Trek-Segafredo's Alberto Contador added a storybook ending to his incredible career, winning the penultimate stage of his final race during Saturday's 2017 Vuelta a Espana action.
The Spaniard was the strongest rider on the steep flanks of the Angliru, one of the hardest climbs in Europe. Team Sky's Chris Froome easily defended his lead in the general classification and will win this year's Vuelta if he doesn't crash or have a mechanical problem on Sunday.
Here's a look at the current GC, via Tiempo de Juego:
Tiempo de Juego @tjcope
#General 1⃣🚴♀️Froome 2⃣+2:15" Nibali 3⃣+2:51" Zakarin 4⃣+3:11" Contador #LaVueltaEnCOPE2017-9-9 16:00:59
The penultimate stage of this year's Vuelta was all about the Angliru, one of the most feared climbs in all of cycling, featuring gradients of up to 24 percent. Quick-Step Floors' Enric Mas was one of many in awe of the climb:
Enric Mas Nicolau @EnricMasNicolau
Angliru? 🤔 https://t.co/9v3mgxhLDJ2017-9-9 09:54:20
Conditions on the fierce ascent were dreadful on Saturday, with heavy wins and rains forecast. At one point in the afternoon, the VIP tents had to be brought down, and even the podium took some minor damage.
Mas was in the early break, along with Orica-Scott's Adam and Simon Yates and Marc Soler of Movistar, among others. They never got much of an advantage from the peloton, however, with a nervous Trek-Segafredo team keeping things close.
In the back, the Colombian riders applied early pressure, launching their first small attacks on the Alto de la Cobertoria. As La Flamme Rouge shared, that climb was no picnic:
La Flamme Rouge @laflammerouge16
#LV2017 - 55 to go. 1'17''. Cobertoria will start in 7 kms. https://t.co/6kW4IQFtYr2017-9-9 13:50:57
The break completely fell apart on the climb, with Mas attacking, but the riders in the peloton kept quiet. They were as careful as possible in the descents, which became even more dangerous in the dreadful conditions.
Things didn't improve as the stage wore on, via The Cycling Podcast:
The Cycling Podcast @cycling_podcast
This is what it's like at the top of the Angliru at the moment. #Vuelta #LV2017 #bracing https://t.co/D6L90Ma4VE2017-9-9 13:45:03
Astana's Fabio Aru lost touch with his main rivals in the descent and was forced to chase on the Alto de la Cordal, the final ascent before the Angliru and a climb known for its tricky descent.
A motorbike from the organisation was the first to crash, and Soler also hit the tarmac while leading the race. Even Bahrain-Merida's Vincenzo Nibali, arguably the best descender in the peloton, couldn't keep his balance.
Contador launched an attack as soon as the final climb started, and Sky let him ride initially, knowing the toughest parts of the ascent came near the summit. The Spaniard had help from team-mate Jarlinson Pantano, and Mas also chipped in.
Cycling writer Neal Rogers loved it:
Neal Rogers @nealrogers
Contador closing down his career in a blaze of glory with a long-range mountain attack. Because of course he is. #LV20172017-9-9 15:24:43
In the chasing group, Froome had no less than four team-mates helping, and the wind aided in the chase. Contador eventually went solo with just over five kilometers to go, pushing his lead beyond a minute over the group of Froome.
Nibali cracked, while Froome dropped his rivals with two kilometers to go. He and team-mate Wout Poels almost bridged the gap to Contador, but the 34-year-old veteran survived, sending the Spanish fans into a delirium.
Behind those three, Wilco Kelderman of Sunweb lost plenty of time, and Nibali limited the damage. Contador came within 20 seconds of the GC podium.
Sunday's ride toward Madrid will be a flat affair and shouldn't have any impact on the general classification.