There’s an outpouring of news about Alberto Contador’s retirement announcement. Lots of retrospectives, career critiques and perspectives on his role in cycling history. People will miss his attacking and improvisational style and other people will say, he was a doper and good riddance.
There’s no point in adding to that pile of goodbyes, positive and negative. Our defining memory of Alberto Contador was his victory in the 2009 Tour de France. The Spaniard’s physical talents were well-documented but what impressed me was his mental strength when it coming to dealing with Lance Armstrong.
The Texan had come out of retirement and was riding in the same Astana squad as Contador. Never one to share leadership, Armstrong began a physiological war against his own teammate that began before the Tour and continued for the entire three weeks of the race.
Contador never cracked once.
Armstrong, in his ruthless drive to take over the team, was willing to split it the squad in two, forcing riders and staff to choose between himself and the Spaniard. Team manager and long-time Armstrong loyalist Johan Bruyneel sided with Lance. That was an exceptional amount of internal team stress and strife on top of trying to win the most difficult endurance event in all of sports.
Armstrong had no intention of taking a back seat to anyone. “There are two ways to define leader within this team: you can be strongest, or you can be team leader because you have experience, age, the trust of the other riders,” said Armstrong. “That might be my role.”
When Contador attacked on stage seven to Arcalis, nobody really knew if that was the team plan. Bruyneel said there was no particular plan while an annoyed Armstrong stated otherwise. “That wasn’t really to the plan,” Armstrong said of Contador’s attack that almost earned him the maillot jaune, “but I didn’t expect him to go by the plan, so no surprise.” Contador knew he had to battle rivals in the race — and that included bothLance and Johan.
Once Contador took the maillot jaunt, Armstrong was is a difficult position made even more difficult after a four year lay-off. When the Spaniard wrapped up the race on Mont Ventoux, Contador made it clear that he’d beaten everyone, especially his difficult and undermining teammate.
“I had elements against me but I worked on that, I built on that, and eventually achieved my goal. It was tough to cope with because we both wanted to win the race, and that just doesn’t make sense, to have two guys who want to win the overall. But I prepared for that, and I prepared a difficult Tour, and it paid off.”
It wasn’t too long after the 2009 Tour de France, that Armstrong admitted to playing psychological games and their ineffectiveness on Contador. ”He is strong physically, but he is possibly even stronger mentally. He ain’t easy to disintegrate.”
That’s how we’ll always remember Alberto Contador. A grand tour hombre who was difficult to disintegrate.