Spanish cyclist Alberto Contador, two-time Tour de France winner, has announced that he intends to retire after completing Spain’s Vuelta cycle race, which begins on August 19.
In a video posted on Instagram, the cyclist ended speculation about his future following a difficult Tour de France last month, in which he crashed twice and finished ninth.
“There is no better way to say goodbye than at my home race,” he says in the video, seemingly making a virtue out of necessity.
The career of Contador, who aside from his two Tours, also notched up two Giro d’Italia wins and three Vuelta a España victories, has been marked by controversy: In February 2012 he was given a backdated two-year ban and stripped him of his 2010 Tour and 2011 Giro titles for testing positive for the banned substance clenbuterol during the 2010 Tour.
Speculation about when the 35-year-old would hang up his cycling shoes dates back to 2015, when he announced he would retire at the end of the 2016 season. That year, he won the Giro, his last major title. Halfway through 2016, as the Tour de France approached, he changed his mind. He needed a new team after an unhappy spell with Russian millionaire Oleg Tinkov, and managed a deal with Trek, extending his career a year more, with the possibility of another.
But over the course of the Tour it became clear that renewing his contract would not be easy. Trek made it clear that his chances of taking the top title in cycling were virtually zero. During the last week of the race, former coach Steven de Jongh said on Dutch television that Contador would not be riding in the next Tour.
He had already failed to secure a deal to ride in next year’s Giro, and so will close his controversial career with the race he has won three times. He is the only Spaniard in a lineup that includes just about all the major names in the sport at the moment.
With his retirement, Spain loses one of its best cyclists of recent years, a great hill climber and without doubt the best in long stage events, typically taking an aggressive attacking approach.
Contador is one of the last of what many pundits believe is the greatest generation of Spanish cycling, one that starts with Óscar Freire, Carlos Sastre and Óscar Pereiro, along with Purito Rodríguez and Samuel Sánchez, and of course Alejandro Valverde. With Contador’s retirement, the only active member of that generation is Valverde, who is currently recovering from a fracture he suffered during the Tour, and of course Samuel Sánchez, who is also considering retirement
Few cyclists have won the three big titles, and Contador is the only Spaniard to have done so. Miguel Indurain, who won five Tours, managed two Giros.
Contador has always denied any wrongdoing over his ban for using clenbuterol. His many fans stuck by him, praising his aggressive cycling style and his willingness to take risks during races. He had suffered a stroke during the 2005 Vuelta a Asturias race in the mountainous northern region and made a miraculous comeback. That might be seen as his first major victory.
His second was over Operation Puerto, the 2006 investigation into a blood-transfusion ring that ended the career of Manolo Saiz, who discovered Contador and saw his Tour-winning potential. Contador and four other members of his team at the time, Astana-Würth, were eventually cleared of all charges that year, but no Spanish team was prepared to sign him, and he did not resume his career until early in 2007. This was the beginning of Contador’s exile: he would never ride for a Spanish team again.
English version by Nick Lyne.