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What Berti did next: Alberto Contador and the Polartec-Kometa team

Joseph Delves
28 Nov 2017

In the Arizona desert we rode with the Polartec-Kometa & Fundación Contador teams, along with mentors Alberto Contador & Ivan Basso

Learning to navigate airports in foreign countries, especially ones with as stringent security as in the United States, might not be the first skill you think of teaching an aspiring bike racer. But if your riders can’t make it through customs they’re not going to make it onto the podium.

This fact isn’t lost on Fran Contador, brother of multiple Grand Tour winner Alberto, and manager to the Fundación Alberto Contador U23 team.

Safely through the border, we met him in the Arizona desert along with his young riders. Many of whom were travelling outside of their native Spain for the first time.

For the team the trip from its home base over the Atlantic to Arizona was as much about fine-tuning the logistics of moving the riders, support staff, and equipment across continents as it was about actual training miles.

Sponsored by fabric maker Polartec, Alberto Contador's U23 development team decamped for four days of riding in the arid conditions of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert.

Coming at the end of the season the team planned to ride 435 kilometres with over 5,000 metres of climbing, including scaling the state's highest point, Mount Lemmon, which sits 2,880 metres above sea level.

With two time Giro d'Italia winner Ivan Basso and winner of all three Grand Tours, Contador, along to give advice, the young riders were also joined by four of their older peers now riding on the foundation’s Polartec-Kometa Continental team.

In turn serving as a feeder team for WorldTour squad Trek-Segafredo, and now in its third year of existence, the Polartec-Kometa squad is already helping develop careers, with former member Enric Mas now riding for Quick-Step Floors and making his Gand Tour debut at this year's Vuelta a Espana.

With the two teams running in tandem Contador has brought his brother Fran on board as manager. While Basso is there as a coach and mentor, another former teammate, Jesús Hernández serves as directeur sportif.

Their goal is to imbue the foundation’s rookie riders with good habits before they start to move up through the ranks.

‘We want to give something to cycling, for all that cycling has given to us,’ explained Contador.

With such world-class experience and support on hand, the team's riders are well placed to make the most of their talent. Although even for the juniors the schedule is rigorous.

‘It’s very important that they have the right attitude for when they start a professional career,’ explained Contador.

‘When you are 15-years-old and you’re given the best bikes and the best clothing maybe you loose this motivation’.

Both he and the rest of the team spoke about instilling respect and a good work ethic in the young riders, especially as not all of them will necessarily make it as pro bike riders.

‘The best way is to work 100% every day,’ said Basso. ‘It’s like being at school. If you study, when you go to the exams you feel ok.

'If you do 100% everyday on your bike, you go to the race and you’ll feel confident. Finally you’ll never be afraid.

'When you're suffering - but you’ve done everything to prepare; eat well, sleep well, you find you have a little more. The big difference is in the small details.

'All the teams now have good coaches and good bikes, it’s about building the perfect life to go on the bike.’

Basso's advice to the young riders - ‘Don’t forget you are a bike racer, not a bike rider’.

‘When you wake up you are not like your friends. They can go to the disco, to the bar, go eat pizza, wherever they want.

'But you can’t go. You can go when you’re forty, like me and Alberto. That’s the problem, what’s nice to do at that young age, isn’t really good to do as a racer.’

When we spoke to Contador he was reticent about whether the current youth and Continental teams might one day lead to a future WorldTour team.

For now he seems happy to enjoy his retirement without adding the pressures of working full-time with an elite team.

Heading out with the riders each day as they tackled the desert roads he was there to pass on his experience.

At the beginning of the biggest climbs he’d sprint off up the road, daring the enthusiastic younger riders to catch him, before sitting up and letting them fight it out among themselves.

His brother, Fran Contador, hopes that the trip to Arizona will lay the foundations for a successful 2018 season.

‘Polartec’s invitation to Arizona is a great starting point for our next season. It was an unforgettable experience for all of us and an opportunity to team up and prepare in the best possible conditions.'

Certainly the team seemed to be working well together, easily leaving the assembled journalists in the Sonoran dust.

With a secondary aim to help raise awareness of stroke, a medical condition which almost claimed Contador’s life at the 2004 Vuelta a Asturias, the foundation also has aims beside trying to find the next El Pistolero.

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