Adios Alberto – The PEZ CREW Look Back!
Alberto Contador – PEZ Crew Tribute: Alberto Contador was probably one of the most exciting riders to battle in the recent Grand Tours, he would attack when others would watch and wait and his retirement will be a loss to the cycling World. The PEZ (virtual) office has been a-buzz of ‘Berty’ talk and so here are the thoughts of the ‘gang’ on El Pistolero.
You can see Ed Hood’s review of Alberto Contador’s career HERE.
Richard Pestes – Publisher
I fondly and admiringly look back at Alberto Contador as the most exciting rider of the current era – and not only because he won every Grand Tour seemingly at will. No – my real admiration of him started at the 2009 Tour de France when he stole what many thought would be Lance’s 8th Tour win.
It’s not just that he was a better rider than Lance – it was all the drama within the Astana Team, you couldn’t have scripted this any better – how the returning champ assumed his role as undisputed leader, except there was one problem – and younger rider – just as hungry to win, as talented on the bike – and unbeknownst to any of us at the time – least of all Lance I suspect – this young rider was even tougher mentally than his Machiavellian master.
Contador gets ready to launch his own attack on stage 7 of the 2009 Tour to the summit of Arcalis.
Lance had proven his place as big dog over his many years as reigning patrone of the peloton – so often bullying his rivals and even lesser riders into submission with his stop at nothing attitude to crush anyone he thought needed crushing. Remember Filippo Simoni? Ouch. I had the chance to meet and ride with Lance at a charity ride in 2005, and even I was scared of him – to the point of approaching with caution as we rode our bikes for two days in the Canadian Rockies. It was kinda comical – but still scary.
Back to Alberto. Maybe his attack on stage 7 of the 2009 Tour de France wasn’t “part of the team plan” as Lance commented after the stage, and maybe it was just the up & comer getting a bit plucky on the race’s first summit finish – but it caught everyone off guard and sure got us watching. The press whipped up the daily reports of in-fighting inside the Astana bus, and Lance did his usual excellent job of fanning the flames with his seemingly natural but masterly skewed commentary trying to paint Alberto as a traitor (another thing he was a master at). For his part – Alberto kept his cool and refused to wade into the media muck, while Lance dropped his well – measured sound bytes wherever he could. But Alberto just let his legs do the talking – and then won stage 15 and the maillot jaune to Verbier, while all Lance could do was watch when even his own legs betrayed him.
It all came to a boil at the Lake Annecy TT on stage 18, the story goes that Lance had orchestrated more subterfuge in a last desperate attempt to derail Alberto’s big Tour win, which involved sending all available team vehicles to run various errands, leaving Alberto stranded at the team hotel with no ride to the TT start. This played out at the race course as Ed & Martin – on Roadside assignment for PEZ – noted Lance as he warmed up – and also noted there was no sign of Alberto. Later, Lance’s bodyguards pushed our guys aside as Lance made his way to the starthouse – followed a few minutes after by an unaccompanied Alberto – speeding through the crowd to make his own start time on time.
Contador went on to win the TT – leading at every time gap, and took another 1:30 out of Lance. The Tour was over, and so was Lance’s reign.
He’d done it – Alberto had beaten the king at his own race: he was better on the bike – and most of all he proved just how tough he was mentally. And he did it with true class – never saying a disparaging word about his tricky adversary, and keeping his cool through constant attacks from what should have been a trusted team mate.
I will miss him in the bunch – and if I ever get a chance to meet him – you can bet I’m telling him this story.
Alberto kissing the Giro winner’s trophy in Milan 2011. There was a great atmosphere here at the Piazza del Duomo as I snapped a photo (that’s me in the green shirt lower right) – and here’s the pic I took:
Rui Costa (UAE Team Emirates) – Ex-World Champion and PEZ diarist
It is sad to watch Alberto leave the cycling world. The cycling community, fans and world as a whole will definitely miss his passion for the bike and his spectacular racing technique. He always delighted his fans with spectacular attacks and watching him race was always exciting for everyone. I know him quite well and he is a wonderful person and it makes me sad that we won’t be in the peloton anymore. But what a grand finish and bow out from the cycling world. Alberto Contador soloed to a magnificent victory in Stage 20 of this year’s La Vuelta atop the Alto de L’Angliru. He delivered what everyone was waiting for!
World champion Rui Costa getting the better of Contador in the Volta Algarve 2014
Chuck Peña – DC Bureau
I will miss Bertie. Not because he was arguably the best Grand Tour rider of his generation. Although, as one of the few riders to win all three Grand Tours (the Giro and Le Tour twice and the Vuelta three times plus another TdF and Giro victories that were voided due to his testing positive for clenbuturol) it’s hard to argue with his palmarès. Plus he won other major stage races, such as Paris-Nice, Tirenno-Adriatico, and the Tour of the Basque Country (the Dauphine, however, eluded him). If only he could have added a Monument to his record.
But I will miss Alberto Contador not so much for his race results but for how he raced. There is now a huge void in the peloton that will not be filled anytime soon. I know it’s cliché, but … panache! Or as I often like to say, he channeled his inner Hinault: As long as I breathe, I attack. In an era of power meters, race radios, and IMHO monotonous and predictable controlled racing by the numbers dictated by directeurs sportifs in their team cars, Contador was more old school (my school of racing since I’m old) — willing to throw caution to the wind. He understood the maxim that to win you have to be willing to risk losing. In so doing, he made racing fun and exciting to watch. And what’s not to love about watching Bertie dance on the pedals, climbing out of the saddle? Everyone who rides knows this isn’t the “best” way to climb, but IMHO it’s so much more artful and entertaining than watching Froome climb seated, his legs spinning like eggbeaters. Yes, Froome makes it look easy. But Alberto let’s you know just how hard it really is.
Froome putting on the pain on Vuelta’17 stage 18
As for Contador’s best performance? As Vanessa Williams once sang, I believe he “saved the best for last” and his farewell Grand Tour at the Vuelta. If not for a jour sans on Stage 3 into Andorra, he would have finished in second place (certainly no worse than third, which he almost snatched from Zakarin) — less than a minute down on Froome (and yes … Chapeau to Froome for winning the Vuelta and doing the TdF-Vuelta double). But what matters most is that El Pistolero went out in style. He animated the race and attacked at almost every opportunity. His characteristic do or die attacks and made people suffer — if not create some cracks and some small panic in Fortress Froome. A case in point was Contador’s attack on Stage 12 into Antequera which caused Froome to give chase and crash not once, but twice. Fittingly, Contador won on Stage 20’s fiercely punishing climb up Angliru, crossing the finish line guns blazing a scant 17 seconds ahead of Wout Poels and Froome. It was vintage El Pistolero.
So now that the Vuelta is over… Adios Alberto! You have raced and retired on your own terms … you’ve done it the way Frank Sinatra would’ve wanted you to: your way. Buena suerte as you ride off in retirement! Attack the buffet line and bar with the same panache you have done the great climbs of the Grand Tours.
Contador’s best performance – Vuelta 2017 on l’Angliru
PEZ Giro’17 Roadside and Social Media Commentator, Heather Morrison (@Trudgin):
It doesn’t need much. I could go on for pages, but Alberto Contador = heart = passion = panache. You know how they say no one remembers who is 2nd in a Grand Tour. Who will remember who won in 2017. This is Alberto’s Vuelta, even more than his wins. Cycling will miss him desperately.
Gordan Cameron – Scottish Bureau
In 2009, Alberto Contador won his second Tour de France. He did it with style and, more than anything else, a determination so fierce that he overcame what seemed from the outside to be no more than an attempt by many associated with his own team to ensure that if Lance Armstrong wasn’t going to win the race, then neither was Contador.
We know of his triumphs, such as the Merckxian six Grand Tours in a row (later rescinded to just the four), and being one of only two men to win all the Grand Tours at least twice each.
We also know that Contador’s past, open to question, is something that cycling fans around the world have to come to terms with themselves and sport is supposed to be about life lessons, apparently. The Spaniard survived a cerebral cavernoma, suspension, injuries and disputes with teams to go out on a high, revered by a home crowd.
Contador’s lesson to us all: never, ever, give up.
In the 2009 Tour Contador had many adversaries
Sam Larner – London Bureau
The career of Alberto Contador has ended the way it should, with a swashbuckling attack on a climb. He will retire with seven confirmed Grand Tour victories, one of only six men to have won all three Grand Tours. He will also retire as one of the most exciting racers of his generation, someone who bridged the gap between the deathly dull Armstrong era and the equally boring Superteam Sky years we probably have to come. There is an elephant in the room though.
The limited coverage of Contador’s retirement in the British press has focused mainly on his 18 month doping ban. Given that David Millar is wheeled out on a regular basis to talk about cycling in the UK, it seems like the British cycling press have lost their right to be sanctimonious about people who have returned from dope bans. I wholly condemn doping, at any point in history, but the issue with being a cycling fan is that there’s a good chance that the people you follow and support are cheating. The worst fans completely ignore the fact that their hero is a cheat and refuse to acknowledge it. Better fans will come to terms with the doping, either decide they want no part supporting that rider or accept that the joy and excitement that the rider gave you doesn’t need to be tainted because of this news.
The first ever Tour de France I saw live was 2007 in London. Yes, that was a terrible Tour for doping, but unbelievably exciting. Contador and Rasmussen went head to head on every hill and a star was born. The Spaniard then played a part in the two other most exciting races since then – the 2008 and 2011 Tours. Contador didn’t race in 2008, after Astana were banned, and that left a power vacuum that was filled by Cadel Evans, the Schlecks and Carlos Sastre. By 2011, Contador had won the last of his Tour de France, but he still had three Grand Tours to take. He played his part in, what I think, is the best Tour I’ve ever seen thanks to his attacking intent.
Contador might have been past his best for a while, but he’s a throwback to a more exciting time when it was individuals rather than teams who decided the general classification.
Tour’07 – Rasmussen/Contador battle
Leslie Reissner – Literary Editor
When I read that Alberto Contador was ending his career, it was with some disappointment although all sporting careers should end on a positive note rather than being dragged out to the bitter end. There is no question that he should be considered as one of the very best stage races winners of this generation. Instead of the machine-like approach used by some many successful Grand Tour teams, Contador was one of those riders, a throwback to a different age, who rode with panache. Even when the chips were down he could be counted on to never give up but instead gave fans some royal entertainment.
One of only six riders to win all three Grand Tours, Contador’s qualities came through particularly in the 2012 Vuelta on Stage 17. It looked like Joaquim Rodriguez had the tour wrapped up when Contador joined a breakaway group of 19 and blasted away on the last 51 kms, riding the last 17 kms to Fuente De alone, going from a 28 second deficit to Rodriguez to a 2:28 advantage.
Contador’s palmarès will, unfortunately, always be colored by his doping ban and one always wondered what could have been if that had not happened. The whole UCI process was so convoluted and delayed that it was a discredit to pro racing, whether you are pro – or anti-Contador. But in the end, unlike many other noted dopers, he took the punishment and returned as a force still to be reckoned with, as shown by that 2012 Vuelta win. I was also impressed by his refusal to be cowed by Lance Armstrong in the misbegotten Astana team arrangement at the 2009 Tour de France.
I was always impressed as well by his enthusiasm, his openness during interviews and his gracefulness, to say nothing of that remarkable climbing style. I never did meet him. The closest I came was when leading a group ride in Switzerland in Summer 2013, having crossed from Como in Italy, and was concentrating on getting through heavy traffic. Others in the group who were further back were startled to find themselves riding momentarily with Contador, who was out for a training ride and, as always, looked to be in great form.
Alberto Contador brought a great deal of excitement to pro cycling and as a fan this is how I will remember his career. Adios, and wishing him smooth roads ahead!
Stage 17 win in the 2012 Vuelta a España – Stage and overall in the back pocket
Alessandro Federico – Italian Bureau
Contador at Giro 2008 is my first memory of this great rider. He was young but he already won a Tour de France. He was not scheduled for the Giro but the Astana team decided to participate at very last moment and it was a very big boost to the interest of the race.
Giro’08, stage 11 Urbania to Cesena, where Contador is in control of Riccò, Van den Broex and Di Luca – Ale’s first memory of ‘Berty’
That year I was appointed by PEZ for 3 or 4 stages during the second week of race, all of them around my backyard. The Spaniard got the second place in the ITT during that week and he made clear he was there to win the race. He didn’t win a stage in that Giro but he was really very regular and always controlling the rivals very closely. In few words: not in big form, but a big class! I had to cover many other races where he did great and maybe better than in Giro 2008 but, as you know, the first taste is the unforgettable one!
Ale on the job at the 2015 Giro d’Italia
Dr. Stephen Cheung Ph.D. – Toolbox Editor
At the upper echelons, and even in the amateur ranks, cycling is as much a mental game as a physical one, and this is what sets Contador apart as one of the true greats. Quiet and unassuming off the bike, but with a rock-hard self-belief and mindset in the face of adversity. Remember that he nearly lost his life to a congenital brain condition in 2004, then came back to win his most personally meaningful stage at the 2005 Tour Down Under. That tenacity served him well in his famous battle with Lance at Astana and Le Tour in 2009, when both Lance and Bruyneel were doing everything in their power to crack him. Then again in 2014, when he broke his tibia in a crash at Le Tour before returning for a terrific Vuelta win. Then yet again delivering the goods with a Giro win in 2015 despite a dislocated shoulder and a micro-managing and hypercritical Tinkov.
We’ve seen the retirement of one of the true greats. Adios y gracias, Alberto.
The comeback win in the 2005 Tour Down Under
Mark McGhee – Reporter At Large
How will history treat Alberto Contador? In many ways he is the modern dilemma…an eminently likable racer with a rather tainted record. Look at the teams he’s been in and we can see that each had a very dubious record: ONCE with Manolo Saiz, Discovery with Bruyneel, Astana with Vino, Saxo with Riis, the infamous Team Tinkoff and finally Trek who had previously been connected with riders like Frank Schleck and the obvious previous partnership with Armstrong.
In a way, he’s a little like his friend in F1, Fernando Alonso… the best driver of his generation but one who has made some very poor career choices. He came to the fore when Rasmussen was sent home from the 2007 Tour. It was Discovery’s final Tour and he probably thought he was ‘kingmaker’ Bruyneel’s new protégée when they both signed with Astana. It was controversial to say the least and he was later denied a defense of his Tour title by Astana’s non-inclusion in 2008. Of course he smashed the winner Carlos Sastre in the Vuelta and should have been well placed for the 2009 Tour, only to find Astana had signed Armstrong and Bruyneel switched his allegiance to his American star. It was obvious to everyone that Armstrong was considered the favorite when Bruyneel built a team around the American but it was a real slap in the face to the young Spaniard, one of only five riders to have won all three major Tours.
Bruyneel’s No.1… Untill
It was a difficult time as he was effectively sidelined within his own team but he overcame the bullying tactics of Armstrong to triumph once again. Locked into a contract with Astana for 2010 he once again challenged for victory in the Tour but not without controversy…the infamous ‘chain-gate’ episode. There are different takes on what happened but most racers supported his actions that day as Sastre and Sanchez were up the road and Schleck hadn’t waited for him earlier in the race. Of course this win was eventually annulled in light of the clenbuterol positive… the famous contaminated steak, for most people a ridiculous explanation.
Onto the next team where he started working with Bjarne Riis… and of course the truth about Riis would come out in due course. And then to Team Tinkoff as the sponsor took control… and Oleg was never shy about being critical of riders if he thought they weren’t trying hard enough. And finally back to Trek, a company previously very loyal to Armstrong. This was a brave signing but he was wise enough to bring his own DS with him this time.
Intending to make 2016 his final season, he had a pretty torrid time with illness but sure that he had another Grand Tour victory in him, he stayed for 2017. It’s not been the dream season but his performance in this year’s Vuelta has meant that he leaves competitive cycling on a high, and in a very positive light with lots of fans.
So, to come back to the initial question, how will he be remembered? If you read forums there’s a lot of hatred out there… but that’s what you get for reading forums. Ask true racers, bike fans and journalists and most will tell you that he’s a really decent guy who’s had a lot of good luck, and a fair amount of bad. Personally, I’ve always liked him and I hope that he turns up on a training ride one day in the south of Spain. Cycling will miss him, but this is cycling and we move on quite quickly… there’ll be another star along tomorrow. Hasta Llego Señor Alberto!
Froome wins, but is he a star?
Alastair Hamilton, Editor, EuroTrash – Spanish Bureau
Obviously living in Spain and covering the Vuelta every year since 2002 and visiting team camps , etc. I have had bumped into Alberto Contador a few times here and there. So I have picked the three occasions that stand out.
The first time was the Astana training camp near the holiday town of Javea on the Costa Blanca during the winter of 2007 before the 2008 season. This was the first meeting of the ex-Discovery Channel and the new Astana team that was to be managed by Johan Bruyneel and led by Contador, who had won the Tour de France, Paris–Nice and the Vuelta a Castilla y León Overall in ’07 and had great expectations for the coming season. You can read about the day HERE.
What do you think of the PEZ jersey?
Alberto was a young guy, but he was obviously the star in the team and you could see that in everyones attitude towards the Spaniard. The team had a Grand Tour winner on its books and it wasn’t Lance Armstrong, yet. Contador was happy to sign jerseys for the fans who had found the hotel and chat with everyone, that never changed, he was the same ten years later 2017.
Nice place for a training camp
The 2012 Vuelta a España looked to be in the bag for Joaquim Rodriguez, but on stage 17 to Fuente De, Contador tore the race apart to take the overall lead by over two minutes and take it all the way to the Spanish capital, Madrid. I had only decided to make the trip to see the final stage the evening before, but to see Contador on the podium was a pleasure. His racing style had entertained the fans and given him the home win. Part 1 and Part 2 in Madrid.
‘El Pistolero’ on the Vuelta’12 podium in Madrid
This brings us to this year’s Vuelta and apart from Contador enlivening the race with his attacks, the big impression was of the love from the fans towards the man from Pinto. Obviously he was alway popular in Spain, but this year it was crazy. The crowd singing ‘one year more’, the banners, the well-wishers and the autograph and selfie hunters were phenomenal. At stage starts he needed a police guard to get too and from the sign-on and the finishes were just as harrowing. But saying that, Alberto had the time for the fans. At the start of stage 6 there was a bit of harmless banter between a fan and Contador: “One more year Alberto!” Was shouted. “No, no”, was the answer. “But what will you do?” Quick as a flash, Alberto counters with: “Go on holiday, like you!” Good point. Read about it here.
The hero of Spain in 2017
Spain and cycling will miss Alberto Contador. There are not many stunning and exciting riders left in the peloton. There are too many radio controlled, power meter addicted automatons and the sport needs riders who will throw down the gauntlet and go for it, even if it meant they lose everything. There are too many riders happy to just finish in the top ten. Lets hope there is another El Pistolero out there.
Alberto’s Top Ten Attacks: