Versus' War on Contador

Jan 6 2010

Is January too early to talk about the Tour de France? Of course not—at least, not when the Tour is the only cycling event your employer bothers to cover live, and especially not when that employer is the Network formerly known as “Only Lance” and you’re bashing the chief rival of a certain well-known Texan.

While anything Bob Roll writes must be taken with a MassDOT-sized serving of salt, Joe Parkin’s commentary tends to be quite insightful. So when he writes that “Contador has weaknesses in his armor that leave many of the great champions who preceded him absolutely dumbfounded”, I’m teetering on the edge of my seat, waiting to hear exactly what those weaknesses are. Sadly, the A Dog in a Hat author doesn’t deliver any details.

The closest Parkin comes is implying that Contador’s team is weak—a sentiment echoed in no uncertain terms by Roll. While it’s true that Contador’s entire supporting cast from 2009 now rides for Lance, the line-up behind reigning Tour champ this season isn’t exactly a bunch of freds. Certainly Oscar Pereiro and Vino’ require no introduction, and Benjamin Noval certainly knows his way around the race, having put in some heavy lifting for Discovery Channel on Armstrong’s 6th and 7th tour wins.

The remainder of the squad is full of strong rouleurs, including Maxime Iglinsky, who’s proven competent on the cobbles, and David de la Feunte, a capable climber and escape artist. I suppose you could fault the latest Astana incarnation for a lack of “true” climbers, but if 2009 was any indication, going uphill will be the least of Contador’s concerns at this year’s Tour.

In case you hadn’t heard, there’s also significant debate about exactly how much support Contador received last July. While I doubt his ’09 victory should be considered in spite of his teammates rather than because of them, winning in a less-than-ideal environment speaks well of the Spaniard’s championship savvy. On more than one occasion, he made allies when he needed them; should Contador find himself isolated at the 2010 TdF, I suspect there’ll be plenty of riders willing to make a deal.

Lance Armstrong—whom Parkin seems to hold up as the very incarnation of a certain cycling je ne sais quoi that Contador apparently lacks—has shown almost none of this nuance in his approach to racing. Armstrong’s own autobiography is rife with tales of admittedly-idiotic individualism in his early career, and observers from Daniel Coyle to Bernard Hinault have made careful note of the Texan’s black-and-white, with-me-or-against-me attitude between 1999 and 2005.

Unless he’s referring to this hard-headed disregard for the rest of the peloton, I’m baffled as to what aspect of Armstrong’s greatness Parkin sees lacking in Contador. Nothing in the Spaniard’s career suggests any defect of pedigree, and from my perspective, a reluctance to heap praise upon your teammates is a far lesser flaw than chasing down a second-tier rider for daring to break cycling’s code of silence.

Armstrong’s personal mythology is built around overcoming adversity. But his post-cancer, pre-comeback career was a series of resounding, relatively simple, brute-force successes. Even in 2003—his narrowest and most hardest-faught win—the Texan battled to protect a lead, not overcome one. In 2010, Versus’ commentary team seems all-too-eager to restore him to the familiar role of favorite.

At this year’s Tour, Armstrong will once again have the complete support of a hand-picked, Johan Bruyneel-directed squad—the same formula that saw him roll to 7 straight Tour victories. However, no amount of commentary will convince me that Lance, half-a-decade displaced from his last Tour win and facing the only rival who’s ever beaten him soundly, is anything but a 38-year-old underdog, under serious pressure to learn some new tricks.

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15 Responses to “Versus' War on Contador”

  1. bandobras 6 January 2010 at 11:06 am #

    I have to agree that last years tour showed that Contador was far and away the stronger of the two. He not only beat Lance on the hills which was to be expected but he spanked him in the time trials. If Lance beats him it will be because of the team not the man. Assuming they can both get to the tour fit and ready to race. Not something that can be taken for granted

  2. Dan Gerous 6 January 2010 at 12:00 pm #

    Of course american medias think Contador is not a great champion and Lance is the 2nd cming of the christ, US medias = US attitude (USA #1, we’re the best and nothing else exists). I think Lance is in his Simoni era but instead of the Giro, it’s applied to the Tour. He used to be a safe bet for the win or podium but will fade and finish further every year now…

  3. cgb 6 January 2010 at 12:01 pm #

    The missing bit is “wisdom.” Not that that really clears it up any.

  4. Michael K 6 January 2010 at 12:55 pm #

    My twitter comment on the Parkins article: Odd that “wisdom” excuses all sorts of dickishness. And Bob Roll’s assertion that no one had a clue about the battle going on with Astana during the Tour sounds a bit too Claude Raines to me.

  5. euro trash 6 January 2010 at 12:57 pm #

    Is there a press boycot for Andy Schleck in American cycling media?
    The duel will be Contador – Schleck, not Contador – Armstrong.

    These articles you link to baffle me. Those people should know cycling.

  6. Michael K 6 January 2010 at 2:15 pm #

    @euro trash: What these people know is that Vs’s ratings for the Tour fell substantially after Lance’s retirement. So rather than do more to build on the core cycling viewership and help casual viewers gain an appreciation for the sport sans LA, they’re throwing all their chips in on Lance and American jingoism. They know who pays the bills.

  7. dirty_juheesus 6 January 2010 at 2:27 pm #

    If conditions are right in 2010, the TdF has the Schleck brothers (two of them), Contador, and Armstrong in contention for the podium.

    If conditions stay this way through the early stages then the boring set-tempo-until-the-end-of-the-stage will be the tactic of choice for Team Armstrong on critical stages.

    I think the smart Director Sportif with a budget near Team Armstrong’s has a TdF team organized as a set-tempo-until-the-end-of-the-stage team. Astana looks like that’s what it has. We know the Schleck boys can ride tempo in the TdF with the very best.

    I hope it will be an interesting race. The 2009 edition had great climbs too early in many stages. I look forward to watching the northern stages where cobbles/weather should be factors as well as the usual climbing stages.

  8. lalahsghost 6 January 2010 at 10:37 pm #

    I believe he is speaking of Contador’s networking skills. I don’t mean that Conty sucks at tweeting, but with real people. Teams are Teams out on the course, but think about how many riders would possibly be in the LANCE team versus the CONTADOR team.

    Examples media states:
    The tour breakaway w/ lance & w/o contador in ’09 regardless of the facts.
    Astana team members jumping ship after “USPS/Disco” leaves.
    There are a lot of Americans in the peloton this year.

    We all know there is a bit of national pride when it comes to little favors in the peloton.

    I also wouldn’t put it past Lance to get buddy buddy with old team members still. He’s a smooth networker with that kind of jazz, no?

    caisse d’epargne – they would help contador, no? maybe?
    I feel if it benefitted their team too, CSC, Garmin, Sky, and Columbia would team up with Radio Shack. It wouldn’t surprise me at all.

  9. M 7 January 2010 at 12:50 am #

    While I am looking forward to this cycling season, it will be frustrating listening to everyone trying to capitalize off of LA this year. Its becoming more and more obvious that the two “leaders” at Ego Shack have such massive self-esteem issues that if they can’t physically beat someone they have to verbally attack. This might have to be the year of Pandora audio with Tour video.

  10. bikechik 7 January 2010 at 3:07 pm #

    Thank you.

  11. hammt 8 January 2010 at 2:49 am #

    my gosh finally someone can see how much of a dick lance really is and what fanboys vs are to this a hole. Contador is gonna kick ass again and still be humble exactly the kind of champ Americans cant stand. I used to be a huge LA fan by the way hmm no longer a zombie

  12. rainbow 8 January 2010 at 3:47 am #

    I walked into the bookstore today to find Lance 02 or the 2nd coming or something, fresh on the shelf. I bought fishing ‘Knots,Rigs,Baits and 10 year old Burley’, coz it stunk less.

  13. cosmo 8 January 2010 at 7:01 pm #

    @hammt, @euro trash, @M I think it may be that Versus and the American media are keenly aware of who pays the bills.

    Also, the Schlecks can be confusing to American audiences because there are two of them, and they look similar, but they aren’t twins.

    Lance has been called many things, but “wise” is a new one on me. That said, I will give Joe Parkin a nod in that Lance is much more experienced than Contador.

    It’ll be interesting to see if Armstrong can parlay his “wisdom” into good performances at the Classics this year. He raced them through ’03 and despite always being in the moves couldn’t ever seem to close the deal.

  14. frankielof 9 January 2010 at 2:43 am #

    Don’t get me wrong, I can barely stomach Contador and that stupid pistolero crap, but I just can’t see anyone seriously contending with him in a Grand Tour for quite some time. CycleSport magazine recently had an article claming that Andy Scheck will be his biggest rival in ’10 and beyond. He might be, but I don’t see him being anything but this generations Poulidor and unfortunetly Contador is this generations Anquetil.
    I think Armstrong will have a good tour, but again the third step of the podium will be best we see. If he couldn’t use his mind games on Contador while they were teammates and Johan was doing his best to will Lance into Yellow, there is no way he can do it now. Astana maybe weaker than last year, but this guy is one savvy rider and he is the best climber and one of the best time trialist.

  15. Jack Daniels 9 January 2010 at 4:07 pm #

    I actually hoped Contador would eventually join Caisse D’Epargne, especially after their Vuelta show-off, but it seems those stubborn kazakhs just kept him. Anyway, my theory is very simple: if Cadel Evans managed two second places with such “extraordinary” team support, I’m fairly sure Contador could win it all by himself.
    Just after the Tour, it was all “well, Armstrong broke his collarbone, wasn’t in top form” yada yada yada, “let’s see next year, when he’ll have a year of racing in his legs, perfect preparation for the Tour” blah blah blah. Some people are just forgetting he’s 38. At this age, he’ll be up there with the best, just like this year, but he won’t be on the top step of the podium (maybe not even on the podium).

    P.S. Though I still hope Simoni, aged 38, will still be able to win atop the Zoncolan.

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