In the fall out from the Alberto Contador suspension, one question remains: how will it impact the 2012 Pro Tour and in particular the Tour de France?
The response from the peleton has been surprising in a number of respects.
Most have come out with mild, respectful statements void of any vitriol. This would suggest to me that the majority believe he was unlucky and did eat contaminated food rather than consciously cheat.
If there was widespread belief among the other riders that he was a drug cheat, the comments would have been much more damning. If you spend your whole life thrashing yourself at training and then chasing a guy up mountains only to find he is a fraud, surely the reflex would be condemnation?
The legendary Eddie Merxx came out in support of Contador: “It’s a sad day for Alberto Contador, it’s a sad day for cycling … I think we’re going too far … The level of the (doping) control was incredibly low, and it’s only in cycling that this kind of thing can happen.”
And even one of his biggest rivals, Andy Schleck, conveyed sadness as the overwhelming response: “First of all, I feel sad for Alberto. I always believed in his innocence. This is just a very sad day for cycling.”
Guilt or innocence aside, one thing is for sure: the wiry Spaniard will leave a huge void in professional cycling.
There are not too many guys that can blow open grand tours with fifteen minute bursts on mountain stages, dancing on the pedals when all others are on the brink of exhaustion.
Cadel Evans, in comments made this week, saw both sides to Contador’s absence: on the one hand the most dangerous rider in the world will not be there – which is a good thing for the defending TdF champion; on the other hand, the peleton will pay even more attention to Evans’s every move as they have one less GC contender to watch.
Evans stated: “Without Alberto, though, the Tour won’t become easier. In fact, it could become more difficult without a reference point like him and one less team to take the reins of the race.”
Probably the most surprising comments of all have come from Baradley Wiggings in his own blog.
Not only does he take a slightly different angle on the Contador ban – “Only he knows whether he was innocent or guilty, but the decision has been made and I think it was the right decision for the sport” – he also states that Contador’s absence will not have a huge impact from a racing perspective.
“He won’t leave a massive void at the Tour in terms of the racing, because last year he was almost unnoticed until the L’Alpe d’Huez stage where he attacked early on.”
Wiggins also spruikes his own chances in 2012, claiming to be doing significantly better numbers than this time last year.
The truth is the real beneficiaries of Contador’s ban are the Schlek brothers and our own Cadel Evans. Those four have been a class above the rest in the GC over the last several years.
Furthermore, both the Schleks and Evans are in even stronger teams than they were in last year. The Schleks’ team Leopard Trek has merged with legendary manager Johan Bruyneel’s (Armstrong’s mentor) Radioshack team.
Amongst others, they will now ride with the powerful time trial specialist Fabian Cancellara, while Armstrong’s team BMC has added Phillipe Gilbert and current World Champion Thor Hushovd to its roster.
All bodes well for Evans to go back to back.