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

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Final Whistle -

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

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