Just when we thought that winning two Grand Tours in a season had gone out of fashion like denim-look cycling shorts and helmet-and-ponytail combinations, Alberto Contador popped up this year to become the ninth, and hopefully not the last, to join the double Grand Tour winners’ club.
Under normal circumstances, Contador probably wouldn’t have even considered entering two Grand Tours in a season. His team manager, Johan Bruyneel, saw Lance Armstrong through seven Tour wins without the slightest interest in him competing in another Grand Tour in the same year. With Contador having won the 2007 Tour, it’s highly likely that the original plan was for the Spaniard to focus on the Tour de France in the same way as Armstrong.
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And then, Astana didn’t get their invite to the 2008 Tour. Astana kicked up a fuss, as did their fans, but they had to assemble a plan B for the year. With their Giro entry also unconfirmed, Contador would ride the Vuelta to win. Famously, they were allowed into the Giro at very short notice, although sceptics believe that Astana had been tipped off previously.
Bert on the beach
Contador duly won the Giro, after having allegedly been told of his inclusion while lying on the beach. Astana’s PR machine didn’t discourage the myth that the Giro was won on no training, but Contador was already in roaring form in the spring, having won the Tour of the Basque Country and the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon. In Italy he came up against Riccardo Ricco, who was riding incredibly strongly, winning uphill sprints and attacking at will in the mountains, as well as pulling his usual schtick of bad-mouthing his opponents. Contador rode a defensive race, just holding off Ricco until the final time trial of the race, where he clinched the pink jersey. Ricco tested positive for CERA at the Tour de France, which inevitably cast aspersions on his Giro performance.
And then Contador won the Vuelta. The organisers might have designed the route for Contador — several flat stages that stretched television commentators’ abilities to talk for hours while nothing happened to the limits, plus a handful of summit finishes. And Contador only needed one of these — the Angliru — to win the Vuelta.
Alberto Contador being prevented from riding the Tour might have been a bad thing for Alberto Contador and his team. But for cycling, it has had the unintentional side effect of allowing the sport to see that the Tour is not the be-all and end-all of racing. Contador’s achievement in winning the Giro and Vuelta was at least as newsworthy as Carlos Sastre’s in winning the Tour.
GRAND TOUR CLINCHERS – 4 KEY STAGES
1) 2008 Giro d’Italia stage 10, Pesaro-Urbino TIME TRIAL
The Giro’s long time trial is a rolling, hilly 40-kilometre test. Italian time trial specialist and eventual third overall Marzio Bruseghin wins the time trial, but Contador is next best, an impressive eight seconds down on the winning time. All the other overall Giro d’Italia contenders are left further behind the Spaniard, and Contador moves up to fourth place overall.
2) 2008 Giro d’Italia stage 20, Rovetta-Tirano
Contador leads by only four seconds on the morning of the final mountain stage, having conceded 40 seconds the day before to a rampant Riccardo Ricco, who tested positive for CERA at the Tour de France. All of Italy expects Ricco to attack again and take the pink jersey, but Contador grittily defends his lead through the mountains, knowing that he can win the Giro in the final time trial.
3) 2008 Vuelta a Espana stage 13, San Vicente de la Barquera- Alto de l’Angliru
Save for a couple of attacks in the Pyrenees, Contador has ridden a quiet race in the opening two weeks of the Vuelta. But at the foot of the Angliru, he puts his team on the front. Rubiera and Leipheimer burn off all but a handful of rivals, then Contador goes clear in the final five kilometres. At the line, the Vuelta is all but over.
4) 2008 Vuelta a Espana stage 20, La Granja de San ildefonso-alto de navacerrada time trial
Contador has dominated in the mountains, and defended his lead to the penultimate day’s time trial up the Navacerrada climb. Team-mate Leipheimer wins the test, and comes within a minute of Contador’s lead. But the Spaniard keeps a cool head, coming second in the time trial, doing just enough to ensure overall victory.
From the archives: Stage 15, Arabba-Passo Fedaia Alberto Contador snapped a spoke on the climb to the finish and had to go deep to chase Riccardo Ricco, but after two important stages in the Dolomites, the 2007 Tour de France winner pulled on the Giro leader’s jersey today and made it clear he will not be letting it go without a fight.
Italy’s Emanuele Sella won the stage with another lone attack but Contador was sixth and took the leader’s jersey from Italy’s Gabriele Bosisio.
“I came to the Giro thinking about the stages, but little by little, people in my team lifted my morale. I started feeling better and better, now I’ve got the pink jersey,” Contador said at the race leader’s press conference.
“The pink jersey is a special present for me. If someone had told me 20 days ago when I was lying on the beach that I would be in the pink jersey in the Dolomites, I wouldn’t have believed them.”
Contador knows the Giro is far from over. Ricco is not far behind at 33 seconds and Danilo Di Luca is at 55 seconds. Bruseghin, Menchov and Simoni, are all still within 1-26 and the Giro is still a six-rider race.
“I think Ricco is the most dangerous now. He showed that he’s very strong by attacking on the climb to the final,” Contador said.
“Bruseghin, Menchov, Di Luca and Simoni are also dangerous because the time gaps are still very small. I know I will have to watch all of them.
“I think today is a perfect day to take the pink jersey. It’s the mountain time trial tomorrow and so my team-mates can rest up a bit. I don’t know about the climb but I don’t think the time gaps will be too big tomorrow because it’s not a time trial for specialists. I hope to keep the pink jersey.
“Of course all the other stages will be dangerous, especially next Saturday’s stage that includes the climb of the Mortirolo. Fortunately the final stage time trial will help me gain any time I may lose.”