A few years ago the now defunct magazine Cycle Sport published a feature on Erik Zabel's personal bike-and-memorabilia 'museum'. It turned out that over a 10-year career – which would extend until 2008 – Zabel had built up a collection of close-on everything he'd ever won or worn as a pro, from the hot spot sprints maillot in a minor stage race like the Vuelta a Murcia to his multiple points jerseys in the Tour de France.
Almost all his bikes were there, too, neatly lined up in rows, together with bidons, shorts and jerseys. It felt like everything a squad could need, barring a team car or two, was there. The whole collection took up so much space, Zabel explained, that he ended up buying the basement in another house near his home in Unna, Germany to hold it all.
Travel west 1,500 kilometres or so into central Spain, and if you walk downstairs to the basement of another house belonging to another great of the sport - Alberto Contador - you'll find that he, too, has created his own private collection of cycling memorabilia from his career.
But whereas Zabel's basement felt almost like a gigantic walk-in store cupboard there was so much stuff jammed in there, Contador's underground bike realm is a much more stylish affair.
When Contador flicks the switch on the dark, windowless cellar, a vast, single room which stretches almost the length and breadth of the entire house, the light blazes from the polished forms of a dozen or so key bikes from Contador's career, placed around a central, circular platform. Beyond that, a further 10 bikes are interspaced on either side of the room, in front of a wall-high photo of Contador winning in the 2012 Vuelta a España at Fuente De, arms raised aloft, yelling with joy in what was arguably his most emotionally charged Grand Tour stage victory.
Glance left, and there, in a cabinet, are the trophies from his wins at the Giro d'Italia, the Tour de France, and the Vuelta a España. On another shelf are the four txapelas berets for his four victories in the Vuelta al País Vasco.
But it's really the bikes from all his eras as a racer which take centre stage in this particular 'museum'. Placed in chronological order on the racks, they start with the bike he first bought when he was 14 or 15, growing up in Pinto in the late nineties, and go all the way through to the Trek he rode last year in his final races as a professional rider.
"Look at the dents I made in the headset doing some alterations," Contador says almost gleefully as he looks at what is actually an Orbea frame but which he repainted as a Macario, right down to the branding. "Back in those days Orbeas weren't very cool as bikes went, so I decided to give it a complete going over, repainted it, and claimed it was a Macario instead."
That wasn't the only act of personal redesign Contador the teenage bike nerd inflicted on the Orbea. In a bid to make the frame more aerodynamic, he drilled holes at both ends of the top tube so that the brake cable would slide inside. "It was also because the other racers took the mickey out of me for my bike," he says, before explaining how he made his own 'Spinaci' aero bars – "my parents couldn't afford things like that" – and took a drill to the front of the head tube of the Orbea-that-was, again, to get them to fit properly.
Sitting next door to this battered but beloved piece of Contador history, given the bikes are placed in chronological order, is a battle scarred Pinarello – a Banesto team issue bike that once belonged to former pro and Giro d'Italia stage winner Koldo Gil.
"The big joke about this is, of course, I never raced for Banesto, and in any case the year I turned amateur in 2001, their amateur team had ceased to exist, that year I think," Contador recalls. "An uncle of mine bought it off somebody and I raced it in my last year as a junior, in 2000."
Despite creating this museum, Contador insists that he is not a 'real collector'. "If I had to go through the house looking for all my different jerseys and so on then it would take me a good day, if not more, to find them all," he says. "I tend to live in the present too much. But I've always tried to keep my bikes together, and that's why I've been able to put them together."
He describes himself as "fussy" about his bikes. "I would be quite demanding that they were in good shape, but I'm not obsessed with them. I've been very lucky to have a really good mechanic, Faustino Muñoz, during my entire career and that's not been by chance. I've always moved heaven and earth to ensure that Faustino be part of whichever team I signed for."
Asked which bike of the 40 or so in his museum he would head out the door for a morning's riding without a second thought, Contador opts for two: the 2009 Tour de France-winning Trek and the final-season Trek.
"The 2009 design was done specially for me by Trek with my logos, and it included the designs of the three Grand Tours I had won: the Giro, the Vuelta, and the Tour. This was the first time I had raced with the three Grand Tour titles. Nothing too over the top, but you can see the three colours," he says.
"Then on top of that, I liked this bike as a bike, how it felt, from the first moment I rode it. The ones I've had in the last few years, like the Madone, is an improved version of it, and they've been great – they're lighter and they've got a few more tiny details that have been improved. If I had to choose out of all of these, I'd go for the 2009 Trek and this  one. They're really comfortable."
Two of the more curious models Contador has are for training in winter. There's an adapted single-speed, whilst another off-season work tool has independent cranks for increased muscle balance, although Contador says he personally didn't find it particularly useful as a training exercise.
Top of the list of bikes in his basement in terms of achievements, though, comes the yellow Trek on which he won the 2007 Tour de France. "This is the one which I used to ride onto the Champs Elysées on the last stage," Contador says proudly. "I have to say I feel very fond of it, because getting to win the Tour so soon was really important for me and my career."
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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