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December 6 - Life sketch of Contador by Manuel Martinez

This beautiful bio piece from late July appeared in L'Equipe. Our translation is by Christine Kahane.

After a close encounter with death in 2004, Alberto Contador forged a indestructible morale to triumph on the Tour de France for the second time.

Alberto Contador's life could have come to a stop on a descent in the Asturian mountains May 12, 2004. The young Liberty Seguros rider lies on the ground without moving. He fell all of a sudden for no apparent reason. When Santiago Fernandez Zubizarreta arrives on the scene, Contador is still breathing.

The Tour of Asturias doctor attempts first aid without real conviction. However, these first survival efforts will have their importance. Nobody knows it yet, but Alberto Contador has just experienced the beginning of a brain aneurysm. Admitted as an emergency case to Oviedo hospital, his condition is serious but the first aid performed on the side of the road has clearly saved his life. He recovers consciousness and asks to return home.

At his home in Pinto, a dormitory town of 40,000 inhabitants, located in the southern suburbs of Madrid, the Contador family is worried. They have already experienced, several years earlier, their quota of drama. Raul, Alberto's younger brother, suffers from cerebral palsy. Their worries are justified, when less than a week later Alberto has to be admitted once again, this time to Madrid hospital. The diagnosis is ominous: the Madrid rider has a cavernoma, a lesion of the brain resulting from a congenital vascular malformation.

"This was a particularly hard time for the whole family," said Francisco Javier, Alberto's elder brother and now manager. "We were all a bit helpless. We all supported each other a lot. We tried to appear strong because Raul was there too and we could not show him how distressed we were. But in the end, it was Alberto who showed us the way ahead."

Alberto Contador Velasco came through three long hours of surgery immortalized today by the marks of seventy stiches to the head. During these particularly trying moments, Manolo Saiz, Liberty's manager, was at his side the whole time. He has always been a precious moral support for the Contador family. Even today Alberto is grateful for that. "It's not for me to judge what he might have done but, as far as I am concerned, he was of great comfort to my family during difficult times," according to the dual winner of the Tour.

The Pinto rider started to walk again by August 2004, and could eventually get back on a bike again in December. "I knew that I had to remount a bike," he said. "It was the right choice."

The words have an echo one month later when he resumes competition at the Tour Down Under in Australia and wins a stage. "Where there's a will there's a way," he had remarked for this resurrection, as he had already whispered in the ears of his mother when he woke up after his surgery.

"That victory in Australia remains as the best moment of my life."

Alberto Contador grew up on the streets of Pinto, next to the four-lane highway which leads to Andalucia. The large amusement park created by Warner Brothers had not yet arrived in the Madrid suburbs. Alberto spent his holidays in Barcarota, an Extremadura village, where his parents come from.

"He enjoyed everything," recall his family and friends. "You could not stay angry with him because he immediately burst out laughing." As a youngster he also had the bad habit of putting his fingers in electric plugs.

Alberto loved birds. He was fascinated watching them fly. He enjoyed going out early in the morning with his brother Fran on his grandfather's tractor. Happy days.

Contador always needed to have diverse interests. He started riding to imitate his big brother Francisco Javier. One day, he was handed down the old Orbea bike, a pair of oversized shorts, and an old sweater for a jersey. "He stuck to our group during a club bike ride. The road started climbing and he left everybody behind," says Fran.

Alberto Contador Velasco could have been a cross country runner or played soccer, but he had a gift for cycling. After his demonstrations on his old steel bike, it was time to take a step forward and join a club. The family has limited resources, the Velo-Club Portillo is ready to take him, and uncle Abelardo is there to offer him the first bike worthy of the name.

First race in Zamora, first fall, and first tooth left on the pavement. "He came back in tears but not because he was hurt. Because the bike had a knock," recalls Francisco.

At the age of 19, Alberto Contador left for the Basque Country to promote himself to Juan Gonzalez, the sports director of the Wurth team, a subsidiary of Team Once.

The start of the great adventure. Manolo Saiz of course noticed him, and gave him his first professional contract. He wins a stage of the Tour of Poland in his first year in 2003.

Not a mountain stage but a time trial. The Tour of Asturias accident could have broken him completely, but "Where there is a will there is a way," is a frequent expression of Francisco the patriarch.

The child from Pinto has made a name for himself. At the age of 26, he yesterday conquered his second Tour de France title after his 2007 victory. At an age where some riders hope that they still have a chance of building a nice record within one or two years, Alberto already has won two Tours, a Giro and a Vuelta.

Three weeks of the 2009 Tour have vaccinated him for ever against stress. He proved his strength on the road, and has shown himself to be one of the best climbers in the world, as well as an expert time trial rider, and the undisputed winner of this Tour de France.

Off the road, he did not succomb to the highly-charged asmosphere. "I had prepared myself to put up with a tense situation," he said. “I showed how strong I can be.”

Reasuring words for Francisco, his father, who can no longer watch his son's races on the television. He has to ask Paquita, the matriarch, "Well, did everything go all right?"

Everything went well, Senor Contador.

(Article by Manuel Martinez published in l'Equipe, July 27, 2009)


Fran Contador was key to victory

Giro d'Italia 2009, Stage 16

Fran at the Giro d'Italia, 2008

Manuel Martinez wrote this feature about the man at the heart of Alberto Contador's successes for L'Equipe on July 26, 2009. We present it here in translation from the French by Christine Kahane.

During the whole three weeks of the Tour, Francisco did not leave Alberto Contador's side.

They look like two peas in a pod. Only the spectacles make a difference. Francisco, 29, is Alberto Contador's big brother. During the three weeks of the Tour de France he was much more than that. Fran Contador has been the future Tour de France winner's most valuable support, as was also Jacinto Vidarte, his press man. Since his victory in last year's Giro, the eldest Contador brother has become Alberto's manager.

"He realized it was not possible anymore for him to cope with all the demands," recalls the big brother. "He asked me to become his right hand man and the one who assists him in his contingent administrative procedures and solicitations."

At that point Fran quit his job as manager in a Madrid logistics enterprise to support his brother's career.

At Alberto's request he agreed to be at his side during these three weeks of the Tour and, for the past eight days, to follow his every step. An exhausting experience.

"Life at Alberto's side has been intense, from the outside you cannot believe all the problems you have to face, but the idea of being there throughout the Tour was a very good thing . With all the difficult situations that he's had to face, I think I helped him stay calm." Fran Contador is not displeased with the outcome of this Tour de France.

The pain was blown away on the summit of Mont Ventoux. "That was a real relief. At last we'll be able to celebrate," he said.

Tomorrow they will return to Pinto where a big fiesta awaits the Contador family. Then it will be time to think about the future of the Madrid rider.

"We'll try to find the best solution for Alberto," said his older brother. "We'll do that without rushing, but rather quickly all the same. For Alberto's peace of mind. We know he won't be with Armstrong next year. Lance is a leader, Alberto also. Their relationship was incompatible."

All text © 2007-2008 Rebecca Bell, contadorfans@hotmail.com.

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