Alberto Contador: The Man, The Myth, The Idiot

As most of you know, I am not a fan of Alberto Contador.  That said, I never denied his talent.  For the last few years, he has dominated the peloton with his climbing skills, time trialing ability, and the endurance to wage, as well as respond to, attacks.  But despite this, history has shown time and time again that Contador is an immature rider.  It is primarily this reason why he will never be as great as Lance Armstrong.  Many will say that Lance Armstrong is an egotistical rider who cares only about himself.  Maybe that is the case, but he was political about it, and knew how to manage those feelings and instincts outwardly.  That is an intangible factor that only comes with maturity.  Armstrong recognized that during his first bid for the Tour De France.

Contador, on the other hand, has regressed every year, and has expressed his egotistical instincts outwardly, like a little child, not like a champion professional bike racer that he should be.  Professional bike racing is forty five percent talent, forty percent your team, and fifteen percent politics.  Contador has not mastered the latter, and has pissed on the second.

It is thus with no great surprise that many pros are outwardly supporting Contador with his recent positive drug test, in the sense that they urge a fair review of Contador’s samples.   But inwardly, they are laughing, in that, “That mother*&^%^& had it coming” kind of way.  It’s the fate of professional bike racing.  You act immature, the professional bike racing god will piss on you.  The most successful bike riders who are now legends praised and respected the god.  For that reason, Armstrong will never get caught in a doping scandal . . . that sticks.  All the haters can cry all they want, but nothing has stuck.  Nothing.

Contador, on the other hand, got his hand in the cookie jar.  Not simply an allegation, but a suspension based on a test.

Anyway, good luck, Contador.  I’m really sure it was a piece of meat that caused the spike in your system.

Alberto Contador has a lot to learn

Without question, Alberto Contador has achieved great success as a cyclist, winning the TDF (twice), the Giro, and the Vuelta.  He sits with a very small class of riders that can achieve this.  And, he’s been able to achieve this at a tender age of 26, after almost dying of an aneurism in 2004.  http://images.theage.com.au/ftage/ffximage/2009/07/20/svCONTADOR_narrowweb__300x458,0.jpgThis article is not a comment about his achievements nor is it a critique of his skill as a climber or time trialist.  Clearly, his record speaks for itself of Contador’s obvious talent.

That said, Contador still has a lot to learn as a rider, or more particularly, the politics of being a rider.  Contador reminds me of Lance Armstrong prior to his cancer when he was an outspoken, unapologetic, overconfident prick.  To Contador, it seems perfectly reasonable for everyone to bend under his will and to be visibly and pissed if anyone crosses him.  After all, at least to Contador, he is the undisputed champion of the world.

But cycling is not like boxing.  There is a politics to it, because in many ways more than boxing, it’s an old boys network.  Contador really put his foot in his mouth for unapologetically telling Armstrong off in public that he never respected Armstrong and never will.  Contador also put his foot in the mouth when he attacked in one of the first few stages (if a rider attacks, a person on the same team is not supposed to follow).  Contador is certainly entitled to his opinion but that is where politics comes in.  You definitely don’t say that to the hand that in large part feeds the sport and not to expect some consequences. 

Armstrong is an institution, which means he frankly doesn’t need to get into a war of words with Contador to prove his point.  Like a powerful politician, Armstrong, unlike Contador (who is a great rider but not yet an institution), has the money and influence to make Contador’s life a living hell.

The main way he is doing that is to ensure that Contador remains at Astana for the 2010 season.  Other members of the team were allowed to break their contract.  To Contador and his brother Fran, it seemed like he was entitled to do the same.  But, surprise, surprise, a reality check for Contador:  he had neither the money nor influence on Astana.  And, let’s not forget that Armstrong has a financial interest in Astana, enough so that no team in their right mind be able to afford a buy out of Contador’s contract. 

And, is it any surprise that all the good riders are getting signed by other teams, particularly Radioshack?  That is not happening by accident.  Armstrong may be a prick, he may be overconfident, and he may be an arrogant son of a bitch.  But, unlike Contador, he can express it in more subtle ways. 

Who do you think is laughing the hardest at Contador’s apparently inability to get out of his Astana contract?  Who do you think is laughing the hardest when one great rider after another is getting signed by other teams?  Who do you think is laughing the hardest that Vino is back at Astana?  The UCI is still getting all the paperwork to from Astana to ensure they get a pro license . . . but do you really think there is any doubt they will not have the bank guarantees?  They have it already.  Armstrong and his influence will make damn sure that Astana will not be omitted from UCI races because of a technicality.

Armstrong wants to win the TDF ’10.  He’s being coy about it, by saying things like, “I’ll try,” or “Contador will be tough to beat!” — but he’s been coy since coming back from cancer when he clearly realized to play the cycling game, you have to play the political game.  Armstrong is one of the masters at that game. 

Contador will certainly be tough to beat on a stacked team such as Quickstep or Garmin.  But beating Contador will at least be manageable if he’s not on a great team (i.e., Astana) such as these.  This is no accident but a racing strategy.  It’s not necessarily race fixing as it is race dealing, and everyone knows in cycling there is quite a bit of quid pro quo.  You mess with that and you get screwed.  That’s what’s happening to poor old Contador now. 

Maybe this young champion will learn his lesson.  Maybe not.

Rivalry between Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador? I don’t think so.

Ever since Lance Armstrong announced his return to professional cycling, speculation has increased about the potential rivalry between Armstrong and Alberto Contador. lance armstrongI don’t profess to hold any goblets of truth here, so at best this post is just another drop in the speculation bucket.

Let me first get this out of the way. Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador are world class cyclists and champions in their own rights. They both have egos that have for better or for worse made them the champions they are today and both can climb mountains on their roadbikes at speeds and distances that 99% of mortals can’t.

What has made this interesting, of course, is that both of these riders are on the same team — Astana — during the 2009 Tour De France.  The first four stages of this year’s race have caused many pundits to believe that Armstrong is positioning himself ahead of Contador — the team leader — in some strange quest to “steal” the yellow jersey from Contador.

Of course, memories of the rivalry between the elder Hinault and young Le Mond come immediately to mind, although in the Armstrong/Contador debate, Hinault is Contador and Le Mond is Armstrong.  But nothing could be farther from the truth.

Anyone who has followed the Tour De France at all for the last ten years knows that without question, the race is won and lost primarily in the mountains (in the last few years, it appears the race was won and lost with injections of EPO and blood doping). In that regard, the 19 or so second gap between Armstrong and Contador at this point is, as far as the final results are concerned, insignificant. The placings at this point when it comes to GC mean, and particularly to podium spots, absolutely nothing. 

Armstrong is no fool. He has come here to win, but perhaps not in the way he has done so in the past.

Armstrong is a brilliant tactician. As we have seen in the past, Armstrong will do whatever it takes to win, from weighing everything he put into his mouth to feigning fatigue back in 2001 when Ullrich was his main rival.  Put another way, nothing is by accident when it comes to either Armstrong’s preparation for Le Tour or his cycling conduct during Le Tour. 

I think Armstrong is purposely distracting attention away from Contador, which ultimately benefits Contador. This will be hard to swallow for Armstrong fans, but Contador is the strongest rider out there right now on the Astana team.  Armstrong is making it appear to other teams that he is the strongest rider out there and has aspirations to win.

Cycling, of course, is a team sport, and imagine how these perceptions completely mess up tactics for the other teams in countering Astana.  Armstrong can ride strong now, because frankly its not the mountains. If Armstrong and Astana wanted to be predictable, they’d make Armstrong ride with Contador and Levi, protecting them as they made their way to the mountains. But by displaying attack mode at this stage, teams are going to change their tactics, forcing, for example, GC riders on other teams to expend energy to bring back Armstrong . . .when frankly, Armstrong is not a contender for the number 1 spot. Even if teams know this, they have to have their top guys expend the energy, because you just can’t ever count out a 7 time champion. And that very fact benefits Astana and, particularly, Contador. 

It’s actually quite brilliant on Astana’s part.  This does not mean Contador has an easy ticket to Paris, but it will be made easier by Armstrong’s sacrifice and distraction.

In the end, I think Armstrong will receive more credit in the history books for supporting Contador in his quest for his second Tour win, than trying to win himself and coming up short.