Contador is back, but redemption won’t come easy
Three-time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador of Spain stripped of his titles. AP Photo/Christophe Ena
Alberto Contador’s return to competitive cycling following a drug ban will divide opinions. There will be those for whom he will forever be a doper, and a man who has brought the sport of cycling nothing but further disgrace.
For them, Contador will always be a reminder of the corruption of cycling, no matter what he does now.
There will be those who loved him for his audacious talent, for whom the manner of his disgrace doesn’t convince of his guilt, and who will be willing to give him a second chance. The amount of clenbuterol in his system was miniscule, after all.
There will also be those who don’t care about doping, as long as the racing is exciting.
Contador will be a divisive figure for the rest of his career, which is likely to extend for a good few more years.
He’ll be on a hiding to nothing: if he returns quickly to his most exhilarating form, some will assume that he’s still doping.
If he struggles to hit those heights, it will be assumed that his talent alone was insufficient and his whole career to date was based on lies.
I don’t know what to think.
My views on other riders who have returned from doping are mixed, but if I’m honest I struggle to rationalise why I give some riders the benefit of doubt while others are branded in my mind as terminal scoundrels.
I was angry when Vinokourov won the Olympic road race. It was a visceral reaction. Many observers admired his tactical brilliance, to win a race despite the physical advantages of some of his younger rivals.
While respecting his strength and smarts, I couldn’t bring myself to enjoy his victory. To me, it felt like an abuse of the Olympic ideal, and four years of an (apparently) unrepentant cheat as Olympic champion to rub our noses in it.
Yet I feel much more positive (pardon the pun) about riders like Basso or Valverde being back in the peloton. This is entirely irrational.
Both are guilty of the same thing as Vinokourov, and like him have served bans and returned to racing showing only flashes of their former brilliance.
Contador has been utterly unrepentant since he was found guilty. He has denied everything.
For other riders, this has been enough to guarantee pariah status.
But Contador has also been the most exciting grand tour rider of his generation. After an industrial Tour de France stamped into submission by the Team Sky machine, many fans will be glad to have a wild card like Contador back in the picture.
Sins will be forgiven for the sake of the spectacle.
But some will think if it was all a fraud before, perhaps it still is.
Tim Renowden has been following professional cycling closely since Indurain won his first Tour. A former A-grade club athlete, and now a keen recreational cyclist and roller racer, he once rode very slowly up Mont Ventoux. Tim tweets about sport at @timehhh_sp.
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