An interview with Alberto Contador, March 24, 2007
Discovery Channel's Alberto Contador is on his way to becoming the new star of Spanish cycling after his overall victory in Paris-Nice. The 24 year-old made a daring solo escape on the final stage to wrest the overall win from Gerolsteiner's Davide Rebellin. After uncertainties with the now defunct Liberty-Seguros Würth team, Contador has found a home and success with Discovery Channel. Hernan Alvarez of Cyclingnews caught up with him 24 hours after his astonishing win in the Race to the Sun to find out more about the young Spaniard.
Contador staged his coup in Paris-Nice's final day of the race with the help of his American teammates Levi Leipheimer and Tom Danielson. Launching a solo attack with 20 kilometres remaining, he pushed forward toward the eventual stage win and overall victory with strength and persistence characteristic of a more mature rider. Before the start of that decisive stage, Contador and his team devised their strategy. "We were at the start line... and we were all together and thinking about the strategy to use.
"We decided that the simplest way to win Paris-Nice was to make the race as hard as possible. The previous day I was able to leave Rebellin behind. We had to try it because it was the last stage. So, from the very first moment my team worked perfectly; setting a very fast tempo, riding at intervals, one and then another."
It wasn't the most elegant strategy, but the Discovery Channel team simply clobbered the peloton with their leg-breaking pace, and Rebellin, who had held the jersey since stage four, couldn't match the pace of Contador when he flew the coop.
Contador launched his attack on Col d'Eze, and proceeded to blast off to the finish leaving everyone in his wake. "I attacked and I took chances because there were 20 kilometres to the finish line, of which 16 were downhill and then some on the flats. It was difficult to reach the line, but in the end I had strength. I was able to cross the finish line and I got the final prize," stated the Spaniard. He completed the stage in 3 hours 15'47", 22 seconds ahead of Rebellin, enough to give Contador the lead by 26 seconds.
He was proud to beat such a great rider like Rebellin, winner of Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2004. "Rebellin is a champion; he has many wins [in his palmarès]. You should have a look at it!
"He defended himself very intelligently in the last stage. [The day before] he was very strong and I couldn't get rid of him, but yesterday things finally went alright. It is true that a rider like Rebellin, who was second on the podium, makes the victory even more important," added Contador, giving respect to his rival.
The overall victory in Nice added Contador's name to a list of former winners that includes cyclists like Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquetil and Miguel Indurain. "All I can say is that it is a proud moment for me," said the rider from Pinto (south of Madrid). "Paris-Nice is a race with a lot of prestige; a valued race that everyone wants to win. The fact that I was able to win while also putting on a good show was important. The race win was a huge jump in quality for me." Contador's biggest wins in 2006 came via stages in the Tour de Suisse and Tour de Romandie.
He was not presented the white ProTour leader's jersey in Nice on Sunday due to a post-race timing error (see "No ProTour ceremony in Nice". - ed.). "In fact, being the ProTour leader makes me proud. For me, [I would be] delighted to wear that maillot," clarified Contador.
He believes that he is set to have his best year as a professional cyclist, and is excited to start his preparations for the Tour de France. "I think it will be a good year. The Paris-Nice result was rather clear. Now it's time for other competitions; the start of the season is over. Now we have to focus on the upcoming races and on consciously preparing ourselves for the Tour de France."
The victory everyone's victory
Switching from Liberty Seguros to Discovery Channel has been a positive change for Contador. "Truly, I feel very good. I feel as though I have already spent many years in this team. From the very first moment, the team received me well. They trusted in me from the first race, they have worked for me without me even asking for it.
"Luckily, I was able to finish off the job on the two occasions that they have worked for me," continued Contador. "When they give you so much confidence and you are able to give it back with wins, beautiful and spectacular wins like the one at Paris-Nice, it makes the victory everyone's victory. Yesterday's [Sunday - ed.] celebration inside the team bus with champagne didn't look like a one-man celebration but a team celebration. They did extraordinary work, and without the teamwork it would have been impossible for me to win Paris-Nice."
He confirmed that he has a good relationship with every one of his teammates, not only with the Spaniards. "It is true that when you are inside a team you normally get together with your compatriots but I have to say that I got along very well with everyone from the beginning," he commented. "There were many [of my teammates] that I already knew before. Without a doubt I had better relations with the Spaniards than with others, but now the comradery is very good with everyone. The team environment is extraordinary."
He gave an indicator of his form when he rode in the Vuelta a la Comunidad Valenciana. "I arrived at the Vuelta Valencia with confidence. I was going well in training and I went into the race thinking about giving it a try on El Campello, on the uphill finale. I was able to achieve the win.
"I suffered from a crash a few kilometres from the finish line on the second day and I had lost one minute and a half, which ended my chances for the general [classification]. In the uphill finale [of stage four] I felt pretty good. It was a very, very hard three-kilometre finale and I truly felt good on the uphill and I was able to win," he stated.
Alejandro Valverde and Oscar Pereiro are considered the two most successful Spanish riders, and Contador modestly distances himself from the top. "It is a question for the media and for the fans," he quipped. "Time will tell. It is true that Valverde has achieved great results from the beginning and what Pereiro did last year in the Tour de France [second and maybe declared first if Floyd Landis' disqualification is confirmed - ed.] is a very, very big result. Indeed, there is plenty of expectation of me, at least in Spain. Let's hope that with our efforts we can help the Spanish fans their interest in cycling."
Even with his successes he vows to continue with a meek persona. "I think the other way [with an arrogant attitude] won't give you anything good. I think a person is what he is and that's it. Obviously I keep on being the same Alberto Contador one week after the Paris-Nice as compared to one week before. I consider myself exactly the same person and the same rider as 10 days ago," said Contador.
The Tour de France will likely be his only Grand Tour for 2007. After the French competition he will see how he is going and then he will analyse how to continue the season. "I would like to race the Vuelta but we should also take into account that I'm 24. If I have a very intense start of the season and then I do the Tour at a maximum level, it would be too much to be able to do the Vuelta a España at a maximum level. It would overload me at 24 years-old. I have more seasons ahead of me and I will have other chances, though I don't discard the idea [completely]."
For further on Alberto Contador, read Cyclingnews' 2005 interview, A new lease on life.