In 2007, a 24 year old Contador shocked the world winning both the best young rider and the overall victory in the Tour de France. In 2008 he was on the banned Astana team and was not allowed to participate in the tour. Then in 2009, Lance Armstrong ended his retirement and returned to professional cycling. Landing with his old captain Johan Bruyneel on the Astana team. A battle royal ensued as the team wasn’t big enough for both Contador and Armstrong. Contador fought the battle most riders can only imagine; battling both his team AND the competition. He ultimately had to rip the tour out of anyone else’s hands with consistent, viscous attacking.
Then in 2010 a duel with another precocious youngster in, Andy Schleck, treated us all to some of the best mountain battles we had seen in over a decade. In 2011 he decided to go for the Giro- Tour double. He won the Giro but ran out of steam in the Tour and faded to fifth place.
After much attacking and a fourth place finish in 2013… Could this be the year?
“The Comeback Kid”
The young gun.. He pushed a strong Contador to the limit in 2009 and 2010. Then again emerged as a dominant force in 2011. Taking the yellow jersey on l’alpe d’huez only to have it ripped from his slender shoulders in the final time trial by the veteran Cadel Evans.
A devastating crash in 2011 left him unable to ride. And a quick assimilation back to the top of the peloton proved not to be. Instead, two years of struggling to find form and even to finish races emerged. Some of the struggle was physical and some of it was surely mental. Either way, it was hard to watch. The brightest young talent cycling had seen since Jan Ullrich struggling to finish one day races.
In the 2013 we saw glimpses of of form and a top 20 finish. But now after over a full year injury free what can he do?
In stark contrast to the 2012 Tour de France which saw non-climber Bradley Wiggins have to race the perfect race in order to win. Calculated and conservative he managed a victory even as his teammate Froome seemed the stronger rider.
Then in 2013 Froome was the undisputed leader of the team and his performance brought back shades of yesteryear. He dominated in a way only the greats do. Merckx, Hinault, Lemond, Armstrong. Besting his rivals in both the mountains and the time trials. It was as inspiring to those watching as it was crushing to those riding behind.
Now in 2014 he has a chance to show that he is the next great tour rider. Can he do it again?
“The Italian Hope”
He sat out of the 2013 Tour de France to pursue the giro d’Italia. A race which he won. He probably would have been Froome’s chief rival in the 2013 tour if he had participated. And now he’s back with a new team (he races 2012 Tour de France with Liquigas) and giving it another shot. A great all-rounder and hawkish descender he has several weapons that could be tough for others to tame. Will we see him use his classics strength as well as his stellar climbing ability to try to stay near the top… and launch a late attack in the final week of the tour?