In Turin, Italy, the end of the Giro d’Italia was celebrated in style, with Italian winner Vincenzo Nibali on stage. Next, we travelled to Lugano, Switzerland, to interview Alberto Contador for A.S.O., the Tour de France organiser. We still enjoyed his calmness and enthusiasm, but one month later, after two crashes in the first two stages of the Tour de France, not much is left of those feelings.
I didn’t expect the encounter with Contador to be much different from those in the past years. I met Contador, free of his champion surname, just a simple young man from Madrid with a genuine and serene smile; even the look in his eyes had changed: more cheerful and less rigid. He chatted when entering the interview room. About his quiet life in Lugano, and sharing memories from Madrid. We hardly talked about cycling. The only thing he told me was: “You are everywhere!”, referring to the latest cycling events. With a view on the lake he adores, without the pressure and stress of the races, with the Tour de France at a comfortable distance and without the entourage that usually accompanies great champions, I met Alberto Contador.
It’s raining heavily, and the bad weather throws a shadow over the scenery’s beauty. Alberto keeps on repeating that we should come back when the sun is out because, according to him, it completely changes the panorama and it’s really worth seeing that. We talk about the Tour de France and he proves that his motivation hasn’t changed a bit. He reveals that he was completely exhausted when he started his first Tour de France in 2005, after a very intense season, and that he finished 31st, even though he felt that he would win the important French event one day. Eleven years later the small wrinkles around his eyes are witnesses of past times, yet the rest of him hasn’t changed: “I’m more experienced now, but I still have the same wish and determination to win. All I can think of, is winning.” And he adds: “It’s unthinkable that I’d start a race to finish second, I couldn’t find any motivation for that.”
Alberto Contador is appreciated for not using typical cycling clichés. He makes sure the interview is an actual conversation. We remain in the past and talk about the rivals of various generations he battled against in the past eleven years. In the Tour de France, six of the main favourites won at least an important stage and 38 racers finished in the top ten. Besides the high level of competitors, the entire world considers this Tour as the heaviest of the past years. Contador compares himself to tennis player Rafael Nadal because he also profoundly analyses his competitors. Exactly as Alejandro Valverde, as well as a large part of the peloton, told me in an interview for Soigneur #15, Contador is the best at reading the race. During the team presentation, two days before the start of the present Tour, I asked him in a live interview for Eurosport if he had a plan for the next 21 days. He strongly confirmed and smiled.
Again with the lake behind us, he retrieves a memory of the 2014 Tour de France. The evening before his crash – resulting in a tibia fracture and the cause of his leaving the Tour later on – he talked with one of his confidants in the team about how clearly he had planned the stage in his mind and how physically strong he felt, even though he was behind in the overall ranking. He tries to express the sacrifice one makes to prepare for an event such as the Tour de France. “People are stunned when they hear I tried to climb a mountain with a fractured tibia. But what they don’t know, is the fact that the sacrifice and the work to start the Tour in perfect shape are much harder than climbing a mountain having a fracture. At such moment, my knee doesn’t hurt, but my heart does.” Two years later, bruised after two crashes in the first two stages of the Tour, but free of broken bones, he ensures the days after: “The moral remains intact.”
Alberto Contador was at the Tour de France to win it, even if he had to fall and rise a thousand times. In the past few days he was in the centre of attention from the media, because of certain reasons he would prefer to be a little more positive. He abandoned the race at 100 km from the finish line in Andorra, in stage 9.
Before we say goodbye, he reminds me of the following: “When you’re successful, people no longer see you as Alberto, but as Contador. However, I’m always Alberto to the people close to me, and to my family. I remain the same person with the same motivation and thoughts. Only the image others have of me, changes.”