Contador’s departure captures cycling’s dilemma
Spaniard was a hero to some, a drugs cheat to others – and the sport has yet to find a solution, writes Tom Cary
If you dismiss him, should you not also write off Merckx?
For those of us who cover cycling, it feels as if we have only just finished dissecting Chris Froome’s Tour-vuelta double and what that meant (for him, for Team Sky, and most of all, of course, for Froome’s Sports Personality of the Year chances). Already, though, we are on to the next thing. The UCI Road World Championships start in Bergen tomorrow with many of the biggest names in action over the next eight days.
Froome, Tom Dumoulin, Peter Sagan, Lizzie Deignan …
One big name, however, will not be in Norway. Alberto Contador probably would not have bothered with these championships anyway. Not because he is a conscientious objector to £15 beers or is worried about contaminated reindeer steak. Rather, because they were never really his thing. Ninth in the 2012 time trial was the closest the Spaniard ever came to the rainbow stripes. In any case, it is a moot point, as Contador – the man they called El Pistolero – fired his last shot at the Vuelta just gone. He did it in some style, too, winning the final competitive stage of his career on the Angliru having spent three weeks attacking the peloton. A true fairy-tale ending.
Or was it? Contador’s retirement was fascinating to see, particularly in Spain. There, you would hardly have known that Froome had won. The front page of Marca on the final day breathlessly heralded the retirement of a national icon ‘Un Heroe!’. Froome barely merited mention.
On Tuesday, having soaked up the adulation of thousands of fans on the Paseo del Prado, Contador returned to his home town where thousands feted him with chants of “Un ano mas” (One more year). All entirely understandable. Contador won seven grand tours. He was the most successful grandtour rider of his generation; a thrilling racer to the end. Except for one thing: he was a convicted drugs cheat. Contador tested positive for clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour. Although he claimed contaminated meat was to blame, his strong links to the Operacion Puerto scandal (again, he pleaded his innocence) sealed his guilt in most minds. So, while he found himself feted by one section of the cycling community (even some Spanish journalists cheered his win atop Angliru), he was written off by another. Good riddance to another who helped to tarnish the sport.
Contador’s legacy is complicated and neatly sums up where cycling finds itself; the double standards, the hypocrisy, its struggles to move on from its past. Should he be regarded as an all-time great? After all, he served his ban, was docked two of his grand tours, and still managed seven, placing him fourth on the all-time list.
Or was he a cheat? But if you dismiss his achievements, should you not also write off Eddy Merckx, widely considered to be cycling’s greatest, who tested positive three times? Or Tom Simpson, found with amphetamines in his system when he died on Ventoux? Why is it that Lance Armstrong is banished for good while others he cheated with run teams?
There are no easy answers. One can only hope that the stars of tomorrow do not leave us with the same dilemmas as those of today.
Tarnished legacy: Alberto Contador