Photography © Liz Kreutz, kreutzphotography.com
Born in Madrid on December 6, 1982, at 25 years old Alberto Contador has already built a remarkable list of victories. Having turned professional in 2003 with Manolo Saiz’s ONCE team, Contador began collecting impressive finishes immediately.
A stage victory in the Tour of Poland (2003) and high rankings at Castilla y León and Setmana Catalana (2004), were early steps by a fiery rider who appeared to be unstoppable.
But on May 12, 2004, during the Vuelta a Asturias, Contador experienced bleeding in his brain caused by a congenital condition known as cerebral cavernoma. The incident led to a crash and nearly ended his life. In his own words,
"It was on the first stage of the Vuelta a Asturias. I was having some headaches a few days before and it felt like a vein was bleeding in my head while I was doing the stage. In fact, the bleeding was so bad that I started having convulsions and fell off the bike, and was lying unconscious on the side of the road. "
"Then, 10 days later, I had the same thing at home. Later, they did some medical tests and I underwent surgery at a hospital in Madrid. After six months being off, I started riding again and I made my debut in Australia. The problem seems to be fixed and appears it won't happen again."
Far from being immobilized by severe trauma, Alberto got back in the saddle. Early in 2005, he resumed his trajectory of stage wins, top five finishes, points and young rider jerseys.
Again with Saiz’s team in its new incarnation, Liberty Seguros, Contador celebrated his return to form with a win at Adelaide in Stage 5 of the Tour Down Under, the overall win at Setmana Catalana, and his impressive first showing at the Tour de France.
2006 saw the downfall of the Liberty Seguros team. During the scandal-ridden season, Contador was sidelined by bad luck once again. Due to the Operación Puerto affair, he was one of nine riders not allowed to start at the Tour de France.
He was later cleared by a Spanish court of any link to the doping affair. Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes himself confessed that he had never treated Contador.
Unfortunately, one month later a crash after crossing the finish line at Stage 5 of the Vuelta a Burgos kept him out of competition for the remainder of the 2006 season.
Contador’s arrival at Discovery Channel began a very productive chapter in his career. Director Johan Bruyneel knew how to spot talent, and had had his eye on the young Spaniard for several years. In January 2007, Contador was free from former contract obligations and signed with Bruyneel’s American-sponsored team.
The new environment was good for Contador. Following in the footsteps of Lance Armstrong, whom Bruyneel had coached to seven Tour victories, Alberto’s conquests began in March.
First came a dazzling stage win in Valencia. This proved to be a prelude to the greatest win of his early career.
Alberto Contador rode with thrilling ferocity and outstanding courage at Paris-Nice 2007, scorching the pavement and blazing across the final finish line to win the overall title in one of pro cycling’s landmark annual contests.
As he mounted the podium, exchanging his white young rider’s jersey for the maillot jaune, he became only the second Spaniard in history to win the title. His predecessor in that place of honor: Miguel Induráin.
From that moment, Contador was hailed as the sensation of the year. The Paris-Nice victory was followed by a stage win and the overall classification at Castilla y León. A less ambitious rider might have then considered his work finished for the season.
However, Contador’s dream was always to excel at the Tour de France. His idol was Armstrong. His director Bruyneel knew, better than anyone, how to train a winner.
Alberto arrived in London to start the 2007 Tour a likely candidate for the Best Young Rider prize. Talented juniors in the peloton, not the overall race favorites, were considered his rivals. He was content with his role: to support his team, and to try for a stage win and the white jersey.
As the three-week race progressed, Alberto proved to be the best man. He outdid the favorites with smart riding overall and brilliance as a climber. Others defeated themselves by failing anti-doping controls. Heroes were disgraced and kicked out. Champions abandoned with shattered hopes.
Despite tension, Contador clung to the fight. His attacking style created the best cycling entertainment since Armstrong. His tenacity in the final time trial caused millions of fans around the world to stayed glued to their televisions. Armstrong himself followed in the team car.
On July 29, 2007, Alberto Contador won the 2007 Tour de France. He became one of the youngest winners ever at the age of 24. Only four other Spaniards had ever been crowned champion.
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