Alberto Contador Wins 2008 Vuelta
Alberto Contador lived up to expectations by winning the 63rd Vuelta a Espana. The 25-year-old Astana rider is the first Spanish rider in history to win all three Grand Tours. Contador previously won the 2007 Tour de France and the 2008 Giro d'Italia and now equals Jacques Anquetil, Felice Gimondi, Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault who've all won all three Grand Tours. He even surpasses the achievements of the other four riders as the fourteen months between his Tour 2007 victory and the end of the Vuelta bests the time frame of the Vuelta/Tour (1978) and Giro (1980) triple achieved by Hinault. The fact that teammate Levi Leipheimer placed 2nd overall made the success even greater for Team Astana.
After the last stage to Madrid (won by Matti Breschel of Team CSC-Saxo Bank), Contador was congratulated on the podium by Don Jaime Lissavetzky, Spanish State Secretary of Sports, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, Alcalde de Madrid and Pat McQuaid, President of the International Cycling Federation. Before celebrating with family and teammates in the evening, the Vuelta winner and his teammates were welcomed in the Kazakh Embassy in Madrid. Ambassador Yergali Bulegenov honored the team. "It is the mission of this team to foster national pride and I believe that the Vuelta victory and the team's 2008 successes are major milestones for the country. All Kazakhs should be filled with pride knowing they have the best stage racing team in the world."
According to Astana team representatives it was an honor for the riders that they were followed the last week by a Kazakh delegation with Mr. Azat Bekturov, vice-Minister of Transport and Communications and vice-President of the Kazakh Cycling Federation and Mr. Nikolay Proskurin, as well vice-President of the Kazakh Cycling Federation.
At the Embassy Alberto Contador and Levi Leipheimer received a socalled “shapan”, which is a typical Kazakh dress. "The team was extremely motivated to win and we will continue to represent Kazakhstan with class," commented Alberto Contador while wearing his “shapan”. "We met some adversities in the beginning of the season, but the remaining (part of the) 2008 season was more than positive. However, I would never have accomplished this mission without my teammates. Many thanks to Levi, Andreas, Assan, Dmitriy, Benjamín, Sérgio, Chechu and Tomas. To win the three Grand Tours in such a short period is surely very special, but I don't realize it yet. They were three very different Tours. In France and Italy, I did not start as a favorite, which made it easier. In Italy I had to deal with the cold temperatures and rain. In France there was the stress provoked by the crowds and many media. In Spain I could ride on my own roads and was encouraged by my home fans. All three victories are special."
Team Directors Alain Gallopin and Viatcheslav Ekimov were happy with the victory but most of all with the work of the whole team. "It was ot always easy with many windy stages. The Team had to work long and hard hours at the front of the race," commented Alain Gallopin. "I am proud they all worked for the same goal, bringing Alberto in that Gold Jersey to Madrid. It is not so evident that potential Grand Tour winners, like Andreas Klöden and Levi Leipheimer, took on the role as 'super domestiques'."
Team Manager Johan Bruyneel was extremely proud as well. "We will toast this victory tonight, not only for Alberto Contador, but for the Astana team as a whole. It should be clear that we have our place in all big cycling events. We proved this year to be the best team for stage races. Organizers who don't want us punish themselves and seem to devalue their own race. We've proved how professionally we have conducted ourselves throughout the entire season. I cannot be more proud. The season is not over yet, but the mission is already more than accomplished. We have the support of the President of Kazakhstan, Mr. Nursultan Nazarbayev, of the Kazakh Cycling Federation and of our Kazakh sponsors. The Astana cycling team is not a commercial initiative. The intent is to promote cycling and the future of this sport, not only in Kazakhstan. I received guarantees that this is not a short term initiative. We will continue to build a strong team. As the country of Kazakhstan gave us these opportunities, we are glad to carry that blue flag to the rest of the world. As a bonus, our results are a nice present for the tenth anniversary of the City of Astana."
Bruyneel's comments about the team not being a commercial nitiative are very interesting when taking Lance Armstong's announced comeback into account. Armstrong has announced that he wants to return to cycling to launch an international cancer strategy. This fits well with Bruyneel's comments about the team being non-commercial.
"Hey everybody. I know there's been a lot of reports in the media today about a possible return to racing. I just wanna let you know that after long talks with my kids, the rest of my family, a close group of friends I have decided to return to professional cycling in 2009. The reason for this is to launch an international cancer strategy, based on the fact that we lose 8 million people around the world to this disease - more than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined - I will announce the entire initiative, as well as the other plans for the comeback on September the 24th at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City. So until then, take care and live strong," Armstrong told Roadcycling.com on September 9 this year.
It appears more and more likely that Lance Armstrong will join Team Astana. Former Armstrong teammate and current Astana rider Chechu Rubiera previously this month cancelled his announced retirement from cycling. Likely because he's looking forward to new ventures together with Armstrong.
It will be interesting to see how the team will manage to have four potential grand tour winners on the team without any conflicts arising. Stay tuned to Roadcycling.com to find out. The 2009 cycling season will certainly be exciting.
The current Astana riders will now take a couple of days off and then head to Varese where twelve Astana riders will participate in the 2008 World Championships.