pro cycling

Alberto Contador retires and I reveal the truth about ‘old snake hips’


If you are a pro cycling fan, you’ll be aware that a number of big names have recently hung up their shoes, stopped shaving their legs, and started saying ‘yes’ to dessert.

They’ve retired, is what I’m trying to say.

I’m talking about Fabian Cancellara, Tom Boonen, and now, once he’s ridden the upcoming Vuelta Espana, Alberto Contador.

We have entered a new era.

Contador’s powers have waned to the point that every electrifying attack in the mountains is now officially doomed. The Spaniard clearly doesn’t fancy a life as a jobbing pro-cyclist in the service of others, hence the retirement.

Who can blame him?

This does, though, allow us to finally and honestly address the cloud that has been hanging over Contador’s career as a Grand Tour contender.

There was a time when a prediction that he might be beaten in a three week stage race would leave you open to mocking derision and accusations of heavy drug use.

As in: “Andy Schleck to beat Contador? Are you on DRUGS!?”

Perhaps that’s an unwise turn of phrase when discussing pro cycling – Contador, of course, served his own drugs ban when he tested positive for a  small amount of Clenbuterol.

“Contaminated food,” was his defence.

To which the response of the authorities, after much prevarication as the highly paid lawyers on both sides left their meters running for several months, was (and I may be paraphrasing here):

“I don’t care how it got in there Alberto lad…you’re banned.”

Cue public statements and Spanish TV appearances where Contador assumed the mantle of victim, unveiled himself as a human being, and so began his ascent from admired and dominant champion, to flawed yet loved bike racer.

But, I digress.

Back to that cloud hanging over Contador’s career. The weakness that meant he could win seven Grand Tours (officially), but no more.

His Achilles heel, if you will.

Cycling journalists and fans alike have long described his style of climbing, out of the saddle, as ‘dancing on the pedals’. He sways from side to side, gracefully, swinging his bike left and right beneath him.

His bike wheels carve a swerving track along the Tarmac.

And now, thanks to my own rigorous research using a pen, a piece of string, and a blank sheet of paper, I can confirm that this ‘dancing on the pedals’ might more accurately be described as a ‘somewhat inefficient climbing style.’

A bit like a large multi-national cosmetics company, I’ve done the science-y bit so you don’t have to worry your pretty little head about it; trust me, the numbers stack up on this.

Consider this diagram:

contador diagramThe two lines are the same length. Both bikes travel the same distance, but the straight one travels further down the road.


I’m surprised Contador’s team haven’t crunched the numbers on this one already – just old skool, I guess?

So every time Contador gets out of his saddle and does the ‘old snake hips’ routine, a percentage of his energy and effort is involved in propelling him side to side, rather than the more traditional direction of forward.

He is needlessly adding extra distance to every ride.

(And it’s worth mentioning that, for the record, had Alberto chosen ‘old snake hips’ as his nickname the merchandising opportunities would have gone through the roof. He missed a trick there, too.)

His competitors meanwhile, glued resolutely to their saddles like Cadel Evans after a bad night’s sleep on a cheap mattress, are quietly picking the quickest route from A to B.

By my calculations (again, no need to check my maths on this…I’m on it), in the average Tour de France Contador rode approximately some kilometres further than his rivals.

I agree that, in comparison to Contador, watching the likes of Nairo Quintana and Cadel Evans feels like some kind of weird punishment, so ugly is their style on the bike.

But you can’t dispute the straightness of the lines they ride.

You could say that it makes the Grand Tours that Contador did win all the more impressive, for the extra distance he covered with his waggly drunk-man-riding-home-from-the-pub climbing style.

On the other hand, is the legacy of Alberto Contador, for all his triumphs, tainted by his unprofessional approach to riding in a straight line along a simple Tarmac road?

Next week: I burst the myth of Froome’s weird arms and spinny legs, and consider whether Tony Martin’s gaping, saliva drenched mouth should be banned, for reasons of taste and decency.

(Image: via




4 comments on “Alberto Contador retires and I reveal the truth about ‘old snake hips’

  1. so interesting, – i love watching the tour and hearing the back stories


  2. I wonder what his favourite dessert is to go along with all the steak he can (legally) eat now…? 😉


  3. Apparently it’s less clear than you suggest that “en danseuse” is less efficient overall. See an article in a recent ProCycling(I forget which one – terrible thing drink – but my excuse is 1084m altitude gain in 40 kms this am in 2.10 hours).


  4. Pingback: Vincenzo Nibali: dangerous loose cannon! – road|THEORY

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