Alberto Contador was born on December 6, 1982, in Madrid’s Hospital ‘12 de Octubre’. He has lived all his life in Pinto, the small town just south of Madrid where his parents relocated in 1978, immigrating from their ancestral home of Barcarrota (Badajoz). Alberto maintains strong ties to many friends and family members in Barcarrota today.
The son of Francisco and Francisca, Alberto is the third of four children (Francisco Javier, Alicia, Alberto and Raúl). As a boy, he showed talent in football and athletics but thanks to his older brother, he discovered his love of the bicycle and chose to concentrate on a career as a professional cyclist.
He has devoted himself completely and passionately to his sport, having received many lessons in life’s difficulties through experiences in his own family, such as his beloved brother Raúl’s afflictionwith cerebral palsy. For Alberto, the value of each human being is more important than anything else.
Alberto Contador began racing competitively at fifteen as a cadet with the local team. A year later, he went to the Real Velo Club Portillo of Madrid. He didn’t win any races as a cadet, nor in his first year in the juvenil category, but he displayed a formidable emerging talent, especially whenever the roads tilted upwards.
His first victories arrived in the next year, when he began taking King of the Mountains prizes in the most prominent events in the juvenil category: Vuelta al Besaya, Ruta del Vino, Sierra Norte and, as a member of the Spanish national team, Vuelta a Talavera.
In 2002, Alberto Contador won the Spanish National Time-Trial Championship in the U-23 division. He debuted as a professional in the following year, 2003, with ONCE-Eroski and collected his first professional victory: the individual time trial in the final stage of the Tour of Poland.
By the time Alberto had reached the age of 21, he was already well acquainted with victory, as well as with life’s hardships and injustices, but the biggest challenge of his life so far was yet to come. In 2004, while riding the opening stage of the Vuelta a Asturias for the Liberty Seguros-Würth team, he experienced a health catastrophe that caused him to lose consciousnessand collapse on the bicycle. He was rushed to the hospital by ambulance, and was later diagnosed with cerebral cavernoma, a congenital brain condition that required a delicate and risky operation. The health crisis ended his season, and threatened to end his career.
After an arduous recovery, Alberto got back on the bike in 2005, and only eight months after collapsing in Asturias, he won the queen stage in the first race of his comeback, Australia’s Tour Down Under, demonstrating the truth of the words he had spoken to his mother just three hours after surgery: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Since then, Alberto Contador’s successes have followed in rapid succession, picking up speed with his arrival at the Discovery Channel Team in 2007, with whom he won his first Paris-Nice victory and, a few months later, his first triumph in the Tour de France. The government of Kazakhstan took over sponsorship of the team in 2008 under the name Astana, the country’s capital city. When Astana was excluded from the list of teams for the Tour de France by the race organization that year, Alberto’s response was to secure spectacular twin victories in the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España.
With the Vuelta win, Alberto, at 25, entered the history books by becoming the fifth rider in history to notch victories in all three grand tours, cycling’s Triple Crown, thus joining the exclusive company of Anquetil, Gimondi, Hinault and Merckx. Alberto also became the third rider ever to win the Giro and the Vuelta in the same year, after Merckx and Battaglin.
2009 brought the return of Lance Armstrong to the professional peloton. Armstrong joined the Astana team, which produced a conflict of interest between Alberto and the Texan, since both riders were presented at the start of the Tour de France as team leaders and hopefuls for the overall win. The result of this “duel” on the roads of France was another victory for Alberto, who played the starring role in an unforgettable Tour, in spite of the isolation he experienced within his own team. At the end of the season, the rivalry under the banner of Astana would see Alberto as the only great leader remaining with the team, while his director and teammates left to form a new organization.
Alberto Contador, by now the protagonist of dozens of successful stage races, decided on a change of scene for the next phase of his career, and shortly after winning his third Tour, he announced his signing with Bjarne Riis’ Saxo Bank-SunGard team, a move that came simultaneously with the end of the Schleck brothers’ contract with that team. The alliance with Riis, the winner of the 1996 Tour de France, was a smart move for Alberto that gave him the chance to work with one of the most experienced directors in the international peloton. Results arrived without delay.
But before Alberto’s contract went into effect, he was faced with a professional nightmare. In August of 2010, he learned that a doping control conducted during the Tour de France had detected traces of clenbuterol in his urine. Although it was determined from the outset to be an obvious case of food contamination brought on by eating meat tainted with a substance that is used in beef production to fatten cattle, legal proceedings were opened against Alberto.
The Spanish Cycling Federation accepted the explanation and declared him innocent. Alberto Contador, now the leader of Saxo Bank-SunGard, returned to racing immediately in his new team colors, receiving his federation license in the nick of time, only a few hours before taking the start in his first race of the year, the Volta ao Algarve.
The 2011 season was marked by the clenbuterol case, particularly by the appeal of the Spanish Federation’s decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport by WADA and the UCI, and the series of delays which kept Alberto from being able to plan and carry out his race program in peace. In spite of these obstacles, Alberto was remarkably consistent, both as an athlete and as a person. He worked through all distractions and difficulties to win a brilliant victory in the most demanding Giro d’Italia in years and to take fifth place in an edition of the Tour de France that saw him beset by crashes and injuries early in the race. The unlucky beginning to the 2011 Tour prevented Alberto from achieving a Giro/Tour double win to pair with his Giro/Vuelta double of 2008, but he demonstrated in the process that he is possibly the only rider currently active who could aspire to such a feat.
The Triple Crown
Alberto Contador, by adding consecutive victories in the 2008 Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España to his triumph in the 2007 Tour de France, became in 2008 the fifth cyclist in history to list in his palmarés all three grand tours on cycling’s international calendar. In this way, the climber from Pinto wrote his name beside the mythic Felice Gimondi, Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault, who had walked the path before him to the highest podium in the grand tours. Alberto was, in addition, the first Spaniard to earn this distinction, after having previously become the youngest Spaniard and the seventh-youngest rider in history to win the Tour de France.
At only 25 years old, Alberto Contador was thus confirmed as the most important emerging figure in the peloton. With this status he began to acquire a special stature that has been reaffirmed for the 2010 season by an incontestible repeat of his victory in the Tour de France, being his fourth victory in a grand tour and, perhaps even more important, his fourth consecutive triumph in the grand tours, a medium in which his participation has translated into victory since 2007.
Alberto was launched along this spectacular trajectory in 2007, when he signed with Discovery Channel. The lift-off point of international recognition, occuring several months before the Tour, was a sensational victory in Paris-Nice, a race that previously had been won by only one other Spaniard, Miguel Indurain. As of that moment, the name of Contador began to be known in the international arena. He took the start in the Tour de France, which he had only ridden once before, in 2005, aspiring to fight for the white jersey, a classification reserved for riders under the age of 25.
During the race, some riders were implicated in doping issues, until at last, the leader of the general classification, Michael Rasmussen, was named and subsequently forced by his team, Rabobank, to leave the race. Four days from the end, Alberto Contador found himself wearing yellow, even though for fans the most important thing was his memorable victory at the summit of Plateau de Beille in the Pyrenees and, apart from that, his splendid battle with Rasmussen in the Alps, which had earned him second place in the general.
Alberto was already the indisputible leader of the young riders’ classification and now faced a much bigger challenge, defense of the maillot jaune against more accomplished rivals who were, mainly, much stronger against the clock, when all that remained was the penultimate stage, Cognac to Angoulême, no less than 55 nearly flat kilometers. That day many discovered that the flyweight climber from Pinto was also a force of nature in the time trial. He didn’t win—that stage went to his teammate Levi Leipheimer, who was faster by 2:18—but he succeeded in fending off the threat imposed by Australian Cadel Evans, who only bested him by 1:27, leaving a difference of 23 seconds that would shape the results on the Champs Élysées. In this way, Alberto Contador became one of the youngest winners in the history of the Tour and, of course, the youngest among his fellow Spaniards in the record books: Bahamontes, Ocaña, Delgado, Indurain, Pereiro and Sastre. Although few could intuit it then, that was just the beginning of the story of Alberto Contador in the grand tours.
The Giro of Destiny
One year later, Contador’s team, with the sponsorship of Discovery terminated, had ended up becoming Astana. The squad, as a result, inherited the sponsor of the controversial team that a year before had been expelled from the Tour due to positives by the two Kazakh stars, Vinokourov and Kashechkin. Consequently, race organizers banned the team from participating in the Tour, and by doing so penalized Alberto Contador with a sanction that was in no way aimed at him.
That controversial decision ended up becoming a hidden call to destiny during a year, 2008, characterized by controversial decisions. The first was the ban from participating in the Tour. The second, paradoxically, was the invitation to the Giro, which, only ten days before the departure, decided to admit Astana under one condition: that the leader be Alberto Contador.
Alberto was on vacation at the time, on an Andalucian beach at Chiclana, where he had gone with his fiancée, Macarena, after riding the first races of the season and winning the Vuelta a Castilla y León and the Vuelta al País Vasco. He needed to rest after that first peak of form in order to start preparing the second part of the season with its focus on the Vuelta a España, where he was anticipating the summit of the Angliru as the greatest difficulty. By order of Astana, who threatened to abandon sponsorship, Alberto was forced to take the start at the Giro, even though he had done no preparation whatsoever. It would have been logical, after the first week of action and the first encounter with the high mountains, for him to be taxed to the point of abandoning. But there was a factor that no one had considered: his fascination with the great Italian stage race.
Fascination wasn’t the only question, but also class, naturally. Despite not being in condition, Contador was gaining form little by little throughout a first week during which no rival gauged the danger that he would put them in later and, midway through the race, he began to feel comfortable, delighted with the warm reception from the tifosi and eager to test himself on the mythic peaks of the Dolomites. Each day, withdrawal began to look farther away. Alberto began to meter his physical resources with the precision of a watchmaker, since he knew he was outmatched by the illustrious group of Italian climbers at peak form. With the aggressive Ricardo Riccò in the lead, Contador fought against Di Luca, Rebellin, Savoldelli, Piepoli and Sella, who went on to win a total of no fewer than three stages. Faced with these aces, he could only rely on consistency and his proverbial capacity for recuperation.
That was the key to an edition plagued with mythic peaks like the Plan de Corones, Mortirolo, Alpe de Pampeago and the Marmolada. The ascent of the Marmolada marked the point at which he took control of a maglia rosa that nobody was able to snatch away from him. Alberto Contador was a meticulous administrator of his physical resources—a defensive battle strategy. And so he reached Milan, without winning a stage, but by being the most consistent of all contenders. This includes his performance in the final time trial, which he finished with only four seconds advantage over his most stubborn rival, Riccò, who stopped looking daggers in that final duel, just as forecast. Contador had won the Giro because he was, beyond any doubt, the best time trialist among all the great climbers.
The Vuelta of Acclaim
The supposed punishment of not riding the Tour de France proved to be a quintessential blessing in disguise with the magnificent victory in the 2008 Vuelta a España. Some might consider the race to be the easiest of the three, but it was fraught with a series of obstacles that made it much more complicated than it would seem at first glance.
It was a Vuelta a España marked by the climb of the Angliru, but over all by the strategy put in play by Alberto Contador’s team, Astana, in which the harsh rivalry between their own leaders was occuring for the first time, encouraged by the technical direction. And that was without even knowing at the outset about the media bombshell that was going to explode in mid-race, with the gold jersey in play: the comeback of Lance Armstrong.
If the Giro had been an exceptional challenge owing to the lack of specific preparation, the demands of the route and the competitiveness of his rivals, the Vuelta was as well, but in the non-sporting sense. It was a psychological battle in which Contador confronted for the first time the difficulties that a year later he would encounter, improved and augmented, in the Tour de France, with Armstrong as the main player.
The Vuelta was a titanic fight against pressure, which for Contador had never hit so close to home. Before then he had won the Tour buoyed also by some favorable circumstances, without being a main favorite from the start, and in the Giro, too, where he was not expected to win and so had no obligation to live up to predictions. Nevertheless, in the Vuelta he was the main candidate for the win from the first day. The majority assumed he would get the victory even before the race began.
Alberto had to bring into play his incipient knowledge of how to act, his calm in the face of the commotion around him and, once more, his growing feeling for strategy. This was necessary as much to manage the race as to avoid external noise and internal difficulties, in this case in the presence of Leipheimer, a rider whose race paralleled Contador’s from beginning to end, supported by the argument that it’s better to have two leaders… even though that meant always having one teammate fewer to lean on and to share the workload.
The Angliru was the judge that put an end to all speculation, the arbiter that pointed to the strongest in the race and the one that pronounced judgment on the general classification, which until that moment had been in the hands of circumstantial leaders. Contador won with absolute clarity. He left Valverde behind by 42 seconds, Joaquim Rodríguez by 58, Leipheimer by 1:05 and Sastre by 1:32. On the following day, at Fuentes de Invierno, Alberto again leveraged the occasion to deal the definitive blow, leaving Leipheimer at 1:17 in the general. His margin was supported by bonifications that, although unapparent at first, had far-reaching impact on the final victory.
In fact, in the decisive uphill race against the clock at Navacerrada, Alberto gambled for the general in a tough round with his teammate, who again prevailed against him in a time trial. This time, however, the margin was only 31 seconds—not nearly enough to endanger his triumph in Madrid. Contador’s victory was saved by virtue of bonus seconds that he had accumulated throughout the competition, and in particular, thanks to his win over Ezequiel Mosquera at Fuentes de Invierno. Not even the poorly-timed announcement of Armstrong’s comeback, which Contador knew nothing about until it was made public, could destabilize him. A year later, once more in the Tour de France, the true consequences of that comeback became apparent, but that’s another story.
2008 will also be remembered for the clean sweep of all three grand tours by Spanish riders, thanks to Alberto Contador’s victories in the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España and Carlos Sastre’s in the Tour de France. What’s
more, Samuel Sánchez earned the gold medal in the road race in the Olympic Games in Beijing. The importance of this achievement lies in the fact that only once in history has anything similar taken place. In 1964 France managed to win the three grand tours in the same season. On this occasion Raymond Poulidor won the Vuelta and Jacques Anquetil won the Giro and the Tour.
The last triumphs in big Tours of Alberto Contador are the Vueltas a España of 2012 and 2014 and the Giro of Italy 2015, that demonstrated on the road the injustice of the sanction imposed by the TAS, reason for which the rider of Pinto continues considering all the victories of his palmares and count nine big Tours to his credit, which means to have achieved three times in his career the so called Triple Crown.
Contador returned to the Vuelta a España in 2012 after a long absence of three years and with the added pressure of having started his season just before, in the Eneco Tour. His triumph was epic, after an anthological attack in the stage of Fuente Dé that gave him the absolute triumph when few bet already by his victory. That day began again his long history of attacks as unexpected as spectacular.
Unlike that in the Vuelta a España, which returned to win in 2014 with another spectacular performance, especially for arriving after recovering in a record time of a fracture in the tibial plateau of the right knee, his relation with the Tour de France has been a long succession of mismatches in the last years. In 2013 he finished in fourth place after failing to reach the expected level. A year later, in 2014, he returned in full power, but suffered a severe crash in the descent of the Petit Ballon that forced him to abandon. In 2015 he tried the complicated double Giro-Tour, achieving the victory in Italy after a hard duel with Astana and, above all, after surpassing the harder course that is remembered. He paid for that in the Tour, which did not arrive with the necessary freshness of legs, and after fighting until the last moment, finished in fifth position, achieving, in any case, an enviable result.
The year 2016 again fell victim to the crashes in the early stages of the Tour, which forced him to withdraw. In the Vuelta a España could not succeed, but again he carried out his umpteenth feat when launching an early attack in the stage 15 that eliminated to the Sky Team and left to Chris Froome without options of victory, putting the red jersey in the hands of Nairo Quintana.
It was his last year in the ranks of Tinkoff, team that left cycling. Alberto Contador, after a magnificent victory in the Vuelta al País Vasco of 2016, announced that he postponed his decision to finish his career at the end of that season and later signed with team Trek-Segafredo, with which in 2017 prepares again his assault to the Tour de France, after an excellent start of the season and the certainty of being one more year in full physical faculties.
2017 ended up being the last active season of Alberto Contador, but that was not decided until shortly before the start of the Vuelta a España. The Tour de France was one more year the great objective and to that he consecrated the first part of a year in which shined to a great level, arriving at the start of the French tour as one of the great favorites.
Despite his efforts, the Tour 2017 again became elusive to Alberto Contador, who lost his options in the ninth stage, the start of the high mountain, when he
was left battered by two falls that made him lose a lot of time and, with that, his chances of winning.
Alberto Contador later acknowledged that this was the signal he was waiting in some way to take the final decision to end his life as a professional cyclist, although the official announcement came later, few days before starting the Vuelta a España.
His last big race was not favorable either, since in Andorra’s stage, first with big mountains, some gastrointestinal problems made him lose too much time to fight for the GC. That, however, was the beginning of one of the most emotional and spectacular three weeks races of his career. Alberto signed almost every day a great lesson of classic, attacking and combative cycling.
Almost every day he said goodbye lifting the fans from their seats in front of the television and still had the strength to offer the best at the end, in the queen stage, at the summit of the Angliru, the mythical mountain, the hardest, the nest of eagles reserved only for the biggest ones. That was the scenario chosen by history to bid farewell to the only triple Spanish winner of the Tour, Giro y Vuelta at the top of the podium.