It’s been a long road back to the top for Alberto Contador. The Spanish superstar ruled the roads in 2014, winning or finishing second in every stage race he completed. The season started off promising enough, with second places at Volta ao Algarve and the Volta a Catalunya, and victories at Tirreno-Adriatico and the Vuelta al País Vasco, two of the hardest and most prestigious one-week stage races on the calendar. Despite being pick-pocketed by Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) at Critérium du Dauphiné, Contador roared into the Tour de France looking very much like a winner.
That was hardly the case a year ago. The 2013 season saw the Tinkoff-Saxo captain humiliated by Chris Froome and the Sky machine, leaving him and everyone else wondering if his time had passed. Now in his early 30s, Contador couldn’t match Froome’s accelerations in the mountains, and his time trialing was a shadow of the consistent skill it used to be. Some murmured that Contador couldn’t compete in cycling’s new paradigm of a cleaner, more transparent peloton.
Instead of throwing in the towel, the ever-defiant Contador rose to the challenge yet again. Contador’s career has been beset with setbacks, challenges, and obstacles that would have demoralized lesser riders. Yet his stubbornness and determination, coupled with his natural ability, have helped him fend off myriad hurdles, including a brain aneurism in 2004, Lance Armstrong in 2009, and his controversial clenbuterol case of 2010. Each time, Contador picked himself off the mat, and returned triumphant.
Last fall, after taking a short break, Contador regrouped, and spent months rebuilding the foundation, with long, base-building rides. Then he began training more intensely with a power meter, working on expanding and widening his ability to accelerate after long climbs, holding big power numbers, and then accelerating again over the top. Contador all but lived at altitude on Spain’s Tenerife Island, spending weeks atop the 12,000-foot volcano.
“I watched how Froome races, and realized I needed to change my training to be able to match him,” Contador explained. “I never worked so hard as I did last winter [2013-2014]. All I did was focus on the bike.”
There was a lot at stake for Contador in 2014. Not only were people speculating that he couldn’t race and win in the modern peloton, he had Russian tycoon and team owner Oleg Tinkov breathing down his neck. Tinkov had openly questioned Contador’s professionalism throughout 2013, perhaps his way of giving his well-paid team captain a kick in the pants. The pair mended fences over the winter, and with Tinkov buying out Bjarne Riis, Tinkov was clearly the new boss.
After his humiliation at the hands of Froome in 2013, Contador roared back in 2014 because he wanted to reclaim his spot atop the cycling pack. A crash in the Vosges pushed Contador out of the Tour, leaving him with a hairline fracture in his knee. Defying the odds yet again, Contador not only started the 2014 Vuelta, but won, beating back the best-ever Vuelta field, including nemesis Froome.
“Winning the Vuelta was completely unexpected, so for that, it means even more,” Contador said. “To win when I wasn’t even thinking it was possible to start makes this one of the biggest wins of my career.”
In 2014, there was no better and more consistent stage racer than Contador. By turning his nose to convention in 2015, Contador has already confirmed he will race the Giro d’Italia next year. He’s clearly looking to keep the stage race streak alive