The 2009 Tour de France marked the return of Alberto Contador, who had since gone on to stamp his authority on world cycling.
In the time since his 2007 victory, Contador had become only the fifth man to ever win all three grand tours – claiming the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana in 2008 – as well as being awarded two consecutive Vélo d’Ors as the best cyclist in the world.
But 2009 also saw the return of the Tour’s most successful cyclist of all in Lance Armstrong.
Both were signed to ride for Astana, though there was much controversy as to who would be the team’s leader – the young bull who had been robbed of the chance to defend his 2007 title, or the old bull who was looking to win an unprecedented eighth tour and in doing so defend the title he had chosen not to since 2004.
For Cadel this was to be a controversial year too, and in the end one that he would rather forget. After three years as the captain of his Silence Lotto team, cracks were starting to emerge.
Cadel was reported to no longer be getting along with his teammates and support staff. An attempt to win over his teammates was made with a bold move on the eighth stage when Cadel made an early break, only to be reeled in by the Schlecks, Contador and Armstrong.
This move ended up costing Cadel energy, credibility and popularity within both his team and the peloton, as he commented after it: “You’d think anyone in the Tour de France would let me go in a breakaway, and then when they get into a break with me – like a couple of members of them did – they carry on like three-year olds with their tantrums, saying ‘get out of the group, they’re gonna chase us’. “
With two weeks worth of racing to go, Cadel’s Tour was already all but over, with his teammates instead rallying around rising star Jurgen Van Den Broek. Van Den Broek went on to come in at 15th overall while Cadel pedalled in to Paris in 30th place, 45 minutes adrift of overall winner Contador.
Meanwhile, Andy Schleck’s rise continued coming in second to Contador whilst holding off third placed Lance Armstrong. He stood on the podium in Paris wearing the white jersey for best young rider in the Tour – his second in as many years – but knew he had a lot of work to do if he was to make up the four minutes Contador had beaten him by.
Lance too stood on the podium, coming third at five and a half minutes to Contador.
Though teammates, the two famously feuded throughout the race with Lance ever reluctant to play the part of a domestique – albeit a domestique d’elite.
It would have burned for Lance to hear the Spanish national anthem played for his chief rival as he stood on the podium in Paris. Luckily, in what Contador would describe as an “enormous blunder”, the Danish national anthem was played instead!
In the following months Cadel would re-confirm his commitment to Silence-Lotto, win the UCI World Road Championship and in doing so become Australia’s first cycling world champion and then leave Silence-Lotto (where his place as team captain was still very much under threat from Van Den Broek) to sign on with newly established American team BMC Racing as their captain.