No one can accuse Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) for a lack of trying.
Spain’s “pistolero” fell short of the elusive Giro d’Italia-Tour de France double, finishing fifth despite stubbornly fighting all the way to Paris.
Worn down by the demands of back-to-back grand tours, Contador pulled the plug on his 2015 season this week. Citing a fever, he will not race this weekend’s Clásica San Sebastián, putting a anti-climatic end to his historic double attempt.
“Alberto still has high fever, and is unable to race,” said Tinkoff-Saxo sport director Patxi Vila in a team release. “He also renounces the criteriums he has scheduled to attend, and, as a result, his 2015 racing season has come to an end.”
That kind of season finale is hardly what Contador was hoping for. Even when he was a pedal stroke or two behind eventual Tour winner Chris Froome (Sky) after leaving the Pyrénées, Contador was still quietly hoping to finish on the final podium in Paris.
Though he publicly kept up appearances, saying he thought overall victory was still possible, the podium became the realistic goal as the Tour turned into the Alps. It was Contador and Tinkoff-Saxo Michael Rogers who upped the pace in stage 17 to shed third-place Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing), forcing the American’s exit from the Tour. A heavy crash that same day on the treacherous descent off the Cat. 1 Col d’Allos, however, hurt more than the team let anyone know.
“We still believed Alberto could win a stage and even reach the podium, but he was really injured badly in that crash,” Tinkoff-Saxo sport director Steven de Jongh told VeloNews. “Alberto is very tough, but he was really hurting after that.”
Worn out, battered, and even a touch sick, Contador rolled into Paris with no regrets. He knew his Giro-Tour bid would be difficult, but Contador didn’t want to end his career without at least attempting the historic double.
“I would have always regretted if I hadn’t tried [the double],” Contador said. “The Giro was harder than I had hoped it would have been. Astana made it very hard for me, and with the hard efforts in the final week, and in the mountains, I came out of the Giro tired. I was fresh mentally, very motivated, but my body was still tired.”
Contador’s Giro victory clearly came at a high cost. Sky principal Dave Brailsford said he watched the Italian grand tour in interest as Contador battled against Astana’s Fabio Aru and Mikel Landa to secure the pink jersey.
“There were a few days where Contador had to go really deep,” Brailsford told VeloNews. “Those efforts cost everyone. The Giro was very hard this year. All of our guys came out of the race very tired as well.”
It will be interesting to see what the other main GC contenders take out of Contador’s double effort. Some suggest the demands of modern cycling are too great to realistically try to win the Giro and Tour in succession. Contador won both the Giro and Vuelta in 2008, but no one’s won two consecutive grand tours in the same season since Marco Pantani won the Giro and Tour in 1998.
When asked about whether or not he’d tackle the Giro-Tour double someday, Froome said winning both grand tours back to back is a “big ask.”
“It’s a huge challenge, a huge goal to set for yourself. I think [Contador] was feeling the effects of that effort at the Giro,” Froome said. “I wouldn’t say it is impossible. It is a very tough challenge.”
While the likes of Froome, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) consider a possible start in next month’s Vuelta a España, Contador is steering clear of a Vuelta defense.
Contador has started four grand tours in a row, finishing three. After crashing out of the 2014 Tour, he won both the 2014 Vuelta and the 2015 Giro. After taking fifth in the 2015 Tour, the 32-year-old said it’s time for a vacation.
“We knew it would be difficult, but Alberto was determined to do it. I admire him because he was brave to try,” De Jongh said. “Next year, we will have a different plan, to come into the Tour fresher. We will discuss these things in the next months.”
Speaking to reporters on the finish line in Paris, Contador said the 2016 season was already on his mind. He confirmed one double attempt is enough.
“Next year, we’ll change everything, and focus completely on the Tour,” he said. “I want to make a season like I did [in 2014], with the first part of the season at full strength, race the Tour, and perhaps even the Olympic Games, which I hear is a hard route, and might be suited for me.”
Contador even hinted he could retire following the Rio de Janeiro Games next summer. Though he was unable to match the feat of such riders as Miguel Indurain or Bernard Hinault in winning the Giro and Tour in the same season this year, at least he tried. Whether anyone else takes up the challenge in the next few years seems unlikely.