Has Alberto Contador’s Tour of Italy victory changed the way the sport is seen in Spain? The answer has to be – for now – a resounding ‘yes’.
On Monday morning almost all the Spanish newspapers carried a large front-page photo of a beaming Alberto Contador in his final maglia rosa of this year?s Giro. This is far more surprising than it sounds.
For years slating cycling has been almost obligatory for Spanish sports commentators. The only big news stories have been when a rider tested positive.
So the media?s huge thumbs-up to Alberto Contador – and to cycling in general – represents a real turn-round for the Spanish press. Cycling?s succession of doping stories, particularly the Madrid-centred Operacion Puerto, had all but shattered the sport?s credibility in Spain.
But Contador, single-handedly, appears to have reversed the trend – and far more thanks to this month?s Giro victory than in last year?s win in the Tour de France.
?His great victory – very similar to Indurain?s because he was the most consistent rider – has given cycling new hope.? El Pais, the most widely read newspaper in Spain, said on Monday.
?For the first time in ten years, the word doping did not play a big role in the winner?s press conference in a major Tour.?
?He is Miguel indurain?s successor.? enthused El Pais?s big rival, the newspaper El Mundo before adding – with a fair dose of exaggeration – that ?RIght now, Alberto is the best rider in the world.?
In Spain it?s fair to say the cyclist from Madrid has become a hugely popular figure amongst the general public. What was simple incomprehension at Contador?s exclusion from the Tour amongst a reduced group of cycling fans has now mutated into widespread sympathy and interest in the 25-year-old.
Winning the Giro has a lot to do with that – there?s nothing like a victory to gain public support. But the human interest of Contador?s story – ?from-the-beach-to-the-Giro-podium-in-a-month? – has done no harm, either.
Contador?s straightforward, easy-going nature has helped matters as well. The lack of controversy that has surrounded this Giro – in stark comparison to the glum procession that the Tour became last year after the Michael Rasmussen and Alexandre Vinokourov scandals – has also been enormously beneficial.
It?s a sign of the times that Spanish officialdom have been quick to associate themselves with the country?s new sporting hero. Spain?s minister of sport, Jaime Lissavetzy, flew to Milan specially to see the final time trial. The Spanish president, Jose Luis Zapatero, sent a telegram of congratulations.
So what now for Contador, apart from going back on holiday – to the same hotel in Cadiz where he was staying when he received that phone call from Johan Bruyneel a month ago?
With the Tour still out of bounds, Contador?s next objective is – possibly – the Olympics Games and – definitely – the Vuelta this September.
Just four riders – Felice Gimondi, Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault – have won all three major Tours. None of them are Spanish.
Contador?s aim is to change that. And after Contador?s roaring success at the Giro, the Vuelta can only benefit from his presence there in September.