The pro cycling season is well and truly underway and there’s already plenty to talk about. We’ve had Alejandro Valverde dominating in Andalusia at the Ruta del Sol (producing the odd boo! and hiss! from those to whom he will always be the pantomime villain), and the added interest of whether or not Bradley Wiggins’ beard had passed that difficult itchy stage; if not, surely the sweat and sunshine of southern Spain would find him out.
Chris Froome won impressively in the Tour of Oman, his performance on the Queen Stage up ‘Green Mountain’ surely causing particular consternation and a collective groan of disappointment from his Tour de France challengers: it turns out he’s as good this year as last.
At the Tour of the Algarve we’ve seen Mark Cavendish get his first win of the year as his Omega Pharma Quick-Step team-mates clicked to deliver him up for the sprint, and we also had yet another bike thief, as a batch of shiny Pinarello’s were lifted from the Team Sky trailer (following on from the recent theft of Sagan’s bike). And as if all that wasn’t enough, we had a win from…wait for it…Alberto Contador!
Yes indeed, ‘el Pistolero’ won a bike race, 13 months after his last win. To see him grinning wildly on the podium and doing that slightly awkward, contrived gunshot-celebration-thingy was like a flashback to the days when Contador’s wins were ten-a-penny…is it just me, or has he visibly aged over the last couple of barren years. Contador’s aura of invincibility slipped following his positive test for clenbuterol in 2010 – whether that substance came from tainted meat or not, apart from a glorious overall win at the Vuelta Espana in 2012 he had consistently looked like a different (and slower) rider after his ban.
At the 2013 Tour de France it was, in a way, painful to watch. Contador still rode like a top class rider (and did, after all, finish 4th), but to anyone familiar with Contador’s year’s of dancing on the pedals and away from the field on the climbs, he was impotent (so to speak) and fell short every time he tried to take on Froome; even resorting to attacking him on the descents at one point – an acceptable tactic, but very un-Contador like.
For the past couple of years he has appeared at team presentations and press conferences looking irritated and unhappy, and in need of a bike ride in the sunshine, although being metaphorically sandwiched between Tinkoff-Saxo team manager Bjarne Riis and ‘colourful’ Russian businessman and team owner Oleg Tinkoff would be enough to make anyone squirm and long for a spot of fresh air.
There is talk of Contador having spent less time recently dashing around fulfilling commitments and more time behaving like a pro cyclist in training (ride, eat, rest, repeat) so perhaps this new, improved, smiling, gunshot mimicking Contador is the 2014 version.
As his Tinkoff-Saxo directeur sportif Philippe Mauduit put it after the win on the Algarve, “we’ve found again the Alberto Contador who knows how to win. You could already see that in his face, his attitude, his voice and his legs. Alberto needs to win.”