Advertisement

Sign up for our newsletter

Advertisement

Hasta Siempre, Pistolero! Laura Meseguer on Contador's epic career

Laura Meseguer
12 Sep 2017

Laura Meseguer chatted to Alberto Contador about his career and retirement

As Alberto Contador competed in his last professional cycling race, the roads and verges of the Vuelta a España became a blank canvas for grateful and admiring messages from the aficionados that lined the route. Never before had any of the journalists covering the race seen so much support from the fans for one of the race's competitors.

'Not even for Miguel Indurain!', one colleague exclaimed at me at the Vuelta – he had been covering cycling since the early 1980s.

The hordes of people in the starts and finishes of the stages waiting for Alberto Contador, left us speechless.

The will and the way

A unique cyclist is retiring. With him goes a fiercely competitive and aggressive instinct that we will likely see much less of in future races. He told me that it was his mother who taught him the motto, 'If there's a will, there's a way'.

He was only 20, and was lying in bed at the hospital after suffering his accident in the 2004 Vuelta a Asturias because of a brain cavernoma.

After a long rehabilitation, he came back seven months later to win his breakthrough victory at the Tour Down Under.

He had three dreams for his professional career: becoming a professional cyclist, ride the Tour de France and win the Tour de France.

'I'm going to tell you something I have never told before,' he tells me smiling. 'In 2006 I was in contact with different teams for the next season.

'One of them they had a leader for the 2007 Tour de France and they wanted me to be their domestique. "Maybe you think I'm a head in the clouds because I have only raced one Tour," I told the manager, "but I think I'm in condition to win next year's Tour de France." And that's exactly how it went.'

In 2008 he had already won the triple crown with his victories at the Tour de France in 2007 and the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España in 2008. He is one of only six cyclists to ever do so.

Unlike other big riders, his ambition for the victory has driven him to expand horizons beyond the French tour winning seven Grand Tours: two Giros d'Italia, two Tours de France and three Vueltas a España.

'The Tour changes your life. It Changes. Your. Life,' he insists. 'Before winning my first Tour I already had some important victories in my palmares and the people of my village kept asking me what I was doing for living apart of riding my bike.'

He recalls that he arrived exhausted to his debut at the Tour de France in 2005 after a very intense first part of the season and twenty days of preparation in Sierra Nevada.

'We were 11 riders in the pre-selection for the Tour. A few days before our director told us that if someone thought he was not in conditions to ride the Tour, that was the moment to say it. I was dead but, how could I raise my hand?!' he explains laughing.

He was 31st in that race and he will come back to the Tour in 2007 to win it. The 2009 Tour de France was a psychological test for him, he says.

The provocation of his teammate and number one rival, Lance Armstrong, was his main incentive.

'Lance and Johan Bruyneel had a very good relationship, but I had won the last three Grand Tours, so I think I deserved to be the leader of the team […]

'There were many things in that Tour that I didn't like at all.'

Despite this, he preferred not to enter into conflict with the team. A book could be written about that Tour de France, and after that victory he became an even stronger rider.

Picture perfect

The only photo he keeps framed in his living room is the one of his victory on Stage 17 of 2012 Vuelta a España after his feat in Fuente Dé where he took the lead of the race from Joaquím 'Purito' Rodríguez by attacking 50 kilometres from the finish. That victory became his distinguishing mark.

'You have to try different things in life, find new motivations...' he told me before starting this year's Vuelta a España.

It is precisely his style of racing. He is considered the best strategist by the peloton, and his way of transforming a hard effort to an easy tempo helps explain why despite his sanction after testing positive by clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour de France, the fans and the peloton continues admiring him, and indeed consider him a legend.

His last race has been a continuous sign of affection. His teammates have enjoyed every single kilometre of racing; the rest of riders applauded him at the start of the last stage in Arroyomolinos, and so too they paid him tribute at the finish in Madrid.

It's no wonder why. At this year's Vuelta a España he attacked in 11 of the 21 stages only for the joy of the fans, in a sport that is becoming more and more dominated by the power meter and losing its spontaneity.

His biggest strength is his ability to move, to surprise, to turn boring stages into exciting ones – ultimately the ability to get us off the couch while watching.

That's what he did in the Stage 20, with his last shot as “El Pistolero” – winning in the mythical climb of L'Angliru.

'The perfect end for a movie made in Hollywood,' as his teammate Markel Irizar told me.

'Only he is capable of ending his career by winning the day before he retires on the hardest climb in cycling.'

Alberto Contador says that his farewell in the Vuelta a España has been his greatest gift. He retires to keep working on his Foundation and on his new Continental team that will serve as Trek's development team.

But it will all be 'without any responsibility, pressure or stress,' he laughs.

What he will miss the most will be to set himself new challenges, and to compete savagely for them.

'I will miss saying – Everybody wants to win this race, but I'll win it.'