ANDORRA (VN) — With around 100 kilometers left in the Tour’s ninth stage, Alberto Contador pulled over to the side of the road, unclipped his pedals, and stepped into a Tinkoff team car.
In a bitter exit, Contador’s rough and tumble 2016 Tour de France was over at 80km into Sunday’s decisive climbing stage to Arcalis.
The 33-year-old Spaniard’s high hopes for this Tour came crashing down in a pair of crashes in the opening two stages. Battered and bruised, Contador struggled to keep pace with the top GC riders in the first key climbing stages.
To make matters worse, Tinkoff officials also said he had come down with a fever.
On Saturday, he insisted he would not abandon this Tour, but as the peloton set a blistering pace under the summer heat, Contador couldn’t force it any longer.
On Sunday, Contador waved goodbye to a bevy of journalists, his Tour dreams shattered before getting to the halfway mark of the race.
“I did my best today. I tried to attack earlier on in the race but it was impossible — my legs simply couldn’t go after the two earlier crashes,” Contador said. “After I tried to attack my legs were really empty, so I dropped back to team car and talk to the sport directors. We agreed that the best decision was to abandon the race in order to rest and carry out further medical examinations, and we’ll assess my racing calendar now until the end of the season.”
Contador’s early exit will have immediate implications. He wants to race the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, but he might not be in top form to earn a selection for the highly competitive Spanish team.
Contador will now almost certainly race the Vuelta a España. After skipping the Giro d’Italia to focus on the Tour, he won’t want to end his season without some grand tour success.
Contador’s rough ride across the Tour
Alberto Contador and the Tour de France have been synonymous since his 2005 debut. Since then, he has never finished worse than fifth in a Tour he finished. With two official wins (and one taken away), Contador was one of the top favorites for yellow this month. Here is a look at his sometimes-rocky road at the Tour:
2005 — 31st: In his first Tour appearance, he was third in the young rider competition, arriving to Paris 31st overall. He rode as a helper to Roberto Heras and Joseba Beloki at Liberty Seguros, proving that he could develop into a grand tour contender.
2006 — DNS: Did not race after he was among nine riders removed from the Tour in a final-hour decision by ASO and the UCI for links between the team and the Operación Puerto doping scandal unfolding in Spain. Also removed were Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso. Initially linked to the Puerto dossier, Contador’s name was not confirmed during a hearing in Madrid last year. The cloud of doubt, however, has hung over Contador ever since.
2007 — 1st: Won his first Tour in the wake of the controversial expulsion of race-leader Michael Rasmussen. Contador won a stage in the Pyrenees, and then took yellow when Rasmussen was removed from the race by his Rabobank team.
2008 — DNS: After a move to Astana, Contador was unable to race the Tour after ASO decided to not allow the team to start the Tour following blood-doping positives from Alexander Vinokourov and Andrey Kashechkin the previous year. Contador won the Giro and Vuelta instead.
2009 — 1st: Contador’s Tour woes continued when he was forced to share leadership with the return of Lance Armstrong. Contador, however, rode his own race and refused to fold to Armstrong’s will, attacking him in the Pyrenees. Contador won two stages, a mountaintop finish at Verbier and a time trial at Annecy, confirming his status as the new Tour dominator.
2010 — DSQ: Contador battled Andy Schleck to the wire, winning by just 39 seconds. He later tested positive for traces of clenbuterol, which he claimed entered his system after eating steaks brought from Spain on the second rest day. Despite maintaining his innocence, he is handed a two-year ban by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
2011 — DSQ: As his lawyers battled the clenbuterol case, Contador raced and won the Giro d’Italia. After earning an unexpected window to race the Tour, he could only muster fifth, before seeing all of his results from 2011 swiped clean by the CAS ruling following a 17-month legal process.
2012 — DNS: Contador missed the Tour yet again after CAS handed down its ruling in February 2012. He returned in time to race the Vuelta, which he won in a spectacular raid in the Picos de Europa.
2013 — 4th: Back to the Tour again, Contador was out-gunned by a superior Chris Froome (Sky), who attacked him in the final mountain stage to knock Contador off the final podium.
2014 — DNF: After a spectacular run across the spring season, winning or finishing second in every stage race he started, Contador started the Tour with high hopes. He lost nearly three minutes to Nibali over the cobblestones and crashed out in stage 10 on a descent in the Vosges.
2015 — 5th: Contador won the Giro d’Italia in May, but the fight against Astana’s Fabio Aru and Mikel Landa was harder than he had hoped. A heavy crash on his left shoulder also cost him. He could never truly challenge for yellow, but fought to fifth overall in Paris at 5:25 behind Chris Froome.
2016 — DNF: Contador crashes in stages 1 and 2, cedes time in the early climbing stages, and then comes down with a fever as his body struggles to recover. He abandons midway through stage 9.