Not to alarm anyone, but Alberto Contador is almost back.
When his suspension ends on August 6, Alberto Contador will become, once again, one of the best Grand Tour riders in the history of the sport. He’ll also wear both a bull’s eye and an asterisk on his back. Starting at the Eneco Tour and followed closely by the Vuelta A Espana, Alberto Contador will ride as a favorite and as a doper.
Contador lost a Tour title, a Giro title and a slew of spring stage races through his suspension from his 2010 positive for clenbuterol. He’s also lost any international support he enjoyed in the media. For the rest of the career, no matter what he does, he’ll carry the burden of a positive test and the infamous tainted Spanish beef fiasco. That’ s something El Pistolero will have to mentally accept and understand, and soon.
Contador has been training in Spain all year with the Vuelta as his main target. He’s already previewed several stages, including a few that are not very from his hometown of Pinto. Known as possibly the greatest climber of his generation, he’s been sharpening his legs for his explosive accelerations. And at the Vuelta, the cast of rivals may be slim. Andy Schleck, his rival in two Tours and the spring stage races, will likely fall short as a challenger this August. The younger Schleck is still recovering from a broken bone in his pelvis and won’t have the training necessary to challenge the Spaniard.
Perhaps the most likely rival will be Sky’s Chris Froome. While many have whispered that the man from Kenya should have won the Tour, he’ll have no identity conflicts in Spain. The team’s outright GC leader and supported by Sergio Henao and Rigoberto Uran, both fresh after being left off the Tour roster, Froome will have all the help and no excuses against the returning Alberto Contador.
No matter who he is riding against, Contador returns to a sport that may not welcome him warmly. Even on home soil, fans and the media will treat any of his success skeptically and the results with a sense of disdain. For Contador, and for cycling fans, any success will be questioned, critiqued, and possibly even dismissed. One thing is for sure, however: the sport will gain one of its most entertaining, attacking riders. The catch is that the rider comes covered in question marks.