Sep 9, 2009 Posted by Cillian

Contador’s Difficult Second Tour

As the large volume of cyclists transferring between teams continues, there still lies a question mark over the future of Tour de France winner Alberto Contador. His current team Astana seem intent on forcing him to see out the remaining year of his current contract, while the rider himself has been flirting with the idea of joining either Garmin-Slipstream or Caisse d’Epargne. Contador’s aim for 2010 will most certainly be to win his third Tour de France, having taken his second victory under difficult circumstances this year. In an interview in this month’s Cycle Sport magazine, he says that the 2009 tour, despite his victory, wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience, adding “I don’t want to go through all that again…I want to be in a team where everybody is fighting 100 per cent to win the Tour”.

Clearly he would like to finally win the Tour on his own terms. In 2007, his first Tour win, he didn’t even start the race as team leader, that was Levi Leipheimer. He had to prove for the first two weeks which of them was the strongest. Then Michael Rasmussen was ejected from the race while wearing yellow with Paris almost in sight with Contador sitting in 2nd place. One would be forgiven for attributing that Tour victory to Contador as a ‘default’ victory, not ideal. In 2008, Contador suffered the indignity of not being allowed to defend his title due to the murky history of his Astana team. Since World War II, 14 riders, for one reason or another, did not take to the start line the year after they won the Tour. All but three of these riders failed to win the Tour the next time they took part after their absence. Those three riders are Eddy Merckx, Greg Lemond and Alberto Contador. It obviously takes a special rider to come back and win a Tour de France having been unable/unwilling to immediately defend a Tour victory.

Eddy Merckx, Greg Lemond and Alberto Contador

However, 2009 still was not a victory that Contador can be entirely satisfied with. This year’s tour will be remembered more for the infighting at Astana rather than their ultimate victory. More column inches were apportioned to the man that came third than to the man who came first.

During a recent interview with rock band Radiohead, Dave Fanning discussed the ‘difficult second album’. A band can explode on to the music scene with an impressive debút album. As a consequence, the band must then undertake a heavy touring schedule to promote the album erstwhile fulfilling numerous P.R. requirements like photo shoots and interviews. When it comes time to produce a second album, there is massive pressure on the band from fans, the media and the record company. So much so that the band can end up creating a hurried album that might not necessarily reflect their musical or creative ability. It’s only when the band sit down to record their third album that the pressure relents and they’re afforded the time and space to make the one they really wanted to make the second time around.

Contador’s difficult second album came this summer, but perhaps not for the reasons expected. He was excused the pressure that comes with wearing the number 1 as returning champion. Instead, that honour befell the 2008 winner Carlos Sastre. There were in fact, three cyclists who took to the start line this July who had won the Tour the last time they entered. It was the third of these riders, Lance Armstrong, who was to make Contador’s sophomore effort so trying.

Carlos Sastre

In the past two weeks, Contador has seen most of his Tour team mates Shack up with Armstrong and his new team, and with Team Sky also hoovering up available talent, Contador needs to act quickly. Contador’s major tour rivals next year will most likely again be Andy Schleck and Lance Armstrong, both of whom could most likely name seven of the nine riders to take the start line as part of their teams in 2010. In contrast, Contador can’t confidently name any. He either needs to accept the fact that he’ll be at Astana for another 12 months and start surrounding himself with super domestiques or he needs to join a team that share his one goal of winning the Tour de France he’s always wanted.

When Radiohead moved on from their ‘difficult second’ to make the one they really wanted, OK Computer was the result, widely regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time. Contador has shown he can win the Tour under the most testing of circumstances, but now he needs to find a team that will dedicate themselves to achieving a Tour victory for which he will be truly remembered.