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Contador brings down the curtain in Madrid

It was an emotional sight. The pelotón entered Madrid at the end La Vuelta and slowed to allow Alberto Contador to pass through it and enter the capital at its head, to the cheers of the crowds packing the pavements. A lot of people, as there had been in the smaller towns on the way into Madrid, on all the other stages and in every corner of La Vuelta’s 2017 route. It has been a splendid Vuelta and the broadcasters covering it have excelled themselves. In the same way the Tour de France does, television images have shown Spain’s landscapes and monuments and have informed viewers of the country’s geological secrets. It has all been narrated wonderfully by Carlos de Andrés and Perico Delgado. La Vuelta represents “Brand Spain” and has been televised in many countries.

Chris Froome won, you could say from start to finish. He is to be commended for the interest and enthusiasm he has always shown for this race through the years, and for his dedication to winning it. This was his sixth participation in La Vuelta. Froome is the pre-eminent cyclist of the moment and his presence adds prestige. But the greatest spectacle was provided by Contador, fatally left behind on the first mountain stage in Andorra. He did not allow matters to end there. It was his final race and he went hell for leather on every occasion that the road grew steeper with long attacks, sometimes imprudent ones but always exciting. He eventually got his reward, winning the big prize with a stage win on the mythical peak of Angliru.

When the race came to an end in Cibeles, after several laps around the finest sights of Madrid and with the added interest of Froome’s battle with Matteo Trentin for the green jersey, Contador descended from his bike for the final time. It is a shame. He still has a few bullets in the magazine. But it is also nice to see him retire in this way, going out on a high point. Not everybody has managed that. Three days stand out as the most memorable moments in his career: his debut as a professional, his first Tour de France victory and this, his happy farewell, on his own terms, with the adoration of the multitudes in Cibeles, among whom there were surely many from his native Pinto on the outskirts of the capital, and with the satisfaction of having achieved given the best of himself always.