest victories that a rider with my particular talents can win."

"I'm always going to be the rider to beat in every event I take part in, but I'm not too worried about that. I'm not obsessed with success."

BIGGEST IMPACT

Asked to compare his victories in cycling's biggest three stage races, the Astana rider said: "The Tour de France was the one that had the biggest impact on my life."

"I suffered a lot to win the Tour of Italy, the climbs there are the hardest in the world, but the fans were brilliant."

"Then riding the Tour of Spain was like a real homecoming, you know what to expect."

"Thanks to my victory here, I'm now a member of a very special group."

Contador recognized that winning the Vuelta, after his triumph in the Tour of Italy, had capped an exceptional year for Spanish cycling.

Spaniard Carlos Sastre won the Tour de France and compatriot Samuel Sanchez claimed the Olympic Games road-race gold.

"It's Spanish cycling's best moment ever," Contador said. "But it's not due to anything special, it just happens to be an exceptional generation of riders."

Contador's American teammate Levi Leipheimer finished second in the Tour of Spain after winning the stage 20 time trial on Saturday.

"We controlled the race very intelligently, from day one." Leipheimer told reporters.

"First and second shows how strong we were as a squad, but Alberto deserves the victory. He was under a lot of stress and he came through well."

Third in the same race in 2001, Leipheimer remains the only American to take a top-three placing in the Tour of Spain.

Share this article