I’m following the progress of three stage racers in 2012: arguably the greatest of his generation, Alberto Contador, Astana’s Alexandre Vinokourov – in probably his last year before retirement – and AG2R’s Nico Roche. The three have been enjoying [not sure that’s the correct word – Ed] wildly different starts to the 2012 season. Here’s a quick summary of what they have been doing over the last few weeks.
Alberto Contador (formerly SaxoBank)
Races: Tour of San Luis, Trofeo Palma (Challenge Mallorca).
Results: Won two mountain-top finishes in Argentina which are set to be expunged from the record books.
What can I say that hasn’t already been said at length by pretty much everyone connected to the world of cycling and by many who are not. We’ve debated the issue at some length at VeloVoices and, while as fans we may deplore the loss of Contador from the cycling scene until early August, we have to recognise that the Court of Arbitration for Sport merely issued a ruling consistent with the current regulations.
While his contract with Saxo Bank has been terminated, the bank took the rather unusual step of reiterating its support for Alberto by using his image – on the verge of taking a stage win with a smile on his face and framing the Saxo Bank name on his jersey – in an advertisement in L’Equipe for its online banking services. The slogan read:
Opportunities often present themselves in times of crisis.
Further down the page, it added:
We support clients in their moments of success and also of difficulty, and this is equally valid for our riders.
There’s been plenty of support for Contador closer to home. More than 2,000 demonstrated in his hometown of Pinto, south of Madrid, wearing masks and chanting “We’re all Alberto Contador!” [Had they just watched Spartacus? – Ed] Alberto, returning from a training ride, thanked them for their support.
Football team Atletico Pinto has changed its strip to pink and yellow colours to honour the Spaniard’s 2011 Giro and 2010 Tour victories, of which he is likely to be formally stripped in the forthcoming days. Alberto will be attending their home match this Sunday. In addition, Pinto’s council has passed a resolution declaring the town’s support for its most famous son.
There was another smaller demonstration in Valladolid, where approximately 100 cyclists also carried banners showing their support for Contador, including Vuelta a Castilla y Leon organiser Jose Luis Lopez Cerron, who bought Contador the piece of meat he ate the fateful night before his positive test.
I did have Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) warming the bench in the event that Alberto was banned but I’d feel I was abandoning him in his hour of need, plus he’ll probably continue to generate column inches.
Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana)
In what he says is his last year as a professional rider, Alex is indulging in a wee bit of sentimentality and a trip down memory lane. His first race will be this week’s Tour of Langkawi, a race where his career took off fifteen years ago, at the race’s second edition. He’ll be leading an all-Kazakh team but, more importantly, lending his and his country’s support to an event on the Asian calendar.
After the 1997 Le Tour de Langkawi, Alex joined French amateur club EC Saint-Etienne and signed as a neo-pro for Casino the following year. VeloVoices will be previewing and reviewing the Tour of Langkawi which starts this Friday, 24th February.
Nicolas Roche (AG2R-La Mondiale)
Races: GP Costa degli Etruschi, Volta ao Algarve.
Results: 79th in bunch sprint finish in Etruschi. 14th overall in Algarve.
Roche’s ambition is to return to the level of fitness he enjoyed in 2010 and to improve upon his results in the Grand Tours and stage races. You could say that he’s had a comfortable yet predictable start to the year although, judging from his tweet at the end of the Volta ao Algarve, he was disappointed not to finish higher on general classification. Probably needs to do more work on his time-trialling.
Ok tt. Still alot to work on. Congrats to wiggo and @richie_porte
— Nicholas Roche (@nicholasroche) February 19, 2012