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Tour de France Preview: The Case for Alberto

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Criterium du Dauphine - Stage Seven Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

After Froome and Quintana we have arrived at two time TdF champion Alberto Contador. Are his TdF-winning days behind him or does he have what it takes to join Philippe Thys, Louison Bobet and Greg LeMond in the three time winner’s club?

More than any of his contemporaries Contador is a man for all the Grand Tours, with an impressive record in all three. But how relevant is that as the riders line up for the TdF, the pinnacle of the sport where the level of competition is at least a few levels above the two other?

The Basics

Name: Alberto Contador Velasco

Birth: Dec 6, 1982 in Pinto, Spain, age 33

Team: Roman Kreuziger, Matteo Tosatto, Michael Valgren, Peter Sagan, Maciej Bodnar, Rafal Majka, Robert Kiserlovski, Oscar Gatto

The Numbers

Past TdF GC Placement: Two wins, Interestingly no other podiumplaces. A bit of a messy timeline with being sidelined due to Astana being excluded in 2008 and then the infamous 2010 which he “won” and then didn’t after testing positive.

Stage Victories: Three (Plateau de Beille 2007, Verbier & Annecy (TT) 2009)

Other Jerseys: Best Young Rider 2007

Other Grand Tours: 3 Vuelta wins (2008, 2012, 2014), 2 Giro wins (2008, 2015)

Climbing Ability

While Froome may be the current watts/kg champion and Quintana seen as the natural high altitude climber, Contador still has the rep as the top attacking natural climber among cycling’s big stars. There was a time when little Contador could dance away from the rest of the best in the TdF with seeming ease. Those days are perhaps behind us with Sky-trains taking some of his edge away while at the same time his ability to sustain attacks for a longer time has declined with age and stuff. These days he still has the punch to get away but more often then not others will chip away at his advantage in the style of the tortoise against the hare.

Time Trialing

There should really be mention of two different Contador when it comes to timetrialing. The Conta who won two TdFs was a superior timetrialer, capable of going head to head with the very best. The Conta of later years is still competent against the clock, especially in the current competition and in the current climate with GT routes that go out of their way to avoid timetrials, but he is no longer someone who can use the TTs to take significant time on opponents. So while it is a strength of his, it is not really a weapon anymore.

Analysis

So in short, Contador is no longer the best climber and he isn’t the best timetrialer. Does this mean that we can easily say he isn’t a favorite to win the Tour? My suspicion is that this will be the feeling in he back of many opponents’ minds, especially after his lackluster TdF last year. To me that would be a dreadful mistake, just as it was a mistake to discount Nibali in 2014. Margins at this level are small and last year he came into the race with a (succesful) Giro in his legs. It is impossible to ignore that disadvantage even if it didn’t necessarily look like he was broken from that Giro, small % changes in capacity matter at this level. This year he has a more traditional buildup with an impressive run of podiums and wins in the one-week tours, capped off with a suitably half-hearted dress rehearsal in the Dauphiné. His year has looked more solid to me than Froome’s with a pretty clear trajectory towards a comeback to the July-form of his his prime.

Clearly Contador isn’t going to beat Froome, and probably not Quintana either, in a straight up watts/kg duel anymore but he has racecraft that the others may not and this year he has a course that could play to his advantage. The first week holds no apparent traps where he could be given an early disadvantage, there is no clear early stage a’la Ax3-Domaines or Saint Pierre Martin where Froome can beat the opponents into an early pulp. Instead there are a number of mountain stages with downhill finishes and slightly complex ones. And there is an uphill TT which Contador really cherishes. Sure there is Andorra and Ventoux where the Skybots can really do their thing but there are other days that may offset that advantage.

If Kiserlovski can find his old self AC should have quite impressive mountain support. We know he tandems well with Majka and between Kreuziger, Kiserlovski and perhaps to some extent Valgren he should be well supported in the mountains while Tosatto is there to bodyguard him through the first week and the flat stages. Depending on much they have to work to keep Sagan competitive, Bodnar and Gatto should be useful too. Gone are the days of his Spanish entourage of buddies but apart from the mental aspect it’s hard to see that as problem. In fact his worst support has been in the years when he had many buddies (who might not always have been the best riders available) along and his absolute best TdF performance when he was alone and isolated in a team that pretty much worked against him. So maybe his need of buddies along for the ride has been a bit overrrated?

Verdict: Can He Win?

Betting Odds: 10/2

My call: In a fighters edition of the Tour I definitely think he can win. If it’s a “trouble edition” with bad weather, nerves, crashes, anarchic stages, in short: a messy Tour, then definitely Contador will be my name. If it’s a smooth first week, everything rolls along, things click for Sky and Movistar, the mountain stages become formulaic and decided predictably in the final 3 kms of the last climb, then Contador is likely third at best. Basically I’m saying Contador could win the TdF like Nibali did, except he doesn’t really need the others to crash out. He just needs a bit of gravel thrown in the machinery and a bit of chaos to reign.