Alberto Contador: the career of El Pistolero

By The Way - Weekly Columns


A Grand Tour! The toughest test of a cyclists body and mind. There have been incredible Grand Tour riders for every generation of cycling. The 50’s had Fausto Coppi, The 60’s Felice Gimondi, Eddy Merckx dominated the 70’s and Jacques Anquetil the 80’s. Miguel Indurain took over the reigns before being swatted aside by Lance Armstrong. He was followed by Alberto Contador whose achievements in the lates 2000’s and early 10’s, 7 Grand Tour wins (9 if you ask Bertie), have placed him into the debate of: “Who’s the greatest Grand Tour rider in history”? Here I look back at the career of the man they call “El Pistolero”.

Alberto Contador Velasco was born in Pinto in the community of Madrid on 6th December 1982, the third of 4 children. He followed the crowd as a child and played sports such as Football until the age of 14, when he discovered cycling thanks to his older brother. He started racing competitively at 15, and although he didn’t win any races, his climbing skills where there for everyone to see, earning him the nickname “Pantani”, after one of the greatest climbers of all time Marco Pantani.

It would take until he was 17 before he started to get his first victories. Several Mountain classification prizes in major Spanish amateur races put his name on the radar. He rode for the ONCE Cycling Team as a junior and in 2001, at the age of 18, he won the Under-23 Spanish Time Trial Championship.

Contador would turn professional in 2003 for the ONCE-Eroski team, He would win once that year, a Time Trial victory at the Tour de Pologne. In early May the following year at the Vuelta a Asturias, Contador started to feel unwell, he would collapse off his bike and went into Convulsions. He was diagnosed with Cerebal Cavernoma and underwent surgery (which left him with a scar from ear to ear over the top of his head). He would miss the entire season as he recovered and finally started training again in November.

2005 would start superbly for Contador as he won a stage at the Tour Down Under just 8 months after his surgery, a win he would describe as the greatest of his career. The year would continue well with a stage win and the overall GC at the Setmana Catalana de Ciclisme, the first GC win of his career, followed by stage wins during the Tour of the Basque Country, finishing 3rd overall, and Tour de Romadie, where he also finished 4th overall. He would compete in the Tour de France, his first Grand Tour, finishing a respectable 31st on GC

2006 would again start well. He was building up to ride the Tour de France again and won stages at the Tour de Romandie (finishing 2nd on GC) and Tour de Suisse. However just before the start of the Tour his team was implicated in the Operation Puerto doping case and they wouldn’t start the race. He would be cleared of any wrongdoing by the UCI and would have to wait another year before having a crack at the yellow jersey.

Contador was without a professional contract until mid January after Operation Puerto when he signed for the Discovery Channel team. He was seen as the successor to Lance Armstrong (Who hadn’t been discovered as a drugs cheat then) and showed his Tour winning potential with 2 stages, the young riders jersey and the GC victory in Paris-Nice. It was a classic Contador showing, launching an attack on the final climb of the final stage and managing to take the lead off Davide Rebellin.

So onto the Tour de France, would Contador be able to live up to expectations? He was right in the hunt throughout, winning atop Plateau-de-Beille and was 2nd heading into stage 17. The race leader Michael Rasmussen was pulled from the race before stage 17 for lying about his pre-race training whereabouts and Contador would take over the race lead, wearing the yellow jersey for the first time on stage 18. He defied expectations on the penultimate stage, holding off Cadel Evans and teammate Levi Leipheimer in the Time Trial to seal his first Tour de France title.

He would be without a team at the end of 2007 as Discovery Channel announced they were folding and he was quickly snapped up by the Astana team. The year started badly as the Tour de France organisers announced Astana wouldn’t be allowed to ride any of its events due to their doping history, so Contador would be unable to defend his Paris-Nice and Tour titles. He retained his Vuelta a Castilla y Leon title as well as winning 2 stages and the GC at the Tour of the Basque Country.

Contador was relaxing on a beach a week before the Giro D’Italia when Astana were suddenly given a late invite to the race, Contador was told to get to Italy and he would be riding. Despite a lack of preparation, he would finish 2nd in the opening TT stage and would take the pink jersey for the first time after stage 15 and hold it all the way to Milan becoming only the 2nd Spaniard to win the Giro. Contador would next head to Beijing and the 2008 Olympic Games. He would ride the Road Race but his main goal was the TT where he would miss out on a medal by just 8 seconds.