An interview with Alberto Contador, November 29, 2007
Ever since Alberto Contador became the youngest Spaniard ever to win the Tour de France this July, his popularity has exploded and he's been a wanted man by the world's media. Jetting from one appointment to the next, Contador has had very little time to unwind. After coming home after the Amstel Curaçao race on the Caribbean island, he made time for Cyclingnews to describe how he's dealt with the success that has so little in common with how he lived his life back in the days when he was 'just' a Spanish climbing hopeful. Hedwig Kröner reports.
Alberto Contador has come a long way, and yet the 25 year-old has remained a rather private person. The 'Kid' still lives at his parents' place in Pinto, 20 kilometres outside Madrid, where he was born, and he hasn't lost his mind over the new-found fame and the financial possibilities that go with having won the greatest bike race on earth.
Apart from buying the new home, which he will move into with his girlfriend in January, and a new car, he hasn't foolishly spent his money, but put it aside for the future. Nothing is ever certain - the young Spaniard only knows this too well, having already escaped death by a hair in 2004 after suffering a cerebral blood clot after a crash in the Vuelta a Asturias which was treated with risky surgery. A big scar from ear to ear reminds him of life's fragility every time he looks in the mirror.
Contador never takes things for granted. His younger brother Raúl has cerebral paralysis and will forever be left with the mind of a one year-old child. His elder brother Francisco Javier was the one that got little Alberto on the bike when he was a boy, and soon enough the gifted youngster was as passionate about cycling as he was about the birds he bred in a huge flight cage in the back garden. Fifteen years later, he still has the canaries and goldfinches, only now it's his father who takes more care of them, as spare time is about the only thing his son lacks since he turned into a celebrity.
"I had a life before the Tour, and another one afterwards" - Contador on how his Tour de France victory has raised his popularity..
Life has changed radically, Contador told Cyclingnews from his mobile phone as he was trying to get out of a parking lot back home in Madrid. "A lot of things are different now," he explained, struggling with the gate opener as the machine told him his ticket was not valid. "People now recognize me in the street, which almost never happened before the Tour. Now, when I'm going out with friends, I don't have the privacy that I used to have. It's not that I don't like it, but I just don't have much time left for my family and friends anymore. It's strange - I won races before, even such important events as Paris-Nice, but as the Tour de France is so special, I really have to say that I had a life before the Tour, and another one afterwards."
Once he had his ticket problems sorted, Contador added that even though he enjoyed his popularity, the hype around his person was wearing him down lately, and that it was even possibly interfering with his preparation for next season. "I haven't had any psychological rest after the season, you know. I would have liked some, and in previous years winter was always a good period to recharge batteries. But this time, I just had so many appointments and events I needed to attend."
So did he fear all of this would change his personality? Back in the days when one of his season's goals was the Col d'Eze on the final day of Paris-Nice , the Spaniard didn't have to protect his privacy. "I think I'm quite down to earth as a person, but for sure this kind of success can change people. I don't think it has changed me already, but we will have to see about that in a few years," he remarked cautiously.
The 2007 Tour: first stage win was 'excellent'
Looking back at the Tour de France which catapulted him into the limelight, Contador recalled various moments that will be stuck in his memory forever. He arrived at the Tour start in London with the objective to help team-mate Levi Leipheimer to a podium placing on the Champs-Élysées, and maybe take the white jersey of best young rider to Paris himself - but he never imagined that he would finally be crowned Tour de France champion.
"I remember the days leading up to the race," he said when asked which instants he cherished most in his memories of last July. "I felt so good and I knew I could do well in the Tour. Then there was the first stage that I won [stage 14 from Mazamet to Plateau-de-Beille] - I hope to win some more in the Tour, but that first one was excellent. The stages to the Galibier [stage 9] and the Peyresourde [stage 15] were also awesome. The spectators just loved our attacks, they were very spectacular stages. People have told me this many times."
Stage nine of the Tour de France saw Contador and team-mate Yaroslav Popovych putting time into the Spaniard's rivals in an impressive two-man time trial on the descent from the mythical Galibier, after Contador took off from the main group like a rocket on the climb. That day, Colombia's Mauricio Soler took the stage win, but the Discovery rider moved up in the General Classification then led by Michael Rasmussen from eighth to fifth position. During stage 15 in the Pyrenees, Contador tired to make the Dane crack by repeatedly attacking him on the Col de Peyresourde and into the finish in Loudenvielle. And even though Contador was unable to drop the overall leader, the way in which he jumped away again and again made for an impressive show.
But Contador didn't have good memories of the first time he wore the maillot jaune at all, understandably. "I was doing such a great Tour, but the day after Rasmussen was disqualified just wasn't a happy day for me at all," he said, still confused about the way in which he conquered the precious garment. On July 25, Rabobank's Michael Rasmussen was the first rider atop the famous Col d'Aubisque, and put another 35 seconds into his Spanish rival. Yet, the very next day saw Contador take the overall lead as the Dane was taken out of the race for having lied on his whereabouts before the Tour de France.
When Contador stood on the podium in Castelsarrasin, he was not smiling. "That's not a good memory. After a month or so, when I realized what was happening to me, I thought to myself, 'wow - that day I got the Yellow jersey, and later I actually won the race!!' But during that particular moment, the only thing I could think of was that it was another bad thing happening to the image of cycling. Nothing else."
Now, the Tour de France winner is looking forward to the next season, preparing himself in the best possible way to defend his title. "I've started training again, even though I'm still very busy with appointments," he admitted. "Right now, I do some swimming and walking, which is really good. I also go to the gym. But from December onwards, I will start the bike again and concentrate solely on that. Not only on the road - I also do some mountain biking to change disciplines a little."
Then, in the beginning of December, the new team Astana will get together for their first training camp in Alicante. "That will be good, as I will meet all the new riders of the team and get to know them a little before the season starts. It's also interesting to know what races and season objectives they have to that we can plan the coming year accordingly. This also goes for the Tour de France..."