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Alberto Contador: a dark cloud or shining light?

Joe Robinson
8 Aug 2017

A controversial rider who caught the imagination of cycling, we say goodbye to the opinion dividing Alberto Contador

Alberto Contador has divided the opinions of the cycling community and with his announced retirement at the end of the Vuelta a Espana, will have some bidding good riddance and others shedding a tear. 

With a doping violation to his name, Contador can have no complaints when fans say they will not miss him but, with seven Grand Tours and many unforgettable memories made, just as many spectators will be bidding him good luck and thanking him for his service to cycling.

The Spaniard divides opinion but should we remember him for his success and panache or for his dark past? 

El Pistolero: The great animator 

The look into Lance Armstrong's eyes. The dancing nature of his pedal stroke. The gunshot over the line. Stage 15 to Verbier at the 2009 Tour de France epitomised Alberto Contador

Ever the entertainer, Contador made history when he dropped his rivals to ride into the yellow jersey. He finished 43 seconds ahead of his nearest rival Andy Schleck, and the gap made on that mountain top went a long way to his eventual 4 minutes 11 lead in Paris. 

It will go down as one of the most memorable moments in Tour history. This was classic Contador. Moments like this littered the 34-year old's career. Contador does not just win Grand Tours, he does it in style. 

His last success at a Grand Tour was in 2015 at the Giro d'Italia, in which single-handedly, Contador buried Fabio Aru's chances of victory with a devastating attack up the Mortirolo on Stage 16 to Aprica. This was great viewing and something that will be sorely missed. 

This all or nothing approach from Contador is almost a polar opposite to the cold and calculated approach of Team Sky in the past six years. The dominance of Team Sky and almost robotic consistency of Chris Froome has led many to swoon over riders like Contador. 

Whilst Froome's achievements are not to be scoffed at, with some memorable moments of his own, it is incomparable to the tenacity and excitement produced by Contador throughout his career. 

The audacity to risk losing races in order to win them should always be admired, and this was a trait of Contador's that should be missed. Rarely do we see a rider so confident in their climbing abilities that they lay themselves so bare. 

Winning each Grand Tour more than once, he is joined only by Bernard Hinault in this feat. Even the great Eddy Merckx could not achieve this. At only 25-years old when he did this, he also remains the youngest rider to win all three. 

It was this willingness to win all three, more than once, that has etched the Spaniard's name into history. Whilst some choose to focus on just the Tour or just the Giro, Contador realised he could become a great and did. 

If his career had stopped there, no doubt would have surrounded this status of legend. However one dark cloud looms low over Contador's head. The kind that gives you a two-year ban and has Grand Tours stripped from your grasp. 

Controversy, cows and clenbuterol 

When Contador waves goodbye in Madrid on 10th September, many will be waving goodbye and good riddance. A divisive figure, Contador has always struggled in the popularity ranks outside of his native Spain. 

A general respect is felt towards the rider, and an appreciation of his style, but lest we forget that Contador served a two-year doping ban and had his 2010 Tour de France and 2011 Giro d'Italia titles taken away. 

Found guilty of accidental ingestion of Clenbuterol, Contador had seen his career dealt a everlasting blow. Blaming contaminated beef, Contador has always protested his innocence. Ultimately, he will go down in history as a rider who failed a drugs test.

Beyond this, Contador had the issue of doping follow him like a bad smell. Riding for Johan Bruyneel, riding as teammate of Lance Armstrong, Contador has been surrounded by those labelled bad eggs. 

Additionally, Contador took his maiden Tour de France at one of the most controversial Tour's in memory. 2007 saw Dane Michael Rasmussen, who was currently in yellow, sent home by his team Rabobank over issues about his whereabouts. Rasmussen later admitted to serial doping throughout his career. 

Another shadow that follows Contador is his links to the Operation Puerto investigations. Although eventually cleared, Contador's name was constantly name dropped in connection and for many, this was as good as a positive test. 

This black mark next to his name will, for many, annul the excitement he has brought to racing over the past 14 years.  

Adiós Berty

Cycling is a sport that struggles with its past. Whilst we damn some dopers, we applaud others. Contador will find in retirement that whilst some are at ease with his presence, others are jarred. 

With his Under 23 development squad, Contador will not disappear from the sport. His opinion will still be sort after and clips of his racing career will still be shown.

The question is, how do we want to remember Alberto Contador?

Untouchable on his day, he will go down on paper as one of the greatest stage racers of all time. Mentioned in similar breathes to Merckx, Hinault and Anquetil. He raced Grand Tours and he won Grand Tours.     

He retires now because he realises he can no longer win Grand Tours, and for Contador, this was all that mattered. 

Contador inspired many to ride their bike. His dancing nature out of the saddle would mesmerise and cause imitation by amateurs and professionals alike. People watched him ride, and fell in love with the sport of cycling.  

Yet, riding at the tail end of an era we know to be dark and dirty, the asterisk will always fall besides his name. It will always be remembered that Contador failed a drug test and for some, that is enough for him to be stricken from memory.