Alberto Contador has tipped Chris Froome to win a fifth Tour de France and Egan Bernal to land the Giro d’Italia, but has warned Vincenzo Nibali and Tom Dumoulin about the fatigue of the Giro-Tour double and suggested that no current Grand Tour rider races with the aggression and panache that he did.
Contador was known for his attacking and tactically astute racing skills, as well as his strength of character. He overcame a cerebral cavernoma early in his career and stood up to Lance Armstrong during their time together at the Astana team in 2009.
He rode 18 Grand Tours during his career, winning seven: the Tour de France in 2007 and 2009, the Giro d’Italia in 2008 and 2015 and the Vuelta a Espana in 2008, 2012 and 2014. His victories at the 2010 Tour and 2011 Giro were revoked after he tested positive for Clenbuterol and the Court of Arbitration for Sport dismissed his defence that he had consumed Spanish meat that had been tainted by the steroid.
Contador retired in 2017, aged 34, bowing out on home roads at the Vuelta with an aggressive performance and a stage win atop the Alto de l’Angliru on the penultimate day of his career. He now owns the Continental-level Kometa Cycling Team and is a brand ambassador for Trek. He says he has no regrets about retiring when he did even if compatriot Alejandro Valverde won the world title in Innsbruck at 38.
"I’ve never had any regrets. I left at the perfect moment, at the top and with some great memories of even the final days of my career," Contador told La Gazzetta dello Sport in a wide-ranging interview published on Tuesday.
"I could have carried on for another two or three years, I had some good options… But I also had some personal plans such as becoming a father and that needs space in your life.
"I miss competing a little, because I was born competitive, but on the other hand I’m no longer a slave when it comes to things like diet. I always had to be careful. There was also the tension of the races and the fear of crashing."
Bernal is already ready to take on the best
Contador occasionally works for Eurosport in Spain. He knows that age plays a vital factor in Grand Tour racing, affecting the ability to recover day after day and between two Grand Tours. Froome turns 34 in May but Contador thinks the Briton can win a fifth Tour de France. However, he warns about Bernal’s rapid rise and huge potential.
"[Froome] has got another Tour in his legs and will have Team Sky to help him after [Geraint] Thomas took his chance last year. Bernal could have been a major rival but he’s doing the Giro d’Italia, so Chris has a huge chance," Contador explained.
"Bernal is already ready to take on the best. He’s incredibly strong, his potential and ability are scary. I think Froome can win the Tour and Bernal the Giro."
Contador twice tried to win the Giro d’Italia-Tour de France double, in 2011 and 2015, but struggled in July on each occasion due to an accumulation of fatigue. He is cautious about the chances of Dumoulin, Nibali, Mikel Landa or anyone else becoming the first rider since Marco Pantani in 1998 to complete the Grand Tour double.
"It’s possible but you need the right routes and a very, very strong team. Not everyone’s body is able to recover in the month after the effort needed at the Giro d’Italia," he warned
"Indeed, if lots of Chris Froome’s rivals go for the Giro and the Tour, it will in some way help him in France.
"In 2011, I’d prepared really well for the Giro d’Italia, while the decision to ride the Tour was made at the last minute. I had one bad day and my chances were over. In 2018, Dumoulin went close to winning the Giro and even the Tour, showing his consistency like Froome. But theory is one thing; putting it into practice is another. Everyone is different.
"Recovery plays a huge factor. I knew at the Tour in 2015 that I hadn’t recovered from the effort of the Giro. If I’d been five years younger, things would have been different. That’s why I think it’s risky for Nibali to go for both the Giro and the Tour."
Enric Mas (Deceuninck - Quick Step) has often been compared to Contador for his riding style, his aggression and character. Mas finished second overall to Simon Yates at the 2018 Vuelta a Espana at just 23, with Contador crowning him as his heir apparent.
"He’s strong and has huge potential, he’s the real deal. Perhaps it’s a little early too go for the Tour de France in 2019 but he could do well," Contador said, adding, with a hint of pride, that he has still to see anyone with the same aggression and ability as he showed during his own career.
"There are a lot of strong riders out there but not one that raced like I did."