By Hedwig Kröner
Ever since Alberto Contador became the youngest Spaniard ever to win the Tour de France this July, his popularity has exploded and he's been a wanted man by the world's media. Jetting from one appointment to the next, Contador has had very little time to unwind. After coming home after the Amstel Curaçao race on the Caribbean island, he described how he's dealt with the success that has so little in common with how he lived his life back in the days when he was 'just' a Spanish climbing hopeful.
Contador has come a long way, and yet the 25 year-old has remained a rather private person. The 'Kid' still lives at his parents' place in Pinto, 20 kilometres outside Madrid, where he was born, and he hasn't lost his mind over the new-found fame and the financial possibilities that go with having won the greatest bike race on earth.
Apart from buying the new home, which he will move into with his girlfriend in January, and a new car, he hasn't foolishly spent his money, but put it aside for the future. Nothing is ever certain - the young Spaniard only knows this too well, having already escaped death by a hair in 2004 after suffering a cerebral blood clot after a crash in the Vuelta a Asturias which was treated with risky surgery. A big scar from ear to ear reminds him of life's fragility every time he looks in the mirror.
Contador never takes things for granted. His younger brother Raúl has cerebral paralysis and will forever be left with the mind of a one year-old child. His elder brother Francisco Javier was the one that got little Alberto on the bike when he was a boy, and soon enough the gifted youngster was as passionate about cycling as he was about the birds he bred in a huge flight cage in the back garden. Fifteen years later, he still has the canaries and goldfinches, only now it's his father who takes more care of them, as spare time is about the only thing his son lacks since he turned into a celebrity.
Life has changed radically, Contador told Cyclingnews from his mobile phone as he was trying to get out of a parking lot back home in Madrid. "A lot of things are different now," he explained, struggling with the gate opener as the machine told him his ticket was not valid. "People now recognize me in the street, which almost never happened before the Tour. Now, when I'm going out with friends, I don't have the privacy that I used to have. It's not that I don't like it, but I just don't have much time left for my family and friends anymore. It's strange - I won races before, even such important events as Paris-Nice, but as the Tour de France is so special, I really have to say that I had a life before the Tour, and another one afterwards."
Once he had his ticket problems sorted, Contador added that even though he enjoyed his popularity, the hype around his person was wearing him down lately, and that it was even possibly interfering with his preparation for next season. "I haven't had any psychological rest after the season, you know. I would have liked some, and in previous years winter was always a good period to recharge batteries. But this time, I just had so many appointments and events I needed to attend."
So did he fear all of this would change his personality? Back in the days when one of his season's goals was the Col d'Eze on the final day of Paris-Nice , the Spaniard didn't have to protect his privacy. "I think I'm quite down to earth as a person, but for sure this kind of success can change people. I don't think it has changed me already, but we will have to see about that in a few years," he remarked cautiously.
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