Eddy Merckx has said that he is not convinced by Alberto Contador’s defence against his adverse analytical finding for Clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour de France.
Contador is currently waiting for a verdict in the case and has claimed that the traces of Clenbuterol discovered in his urine were caused by contaminated meat that he consumed during the race.
“I’m not passing any judgements on the man or on the consequences,” Merckx told Le Soir. “Frankly I don’t know what is going to happen but the explanations given by Contador seem lightweight and not very credible to me.”
Regardless of the eventual outcome of the Contador case, Merckx admits that the affair has cast a pall over the entire year in cycling, particularly given Contador’s status.
“2010 would have been a great vintage without the Contador affair,” Merckx said. “The biggest event of the season was decapitated by this happening. You’ll tell me that there is a scandal practically every year, but here it involves the head of the world rankings, the triple winner of the Tour, it’s not small.”
Looking ahead to the coming year, Merckx reckons that Andy Schleck is likely to be the man to beat at the Tour de France. However, he sees room for improvement on Schleck’s 2010 performances and feels that the significance of his slipped chain on the Porte de Bales has been somewhat overstated.
“He also lost the Tour in Rotterdam where his prologue wasn’t at the level of a candidate for overall victory,” Merckx said, although he believes Schleck’s time is coming. “With or without Contador, Andy will win the Tour some day.”
Gilbert and Cancellara: kings of spring
Merckx only had words of praise for the 2010 Classics and credited two men in particular for setting such a high standard in the spring.
“The spring Classics were of a rare quality, I would even say exceptional, and that was thanks to two main players: Fabian Cancellara and Philippe Gilbert,” he said.
Cancellara’s duels with Tom Boonen at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix were a particular highlight for Merckx.
“When you look back carefully at those races, Tom was at his level, but he just came across a superior adversary,” Merckx said. “Boonen didn’t have success in 2010 but you can’t claim that he had a bad season.”
Meanwhile, Merckx cites Philippe Gilbert’s work ethic as the foundation of his splendid season.
“I know how he trains, it’s quite phenomenal. He thoroughly deserves what is coming to him and it’s not finished,” he said. “I hope that Philippe Gilbert wears the rainbow jersey someday, but above all I hope he wins other Classics, like the Tour of Flanders, which fits him like a glove.
Merckx also suggested that a change of team might ultimately help Gilbert realise his full potential. The Belgian has enjoyed huge success since he joined the Omega Pharma-Lotto set-up in 2009 but Merckx feels that there are too many chiefs in the team.
“With Gilbert, Greipel and Van den Broeck, Lotto has an explosive team,” he said. “Gilbert must go to the Tour de France and go to win one or two stages as he did in Spain [at the 2010 Vuelta a España].
“For the rest of his career, he will have to choose a team where he has the last word, which is not yet the case at Lotto. A team where he will have those means, like Astana, for instance, which I know is very interested. Vinokourov is the absolute patron of that team and he adores Gilbert.”
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation, published by Gill Books.