Alberto Contador Tribute: ‘El Pistolero’ hung up his race wheels on Sunday in Madrid at the end of the final stage 21 of la Vuelta a España. So endeth the career of one of the best Grand Tour riders of the present generation and, for sure, one of the most entertaining riders in the peloton. Ed Hood looks back on the man from Pinto’s life, controversies and victories.
Yes, we know. Poels and Froome could have fetched him back on the Angliru if they really wanted to. But why would they do that? And yes, we know that Mas, Soler and Yates didn’t have to spell him. But why wouldn’t they? It’s ‘chapeau’ then to all of these gentlemen for becoming part of bike racing history and showing respect to The Master, Señor Alberto Contador Velasco. And if you reckon it was a ‘fixer finale,’ Wilco Kelderman will set you right on that one.
Contador’s last tough race, Vuelta’17 stage 20, was no easy victory – Wilco Kelderman knows
But before we get into my opinions, let’s look at his palmarès; they’re a matter of fact:
He started racing with his home club, Uni de Pinto in 1998 and 1999 moving on to Real Velo Club Portillo for 2000 and taking four victories with his climbing talent beginning to emerge. In 2001 he was with Iberdrola with whom he won the Subida a Gorla but when he moved to Wurth for season 2002 the wins began to multiply, seven including the Spanish U23 TT championship.
Full pro with ONCE for 2003 he won the TT stage in the Tour of Poland. Liberty Seguros was the squad when he endured a horror crash in Asturias, captured all too graphically on Spanish TV as a result of suffering a cerebral cavernoma – a congenital brain condition that required a delicate and risky operation – meant there was little to show in his palmarès for 2004.
But he was back to health for season 2005 and still with Liberty, taking a stage in the Tour Down Under and the GC in Setmana Catalana. His final year with the Spanish team, 2006 saw stage wins in the Tours of Romandie and Suisse.
2008 Giro d’Italia
The breakthrough year was 2007 with GC wins in Castilla y Leon, Paris-Nice and his first Tour de France all in the colors of Discovery Channel. A big bucks offer from Kazakhstan was too good to refuse and Astana was the name on the maillot for 2008 with Castilla y Leon, the Pais Vasco, Giro and Vuelta all falling to him.
2008 Castilla y Leon
Giro 2008 time trial
With team manager Johan Bruyneel, Vuelta 2008
Vuelta a España 2008
His second Tour win for Astana came in 2009 along with the Volta a Algarve, Pais Vasco, and the Spanish TT championship. The Tour win was notable in that one of his biggest rivals was team mate Lance Armstrong who did everything he could to hamper the Spaniard’s chances.
Frosty Tour 2009
In Tour yellow 2009
The pistol shot at the end of the 2009 Tour with no thanks to teammate Armstrong
His third Tour win (still there on his website, not denied – but more of that later) in his last year at Astana came in 2010 along with the Algarve, Paris-Nice and Castilla y Leon.
Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador on the 2010 Tour de France podium
Tour’10 and ‘chain-gate’
Big Bjarne Riis was the man in the Saxo car for 2011 and Contador gave him wins in Murcia, Catalonia and the Giro (again, more of which later). With Saxo again for the 2012 campaign he delivered another Vuelta win along with a surprising single day success in Milano-Torino.
Giro’11 win on Mount Etna
Tour de San Luis leader
San Luis stage win
Season 2013 was lean, still with Saxo a stage in the Tour of San Luis was as good as it got – in this summary we haven’t listed stage wins or places of honor, they’re just too numerous to list. Riis was sliding into the background in season 2014 with outspoken Russian millionaire Oleg Tinkov’s name on the jerseys; for whom Contador won his third Vuelta, Tirreno and the Pais Vasco.
On the attack in the 2013 Tour
Still with Bjarne Riis during the Dauphiné 2014
Alberto crashed out of the 2014 Tour
Contador made a fast return to take the 2014 Vuelta
Oleg was happy that day
A year later, still with Tinkov he took the Route du Sud and his third Giro. The 2016 season saw wins in the Pais Vasco and Burgos and that bring us up to season 2017 in the colors of Trek-Segafredo. Some say he’s faded this year; I say that most riders in the peloton would give their back teeth to be on the GC podiums of Andalucía, Paris-Nice, Catalonia and the Pais Vasco all in the same season.
Another Giro win in 2015
Still on good terms with Oleg at the Giro’15
With the Colombians on the Pais Vasco’16 podium – Henao and Quintana
In addition he was top 10 in Le Tour after being one of the main animators in the last week and ended his career in real style with his stunning stage win on L’Angliru and fourth on GC in the Vuelta. He ends his career as one of only six riders to win all three Grand Tours, along with Jacques Anquetil, Felice Gimondi, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Vincenzo Nibali.
Stage 21 of the Vuelta’17 the last win of his career
If we ignore the peculiarities of the UCI’s interpretations of the rule book he’s won nine Grand Tours, placing him third in the all time rankings behind Merckx on 11 and Hinault on 10; but according to the UCI, it’s seven. More on that in a moment, included in my personal 10 random memories of the finest Grand Tour rider of his generation:
1: Let’s grasp the nettle, ‘the clenbuterol affair’ – it was in his system in such tiny quantities as to make zero difference to performance; the meat which he consumed came from Argentina, not Europe and how come when Mick Rogers tests for the same substance it’s; ‘poor old Mick, obviously it’s that contaminated Chinese beef?’ And taking his Giro win away was ridiculous; he rode it and won it ‘clean’ – you can bet that the UCi were testing him to the max – so how the heck can could it be taken away?
2: Lance’s 2009 Tour comeback was ‘sprung’ on Contador by Bruyneel with the Belgian Svengali and Texan control freak showing scant respect for the reigning champion, Contador. Not only did the Spaniard have to contend with the opposition but also with half of his own team with the Texan ‘negging’ him at every opportunity. Contador showed great dignity and restraint, went about his business and won the race.
3: Later that same year at the launch for the 2010 Tour there was a moment where Lance and Contador met, the Texan was seated, Contador strode over and offered his hand to shake, a big smile on his face. A visibly nonplussed Armstrong offered his hand in reply but he knew what Contador’s smile meant; ‘I beat you this year and I’m going to do the same again, next year, Cowboy!’
4: The 2012 Vuelta is won, Joaquim Rodriguez only has to defend to Madrid – but Contador has other ideas and launches one of his famous ‘ambushes’ on the Fuente De stage 17; result, Rodriguez a broken man and Contador on his way to his second Vuelta win – how a champion rides.
5: But at the finish of that same race, in Madrid, on the final podium, Contador bows as he shakes hands with Rodriguez and Valverde; respect for his rivals who fought hard with him – the class of a true champion.
6: The Vuelta 2008, rest day in a wet and wild Comillas on Spain’s northern coast – to wet for a rest day potter so Astana ‘spin’ on the turbos. After a shower Alberto heads for lunch with friends, we can’t believe how laid back and cool the man is, with time for absolutely everyone – and not a bodyguard or blacked-out window in sight.
7: The Angliru 2008 and Contador dances to glory with the field in tatters behind him and the fans in raptures – a wonderful memory.
8: And he won next day too, this time in the gold of race leader, very, very impressive; we thought he was happy to let Mosquera take the stage but Leipheimer wouldn’t have that – so Contador had to react. . .
9: The Angliru again, two days ago but unfortunately life got in the way and I didn’t make it there in person but I was glued to that TV screen. It’s rare for me to get emotionally involved in a bike race these days but this was an exception, on the edge of my chair, chewing my fingers; real drama, bike racing – and Bert at his brilliant best.
Victory on l’Angliru
10: He goes out with a bang, at the very top; some of the great names of the sport milked their career to the last and beyond – not this man, he has the strength of character to know when enough is enough.
‘Adios, Alberto,’ I’m glad I was there to witness just a few of your great adventures – I’m going to miss you.
Alberto can spend more time with his wife, Macarena
It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,500 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.