Contador wins over fickle fans in defeat

PARIS, (Reuters) – Booed by fans at the start of the  Tour de France, Spain’s Alberto Contador won back their  affection by the end despite losing his invincibility on grand  Tours.

The 28-year-old surrendered his title as his stormy season  drew to an end yesterday but his fighting performances over the  past three caught the imagination of the crowds.

“The affection the fans gave me is a great personal  satisfaction. It means even more than a Tour title,” the  Pinto-born rider who salvaged fifth place overall, said.     “All in all I had a great season. People focus on the Tour  de France but we have to take into account the rest of the  season,” he said. “I’m delighted with my season.”

Contador ignited a race he was not exactly welcomed to with  open arms in the light of the forthcoming appeal to the Court of  Arbitration for Sport (CAS) by cycling authorities over a failed  dope test in last year’s race.

The jeers that rang out for the defending champion at the  teams’ presentation before the start were a shock for the  Spaniard and his race began badly.

One of only five men with titles in the Tour, the Giro and  the Vuelta, he lost ground in the first stage after being held  up behind a massive pile-up.

He then struggled to turn the situation around as he was  looking to become the first rider to achieve a Giro/Tour double  since Marco Pantani in 1998.

Three crashes in the first week resulted in a knee injury  that hampered his challenge in the first mountain stages in the  Pyrenees but he hung on produced some vintage attacks.

He caught the Schleck brothers off guard in the ascent to  the Col de Manse and outpaced them in descent to La Rochette in  the 16th stage, making up over a minute on Andy Schleck.

The following day, Contador was on the move again in a  tricky descent into Pinerolo, although he was reeled in less  than a kilometre from the line.

In the first of two gruelling Alpine stages on Thursday,  Contador struggled in the Col Agnel before cracking in the last  two kilometres of the Col du Galibier, losing almost four  minutes to Andy Schleck.

Despite conceding defeat, he would not surrender his title  meekly and Contador showed his mettle one more time, attacking  the pack after only 15 kilometres in the first corner of the Col  du Telegraphe in the stage to l’Alpe d’Huez. “It was a very tough Tour with all the crashes at the  beginning,” he told Reuters. “I suffered from them as I lost  time and got hurt.

“As a consequence, I have tried things I would not have done  before. Instead of looking at every seconds I could win or lose  in the standings, I rode without pressure and I was able to  attack from afar because I had nothing to lose.”

His Saxo Bank-Sungard team manager Bjarne Riis said Contador  had paid for his exertions on the Giro.

This hasn’t been our Tour. We didn’t get out of it what we  came for. The Giro was very hard,” he said. “He’s paying a price  for that, but we fought to the end and we’re proud of that.”

Contador’s immediate future is under a cloud though with the  looming doping hearing.

He failed a test for the banned anabolic agent clenbuterol  last July but he was cleared by the Spanish federation, only for  the International Cycling Union (UCI) and the World Anti-Doping  Agency (WADA) to appeal before CAS.

The hearing is set for Aug. 1-3, with a final decision  expected before the end of next month.

“As far as my future is concerned, all I want is a good  rest,” he said.

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