A poorer Tour for no Contador
As one of only five men in the history of cycling to have won all three Grand Tours, Alberto Contador is considered by many to be the most talented cyclist of his generation. He is considered by me to be a tool.
My love of cycling and the Tour in particular coincided with Contador’s meteoric and controversial rise to the top.
The first Tour I actively watched was 2007, when Contador seemingly fell in to the Maillot Jaune, after race leader Michael Rasmussen was sacked by his team under a doping cloud. Contador beat Cadel Evans by a heart breaking 23 seconds that year, in one of the smallest winning margins in the race’s history.
Throughout the 2007 Tour however, a number of accusations were levelled against Contador for doping. He was linked with the Operación Puerto drug ring investigation, which had seen him unable to compete in the 2006 Tour. Though he returned five clean tests throughout the race, he seemed dodgy.
Exacerbating that sense was his move the following season to Astana – a team which had to withdraw from the 2007 Tour after a number of their riders returned positive tests. A word to the wise Alberto, if you’re under suspicion of doping, don’t join a team which has become synonymous with dirty riders.
Astana were not invited to compete at the 2008 Tour and so Contador could not defend his title. Instead he won the Giro and Vuelta that year, making him the youngest man (aged 25) to have won all three and also took the shortest amount of time to do so, in just 15 months.
2009 saw Contador return to the Tour and this time successfully defend his title. However he did so on the back of the hard work of his teammates, in particular a super-domestique by the name of Lance Armstrong.
Lance had come back to cycling to win the Tour, though claimed to be happy playing second fiddle to El Pistolero. However, after the Tour, the two of them made it clear theirs had not been a happy team. Contador was quoted saying of Armstrong, “I have never admired him and never will.”
Lance returned serve, saying, “a champion is also measured on how much he respects his teammates and opponents.”
Contador again won the 2010 Tour, beating Andy Schleck by 39 seconds. This was a poetic time difference, as Contador had gained exactly 39 seconds on Schleck by attacking him on the Port de Bales after Schleck’s chain came off his bike. The incident became known as “Chaingate” and split the cycling world in two – those who believed Contador was right to attack and those who believed it was poor form to take advantage of a competitor’s technical difficulty.
However a much bigger storm was brewing.
In September 2010, it was revealed Contador had failed a drugs test during the Tour. He tested positive for clenbuterol, which he accredited to being in his system from a contaminated piece of meat. The whole affair played out over nearly 18 months, during which time Contador won the 2011 Giro and placed fifth overall in the 2011 Tour.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled in February this year that Contador was guilty of doping and gave him a retrospective two year ban – meaning he will be free to race next month but that all his results for the previous 18 months were stripped.
Contador’s 2011 Giro victory became Michele Scarponi’s and Contador’s 2010 Tour victory became Andy Schleck’s. Andy’s comment on the situation was, “There is no reason to be happy now, first of all I feel sad for Alberto. I always believed in his innocence. This is just a very sad day for cycling.”
And so here we are, the 2012 Tour de France having begun on Saturday with no Alberto Contador.
While my disdain for him is more than apparent, it is with something of a hollow feeling I watch the peloton sans El Pistolero.
Though the eventual winner of this year’s Tour will, in my eyes, hold the title legitimately (others have suggested if you didn’t beat Contador, you didn’t really win) I find myself wishing he was there competing.
Whilst I will be screaming at my TV as the drama of the mountain stages unfolds, all I will be able to scream will be words of encouragement for our brilliant Cadel Evans, rather than abuse at his competitors.
Because I can’t bring myself to hate any of Cadel’s present rivals.
Bradley Wiggins is considered the greatest threat to Cadel defending his Tour title, but I have seen the courage and dignity with which Wiggins rides. Furthermore, his father’s an Aussie. It would be disappointing if Wiggins won but certainly not heart breaking.
As for Cadel’s other main competitors? Franck Schleck has lived in the shadow of his younger brother for the last five years, it would be fitting for him to finally make his own mark on cycling’s Grandest stage. Ryder Hesjedal is Canada’s Cadel, the first of his countrymen to win a Grand Tour (this year’s Giro) and a pioneer as such. Denis Menchov has been there or thereabouts in every Tour I’ve seen, he deserves a victory.
Sport needs its villains. Mario Balotelli, Sonny Bill Williams, Tiger Woods, LeBron James. All men of supreme talent, champions in their respective sports and yet many watch them just to hate them.
In cycling, that man is Alberto Contador. The cyclist we love to hate. The man I used to stay up late just to seethe at, and spend the next day at work telling all and sundry what a dirty, rotten cheat he is.
I’ll be cheering Cadel all the way to Paris. But I’ll also be politely applauding his competitors.
Alberto, it just ain’t the same without you.
Follow Joe on Twitter @joebfrost
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