Monday, 10 August 2009

Professional career


ONCE/Liberty Seguros (2004-2006)
Contador turned professional in 2003 for ONCE-Eroski. In his first year as a professional he won the eighth stage of the Tour de Pologne, an individual time trial. During the first stage of the 2004 Vuelta a Asturias he started to feel unwell, and after 40 kilometers he fell and went into convulsions. He had been suffering from headaches for several days beforehand and was diagnosed with a cerebral cavernoma, a congenital vascular disorder, for which he underwent risky surgery and a recovery to get back on his bike.[2] As a result of the surgery, he has a scar that runs from one ear to the other over the top of his head.[12] Contador started to train again at the end of 2004 and eight months after the surgery he won the fifth stage of the 2005 Tour Down Under racing for Liberty Seguros, as the team previously known as ONCE had become.[9] He went on to win the third stage and the overall classification of the Setmana Catalana, thus winning his first stage race as a professional. He also won an individual time trial during the Vuelta al País Vasco, where he finished third, and the fourth stage of the Tour de Romandie, where he finished fourth overall.[3]
In 2006, he won stages at the Tour de Romandie and Tour de Suisse in preparation for the Tour de France. Prior to the start of the race he was implicated along with several teammates in the Operación Puerto doping case by the Spanish authorities, and the team was not able to start. He was later cleared by the Union Cycliste Internationale, cycling's governing body.[13] Contador returned to racing in the Vuelta a Burgos but he crashed after finishing fifth in stage 4, when he was riding back down to the team bus, and briefly lost consciousness.[14]

[edit] 2007 season
After having been implicated in the Operación Puerto doping case, Contador was without a professional contract until mid-January 2007, when he signed with Discovery Channel.[15]

Contador wearing the yellow jersey during the 19th stage of the 2007 Tour de France.
Contador's first major professional victory came with the 2007 Paris-Nice, which he won on the race's final stage. Discovery effectively wore down the remnants of the race leader Davide Rebellin's Gerolsteiner team, allowing Contador to launch an attack on the final climb. With Rebellin leading the chase, Contador held off his competitors in the final kilometers, winning him the race.[16]
In the 2007 Tour de France, he won a stage at the mountaintop finish of Plateau-de-Beille, and was second in the general classification to Michael Rasmussen.[17] Upon Rasmussen's removal from the race before stage 17 for lying to his team about his pre-race training whereabouts,[18] Contador assumed the overall lead and the yellow jersey, though he did not don it until after the stage.[19] In the stage 19 individual time trial, he managed to defy expectations and keep hold of the yellow jersey by a margin of only 23 seconds over challenger Cadel Evans and 31 seconds over teammate Levi Leipheimer. As this was the Tour's penultimate stage, it was the last real competition of the race (since the final stage is traditionally non-competitive save for a bunched sprint to the finish line) and it secured Contador his first Tour de France victory.[20] It is the closest the top three finishers in the Tour de France have ever finished to one another.[21]
After Discovery Channel announced 2007 would be its final season in professional cycling, Contador announced on 23 October 2007 that he would move to the Astana team for 2008.[22]

[edit] 2008 season

Contador wearing the pink jersey during the 21st stage of 2008 Giro d'Italia.
On 13 February 2008, the organizer of the Tour de France, the Amaury Sport Organisation, announced that Astana would not be invited to any of their events in 2008 due to the doping previously perpetrated by Astana, despite the fact that its management and most of its ridership had changed before the 2008 season.[23] Consequently, Contador was unable to defend his 2007 Paris-Nice and 2007 Tour de France victories. He went on to win his second Vuelta a Castilla y León, as well as the Vuelta al País Vasco by winning the opening stage and the final individual time trial. His next scheduled race and objective was the Dauphiné Libéré but his team received an invite to the 2008 Giro d'Italia one week prior to the start of the race. Contador was on a beach in Spain when he was told he was going to ride the Giro.[24]

Contador wearing the golden jersey during the 20th stage of the 2008 Vuelta a España.
Despite the lack of preparation, he finished second in the first individual time trial and took the pink jersey after the 15th stage up to Passo Fedaia. Upon winning the final pink jersey in Milan, he became the first non-Italian to win the Giro d'Italia since Pavel Tonkov in 1996 and also the second Spanish rider to win the Giro after Miguel Indurain won in 1992 and 1993. He later emphasized the importance of this win by saying that "taking part in the Giro and winning it was a really big achievement, bigger than if I'd had a second victory in the Tour de France".[25]
At the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, Contador competed in the road race and the individual road time trial. He did not finish in the road race, in which 53 of the 143 starters did not complete the course in particularly hot and humid conditions.[26] He placed fourth in the individual time trial, eight seconds behind his regular teammate Leipheimer.[27]
Contador entered the 2008 Vuelta a España as the main candidate to win. His biggest challenger was likely to be compatriot Carlos Sastre, who had won the Tour de France just a month before.[25] Contador won stage 13 by attacking on the fabled Angliru climb and this resulted in him capturing the golden jersey as the leader of the race. He extended his lead by winning stage 14 to Fuentes de Invierno and maintained his lead in subsequent flat stages and the final time trial. That final time trial was won by Leipheimer by a wide margin. Contador later took some offense to Leipheimer seemingly riding with winning the Vuelta in mind, after it had been established earlier in the race that Contador was Astana's team leader.[28] In the final standings, Contador finished 46 seconds ahead of Leipheimer and more than four minutes ahead of Sastre.[29] The win made him the fifth cyclist to win all three Grand Tours, after Jacques Anquetil, Felice Gimondi, Eddy Merckx, and Bernard Hinault.[30] In the process he also became the first Spaniard,[31] youngest (age 25),[32] and shortest amount of time to accumulate all three wins (15 months).[33] He also became only the third cyclist to win the Giro and the Vuelta in the same year, joining Merckx (who did it in 1973) and Giovanni Battaglin (who did it in 1981).[7]
Later in the year, Contador won the Vélo d'Or award for the best rider of the year for the second consecutive season. The Giro and Vuelta winner beat Olympic time-trial champion Fabian Cancellara and Tour winner Carlos Sastre in a vote by international cycling writers.[34]

[edit] 2009 season
On 9 September 2008, the seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong announced that he was returning to professional cycling with the express goal of participating in the 2009 Tour de France.[35] Astana manager Johan Bruyneel, Armstrong's former mentor and sporting director, said that he could not allow Armstrong riding for another team and later signed him. The announcement by Armstrong clashed with the ambitions of Contador, who insisted he deserved the leadership of Astana, and hinted at the possibility of leaving the team if he was given a secondary role supporting Armstrong.[36] Contador was later given assurances by Bruyneel that he would remain team leader and decided to remain at Astana for the 2009 season.[37] Contador later claimed the situation was drastically overblown by the media.[38] Contador decided to miss the 2009 Giro d'Italia and may also skip the 2009 Vuelta a España to focus on winning the Tour de France.[39]
Contador started his 2009 season at the Volta ao Algarve race in Portugal, winning the overall classification, placing second on stage 3, and winning the decisive 33 km individual time trial.[40] He was in position to win Paris-Nice again after winning the prologue and the toughest mountain stage, but suffered a breakdown in stage 7, losing his yellow jersey to fellow Spaniard Luis Leon Sánchez. Contador and his Astana team later blamed the breakdown on Contador eating inadequately, leaving him without the energy to chase attacks.[41] Contador finished fourth overall. Contador continued his build up to the Tour by racing the Dauphiné Libéré. He put in a strong performance of the opening time trial and stayed in touch with race leader Cadel Evans on the longer time trial.[42] However, the strong ride of compatriot Alejandro Valverde up the Ventoux distanced Contador and he rode to help Valverde take the Yellow Jersey while finishing comfortably in third place overall.[43]

Contador wearing the yellow jersey at the Champs-Élysées stage of the 2009 Tour de France.
On 26 June 2009, Contador competed in the Time Trial of the Spanish National Championships. He stated that he entered the race in order to gain more experience on his new Trek TT bike, but he came away with a convincing victory over Luis León Sánchez, the defending champion, winning by 37 seconds. This is his first National Championship as a professional.
Contador won Stage 15 of the 2009 Tour de France by soloing to the finish line more than a minute ahead of most of his closest GC competitors, and in so doing took the race leader's yellow jersey.[44] He then extended his lead on Stage 17, after finishing second in a breakaway of three riders with the same time as the stage winner, and then the next day he won the second time trial, increasing his overall advantage to more than four minutes.[45][46]
Contador won his second Tour de France on 26 July 2009 with a winning margin of 4'11" over Andy Schleck. He finished 5'24" ahead of Lance Armstrong, who finished third in his return to the Tour after a four year absence.[47] Contador has won the last four Grand Tour races that he has entered. During the celebration at the podium, the organizers of the Tour wrongly played the Danish National Anthem instead of the Spanish Royal March.[48][49] In the aftermath of the tour, Contador and Armstrong engaged in a war of words, with Contador quoted as saying that, although Armstrong "did a great Tour[,] I have never admired him and never will", and Armstrong responding that "a champion is also measured on how much he respect his teammates and opponents."[50] The sniping caused others, such as the director of the Tour, to wonder "what it would have been like to have had Contador and Armstrong in different teams."[50]

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