I was asking people around the office for their view on Alberto Contador this week. Divisive was my word. The general feedback though was positive….erm….let me rephrase….upbeat.
There is no doubt that Alberto the rider is to be cherished. A daring, attacking presence who looks as good on the bike as anyone we’ve ever seen. A rider who animates races, who grabs the attention. Alberto the person is a more complex case.
Flashback. 2010. Geelong Road Worlds. A quiet morning suddenly lit up but the news wires. Contador went positive at the Tour. The intervening two years have been an almighty mess of court cases, legal action, race wins, race wins stripped, he said/she said, and finally a suspension. A suspension of half measures though. Ban him for long enough to ensure that ASO or the IOC aren’t embarrassed by Dirty Bertie returning. Let the Spanish worry about that.
Contador himself has always protested his innocence, and presented the “Steak Excuse” that launched a thousand jokes. Maybe it was true. Maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it’s more sinister. We’ll never truly know. What we do know is that the process was a farce, and unfair to the rider, the sport and the public.
So in plain black and white Alberto is a doper. The 2010 Tour positive, plus the links to Puerto, should make him persona non grata. Yet throughout this years Tour de France there was a common theme.
“Be good if Contador were here.”
And therein lies the problem. Contador as a bike racer illuminates the peloton. He can seemingly win races at will. Dance on those pedals and disappear up the road. What was on paper a barn burning 2011 Giro parcours, was turned into a procession after just 9 days, when Contador erupted on the slopes of Mount Etna to make the result in Milan a formality. Except, the record books say Scarponi won the race. The irony.
And now he returns. In Spain. The conquering hero to the locals. The disgraced athlete to the critics.
He’ll probably win the Vuelta. Froome will challenge in the Time Trial and on the climbs. Rodriguez will attack on the steepest ramps but can’t compete against the clock. Alberto, even without racing days, should be too good. And we’ll watch him making the climbs look stupidly easy and seeing the pain he’s inflicting on his rivals, and we’ll enjoy it. A guilty pleasure.
So should we celebrate his return? Well in the light of the current goings on with WADA, USADA, UCI and LA, I’m delighted we”ll talk about AC in a racing context.
He has been found guilty of doping, has been suspended and now returns. As the current rules say. Like Basso. Like Valverde. Like Vino. Like Millar. Like Scarponi. The sport is full of returning riders, some contrite, others unrepentant. Some who are cheered to the rafters now. Some who are forever tainted in peoples minds. The issue will always divide, and until there is consensus between governing bodies, and anti-doping agencies it always will. The sport needs to decide if all doping is equal. If all dopers are to serve suspensions or be thrown out of the sport. The current system and the way it is policed is disgraceful.
I like watching bike races. I like watching exciting bike riders. I like watching Alberto Contador. I think the peloton has missed him. He’s back, and now we deal with it.