Former two-time Tour de France champion Alberto Contador signalled his return to form by securing overall victory at the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race following the final time trial on Tuesday.
Italian Adriano Malori (Movistar) won the concluding stage of the ‘Race of the Two Seas’, a flat 9.1 km race against the clock which finished on the palm tree-lined seafront of San Benedetto del Tronto.
Malori completed the course in a winning time of 10min 13sec, leaving former world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara second at 6sec with Britain’s Bradley Wiggins, the Olympic champion in the discipline, in third at 11sec.
However all eyes were on Spaniard Contador, on whom expectations will now be high after a dismal 2013 season in which he tried in vain to beat Chris Froome at the Tour de France, where he finished fourth behind the triumphant Briton.
Contador, who finished second overall recently at the Tour of the Algarve, took the overall lead after an impressive ride on stage five when he launched an attack in the final 30 km, caught an earlier escape group and then beat his stage rivals to win atop the outrageously steep ‘Muro di Guardiagrele’.
His performance left overnight leader Michal Kwiatkowski, of Omega-Pharma, trailing home six minutes behind and gave Contador a 2:08 lead on Colombian Nairo Quintana of Movistar.
The 31-year-old Spaniard protected his lead on Monday’s sixth stage, won by sprinter Mark Cavendish, and lost only three seconds to Quintana on Tuesday’s test to claim his first major stage race since the Tour of Spain in 2012.
Tirreno-Adriatico is one of two major races, along with Paris-Nice — which finished on Sunday — in which many riders compete to help hone their form for Milan-SanRemo.
The first major classic of the season will be held on Sunday but, after organisers altered the course by removing a key climb, the Pompeiana, it is expected to suit the sprinters this year.
Contador’s bid was arguably boosted by the retirement from the race of Sky’s Richie Porte, a pre-race contender, who pulled out prior to stage five due to illness.
His fellow Australian, former Tour de France winner Cadel Evans, pulled out prior to the time trial in order to return home and prepare for the Giro d’Italia which begins on May 9.