As the Sky rider prepares for the Tour de France under a cloud of suspicion it is impossible to ignore parallels between his buildup and that of the Spaniard seven years ago
As Karl Marx said, history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. Which one the 2018 Tour de France turns out to be remains to be seen. Chris Froome, the defending champion, travels to the Vendée this week aiming for a place in the record books: a record-equalling fifth Tour win, a straight run of four Grand Tour victories out of four, and the first Giro d’Italia-Tour double in 20 years. It should be a statistician’s delight but it is also a legal bunfight, with Froome’s adverse analytical finding (AAF) for salbutamol still in abeyance.
Unless the verdict falls this coming week, cycling has been here before. It was in the Vendée in 2011 where a beleaguered Alberto Contador started the Tour de France as defending champion, on the back of a Giro d’Italia win, with a possible anti-doping ban hanging over him. He met a hostile reception, with a chorus of booing when he was presented to the crowds at the pre-Tour presentation. It is to be hoped that Froome is more gracefully received.
TUCSON, Arizona (VN) — On a hot Saturday night, a raucous game-themed college bar is filled with young, fit, European cyclists. They aren’t here to enjoy the extensive beer list, however. They’ve come to the desert for a pro team camp, and they’re at this bar with one of modern cycling’s biggest stars, Alberto Contador.
Contador’s Tour de France exploits are well-known to cycling fans, but in the last four years, he’s also created an extensive development program for young cyclists. It has grown by leaps and bounds in just a few years. The program is aimed at nurturing the next generation of riders from grade-school to professional level — all under one roof.
The seven-time grand tour winner feels an obligation to give back. Contador understands the privileged life cycling has given him and has used it to build the Contador Foundation and a new Continental team assembled at this Tucson bar, Polartec-Kometa.
“Many years ago my brother and I started the foundation to give back to cycling because cycling gave so much to us,” Contador said. “I think it’s more important that everyone in the foundation is motivated. We know that this is not a business. We are here because we want to give something to cycling.”
Under the banner of the Contador Foundation, there are three development teams — junior, under-23, and Continental — as well as a cycling school and education program in the Madrid area, next to the small town of Pinto, Spain, where the Contador brothers grew up.
Contador carefully selected staff for the Foundation, seeking out only those he knows and trusts. Fran Contador, his brother, is the general manager. Ivan Basso, a former competitor turned confidant, manages the Continental team. Another close friend, Jacinto Vidarte, who was Alberto’s longtime personal press officer, runs the communications. The list goes on — a who’s who of influential people that have been by Contador’s side for much of his career. He wants people that will bring added value to the team, whether that is through experiences in cycling or in life.
Gary Smith, whose Polartec company has been with the Contador Foundation since 2015, agrees with this approach. The CEO calls it a “no asshole” policy. “I’ve just kind of reached a point in life where I don’t want to work with people I don’t like,” Smith said. “I just really was impressed by [Fran and Alberto Contador] and the vision and what they are doing.”
The Foundation’s formula for developing young riders is comprehensive with an in-house pipeline that runs from the school to the professional level.
The education program, which has been implemented in Pinto-area schools, is focused on promoting a healthy lifestyle through biking. It also teaches the kids bike safety and mechanics. The program advances as the students grow up. They learn about the different types of bikes at the start of primary school around six years old and advance all the way to learning about mechanics and maintenance by age of 12.
Contador’s cycling academy, separate from the school program, also promotes cycling development from an early age. For 150 euros a year, children aged eight to 14 can join the academy in Pinto where they meet two nights a week for cycling practice. The program is focused on fun and enjoyment of cycling but also has a bike racing aspect. The program works to introduce the kids to the sport, giving them the skills necessary for competition. In 2017, the program had over 30 participants.
The Contador Foundation launched its racing team in 2013, beginning at the junior level. The expansion to three teams and two school-level programs in merely four years is, to some extent, due to the credibility of the Alberto Contador brand.
Thanks to his 15-year pro career, Contador has developed the relationships and prestige necessary to grow a program of this magnitude. His own racing sponsors have trickled down to his Foundation’s teams. For instance, Specialized was a co-title sponsor of the first junior team in 2013 when Contador’s Saxo-Tinkoff team rode Specialized bikes.
The under-23 team was created the following year, 2014, allowing the riders that aged out of the junior team to continue their development with the Contador Foundation.
For the 2018 season, 38 riders will race under the Foundation’s banner of teams. The new Continental squad is home to 11 of those cyclists, two of whom, Diego Sevilla and Miguel Ballesteros, began their cycling careers with the Contador Foundation as juniors. They are prime examples of the pipeline’s effectiveness. Sevilla was third at the under-23 Spanish road race championships in 2017, arguably one of the hardest espoir nationals in the world.
Although the junior and under-23 teams are mostly Spaniards, the Contador brothers plan to internationalize the teams quickly. The Continental team includes only four Spanish riders. The brightest star to come out of the program is Enric Mas, who is one year into a three-year contract with Quick-Step Floors. He rode for the Foundation’s under-23 team from the beginning before stepping up to the WorldTour.
However, some might critique Alberto Contador and Basso for their checkered pasts. Basso was banned for two years in 2007 for his involvement in Operacion Puerto. Contador was stripped of his 2010 Tour de France and 2011 Giro d’Italia titles after testing positive for clenbuterol. Both riders returned to competition after their bans and went on to win grand tours.
How can these two riders guide along the next generation? The answer is simple. They’re up-front and honest with the riders — no omerta here.
“I am in a room, and I put a screen of two pictures,” Basso explains. “Me when I look with my eyes down and me when I look the public with the eyes up. I say, ‘This is a man unhappy and this is a man happy.’ I explain sometimes that life is very hard and sometimes the wrong decision can kill you.”
At the first team meeting at the Mapei Cycling Center in Italy prior to the Tucson trip, Basso wanted to set the tone immediately. He saw it as a necessity to emphasize what it means to be a person of character and how his mistakes forced him away from one the most joyful aspects of his life — bike racing. He wanted the riders to know the story directly, not from a simple Google search.
“I need almost 15 days to write these three pages,” Basso says pulling out his private notebook. “It’s two minutes to write, but it’s 15 days thinking … When I go to the first meeting one week ago at the Mapei Center, I saw 12 riders silent with the big eyes look at me and what I say.”
Basso has four kids of his own, but when he speaks about the riders on the team, he speaks of them as he would his own. His life as a parent shapes his words. He repeatedly talked about ensuring great men — not just cyclists — come from the program.
It’s clear Alberto and Basso made mistakes throughout their careers, but they use them as moments to teach. Their dark pasts aren’t just swept under the rug.
There is no guarantee these young riders will make it in the world of cycling, despite guidance from some of the best. Fran and Alberto Contador know that and make education a priority for the junior riders. “Sometimes the riders at this age make the decision to leave school to try to be professional cyclists,” Fran explains.
Alberto was one of the lucky ones. Despite not finishing his education, he found success. Basso, one the other hand, was forced by his parents to finish his schooling before he turned pro. The Contadors, Basso and the other Foundation staff know that few riders will be lucky enough to have successful pro careers like Alberto Contador or Basso did. They need a safety net to fall back on.
Alberto Contador’s words are held in high regard. When he speaks, conversations cease. Everyone looks at him. He is the father of the program. When he talks, they listen, but that patriarchal approach couldn’t be further from his leadership style. The Contador Foundation may bear his name, but Contador is most comfortable when he is among the riders, helping to shape both their racing development and character.
“The years that you are professional take the maximum you can. You have the rest of your life to do the other things that you cannot do while the years of professional,” Contador says. “You will enjoy more of these things when you give 100 percent during the professional part of your life.”
TUCSON, Arizona (VN) — Speaking to journalists on a wide range of topics at the Polartec-Kometa team camp, Alberto Contador applauded the Tour de France for embracing the shorter stage format that has become popular to spice up grand tours.
“When we have shorter stages it is easier for more people to attack and break a very strong team,” Contador said when asked about the 65-kilometer stage 17 across three Pyrenean mountains in the 2018 Tour.
“Because for 65 kilometers you can fight. You have something. You have 200 kilometers with two long climbs at the end, it is difficult to attack from the beginning of the stage.”
“With this system, I think some people maybe look and go 100 percent from the start of the race [to get in the breakaway] and another wait until the last kilometers,” he continued, saying that he wishes the Tour had introduced short stages sooner. “With 65 kilometers you can play more in some moment and have some different things.”
“I believe 100 percent in the power meter for training, but racing, in my opinion, this is a limitation in attacking in some moments,” Contador said. “… It’s crucial to look at the power meter [in training]. In the race, in my opinion in certain situations, it can be a decision. But of course, for training it is crucial. Also, if you want to look at the true level of your riders you need the power meter. There is no system better than this.”
When Team Sky’s dominance was addressed in the Q&A session, Contador said he believed its riders are beatable.
“One thing for cycling is that every year there is more mathematics, but you cannot control everything, especially in the final,” Contador said. “We are all persons and can have some problems or bad days.
“With Team Sky it is very difficult because they always have a strong team and the teammates have the same level or are some days more strong than the leader in some moments. For sure with this, it is more difficult to attack or with a bad day of the leader and do a big difference.”
Contador added, “[Team Sky] have a very good system, but of course, I think the big difference is the budget, which is two times more average of other teams at the WorldTour level. Maybe you put a limit of money for salaries, maybe it is more hard to buy every year strong rider because you say ‘OK I take this, but I cannot take this.’ It is not easy, the solution.”
The seven-time grand tour winner Contador has no regrets when reflecting on his 15-year pro career, but he admitted he had looked forward to retirement. Although, he joked he has been traveling more than when he was a racer, leaving little time to relax.
After riding with his team in Tucson, he attended the Giro d’Italia’s 2018 route presentation in Milan. Interestingly, that race eschews the short, mountainous stages Contador favors, but perhaps he had a chance to bend the ear of race director Mauro Vegni during his visit to Italy.
MADRID (AFP) — Alberto Contador believes former rival Chris Froome is ready to win a maiden Giro d’Italia title next season. Froome, a four-time Tour de France winner, will reportedly race the 2018 Giro.
Froome won the Vuelta a España for the first time in September to join Frenchmen Jacques Anquetil (1963) and Bernard Hinault (1978) as the only riders to win the Tour and Vuelta in the same year.
But the Briton has yet to win the Giro, a race he has started just twice. His last appearance, in 2010, ended in disqualification after he held onto a motorbike.
“He’s an extremely strong rider, and I see him perfectly capable of winning the Giro,” Contador told reporters in Madrid on Tuesday.
“He has a very strong team that can support him perfectly, whether it’s on the Giro or on the Tour,” added the 34-year-old Spaniard, who retired from cycling in October.
Froome has yet to commit to racing in next year’s Giro, which will start in Israel on May 4, but Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf reported Monday that he would attempt a Giro-Tour double in 2018, 20 years after the late Marco Pantani was the last rider to achieve the feat.
Froome could become just the third man in history to hold all three grand tour titles at the same time — after Belgian Eddy Merckx (1972-73) and Hinault (1982-83) — but Contador said it would be difficult to eclipse past greats as the best rider in history.
“There have been great champions in the past, even if it’s true that cycling has evolved,” said Contador, one of just six cyclists to win all three grand tours.
“But I think that a legend such as Eddy Merckx, for example, is difficult to overtake.”
Tucson, Arizona (VN) — Alberto Contador may have stepped off the bike and retired in September after finishing the Vuelta a Espana, but his formidable presence in cycling will continue as he adds “Continental team owner” to his resume.
Polartec-Kometa is the newest addition to the Alberto Contador Foundation banner of teams and will serve as the development team for WorldTour squad Trek-Segafredo. Junior and under-23 teams round out the quorum.
The U23 team gathered in Tucson for a training camp earlier this month, with four riders from the Continental team joining them. Contador was coy in his opening remarks about the program’s ambitions.
“In this moment, we work to have good professional riders in the future in different teams,” Contador said about the program’s riders progressing to the next level. “Of course, we also look to the front. We want to continue to go step-by-step … I will not say one or the other whether at the WorldTour level with a WorldTour team.”
When VeloNews followed up with Contador on one of the team’s training rides about whether there will be an Alberto Contador Foundation team in the WorldTour in the future, he confirmed that is his plan.
General management of the foundation is all in the family, with Contador’s older brother Fran managing the administrative details associated with the teams. Retired pro Ivan Basso, who has become close with Contador in recent years despite the two having ridden together for just a year, manages the Continental team. Other retired pros Jesús Hernández, who rode alongside Contador on Trek-Segafredo in 2017, and Dario Andriotto will serve as the squad’s sport directors.
The Continental team will be comprised of 11 riders, only four of whom are from Spain. The diversity is surprising, considering the majority of the riders on the junior and U23 teams are Spanish.
The four Continental riders present in Tucson were U23 Spanish national road race champion Isaac Cantón, Juan Camacho, Miguel Ángel Ballesteros, and Diego Pablo Sevilla. Both Ballesteros and Sevilla joined the Alberto Contador Foundation as juniors and have progressed through the ranks.
Polartec, an international fabric company headquartered in the United States and known throughout the cycling world for boasting clients such as Rapha and Castelli, has worked with the foundation’s teams for the last three years, since the previous kit sponsor uses Polartec fabrics. The company has agreed to a new three-year sponsorship deal, as has co-title sponsor Kometa, an Italian company.
Polartec’s sponsorship also calls for it to provide the team’s apparel, which will serve as the company’s first foray into cycling apparel design. As a result, Polartec has decided it will not sell the team garments to the general public — at least for the first year.
Gary Smith, who took over as Polartec CEO in 2012, decided to partner with the foundation because of the people involved.
“Just speaking candidly, we weren’t looking to sponsor a cycling team,” Smith said. “There’s lots of places as a company you can spend money to have your logo displayed. I’m not a big believer in that. It’s superficial and not distinctive.
“Working with this team, we’ve talked about the people and the relationship aspect, which is super important. And there’s lots of places you can choose to work. There’s great people and a compelling mission behind what they are trying to do.”
The camp in Arizona was Smith’s doing.
“To get on a plane, cross multiple time zones, have to ride, that’s a life lesson, whether you become a professional cyclist or not,” Smith said. “As a businessperson, I have to deal with that constantly. Flying time zones, adjusting to different cultures, different foods, strange beds, all that sort of thing. I think it’s a really good thing as young men for them to experience that.”
Michele Gazzoli (Italy)
Matteo Moschetti (Italy)
Patrick Gamper (Austria)
Michel Ries (Luxembourg)
Awet Habtom (Eritrea)
Willen Inkelaar (Holland)
Wilson Estiben Peña (Colombia)
Diego Pablo Sevilla (Spain)
Juan Camacho (Spain)
Isaac Cantón (Spain)
Miguel Ángel Ballesteros (Spain)
SHANGHAI (AFP) — Alberto Contador officially ended his career Sunday at a Tour de France criterium in China, which four-time Tour winner Chris Froome said marks the “end to an era” for the sport of cycling.
Both riders were part of a breakaway group that sprinted to the finish in the inaugural China Criterium in Shanghai.
“It definitely brings an end to an era with Alberto’s retirement,” said Froome, who crossed the line first at the event in China’s largest city.
Regarding Contador, Froome said, he “has been a big rival to me for so many years and in some ways I’m definitely going to miss him, and in some ways I’m not.
“He has animated so many races the last few years and the public is going to miss seeing him race.”
The 34-year-old Contador announced in August that he would retire this year, ending a career in which he became just the sixth rider to win all three grand tours. He closed out his competitive racing career at the Vuelta a Espana on Sept. 10. He attacked during the penultimate stage of the Spanish grand tour on the slopes of the Alto de l’Angliru climb and went on to win the stage in dramatic fashion in front of his home fans.
GUILIN, China (VN) — Dutchman Bauke Mollema races into 2018 knowing his job for the Tour de France and confident of his position, even with grand tour great Alberto Contador retired from the Trek-Segafredo team.
Contador retired from cycling with seven grand tour victories and a win on the Angliru stage of the Vuelta a España one day before he stepped away from the sport in September. With the Spaniard gone, Mollema is Trek’s clear Tour leader.
“Two years ago it was the same,” Mollema told VeloNews. “I think we will be competitive all around with good sprinters and classics riders. For the GC, I think Gianluca Brambilla will try in the Giro d’Italia, Jarlinson Pantano can step up and get his chance.
“The team has many young guys with talent who can develop over the next few years. In general, we have good guys and a decent team. We are losing Contador, but making a step ahead with the riders we have.”
Mollema posed the biggest threat to Sky’s Chris Froome at one point in the 2016 Tour when he sat second overall with two mountain stages remaining. He crashed and slipped out the the overall classification to finish 11th, however.
“I was seventh the year before, and sixth too. I believe in a good overall in the Tour. With the level I had in 2016 in the Tour, especially the consistency I showed this year.”
Mollema began 2017 with an overall victory at the Tour de San Juan. He raced to seventh overall at the Giro d’Italia and in the Tour, with Contador suffering due to crashes, he brought Trek a stage victory.
On Tuesday, Mollema finished the six-day Tour of Guangxi in second place overall, six seconds behind winner Tim Wellens of Lotto-Soudal.
Mollema said he learned some things riding next to Contador this year.
“Of course, for the team it’s a loss because Alberto Contador was always competitive and strong. Of course, I will miss him in the team. It was good to race with him in the Tour to look at him and see how he’s doing things,” Mollema said.
“He’s always positive and always keeps going, even in the Tour after he crashed, he kept going and kept fighting. That was nice to see and it was nice to ride with him this year.
“I really want to focus next year on the Tour. It’ll be my big goal to fight there with the best guys in the Tour de France. I think I can do it and be there or on the same level as in 2016.”
Alberto Contador said his backdated racing ban that cost him overall titles in the 2010 Tour de France and the 2011 Giro d’Italia was a “huge injustice.”
Speaking on Spanish radio, Contador spoke out about his controversial clenbuterol ban, saying it was unfair that the Court of Arbitration for Sport disqualified the two grand tour victories.
“It’s a huge injustice,” Contador said. “It’s something that’s going to stay with me my whole life.”
Contador has rarely spoken about his clenbuterol case. In 2010, he tested positive for traces of clenbuterol and challenged a UCI ban to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. In the interim, Contador kept racing and won the 2011 Giro. He eventually lost his appeal and had results from 2010 and 2011 stripped away.
Contador’s official palmares includes seven grand tour wins — two Giros, two Tours, and three Vueltas — but he suggested he considers himself the winner of the two disqualified grand tours as well.
“What I take away is the feeling that the fans had watching the races, that they enjoyed them, and the work I put into them, and what I achieved,” he told Onda Cero radio. “I am not going to give too much importance to what appears on paper. The palmares in the end are three times triple crown (Giro, Tour, Vuelta), but it’s also a complicated topic. In the end, nothing is going to change, and the people who pay attention to this know it was one of the biggest injustices ever done in sport.”
Contador has been making the media rounds following his dramatic retirement at the Vuelta a España this month. Last week, he was on Spain’s top late-night chat show after a visit to the presentation of three stages to open the 2018 Giro in Israel.
Contador said he made the decision to retire when he crashed heavily in the first half of the 2017 Tour, and said he could not have scripted a better farewell than his victorious climb up Anglirú to close out the 2017 Vuelta.
“I soaked up everything at the Vuelta,” Contador said. “When I was climbing the Anglirú, I thought that I only have 2 kilometers left before ending my career, and I am going to enjoy this. I never enjoyed a race with so much freedom, and I raced the Vuelta just the way I wanted.”
Contador also spoke out against the use of power meters in races, and raised concerns about the unlimited team budgets sweeping the peloton.
“More and more, the are big differences between the team budgets, and even some teams that have three times as much money as others,” he said. “And another big stumbling block for cycling are the power meters. Training today is all based on power. Some riders can hold out 20 minutes, others just four, so if you have five riders who can hold on for four minutes, those four can go full-gas for four minutes each, and their leader only has to make a four-minute effort. I think they’re fine for training, but not in racing.”
Contador said he’s barely touched the bike since retiring, but confirmed he will participate in upcoming criteriums in Japan and China to close out his professional career.
Contador also confirmed he has no interest in becoming a team manager or sport director, but said he will work closely with his under-23 and junior racing squads to help develop young talent in Spain.
• Grand Tour stages to be held outside Europe for first time • Alberto Contador to attend announcement in Jerusalem
The Giro d’Italia cycling race will begin in Israel next year, marking the first time any leg of the sport’s three Grand Tours will take place outside of Europe.
Organisers said on Thursday that details of the exact route of the three stages to be held in Israel will be announced next week, with Italian and Israeli ministers making the announcement in Jerusalem along with recently retired Spanish cyclist and two-time Giro winner Alberto Contador.