Sunday, July 26, 2009

About a Boy from Pinto

1. Humble Beginnings : Alberto Contador became a cyclist through his elder brother, Fran Contador. When Fran passed his Spanish entrance exams at school, his parents bought him a new bicycle. The old one, an iron Orbea that weighed like a tanker, was passed onto the scrawny little Alberto, who couldn't have complained that he now had a bicycle as well.

Riding with Fran and his friends through the wind swept corridors of Pinto, Alberto would always keep up with the group on that heavy bike, even though the wind blew his tracksuit top open like a parachute. Now Fran enjoys being his champion brother's main PR guy, secretary and financial manager. When he's not busy, Fran himself defends the family name in the Nissan Titan Desert across the scorching sands of Morocco. It is also known as the toughest MTB Marathon in the world.

2. First Team : Javier Fernández, who signed the teenage Contador up for the neighborhood team of Embajadores, said the following to El Pais about the young rider, "He was about 15 the first time I saw him, with that iron bike, which was completely outdated. He had a natural talent and strength, and broke away from the pack in a race that included Madrid's best young cyclists. It was obvious he had no technique, but also that he wanted to be a cyclist. Alberto had nothing. His parents couldn't even go with him to the races because they had to stay with his younger brother Raúl, who has suffered from brain damage since he was a child. Raul was always in his wheelchair."

The lack of money motivated Contador to value the little things he had in life. Whenever he did save up some money, he would spend it on new equipment to improve himself.

3. Brain Condition : Contador missed his first Tour de France due to an aneurysm in 2004, which, just two months before the race, almost killed him. While racing in the Tour of Asturias, he collapsed to the ground almost like Tom Simpson with severe convulsions. Doctors said that he had a congenital problem with an artery in his brain and they called it cerebral cavernoma. This balloon like bulge of the blood vessel can kill you if it ruptures, as it causes subarachnoid hemorrhage. Pathologically, it is red to purple in colour, appearing as a raspberry in the brain. There's a video here of a crash early in his career which shows him having convulsions as he lies on the road.

He underwent immediate surgery to prevent irreversible brain damage and this event has permanently marked him through a large scar and titanium plates on his head. How he survived the face of death is extraordinary, leave alone winning the Triple Crown of cycling and his 2nd Tour de France this year.

Contador has no special memories from that day, the coup de grâce for that entire season. But when asked, he does recall that the people who first attended to him on the road where he lay unconscious laid him on his back, a complete mistake as he could have swallowed his tongue and choked to death.

When doctors told him that he could start cycling again, on November 27 2004, it was 3 degrees and raining buckets outside. Yet. he still picked his bike and went out to train with new life because it felt like a privilege when before he might have been lazy to ride because of bad weather.

4. Health (A Ticking Timebomb?) : The internal scar left in his head makes that area of his brain so hypersensitive that he often has epileptic fits. Contador takes medication daily to prevent those fits, and pays regular visits to the neurologist. Pedro Celaya, the doctor at his past team Discovery reported that as he remembers, Contador was absolutely obsessed with not doing anything strange about his health.

Perhaps Lemond and other Contador grillers in the press may like to think twice about "firing" pressuring questions at this youngster in front of cameras and the whole world. Perhaps this is the reason why he tries to avoid needless questions that try to take his mind off racing. He remembers hospital too well and does not want to end up there again.

Meanwhile, ignorance about his condition among his detractors abound and they chose to do things such as labeling him a "doper" or asking him to account for error prone "VO2 max" calculations when he had a race to take care of. Others, such as Armstrong and Bruyneel, were happily applying both psychological and political pressure on him through means of Twitter propaganda and press media. An astute observer will have noticed that these two individuals, with the help of media, were trying to manufacture a certain tension out of the team, while Contador was coolly trying to save the situation by reporting back that everything was quiet, friendly and normal at the dinner table and that the ambiance in the team was very good. Is it too hard to guess certain elements around him were trying to mentally break him from the inside while he was trying to concentrate on his career? It didn't work as planned, although Contador stated several times that this year's Tour was very difficult mentally for him.

5. Wins, Riding And Attacking Style : Contador is an all-rounder. He has been a proven time trialist. He was Spanish Time Trial champion in the under-23 category in 2002 and in this year again. Plenty of other ITT wins range in between. He has represented Spain at the Beijing Olympics in the ITT and became fourth. He has nearly 50 professional wins, so he has plenty of experience and wins to prove it.

Consider this : He is aged just 26 and has won 3 grand tours in succession, plus a second Tour de France this year already. One more Tour win puts him in company with Bobet, Thys and Lemond, all legends with 3 Tour de France wins. He's also one of only 5 riders in history to have won the Triple Crown of cycling (all 3 Grand Tours) in his career thus far. In contrast, Lance Armstrong at age 26 (1997) did not have a single grand tour overall victory in his belt, instead he had two stage wins in two different Tours and was UCI world champion in 1993. Armstrong was in his 30's when he matched the number of grand tour wins Alberto has now. Armstrong has not won the Giro d'Italia nor the Vuelta a Espana, the other two Grand Tours apart from the Tour de France.

Contador is dark skinned and thick skinned, with long legs and a skinny upper body. He has a high level of muscular strength and endurance, while offering little frontal area for aerodynamics. He has been observed by Phil Liggett and others to time trial with similar abilities of Miguel Indurain.

Contador seems to launch his best attacks when he knows there’s a headwind and he can get five or six meters of gap between him and rivals. He snaps forward to try and break another rider's rhythm. Then he steps on the gas and continues to drive solo at a very high pace on the climb. Something about his effortless cadence up the climb just tends to psychologically dampen the riders behind him even more. Intelligent people on Science of Sport have calculated his vertical ascending speeds up mountains and the numbers that come out are like nothing the Tour de France or any other cycling event has ever seen before. Armstrong agreed in the press in the final days of the Tour that even he in his prime may not have been able to match the performance of Contador.

Contador loves to attack at the right moment and he trains to keep his speed up for a long periods of time. His rapid acceleration up climbs is virtually unmatched. The best battle to date where this was displayed was the man-to-man, balls to the wall racing between him and Michael Rasmussen on the slopes of the Col de Peyresourde in July 2007. This also happens to be his favorite climb.

Contador keeps his focus on the Tour, but unlike Armstrong, he keeps sights on wins in lots of races throughout the calender. He really enjoys his racing. He has also told the press that he would like to win one day classics in future.

6. Income : How much does Contador earn? Well, for the 2007 Tour de France winner's prize, he received an on-the-spot 600,000 dollars. Add to that similar amounts for the other three subsequent Grand Tours, myriad endorsement deals (eg, Sidi), contracts worth a million or two and air time on tv shows and all that...and you would bet he could buy a lot of fancy bike parts, or let his fiance pick two, maybe three designer handbags on her next mall visit. Or maybe he would like to help in treating his physically challenged younger brother? Whatever he decides to do, he has enough stash to repair all his flat tires with Euro bills for a long time.

7. Love life : Alberto goes out with a 23 year old, slim brunette named Macarena. She is a staple in Alberto’s lifelong gang of friends. She was fifteen when she met Alberto, who was seventeen. Nine years later they’re still together and now frequently travels to see him race and win the big ones.

Folks from Pinto are ordinary people who keep their friends and have faith in them. This concept has lost its meaning in America.

8. Hobbies : Contador loves hunting in his spare time. He has a fascination for birds, keeping personally bred canaries and goldfinches at home. He is reportedly careless about organizing his room and personal things but loves to clean his bike and keep it in great condition. Apart from cycling, he also likes to play soccer.

Contador has a blog. He has also been profiled by several of his fans who have seen him in person to be a very careful writer. He takes great care and exhibits a need for perfection to sign an autograph or write a few words for a fan.

It must also be mentioned that he loves hanging out the beach.

* * *


Anonymous said...

Viva le Contador!

Phil said...

It takes someone special to be a champion. Contador certainly is one.
I suspect he will dominate for the years ahead, but it will depend much on how good the teams are that he signs into.

Thank you for sharing this with us.

Anonymous said...

Contador is certainly in somewhat of a media blackhole. I lost count of the number of times NYT mentioned Armstrong's name today. What abotu Bert? And Andy Schleck?? Now he's one rider who is in absolute obscurity, even though he finished second on podium. The Armstrong-Contador rivalry certainly animated the race but the Schleck brothers put more meaning to the drama that the Tour promised us all this year. This race clearly was about the youngsters, the next stars of cycling.

Vive le Tour!!


wei108 said...

It has been sad reading this. I sincerely hope his medical problems don't give him any more trouble and I wish him and his fiance all the very best.

Anonymous said...

Contador won't keep prize monies for himself. In the tradition of the Tour, it is redistributed among winning teammates. Now as to how much each person gets I don't know. That would be interesting to find out. Ok, back to racing on the local circuit, for paltry pocket money and beer.

Anonymous said...

Good info. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for writing this. It is the first time Contador has been portrayed as a human being.

Anonymous said...

what are the sources for this information? would you be kind enough to tell us?

Dorothy said...

Ron - I'm reading this as I sit during late hours at my office out here in London. I must pitch in that I have completely reversed the biased mindset I had against Alberto, not that have read about more about him. He comes around as a very humble, honest and straightforward person and I really hope he stays this way. This is what the Tour needs, a prince from Europe. Great job.

Sprocket_Rocket said...

@Spokane Al : Its totally understandable that in a team where you have two great champions, it is very likely that you see a sort of 'locker room' mentality. Infact, you cannot blame Contador for this. It is Lance Armstrong and his wonderful friend, Bruyneel who decided that Astana would be the best place for him for the comeback. I mean, where else could he go? This was the perfect storm for the media to latch onto..creating the Contador-Armstrong rivalry. LA has been pretty unprofessional by going on record on Twitter saying that Contador has a "lot to learn". What about making you a tour champion can allow you to say this on public about your teammate. And imagine your own boss going out in public when the Tour is going on, to tell that Contador is completely incompatible in the team. It puts immense pressure on the athlete to go out and ride in hell, and then come back to the team later that day to be in hell again.

If there's anyone who can learn more and tell us that he can be a better person, its Lance Armstrong.

Anonymous said...

Lance Armstrong and Contador are both guilty of creating the "tension" you speak of. It does work both ways. But on account of Lance being the wiser and 'more experienced' rider as most of fans call him to be, he displayed behaviors contrary to popular belief.

Anonymous said...

Lance mentioned to the world back in March that Alberto was too nervous. He added that he can help him out.

What if Michael Jordan on national TV said that Pippen was to nervous and that he was going to teach him how to be calm.

Lance started in on Contador just months after announcing his comeback. He only rode with Contador for a day or two.

When Lance said that, I lost all confidence in him.

D said...

Clearly there was some tension in the team between Lance, Alberto, and Johan as would be expected. But I suspect some of it was manufactured for the benefit of the other teams. Bruyneel and Armstrong are too smart to leave things to chance. I wonder if they didn't play up the public "tension" to get other teams to think they could play Armstrong and Contador against each other for their own benefit. A trick by Astana to get them to pursue useless tactics. That said, I'd be shocked if Contador ended up on RadioShack next year.

Darryl said...

Brilliant article m8. This is what cycling magazines need. We're not just fans of riders when they're on their bike, we also want to know how they got there and what they do in personal time. Articles like these really fill in that gap and satisfy those desires we have.

Habanero said...

Sorry to bring this on here, but check out Lance is behaving like an absolute prick by going on his Twitter account and handing Contador a lecture. Yes I have lost complete respect for him and have tossed my livestrong band away. Nothing against the fight against cancer, but I can't focus on a fight against cancer or support it when my heart tells me I'm supporting an total tool.

Pete said...

Lance is a jerk, not a respectable competitor. He's why : This guy feeds off conflicts, either real or imagined, and is almost certainly deeply distraught over this loss or any loss. He's also a little insecure and manufactures conflict. Remember how he went on his Livestrong website and told everyone he thinks the French might not let him race, because his comeback was not welcome in France?? That was a load of baloney that was. Seriously, if he could have spent all that energy to quietly do what he was told when the AFLD showed up at his door, instead of going on his cancer website and creating further tension towards the French, I would have respected him.

Another puzzling thing that I have yet seen anybody talk about is why didn't Lance use his fame and power of speech to go on stage and talk about cancer? He didn't do it on the Opening day ceremony, neither did he do it on the closing celebrations of the Tour. When you have a big stage like that, you can't miss out talking about a disease that affects people. Instead he chose to be obsessed with his GC position in the Tour (he wasn't even getting paid by Astana) and also build a resentment for Alberto Contador.

Here's hoping that AC will not turn out like a jerk like Armstrong.

Maria said...

Contador was very cute on the podium.

Phil said...

Contador has been a more emotional rider than a calculating robot that Armstrong was. He made some tactical errors on his team sure. It may have cost the podium for Astana. All agreed. But think, when Lance Armstrong was boss for Team Discovery Channel back in the years, not once did they try for a podium for Discovery on GC. If Lance made a move or a judgement error that cost a little time for his teammate on the GC, it wasn't taken as a fault, a moral error. Why? Because the team was all about Armstrong. People complain about that issue in this year's Tour primarily because the Director Sportif was Lance's very trusted friend and ofcourse, there are a lot of Lance admirers. Why on earth would he go on public and say that Contador is incompatible in Astana when the race was still going on?

I think Contador handled the pressures very well and proved he's strongest. Seriously, if I were 26 with this much on my shoulders, I would probably have quit the damn Tour and gone home. :)

Anonymous said...

I wanted to admire Contador, and did for a while, until he made those comments. How can you speak out against your teammates like that? You might win awards, but if you cannot respect or garner respect, you are no champion. Shame on you!

Anonymous said...

"Folks from Pinto are ordinary people who keep their friends and have faith in them. This concept has lost its meaning in America."

Well, there it is then.

Richard said...

Ron, here's thanking you for a very well written article on Contador. I would also like to add an important point that I have to bring out.

Alberto Contador idolized Lance Armstrong growing up as a young gifted cyclist. This we know from interviews last year.

But its too bad Lance can't understand this and mentor AC kindly instead of playing the ego game. I think AC really wanted Lance's approval but surely wanted the win as much as Lance. Lance should have been mentor and shown professionality while "passing on" the torch to the new champion. This is the character of a true great leader. Lance did not show it. He also showed little class by not dismissing Contador and not being present in the winner's party, which would have been a big positive boost to the Armstrong-Contador relationship.

Sorry, but here's a Lance Armstrong fan going to the grave.

Will said...


Very well done. As someone that reads both USA and European press, I have found the American coverage of the Tour, Lance, and Alberto, to be pretty shocking.

Yes, and nice stats on how AC has been a good Time Trialer for a very long time.

I have seen so many uninformed accusations since the Annecy Time trial (eg. how did AC suddenly become good at TT?)

AC was class both on and off the bike this Tour. Unlike some of his teammates.

Anonymous said...

Armstrong said in NY Times today he and Contador were unable to get to know each other because they had trained in separate countries and had little interaction before the Tour. Wow, are you kidding me right now? And this nitwit goes on his twitter account and tells Contador he has a LOT to learn?? I have heard of rivalries in Sports, but this one takes the cake!

Anonymous said...

Contador is a child. He wears it on his face and has a lot of growing to do to be a champion. A champion doesn't just pedal.

Sven, BC said...

Both Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador are absolutely great athletes and we will never know what they went through to get where they are. The rivalries are understandable. However, its an absolute no-no to go on public especially when BEFORE the race earlier in the year and DURING the race to say things about your teammates that should be really kept in-house. Shamefully, Lance's behavior might put a black mark on Livestrong's campaigns in France. I'm not saying it will, but something stupid like this can quickly turn the shadow on the ultimate motive that Lance said he came back to cycling for - to spread the message of the fight against cancer. I don't think Lance nor Contador need to be the Mohammad Ali right now.

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm still a little bothered about Alberto dropping Kloden. I know there is a great deal of controversy as to whether or not AC and AK discussed the attack...but all it really did was drop Kloden and killed his chances for a podium spot.

Anonymous said...

After reading AC story, I have a little more respect for him. It just explains why he is so driven... not why he is so quick to openly bash Lance Armstrong. AC and LA clearly did not get along, but it is just an unwritten rule in ANY situation to not speak negatively about your teammate in public. Perhaps it's the age of AC, that defines him most. Why doesn't AC speak publicly about his disease; become a spokes model? Fame always comes with responsibilities...

Publius said...

Perhaps the brain plate is the cause of his extreme ingratitude. AC is certainly a fighter and survivor but he just as certainly lacks the discretion that is the hallmark a true champion. After his appalling response to his most recent victory he has reduced himself to nothing more than a strong set of lungs and legs. The rest is simply shameful.

Anonymous said...

Interesting facts. However he need not be disrespectful to Lance.

Anonymous said...

AC is a great cyclist, hands down and I applaud him for his win at the Giro and the TDF. It's amazing though, that there is not one article, since he and LA became part of Astana, that doesn't allude to some reference of LA. Would someone please focus on the rider they are writing about? And please do not mention the politics, the he said/he said stuff or all the negative vibes surrounding whatever relationship they had as teammates. This piece was great until the infighting was brought up and I lost a bit of respect regarding the article based on those few sentences.

@tkq said...

Thanks for this illuminating post. As someone who takes medication every day to control epilepsy, I can tell you that anticonvulsant drugs clearly do not enhance cycling performance. (At least not mine.) Quite the contrary. Even the best carry side effects that make racing even more difficult. I've gained a whole different level respect for Contador as a result of this post. Sure, he recovered from the aneurysm, but he has to live every day with the threat of seizures. That takes courage and discipline. Thanks again for telling his whole story.

BloggingLance said...

Thanks for the extra insight into Alberto's background. When I watched him make the sign of the cross before his final Time Trial start, I had no idea what he had gone through to get there. I'm fed up with the American press. I thought the truth was starting to come out, or to be translated into English at least, but Diane Pucin just posted a piece for the Los Angeles Times playing down the El Pais piece and calling Alberto a whiner. God bless Graham Watson for getting a photo of the water bottle theft on Mont Ventoux. It truly was a great all around performance at the Tour. I wish Alberto a safe landing on a team that deserves him.

Anonymous said...

Lance = dickhead doper
AC = still a doper

Captured Shadow said...

A nitpick on item 3.
There was no risk of swallowing his tongue. You cannot swallow your tongue - try it. However there is a risk that if he vomited, or perhaps managed to bite off his own tongue, he could inhale it and choke on it. Slightly less risk of that if he was on his side.

john t said...

Juan Fredrico,

Thanks for a little more insight to Alberto Contador the person.

I have great respect for Contador the cyclist and I wish him well as Contador the person.

I hope you have a good team for 2010 and that you ride well.

As for Lance Armstrong, he has had his day. Time to move over and let the next generation pass you by.