Alberto Contador dismisses predictions of mass WorldTour team wipeout

Alberto Contador
Alberto Contador (Image credit: Getty Images)

Former stage-racing champion Alberto Contador has dismissed predictions of a mass wipeout of WorldTour teams if the Tour de France does not go ahead this year.

Colombia's Rigoberto Uran (EF Pro Cycling) said recently that only three WorldTour squads would survive if the Tour de France, currently delayed by two months and due to start in late August, ends up being completely cancelled.

In a recent interview with Cyclingnews, Contador argued that the Colombian's doom-laden forecast for the highest echelons of the sport was too pessimistic, even while recognising that a 2020 season without the Tour would be damaging. 

"There are two possible outcomes in a situation like this [COVID-19 pandemic]: either a team sinks completely or it gets stronger. None of them will remain the same as before," Contador said.

"Some teams will have a hard time getting through, for sure, while others might have to go into debt if their sponsorship dries up, and some teams will go under – that's certain. But the WorldTour wouldn't shrink to three squads.

"Why not? Because the big multinationals, with or without the coronavirus, have got to go on spending money on marketing. And if cycling has worked well for them in the past, they'll go on spending money there in the future."

Contador agreed that there are parallels between the current, bleak economic climate and the period between 2008 and 2010, when the world was hit by a major financial crisis, but things finally righted themselves – and that included the bike industry and sport.

"Take bike manufacturers," Contador pointed out. "Of course, they're feeling the negative effects of the pandemic, all the way down to the production lines and through the distribution chains to the shops themselves. A lot of those shops are closed, the bikes can't be sold and the frames are piling up in the backrooms.

"A lot of bike manufacturers will be in difficulty, and some will close down, and that's very bad news. But businesses – not just cycling ones – that are in good health, and which finally get through the crisis, may very well end up benefitting long term from this situation."

Contador explained his optimism is not just because of how he sees the future of the cycling world.

"Right now, the situation we all find ourselves in is really tough in all kinds of ways. But if human beings have shown that they are good at one thing, it's at overcoming problems, and I really have faith in that."

There has been much discussion lately, some of it spearheaded by Team Ineos manager Dave Brailsford's comments that professional road-racing is excessively dependent on the Tour de France, which is something that the current pandemic is underlining. 

But Contador argues that for all Brailsford's enthusiasm for a season with more points of interest, when it comes to Ineos' current strategies for cycling's biggest bike race, the team's policies are completely logical given the media interest in the Tour, but it is hardly helping to alter the status quo.

"This particular argument [to intensify the focus on cycling season outside the Tour] isn't exactly a new one," Contador said, "but there's no getting away from the fact that where people want to be at their best was, is, and will be, in the Tour de France.

"I think, actually, Dave is the first person to appreciate that, particularly given Ineos is one of the teams that gives the Tour the highest priority of all. You can see that in the way that while Ineos may have stronger or weaker teams in the Vuelta a España and Giro d'Italia, depending on the year, they always send their absolute best team to the Tour de France."

Warming to his theme, Contador speculated further.

"Imagine Dave lines up Geraint Thomas, Egan Bernal and Chris Froome for the Giro d'Italia and then sends all three to the Vuelta a España instead of the Tour. Ha! That would certainly change things.

"The only thing, of course, is that it would be very difficult to justify that decision to a sponsor, because – whether we like it or not – the impact of the Tour is far greater than any other race."

While waiting for the Tour de France and the end of the worldwide lockdown, Contador has started up a series of group online training sessions through Instagram.

"It's three days a week: Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays at 7pm local time on Instagram Live," Contador told Cyclingnews. "We're in a critical situation. Professionals and other riders are allowed out in some places, but in Spain and Italy and elsewhere, it's still not possible for them to go out at all. 

"From the first moment that lockdown started, I found myself thinking, 'Man, I'm not a big fan of going on the rollers, so let's do something about it to make it more interesting.'

"So, I had the idea of going on the rollers to do specific training sessions, just like I used to do when I was preparing for the Grand Tours, and making it all live online."

Contador said that the whole idea kicked off with about 5,000 people following the training rides on the internet, but that total has increased a lot since then, and he's tried to spice it up a little by putting on replays of certain key races in his career where he was on the attack in the last of the series. He admitted with a laugh, however, that there's a certain degree of self-interest to his group turbo sessions.

"Lockdown really does take its toll and not just psychologically. There's the odd snack you'll treat yourself to, or maybe a glass of wine or beer. So doing these turbo sessions three times a week, it suits me as well because it helps me stay fit."

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Alasdair Fotheringham

Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, 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. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The IndependentThe GuardianProCycling, The Express and Reuters.