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Alberto Contador: A contradictory career - Gallery

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The original 2009 Tour de France podium

The original 2009 Tour de France podium
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Alberto Contador celebrates his first professional victory at the Tour Down Under in 2005

Alberto Contador celebrates his first professional victory at the Tour Down Under in 2005
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Riding for Liberty Seguros at the 2005 Paris-Nice, where Contador placed 15th on GC

Riding for Liberty Seguros at the 2005 Paris-Nice, where Contador placed 15th on GC
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Stage 5 of the 2005 Tour de Romandie

Stage 5 of the 2005 Tour de Romandie
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador could only place 41st during the ITT at the 2005 Criterium du Dauphine

Contador could only place 41st during the ITT at the 2005 Criterium du Dauphine
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador holds the wheels of Valverde, Basso and Freire at the 2006 Liege-Bastogne-Liege

Contador holds the wheels of Valverde, Basso and Freire at the 2006 Liege-Bastogne-Liege
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador alongside Cadel Evans and Alejandro Valverde at the 2006 Tour de Romandie

Contador alongside Cadel Evans and Alejandro Valverde at the 2006 Tour de Romandie
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador rode for the Discovery Channel team in 2007

Contador rode for the Discovery Channel team in 2007
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Winning the youth classification and general classification at the 2007 Paris-Nice

Winning the youth classification and general classification at the 2007 Paris-Nice
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador also won two stages at the 2007 Paris-Nice

Contador also won two stages at the 2007 Paris-Nice
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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The 2007 Paris-Nice podium

The 2007 Paris-Nice podium
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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The 2007 Tour de France prologue

The 2007 Tour de France prologue
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Between Val d'Isere and Briancon during stage 9 of the 2007 Tour

Between Val d'Isere and Briancon during stage 9 of the 2007 Tour
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador and Rabobank's Michael Rasmussen in the 2007 Tour

Contador and Rabobank's Michael Rasmussen in the 2007 Tour
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador and Johan Bruyneel arrive in Paris ahead of the final stage in 2007

Contador and Johan Bruyneel arrive in Paris ahead of the final stage in 2007
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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The Discovery Channel team won the team classification as well as Contador's general classification

The Discovery Channel team won the team classification as well as Contador's general classification
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Thomas Dekker, Alberto Contador and Frank Schleck following a criterium in Curacao

Thomas Dekker, Alberto Contador and Frank Schleck following a criterium in Curacao
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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2008 saw Contador beginning the first of three seasons at Astana

2008 saw Contador beginning the first of three seasons at Astana
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador led the 2008 Giro d'Italia from stage 15 until the end of the race

Contador led the 2008 Giro d'Italia from stage 15 until the end of the race
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Eddy Merckx applauds Contador on stage 16 of the race

Eddy Merckx applauds Contador on stage 16 of the race
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador's famous 'El Pistolero' salute

Contador's famous 'El Pistolero' salute
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Stage 13 of the 2008 Vuelta a Espana

Stage 13 of the 2008 Vuelta a Espana
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador won all three Grand Tours in just over a year

Contador won all three Grand Tours in just over a year
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador finished fourth in the 2009 Paris-Nice

Contador finished fourth in the 2009 Paris-Nice
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Evans, Contador and Nibali during the 2009 Criterium du Dauphine

Evans, Contador and Nibali during the 2009 Criterium du Dauphine
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador finished third in the 2009 Dauphine

Contador finished third in the 2009 Dauphine
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Alberto Contador lined up alongside Lance Armstrong for 2009 Tour de France

Alberto Contador lined up alongside Lance Armstrong for 2009 Tour de France
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador sits on Armstrong's wheel

Contador sits on Armstrong's wheel
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador alongside the Schleck brothers and Andreas Kloden during stage 17 of the race

Contador alongside the Schleck brothers and Andreas Kloden during stage 17 of the race
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Second and first place finishers of the 2009 Tour de France

Second and first place finishers of the 2009 Tour de France
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador raced the 2010 season as Spanish national time trial champion

Contador raced the 2010 season as Spanish national time trial champion
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador during the 2010 Paris-Nice

Contador during the 2010 Paris-Nice
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador placed third at the 2010 Fleche Wallone

Contador placed third at the 2010 Fleche Wallone
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador embraces teammate Alexandre Vinokourov

Contador embraces teammate Alexandre Vinokourov
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Early Tour de France race leader and Contador have a chat during the 2010 Tour

Early Tour de France race leader and Contador have a chat during the 2010 Tour
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Andy Schleck holds Contador's wheel on the Col de la Madeleine

Andy Schleck holds Contador's wheel on the Col de la Madeleine
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador was later stripped of his 2010 Tour de France victory

Contador was later stripped of his 2010 Tour de France victory
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador alongside Bjarne Riis after signing for Saxo Bank - Sungard for 2011

Contador alongside Bjarne Riis after signing for Saxo Bank - Sungard for 2011
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Michele Scarponi sits behind Contador during the 2011 Volta a Catalunya

Michele Scarponi sits behind Contador during the 2011 Volta a Catalunya
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador on the attack

Contador on the attack
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador wears the leaders jersey during the 2011 Giro d'Italia

Contador wears the leaders jersey during the 2011 Giro d'Italia
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador and Nibali exchange some words during the race

Contador and Nibali exchange some words during the race
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador, Gadret and Rodriguez on the Colle de Finestre

Contador, Gadret and Rodriguez on the Colle de Finestre
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador was also stripped of his 2011 Giro d'Italia title

Contador was also stripped of his 2011 Giro d'Italia title
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Cadel Evans leads the group during the Tour de France

Cadel Evans leads the group during the Tour de France
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Stage 19 of the 2011 Tour de France on the Galibier

Stage 19 of the 2011 Tour de France on the Galibier
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Froome, Roche and Contador at the 2012 Vuelta a Espana

Froome, Roche and Contador at the 2012 Vuelta a Espana
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador attacks Chris Froome on stage 8

Contador attacks Chris Froome on stage 8
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador on the podium at the 2012 Vuelta

Contador on the podium at the 2012 Vuelta
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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A wet 2012 Lombardia saw Contador finish 9th

A wet 2012 Lombardia saw Contador finish 9th
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Froome attacks Contador during the 2013 Tour of Oman

Froome attacks Contador during the 2013 Tour of Oman
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador, Kreuziger and Ten Dam on the move at the 2013 Tour de France

Contador, Kreuziger and Ten Dam on the move at the 2013 Tour de France
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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The white jersey of Quintana and the yellow jersey of Froome sit on Contador's wheel

The white jersey of Quintana and the yellow jersey of Froome sit on Contador's wheel
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Despite finishing fourth at the race, Contador still made it onto the podium as the best team

Despite finishing fourth at the race, Contador still made it onto the podium as the best team
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador celebrates a stage victory at the 2014 Volta ao Algarve

Contador celebrates a stage victory at the 2014 Volta ao Algarve
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador wins the 2014 Tirreno-Adriatico

Contador wins the 2014 Tirreno-Adriatico
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador during a time trial at Tour of the Basque Country, 2014

Contador during a time trial at Tour of the Basque Country, 2014
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador, Cavendish, Froome and Greipel at the start of the 2014 Tour de France in Yorkshire

Contador, Cavendish, Froome and Greipel at the start of the 2014 Tour de France in Yorkshire
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador struggled in the wet conditions of the race

Contador struggled in the wet conditions of the race
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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After crashing out of the Tour de France, Contador mounted an attempt at Vuelta victory

After crashing out of the Tour de France, Contador mounted an attempt at Vuelta victory
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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The 2014 Vuelta a Espana podium

The 2014 Vuelta a Espana podium
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Richie Porte attacks Contador and Aru at the 2015 Giro

Richie Porte attacks Contador and Aru at the 2015 Giro
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador wore pink for 15 stages of the race

Contador wore pink for 15 stages of the race
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador on the gravel of the Finestre during the 2015 Giro d'Italia

Contador on the gravel of the Finestre during the 2015 Giro d'Italia
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Stage 1 of the 2015 Tour de France in Utrecht

Stage 1 of the 2015 Tour de France in Utrecht
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador finished 5th in the 2015 Tour de France

Contador finished 5th in the 2015 Tour de France
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador wrapped up against the elements at the 2016 Paris-Nice

Contador wrapped up against the elements at the 2016 Paris-Nice
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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An out-of-the-saddle Contador wins the spectacular uphill time trial on the opening day of the 2016 Dauphine

An out-of-the-saddle Contador wins the spectacular uphill time trial on the opening day of the 2016 Dauphine
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador takes up arms on the penultimate day of the 2016 Dauphine

Contador takes up arms on the penultimate day of the 2016 Dauphine
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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The theme for Contador's 2016 Tour is set as he crashes on the opening stage

The theme for Contador's 2016 Tour is set as he crashes on the opening stage
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Cut and bruised, Contador tries to rejoin the peloton after his crash

Cut and bruised, Contador tries to rejoin the peloton after his crash
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador on the attack with Esteban Chaves at the 2016 Vuelta

Contador on the attack with Esteban Chaves at the 2016 Vuelta
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador leads a select GC group up the steep uphill finish on stage 17

Contador leads a select GC group up the steep uphill finish on stage 17
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador, in his first outing for Trek-Segafredo, was an attacking force at the 2017 Ruta del Sol

Contador, in his first outing for Trek-Segafredo, was an attacking force at the 2017 Ruta del Sol
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador in the Mont Brouilly time trial at the 2017 Paris-Nice

Contador in the Mont Brouilly time trial at the 2017 Paris-Nice
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Despite his dramatic final-day fightback, Contador had to settle for second

Despite his dramatic final-day fightback, Contador had to settle for second
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador's string of second places in 2017 continued at the Tour of the Basque Country

Contador's string of second places in 2017 continued at the Tour of the Basque Country
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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At the 2017 Tour, Contador attacked but lost time on the first day in the Pyrenees

At the 2017 Tour, Contador attacked but lost time on the first day in the Pyrenees
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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The following day, Contador lit up the Tour with a long-range attack with Mikel Landa

The following day, Contador lit up the Tour with a long-range attack with Mikel Landa
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Contador was once again distanced by the GC favourites on the Col d'Izoard summit finish

Contador was once again distanced by the GC favourites on the Col d'Izoard summit finish
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)

Alberto Contador will leave a contradictory legacy when he hangs up his wheels for good at the end of the Vuelta a España on September 10.

For some, the Spaniard will be remembered as the greatest stage race rider of his generation and arguably the most exciting talent to grace the professional peloton in the 21st century. For others, he will forever be the rider who was stripped of the 2010 Tour de France after testing positive for Clenbuterol, and the man who built a career under the management of Manolo Saiz, Johan Bruyneel and Bjarne Riis.

The two viewpoints are not necessarily mutually exclusive. The Tour de France organisation, for one, has displayed a sort of cognitive dissonance in its attitude towards Contador. In 2008, when Contador was the defending champion, ASO deemed him to be persona non grata due to the sulphurous reputation of his Astana team. Nine years and a doping ban later, on the eve of this year's Tour, race director Christian Prudhomme was happy to heap praise upon the Spaniard, telling L'Équipe that his wish was for Contador to be the main aggressor and "to decide the winner of the race".

The 2011 Tour de France was, in light of Contador's second act as attacking shaman, perhaps his defining race. He arrived for the Grand Depart as the overwhelming favourite, but still uncertain if he would face sanction for his positive test on the previous year's Tour, and he was roundly booed by spectators at the presentation at Le Puy de Fou.

Three weeks later, Contador received a notably warmer welcome when he rode into Paris in fifth place overall. A crash on the opening stage, not to mention the exertions of his (since revoked) Giro d'Italia win the previous month, meant that he was a diminished presence on that Tour, but his startling, all-or-nothing attack on the short stage to l'Alpe d'Huez almost turned the race on its head. In many ways, the rehabilitation of his reputation began there, even before the Court of Arbitration for Sport decided to hand him a retroactive two-year ban the following February.

Specialized had begun to supply Contador with bikes in 2010 and made him a cornerstone of its marketing campaigns. The American bike manufacturer made no attempt to distance itself from the Spaniard, even during his suspension. Panache, it seemed, meant that any transgression could be forgiven.

Triumphs and controversy

Born in Pinto, near Madrid, in 1982, Contador turned professional with ONCE in 2003, having impressed Manolo Saiz as an amateur, but his career was almost ended the following year when he suffered a cerebral cavernoma during the Vuelta a Asturias. Remarkably, he returned to training at the end of that season and announced his return to competition with a stage win at the Tour Down Under.

In 2006, Contador and five of his Astana-Würth teammates were barred from competing at the Tour de France after their names were linked to the Operacion Puerto blood doping inquiry, though Contador was later cleared of charges.

A year later, Contador was back at the Tour de France in the colours of Johan Bruyneel's Discovery Channel team, ostensibly to ride in support of Levi Leipheimer, yet he quickly outstripped his leader. For much of the race, he seemed destined for second overall, but when Michael Rasmussen was thrown off the Tour after lying about his whereabouts in the build-up, Contador inherited the maillot jaune and carried it to Paris.

In 2008, Contador followed Bruyneel to the revamped Astana and, unable to compete at the Tour, he proceeded to win a Giro-Vuelta double, becoming the youngest rider ever to complete a full set of Grand Tour victories. Lance Armstrong emerged from retirement to join Astana in 2009, but Contador had the sangfroid and the resolve to see off that internal challenge and add a second Tour de France title to his palmares.

Nobody expected it would be his last and, for a time, it wasn't. Andy Schleck arguably had the legs to beat Contador at the 2010 Tour de France but the Spaniard somehow eked out a win, only for a positive test for Clenbuterol on the second rest day to scrub it from the record books.

News of the positive test broke in September 2010, but it took more than 16 months of investigations, hearings and appeals for Contador to be belatedly sanctioned. He claimed the positive test was the result of contaminated beef and dismissed the hypothesis that it had been caused by a contaminated blood bag. The Court of Arbitration for Sport, meanwhile, suggested a contaminated food supplement, but the end result was the same: a retroactive two-year ban.

There was something of Pedro Delgado's defiance on the 1988 Tour about Contador in those 16 months. Having swapped Astana for Riis' Saxo Bank squad for 2010, during the Tour de France, Contador barely missed a beat, and continued to race and win while the UCI and Spanish federation argued over how best to resolve his case. His 2011 Giro d'Italia triumph was perhaps the most dominant of his entire career, even if the title would eventually pass to the late Michele Scarponi.

A final heist on the road to Fuente Dé

Contador never scaled such heights again following his return to competitive action in 2012, even if he somehow conjured up victory on the 2012 Vuelta a Espana with a surprise attack on the road to Fuente Dé, perhaps the greatest heist of his career.

Rare indeed is the rider who can win a Grand Tour without being the strongest man in the race. As if to confirm the point, a ragged Contador was caught and passed by Tony Martin in the World Championships time trial just weeks later.

Contador continued in a similar vein in 2013, struggling to fourth overall at the Tour de France as Chris Froome careered away from him in startling fashion on Mont Ventoux and new sponsor Oleg Tinkov publicly complained at the return on his investment.

There was marked improvement in 2014, which was, in hindsight, Contador's best chance to add to his tally of Tour wins. The outstanding rider in the opening half of the season – he won Tirreno-Adriatico in spectacular fashion, then tacked on the Tour of the Basque Country. Contador was forced out of the Tour when he suffered a micro-fracture in his tibia in a crash on the road to La Planche des Belles Filles. Somehow, he returned in time to ride the Vuelta, and proceeded to beat Froome to the title.

Shortly afterwards, Contador set himself the lofty goal of winning the Giro-Tour double in 2015. He achieved the first part, though only after a stiff challenge from Astana and repeated questions over his bike changes, but, as in 2011, he paid for those exertions at the Tour, reaching Paris fifth overall.

In the final two years of his career, Contador has raged against the dying of the light by seeking to replicate his Fuente Dé display across the entire calendar.

In both 2016 and 2017, he animated Paris-Nice with final stage attacks that brought him to within seconds of overall victory. His aggression at the 2016 Vuelta helped to tip the balance in Nairo Quintana's favour. His attacking on the road to Foix at this year's Tour de France brought Mikel Landa into play as a contender for overall victory.

Contador, however, had to settle for ninth overall in Paris and the realisation that he would never again win the Tour.

He had the option of a second season at Trek-Segafredo, the team he joined following Tinkoff's disbandment, but decided to bow out with one final tilt at the Vuelta rather than continue as a reduced version of himself.

As things stand, Contador will leave professional cycling with seven Grand Tour titles to his name. He likes to count nine victories. A succinct epitaph for a career that is both controversial and complicated.