Interview with Cycling Champ, Alberto Contador

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One of the greatest professional riders of all time, Alberto Contador overcame a serious vascular disorder at a young age to become world champion on two wheels. He won the Tour de France twice (2007, 2009), the Giro d’Italia twice (2008, 2015), and the Vuelta a Espagna three times (2008, 2012, 2014). An all-around rider, he was especially skilled in tactical attacks and mountain climbing. Racing with several professional teams during his career, Contador beat Lance Armstrong by just 5 minutes and 29 seconds at the 2009 Tour when both rode together for Astana. Nevertheless, the Spanish-born cyclist did not escape the doping scandals that plagued his sport at the time and he was stripped of two titles (2010 Tour, 2011 Giro) , a decision he continues to maintain was unjust. Now retired from competitive racing, he keeps busy with different projects, including launching his new brand ‘Abike’ and managing his Foundation. Sports History Magazine asked Alberto to share some of his experiences and thoughts around professional cycling. (translated from the Spanish).

You were born outside Madrid, Spain to a family of 4 children. When did you discover your passion and talent for cycling?  I discovered cycling during my childhood and through my brother Francisco Javier, the eldest of the four. He began to practice cycling after getting a bike for doing well in school and in the end, I, who had done everything and was a bit of a mess, could not stay without trying the bike. It was a game. A means of fun. But I was hooked. I was always very competitive and little by little I was taking steps into this world until I got where I was.

In 2004, just a year after you turned professional, you underwent a serious head operation to treat a vascular disorder. Your recovery and subsequent winning career defied the odds. What do you attribute that to?  In the end, I suffered a stroke at a very young age but my youth helped me recover faster and without long-term effects. But there was also a lot of work behind it. Many hours of rehabilitation. That is the least known part of that stroke. When you are recovering you always have doubts, but with a lot of work and good results I soon cleared them up. And that also helped to reaffirm my determination.

You won all 3 Grand Tours at least twice- Tour de France, Giro d'Italia, and Vuelta a Espagna. Are there any races that were particularly special for you?  Each of them has its own special significance. The Tour is the Tour, it's the mythical race, the event we all dream of winning. The Vuelta is the home race. But the Giro d'Italia is absolutely fascinating. I made my debut under circumstances that were not at all foreseen. But from the first minute I felt at home, surrounded by an incredible crowd, with wonderful landscapes and mountains... I love the Giro d'Italia.

You were known for your attacking abilities and climbing prowess. Was there a regimen you followed to maintain that edge?  Work, work and work.

Were there any famous cyclists before your time that you admired and tried to emulate?  One cyclist I always followed was Marco Pantani. I really liked the way he rode. In my years in the youth category, people called me Pantani. That, in a way, made me notice this rider more.

Competitive cyclists are endurance athletes. How do you compare the sport to let's say marathon runners, or distance swimmers?  Every sport is unique, even if it shares a lot of commonalities with other sports. In this case, you commented on it yourself: resistance. A physical resistance, but also a mental one. What sport doesn't have its range of physical or mental demands? All of them, in their own context.

In cycling, racing teams work together, but riders also compete against each other. How did that dynamic work for you?  Okay, no problem. Competition is one thing. Training is another. In the end, cycling is a tower of babel of nationalities and countries.

In 2010 and 2011 you were stripped of your Tour and Giro wins because of doping allegations. Was it a fair decision in your opinion?  No, absolutely not. I said it then, I say it now, and I will defend it always. In fact, I was the last cyclist to be sanctioned in a circumstance similar to mine. That, or the fact that there have been changes in the regulations as we were demanding, is a sign that we were right. That happened, we were punished unjustly and the stain remained forever without the possibility of removing it, because that is how it is. I had a bad time. My environment had a very bad time. And because of an injustice.

In general, why has the sport of cycling been plagued by so many doping scandals?  I don't think it was like that and I don't think it's a phenomenon exclusive to this sport.

How do you see professional cycling evolving in terms of its popularity, the development of technology, sponsors, etc.?  It could be better in terms of the presence of sponsors and so on, but cycling itself has grown a lot globally, is more universal than ever and the calendar confirms this with races that go from January to practically November. This calendar has nothing to do with that of thirty years ago. In terms of technology, cycling is a very avant-garde sport.

What advice do you give to young aspiring riders who want to break into professional cycling?  Enjoy every day and stay in school. It is very important to have a training, because professional cycling is very hard and reaching the top is very difficult.

Now that you are retired from competition, how do you enjoy spending your time?  The Alberto Contador sportsman is already history, yes, but the truth is that I'm not bored. I don't have time to be bored. We have several projects in the pipeline that require a lot of time. I'm very excited about my own brand of bikes, which at the moment is known as Abikes. And of course, there are also the activities and commitments of my Foundation both to raise awareness about the Ictus and to promote the bicycle. And the family, of course. Enjoying very much my son, Luca. I also keep going out on my bike at least three or four days a week. Some of the new projects we have been working on for months also allow me to keep that contact with the road.

Other interviews enjoyed: Mario Andretti (F1), Hale Irwin (US Open), Pat Cash (Wimbledon), Scott Hamilton (figure skating Olympian).

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