Oh man, we are going to miss Alberto Contador when heads into retirement this year.
Who else has the audacity, the willingness, the exuberance, the sense of drama, the optimism and aggression, the tactical skills, the improvisational brilliance to wake up a bike race?
Hint: it’s not Chris Froome, he of the clinical, scripted, watts-based, scientific approach to winning.
Just for a moment, put aside the steak con clenbuterol and revel in his majesty on stage 12 of the Vuelta. Having crawled his way into the top ten the day before, you would think that a transition stage was time for a pause, a detente, a take it easy before the mountainous weekend.
No, that’s not Alberto.
At the foot of the second-category Puerto del Torcal, he blasted off the front, dancing away like the Pistolero of old. It was a flashback, like Contador had magically taken 5 years off his age.
Nicolas Roche (BMC Racing) attempted to tag along but quickly realized that the Spaniard’s place was too extreme to even sit in the well of the Trek Segafredo captain.
Again and again, Contador jumped out of the saddle, driving the pace and drawing energy and motivation from his countrymen lining the roadside. One message, painted on the road, said “Un millón de gracias, Alberto, another one written in big black letters on a white bedsheets said “Gracias for todos.”
He was flying up the road, turning back the clock, terrifying the peloton and Sky with yet another improvised attack.
Then down with Froome, not one but twice. Froome dropped from the GC group of Nibali and Are, Froome chasing with Wout Poels and Mikel Nieve. Without them, he would have lost more than 42 seconds to Contador and 20 to Nibali. Sky’s massive budget swung into action and bought time back.
Still, there was no bringing back Contador. And when he picked up his teammate Edward Theuns from the early breakaway, he had extra firepower to extend his gap. On the fast rollers that gently defended the backside, the Belgian sprinter gave Contador everything he had left. “I think my legs never hurt so much in my life, I gave it everything I had.”
The race that Froome and Sky had slowly and restlessly been strangling to death suddenly loaded to life. Once again, Contador was animator and hero, taking the race in his legs and blowing it apart. (If there’s a crowdfunding effort to save the Cannondale-Drapac squad, how much can we contribute to keep Alberto for one more season?)
We will miss the Spaniard when he hangs up his wheels and returns to Pinto and his family. We live in a world of analytics and big data and machine learning that quantifies every act, not matter how small. To twist the English poet T.S. Eliot, we have measured out our lives in watt counts. Science claims all the answers and Sky is as much a cycling team as a collection of lab rats.
In this new era, Contador is almost anachronistic, a thrown-back, an old school rider in the Land of Metrics. Forget the steak and love the man. We’ll miss him terribly when he’s gone.