Here are some few items of interest you may not have known about our era's champion of pro cycling, that kid from Pinto named Alberto Contador. I gleaned them from my range of readings. I'm very sorry that most of you won't find this in the western media here as most are busy chanting for Armstrong or writing the 200th biography on him that we hardly need on Amazon.com.
1. Brotherly Love : 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to El Pais about the young rider, "He was about 15 the first time I saw him, with that iron bike, which was completely outdated.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.
Which comes to the now famous tale : he was enjoying his vacation on a beach in Cadiz, Spain last year when he got a call on his phone just 5 days in advance to go and ride his bike in the grueling 3 week Giro d'Italia. He wasn't even in his peak form and had hardly touched the bike during that vacation. It turned out he didn't just ride that bike race. He took the title along too for a few memories.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
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