Photo by: Christian Hartmann/REUTERS/PIXSELL
The Spanish king of the mountains
The good, the bad – El Pistolero
Alberto Contador has never liked mediocrity. He would either win great bicycle races with style or lose them royally. El Pistolero, a nickname he got as a professional cyclist because he celebrated his victories like a gunfighter, has never been big on tactics or saving ammunition. When his clip was full, he’d fire all the bullets. The same happened on Saturday 9 September 2017, the penultimate day of his cycling career. Climbing stages in road bicycle racing are divided into tough climbs and circles of hell. Alto de l’Angliru, rising from the heart of Asturias, belongs to the latter. That Saturday Alberto Contador demonstrated why Lance Armstrong called him one of the most talented guys to ever throw a leg over a bike. He crushed his competition by upping the tempo just like a giant anaconda squeezes its prey to death. Each turn of the pedal conveyed a message, saying “When I’m attacking, the rest of you are powerless”. In the last kilometre of the mythical climb, where leg muscles turn to jelly, in a dense fog, the Spaniard wasn’t hiding his pain, agony and passion. With his teeth clenched, he danced the last waltz in his career. Like a lone rider of the Apocalypse, he rode across the finishing line as a winner. Whatever he did on the bike, Alberto did with style. The next day an easy Sunday ride to Madrid served only as a nod to a successful career – a career full of controversies, but also greatest victories. Alberto Contador is one of only seven cyclists in history who have won the mythical Grand Tours, the three major cycling events, the three blockbusters, the three greatest races: the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France and the Vuelta. Anquetil, Merckx, Gimondi, Hinault, Contador, Nibali, Froome – the magnificent seven. Contador and Hinault are the only two cyclists in history to have won the world’s greatest races two or more times. And here comes a slightly longer dramatic pause. Regardless of the controversies that surrounded him in his career, the record will show that Alberto Contador was special; like Senna in Formula 1 or Maradona in football or Nykänen in ski jumping. There’s more to an athlete than his/her results, there’s a a certain X-factor as well.
The fastest cycling gunfighter
El Pistolero entered the world of cycling through his brother Francesco. Older brothers are role models at a certain point in life.
I started cycling quite late. I got my first bike when I was 14. Actually, I inherited it from my brother when our parents bought him a new one. It was an old, black, heavy Orbea. From my brother I also inherited cycling trousers and shoes that were too big. I didn’t mind. Every day after school I’d get on the bike and ride in my hometown of Pinto. I remember my friends shouting: Hey, Indurain. Although in those years Big Mig (Indurain; author’s comment) reigned supreme, Contador had another favourite in the formative years of his career. He was absorbing every move of the Pirate of the world cycling, Marco Pantani (nicknamed Il Pirata; author’s comment).
In the early days of my career, my cycling technique was bad. But when the road started to climb, I was on familiar territory. I always did well in mountain stages, but had difficulties on flat terrains. I loved it when people compared me to Pantani because of my climbing skills. It felt so natural to stand on the pedals and use all my strength to climb.