The A.C. Enigma

With the Spring Classics now turning to debates over motorized doping and the hardman’s GT over, perhaps it’s time to start turning our gaze toward the Tour de France. Sure, there’s some sure-to-be good racing between now and then, but who cares? The TdF is next up on the VSP and we here at Velominati need to start conjuring up picks.

When Alberto Contador won the Vuelta in 2008 I was pretty excited for the guy.  I walked down the hall to a fellow cycling fan and colleague’s office after reading the race report on VeloNews and asked if he’d heard.  “Dude, Contador just won the Vuelta!” I said.  “That’s the past three consecutive Grand Tours he’s entered and three consecutive wins, really impressive. (15 months to be accurate but who’s counting)  Guys just don’t do shit like that anymore!”  And now he’s four for four.

But oh if things were that simple for me.  Pesky investigations, rumors and accusations stemming from Operation Puerto led to subsequent inquisitions of El Pistolero.  This eventually led to both the UCI and Spanish courts issuing statements that no legal action or sanctions would be pursued.  Later his new team, Astana, was banned from the Tour in 2008 because Veino was doped to the gills and swung through the Jiffy Lube for a 20 minute oil change the year before.  And then the whole media-fueled shitstorm started with that guy from Texas joining Astana.  Blech!  Trying to ignore the A.C. – L.A. drama of last year’s Tour was probably about as difficult as riding the Tour itself.  If anyone managed to get through the Tour without hearing about that B.S. they deserve an honorary Maillot Jaune and a kiss from two podium girls.

Throughout all this, perhaps even in spite of all this, A.C. continued to win races.  Okay so he didn’t make the podium at Paris-Nice last year, a race he won in 2007 and again this year.  The coverage would make one think that a 4th place finish in the Race to the Sun was disgraceful and that he’d lost his touch.  He bonked and bonked hard on the sixth stage.  But with wins at Volta a Algarve, Vuelta a Pais Vasco, a podium finish at the Dauphine, and becoming the Spanish National TT champion, A.C. was proving himself to be the best all-arounder in the peloton.

So what are the impressions we get of Contador?  Bruyneel has tossed out mixed messages.  On the one hand he’s the most explosive and gifted climber he’s ever seen.  On the other he’s some type of prima donna who rides for himself.  I would too after having to buy my own TT wheels and proving myself to be the strongest rider in the peloton only to be treated like a neo-pro.  Of course don’t even bother asking a Livestronger about Alberto.  Anyone who get’s in the way of another coronation for The Boss (read COTHO) has got to be arrogant, selfish, and just plain mean.  Okay, so Contador’s pistol shot salute is sort of lame and contrived but so what?  It’s a hell of lot better than playing telephone.  And he’s certainly not the most entertaining guy in interviews.  But I haven’t seen anything that makes him out to be anything other than pragmatic and perhaps even introspective.   He actually seems kind of chill.

In a recent interview in Cycle Sport America, David Millar had a few things to say about Contador (of course, Millar has a few things to say about a lot) . The gist was that Alberto went to war against Johan and Lance last year both in the press and on the road.  He won on both fronts.  He also spoke of the respect A.C. is garnering in the peloton, his strength on the bike, and the perseverance he’s maintained through all this.  On that classic bonk and subsequent stage in 2009’s P-N, he had this to say:

When you watch a race, you want to believe riders can stay away in a break.  That’s what’s exciting. It does still happen, like with Contador in the last stage of Paris-Nice (2009).  He’d been humiliated the day before.  He got the hunger knock and blew his nuts off.  Lost the jersey and was lying third or fourth.  Tragedy.  I said, ‘Watch Alberto go tomorrow.  First mountain.’ Nobody believed me. I said, ‘He will, he will, it’s Alberto.’  First Mountain, he went, from the bottom.  That’s old school.  His team didn’t set him up, he just went.  There were still 100k to go.  He attacked the whole peloton and he was still away at the end.

We saw this on the much bigger stage of last year’s Tour as well.  After getting caught out of a decisive split in stage three the L.A. show was supposedly on.  If you believed 1/3 of the guys on Versus and most everyone else you would’ve thought El Pistolero was now second fiddle.  Lance’s smart riding aside, THIS WAS ONLY STAGE THREE PEOPLE!   Enter the Arcalis.  A.C. took off to the consternation of the entire Astana team and  1/3 of the guys calling the race on Versus and turned a 20 second deficit into a 2 second lead over his soon-to-be-former teammate.   He was letting it be known that he was the strongest rider on the Astana team and the whine fest was on.

So what can we say more objectively about Contador?  Well, his light-as-a-feather climbing style has been compared to Charly Gaul and Marco Pantani.  Suffice it to say, there’s not another rider in the peloton who can really compete, day in, day out, with Alberto in the mountains.  He’s proven he can rip a TT course as well.  His performance in last year’s final ITT at the Tour was decisive.  Maybe he’s not the greatest at reading a race or making it into all the splits but I’m afraid to say that those are dying skills.  With race radios and directors barking orders into a headset non-stop, what rider really needs to think for himself?   And as far as needing a strong team to win this year, let’s not forget last year.  I’m not entirely convinced he needs a squad of super-domestiques to pull him through the Tour.  Maybe just a few solid riders will do.

When A.C. won the Vuelta in ’08 and pulled off the virtual Grand Tour trifecta I was a fan.  Then, for reasons I don’t fully understand, I thought I didn’t like him.  Then I was confused about why I was trying not to like El Pistolero.  I really still don’t know what to think of the guy. I guess I’m indifferent towards him. Regardless of what I or any of you think, the promise that he’ll continue to ride with dominance on the climbs and strength in the TT is going to shape the Tour this year .  This time, it’d be nice if there were a few guys who could keep up.   It’s not his fault he wins races, it’s everyone else’s.  Trying to beat Alberto and win the GC is what’s going to make this year’s Tour exciting, not a comeback, not a team leadership struggle, and certainly not a cat fight in the media.

Related Posts

44 Replies to “The A.C. Enigma”

  1. Wow! You pretty much nailed it. I’m indifferent, too. He’s an amazing rider””beautiful to watch””but I don’t feel strongly one way or the other. Maybe it’s the whole AC-LA nonsense from last year combined with the doping speculation on the one hand and the fact that he is second-to-none the best GT rider in the world by quite some margin on the other. Maybe it’s his patchy (but improving) English. His interviews don’t really inspire the imagination (compare, unfairly, perhaps with Voigt or Spartacus or even the Schlecks). Will have to chew on this further…

  2. nicely balanced article Marko – I too am/was in the Contador ambivalence camp, but more so because Puerto has poisoned my mind against Spanish GC men. Combine that with his absolute dominance and you end up going for the underdogs.
    Here’s hoping for a bit of action from some others, but I can’t see it right now. The Brothers Grimpeur seem to have lost their mojo (although they could be lying doggo for now and come good in July – here’s hoping), COTHO is now FHF (fat happy and finished) and the rest of them aren’t at AC’s standard.

    I just want a one good last show from Robbie McEwen – which may or may not include decking Cavendouche.

  3. Yeah, nice article, Marko.

    @Marcus “Decking” as in Bad Cadel’s (attempted) fisticuffs? Or as in Robbie’s (2003?) head-butting of SOG? Bound to be something going on with all those aggressive Australians in the peloton these days…

  4. I too am in almost total agreement. AC just leaves me cold, when I should be delighted at his explosive climbing antics. Fleche Wallone? I was so close to switching the TV off when he surged (I guess this falls the other side of ambivalence) and was happy as Larry to see him beat. By Good Cadel, no less!

    Much as I hate to say it, I’m with @Marcus on the Spaniards thing. It’s hard to have faith when their legal system makes it a veritable doping safe haven. I cracked open a bottle of bubbly when I heard the more recent Piti-ful news :¬)

    BUT… @Marko – aren’t they phasing out race radios? Which can only be a good thing (there’s a can opener for your worms), especially if it given us more racing like that seen recently in the Giro. Bad weather + poor comms = Peloton chaos. Always good for us guys in the armchair…

  5. Great article, mate. Here’s the thing for me: I’m always in the underdog camp. And, if the underdog looks cool; I’m in whole-hog.

    For me it’s the excitement of seeing the unexpected. Don’t get me wrong, if I was a pro trying to win the Tour, I’d do it the way Armstrong did it: control everything you can, leave nothing to chance, and dominate it as early as possible to reduce risk. And repeat.

    But fuck me, that’s terrible entertainment. I want excitement, I want fireworks. I want less predictability. It even gets to the point where I don’t want Spartacus to also win P-R, simply because it’s what I expect.

    I find I love the enigmatic, unpredictable riders. Pantani, Ullrich. Those guys were all class, and you never knew if they were going to go all Rule #5 on that shit or crack and be a disaster.

    Or the Brothers Grimpeur, who are just this side of winning and with a good day, they take it. On a bad day, well, they’re just on this side of winning.

    That’s why I am not a fan of AC. Loved him in the Tour in ’07, lighting up the roads and dangling Rass-juiced-en on the climbs. That was racing. Even the Giro in ’08 was great. Then came the Vuelta and the Tour in ’09. The second it becomes predictable, I’m out.

  6. I love the fact that AC – is it an interesting fact that many people are now using his Puerto codename to identify Contador? Anyway, getting side-tracked, I love the fact that Bertie put one over the CoTHO last year. Very satisfying.

    Other than that I’m hugely indifferent about him. Invariably I’d rather someone else wins, as long as it isn’t the CoTHO, but sometimes his old-school attacking is hard to resist. I just don’t believe in him enough. There is still much talk of transfusions and micro-dosing and after all. Why were his initials in the Puerto documents. I can’t go around arguing that The CoTHO couldn’t be clean while all around are testing positive, if don’t do the same with Contador. I guess under it all is the fear that we will end up with another Armstrong. And he’s not done with us yet.

  7. His breaking rank last year was a little bit cool. And unlike Armstrong, he evidently doesn’t need a team to beat a strong GC field. But that predictability thing is almost as boring as Armstrong. He time trials exceptionally well and how do you drop him in the mountains?

  8. Hey, Steampunk. How come you got busted back to 4th Cat, caught doping?

  9. @Jarvis

    1. Let me stress, this demotion had nothing to do with any PEDS. I have never and would never cheat. And if the B sample comes back positive, I’ll deny that, too.

    2. And it wasn’t for drinking light beer. I would never do that.

    3. That’s what I get for posting from work.

    4. As an aspiring Cognoscenti, I have to confess I didn’t even notice the cat numbers until David drew them to my attention the other day. I’m no status hound: HTFU!

  10. @Geof
    If it involves Robbie (aka Our Little Bogan from Queensland) laying into Cavendouche, I do not mind if it is a headbutt or uppercut.
    As good as the Little Bogan has been at upsetting people (esp COTHO), our original Provocateur of a Patron was the magnificent Phil Anderson. Excerpt from his website describing the 1981 Tour de France stage when he became the first “non-Euro” to wear yellow.

    “Without knowing it, Anderson was to earn even greater wrath from Hinault by naively offering him a swill from his bidon (drink bottle). The Frenchman, taking the gesture as an insult, promptly swiped it from Anderson’s hand. “I didn’t even know who Hinault was. I couldn’t even pronounce his name. But I was there with him and when I gave him my bidon. I was only trying to be sportsmanlike. I figured something was really up when he hit it away. I suppose I should have been intimidated by it all, but I wasn’t. Heck, I was Australian and couldn’t even spell Hinault, let alone know who he was,”

  11. @Marcus
    Anderson was a legend. I mean, he must have taken about a 7 watt hit just by having those teeth hanging out, right? But Christ, what a badass.

    As for little Robbie McChewin, I’ve never been a fan of his; in fact, I like him quite a bit more now that he’s not winning. He was always the classic ridin’ wheels sprinter who talked more with his mouth than his legs. And, headbuttin’ SOG was a nail in the coffin, as far as I’m concerned.

  12. @frank
    Oh Frank, surely you jest? How could you call Robbie a ridin’ wheels sprinter (aren’t they all?) compared to his even lazier peers?

    At least Robbie has scored most of his victories with a relatively minor level of team support – compared to the sprinters with massive trains – Ale Jet, Cavendouche and Cipo (but with massive respect to him at all times).

    And surely Robbie’s disagreement with COTHO gives him some cred when the rest of the peloton would lie down in supplication at Lance’s feet?
    Add to that:

    1. His trademark “Grand Tour Mountain-Top Wheelie Finish at the Back of the Grupetto”; and
    2. His answer to an Aussie journalist who asked why he doesn’t climb faster, “Don’t know if I can, never tried. Cos I can sprint.”,

    Surely you have a package worthy of some admiration??

    The headbutt with SOG was not a great move (as everyone loves Stuey) but they have history going waaaaay back.
    And you gotta give Robbie a little slack – he grew up on the Gold Coast – which is tantamount to growing up in Vegas but even worse.

  13. Man, the potential for doping here is incredible. When, exactly, has the world’s best climber also been the best GT time trialer? Wait, don’t answer that. The guy is unreal. He can/could climb with Rasmussen, Mayo, Heras, the freres Schleck,, but could/can any of those guys TT?

    But the perspective we’re getting of AC is biased, as most of it comes from English speaking media, which is all about the Texan. And the press dogging put on by team Bruyneel. So, it’s fair to say that we don’t know exactly what kind of guy he is (unless you happen to habla Espanol, of course). I suspect he’s another dude riding his bike in the pro peleton.

  14. @Big Mikey

    That’s exactly what I was trying to convey with this article. Well put. Cycling media and politics media, well, maybe just media, is all the same. There’s very little objectivity and our opinions are largerly shaped by what we hear. A.C. is the CoTHO of Spain. In other words, there’s so much more to it than deeds and the “truth” is impossible to assertain (short of a positive B sample). This is why I’m so ambivalent toward the guy. His style of winning (control, forgone conclusions, methodical) doesn’t excite me, but his style of riding does. This is why I say it’s not really his problem, we can’t blame the guy for figuring out how to play the game better than anyone else. It’s up to everyone else to play the game at least as good as him.

  15. @Marcus
    Sure, all sprinters ride wheels, and you have to give him credit for never having a lead-out train, but even for sprinters, he’s a wheel sucker. I’ve never seen the guy stick his nose in the wind more than 50m from the line. No thank you.

    And, as far as the quote of never trying, I suppose he’s doing wheelies just to prove to people that he’s not trying; it amounts to little more than posturing. I say, “Hey Robbie – why don’t you try to ride like your counterpart Erik Zabel and take a spoonful of Rule #5 every night before bed.”

    You know why everyone loves SOG? Fucking lives Rule #5.

  16. @Marko, @Big Mikey

    we can’t blame the guy for figuring out how to play the game better than anyone else. It’s up to everyone else to play the game at least as good as him.

    Sure, we can’t blame him, but we sure as hell don’t need to like him. He gets paid a big salary because, at the end of the day, he is an entertainer. I can blame him for making the races unexciting.

    Like I said, if it was me, I’d do the same thing. But as a fan, I hate it. Same goes for Pharmstrong.

  17. @frank

    What I hear in that is blaming him for his style and acumen. That to me is a value judgement. I agree, the racing is less exciting when he’s around and on form. But take Fleche Wallone this year as an example. It looked like, 500m or so from the line, A.C. had it in the bag. Not so fast says Good Cadel. Good Cadel did his homework and had his number. That’s good bike racing. Riders figuring out what they need to do to beat other riders. That’s why I put the onus on the Bros Grimpeur, Good Cadel, Basso, Nibali, shit even Veino, et. al. to figure out how to beat the guy. I’m not enthralled by the dude either but he’s not the one making bike races less exciting.

  18. I think as far as A.C. and bike racing goes, it’s a matter of not hating the playa, hating the game.

  19. True, AC needs to keep his trap shut because everytime he opens it, he whines and needs to be bitch-slapped and reminded he is much more credible when he says nothing.

    He whined whenever LA and Johann were plotting tactics last year. Yet, he rode on to win without much help, how cool would it have been if he woulda just pasted ‘Rule #5’ on his back and ridden LA into oblivion day after day.

    He whined about his contract. How cool would it have been if he said nothing and just said ‘whatever’, I am gonna kickass in july.

    He whines, way too much and needs to just be quiet.

    That said, I think he is the one to beat in July as he has great form. I just wish he would let his legs do the talking.

  20. Love the article… thoughtful and accurate… you put in words what I’ve been feeling for 24 months. AC’s too clinical, there are too many questions about his purity, and history shows us that Astana/Discovery/USPostal has to have been as dirty and doped as the dirtiest doped teams…. which means the individual GC victories don’t count even if the individuals (miracle of naive miracles) are clean… as their supporting team were supercharged…. which is why, as a plucky brit, I’m routing for the plucky brit (read: greek tragedy) of twiggo – he won’t win or even get on the podium, but to ride that hard and not eat anything other than celery from January – is that not HTFU squared? he personifies the suffering of road racing without the glory, has a sense of humour (note spelling), and tweets after beer. Awesome

  21. @roadslave
    Thanks roadslave. Yup, maybe Twiggo will be one of the guys that’ll make it a race this year. He’s certainly gonna have a few pics here on the VSP, has a damn fine country behind him, and a not too shabby team. What’s with the Jaguars though?

  22. Great post Marko, after such a great Giro I reckon we had better start to think AC and the TdF but I don’t see how the TdF will ever be as crazy and great as the Giro, snifff, I miss it already. I give AC points for riding some Spring Classics this year and for dealing with last years TdF Astana-Lance situation with class.

    Big Mikey pokes the big 800kg gorilla in the room…and if you are quiet enough…shuuush…you can hear Brett all the way down in Wellington saying, “Oh course he is doped, you fucking babies.” Fair enough.

    Imagine if AC crashes out in the first week on the stones, that would then make an interesting TdF. A tour without an odds-on favorite is always better.

    Don’t give up on the lad already. He is a mofo of a time trialist and thanks to all that celery eating, a damn good climber. I can see Twiggo on the podium, even thumping young A. Schleck, maybe, if all the planets are in alignment and Twiggo keeps his Mod haircut at bay. This would assume the vaunted Team Sky has not imploded and can support the Twig.

  23. Come on. One you Velominati put up another post. There’s nothing going on at cyclingnews or velonews.

  24. Jesus Christ. I’m bored, and ask for another post from the Velominati. A few minutes later there’s a great pic of Frank in Velominati gear, climbing, with snow in the background. God this site is great!

  25. @david
    Do you recommend blatant and unashamed ass-kissing as the best and quickest way for me to move up from being a level 4 velominatus?

    It seems to work for you?

  26. Oh, Marcus, that is just so unfair. I’ve been battling against frank, the Velominati, and the aesthetes at this site for three weeks. It is true, I love this site. God bless frank. It is also true I’m going to call frank on his aetheticism, as I at least attempted to do in the remark: “The white accents, . . . are just dashing!” That was at least an attempt at sarcasm. “Accents”, are things fashion models worry about, and only gay fashionistas would use the word “dashing”.

  27. Having said that, I just noticed that even frank’s eyeglass rims are white. Damn, frank is the man for cycling fashion. I should send my own teammates to him, because they just designed the most godawful kit I’ve ever seen. And, I’m going to have to wear it.

  28. @david
    if I ever get back on my bike, I will have the same problem with my club. The kit used to be great, got a bit dated and then was updated and it’s fucking hideous. Not a decent designer amongst them, or designed by committee. Still, being long-distance club-members, me & the wife aren’t close enough or involved enough to complain too loudly.

    “Dashing”, hmmm. I quite like that word, I think it requires more use whether it makes me a gay fashionista or not.

  29. @Jarvis


    Isn’t “dashing” a steampunky kind of word? Should be OK on those grounds, shouldn’t it – at least when used with sufficient irony (as I think / hope it was, above)?

    I dunno about the Jolly Naughty Twig. In his favour: he is pretty awesome in the TT’s and (now) the mountains; he provided great entertainment last year; Brett is the only person in the world who thinks he’s juiced; his team strip is cool; his bike is cool; his teammates include Greg Henderson and Eddy. Against: the whole “See ya, Jonathan” saga was pretty lacking in class (however understandable in monetary terms); there seem to be almost as many words written about him (and, bizarrely, his fucking team bus) by an increasingly frothy English-based media as there are written about You Know Who from the other side of the Atlantic; those sideburns; that hair. On balance, I’m a fan – but he’ll never be Motorcus.

  30. Geof :@Jarvis
    Isn’t “dashing” a steampunky kind of word? Should be OK on those grounds, shouldn’t it – at least when used with sufficient irony (as I think / hope it was, above)?

    Only when followed directly by “derring-do,” though maybe that’s more Edwardian than Victorian. Because that, you know, really makes it sound, like, tougher.

  31. @frank

    Because dapper dandy sounds so much better? That does sound more appropriate, especially given your earlier references to your non-cycling haberdashery. I think, though, we’re drifting this thread into uncomfortable territory. Those hounds at our heels are invoking Rule #5.

  32. @frank

    Oh, Frank, no. Rule #5 doesn’t come in a syringe. It’s either already in your blood or it’s not there. Ever. It’s like grace: either you have it you don’t. I have no grace. But I like the burn and pain in legs and lungs that fatigue on the bike brings with it. And I like looking into the souls of the people riding with me and ripping them out with a wink and an extra, transcendental kick as we all reach our threshold. You can dope for strength, speed, and endurance. But you can’t dope for hard (well, technically, you can, but those are blue pills and they’re for something completely different). And you can’t dope for heart. That you of all people should have to ask: now I’m depressed. And more confused than I was before I stumbled upon this blog. This was a beacon of light””of hope””for the weary, beleaguered rider. But now I just don’t know…

  33. @Steampunk
    You have much to learn, my child – and you should not be so faint of heart. For the question posed was a loaded one. Hidden beneath it is a deeper truth, and you have indeed discovered it.

    You cannot dope for Rule #5. You cannot dope for heart. That is why, ultimately, we continue to love this sport despite it’s doping problems. Doping can make you go faster, but the two things that matter most – being a hardman and having grinta – cannot be doped.

    Are the riders clean? Are they juiced? It matters not, because the reasons we really love this sport are impossible to cheat with.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.