The Giro 2011: It’s all about Alberto Contador, except when it isn’t

Alberto Contador wins the GiroContador has been the dominant force in the race for the Maglia Rosa in the Giro d’Italia 2011, no doubt about it. But comparing it to all the other Grand Tours he has won reveals a more interesting story.

Take the time gap between first (Contador) to tenth in each case:

For the Giro d’Italia 2011: Kanstantsin Sivtsov at 14’01”

This win pitches itself at the higher end of the spectrum, but it still suggest a lead group of contenders for whom a few seconds here, a minute there, become a significant margin over a three-week race.

Looking at individual riders on different courses isn’t perfect given the variables, but it throws up a couple of interesting examples:

  • Vincenzo Nibali is 40 seconds or so closer to Contador than he was in 2009 at the Tour de France, where he finished seventh, 7’35” down.
  • Joaquim Rodriguez came in at 11’05”, 32 seconds closer than at the Tour de France 2010.

This isn’t about Contador it’s about cycling

The apparent delay in his CAS hearing means he could still ride the Tour de France, an event which almost all the top Grand Tour riders have put at the top of their season’s goals, largely on the basis of his presumed absence.

How else can you explain Leopard-Trek’s decision to send neither Andy nor Frank Schleck to a climber-friendly route that either of them should have been a serious contender for? Or Ivan Basso’s decision to not defend the Maglia Rosa?

We all read the “it’s too tough if you’re aiming at the Tour” rhetoric from various riders. A race is as tough as you make it. Contador put four minutes into Andy Schleck at the TDF 2009 and that was a pretty benign route.



Simon Richardson of Cycling Weekly has come out strongly declaring the result a farce, to the predictable white noise of internet polarisation.

Strangely, there was not half as much fuss when Owen Slot of The Times said the same before the race even began:

“… for all that it is supposed to be about history, the true genre of this race is farce.” (£)

His view supported by Bradley Wiggins who points out that, under the rules of strict liability and the Wada code, “it is clear-cut, he shouldn’t be in the sport.”

This is a journalist whose beat covers both Fifa and the IOC. I’m pretty sure he knows what a farce looks like.

Perhaps Bonnie D Ford of ESPN – another journo who has stared sporting farce in the face and managed not to laugh – summed up best the parlous state that we find ourselves in when she said before the race

“In a world that spun as perfectly as a newly trued bike wheel, Contador wouldn’t be starting. But he can and will because the anti-doping sanctioning system broke down at one of its weakest points.”

Juliet Macur of the New York Times gave the following reaction to the news of delays to the CAS hearing, which appeared as Wee Bert was knocking seven bells out of the opposition and the credibility of the UCI:

“Could Alberto Contador, who tested positive for a banned drug at ’10 Tour, be riding in the Tour in July? Maybe so. What a mess for cycling.”

And that is what it is: a mess for cycling.

Contador has his part to play in it all, but – if he truly believes his innocence – what else is he to do but fight his corner with teeth bared and a resolution not to quit in the face of opposition?

Where were the UCI in resolving the matter in a timely fashion? They managed to tell the world before they told Floyd Landis he was to forfeit the Tour in 2006. Yet, they hadn’t uttered a peep about Contador’s positive until their hand was forced.

Where were the national federation RFEC, the body who had the right to sanction him, under a Wada code which they are effectively signatory to? They sold mitigation like a dummy to a blind man and sent it back the way of the UCI.

And that’s the problem: the fact Alberto Contador is still riding is not his fault. You cannot blame the defence for the prosecution’s abject failure to deliver a fair and just sentence.

So no, I won’t be damning Wee Bert for turning up and riding in a ridiculous fashion, a crushing display against an opposition a couple of contenders light of a proper contest. He will still have to face an appeal at some point and the possibility of actual sanction.

But it is hard not to damn the authorities whose refusal to act as they were obliged to and do so in the interest of the sport.

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  • Tom

    I don’t blame Wee Bert for riding the Giro. I blame him for doing it doped, for flaunting his doping as if to say, “It doesn’t matter what you know,  and there is nothing to be done about it, because I know how to beat the system.” 

    He’s a no class punk.

  • I agree it’s messy and I agree with the rest of the article save this:

    “How else can you explain Leopard-Trek’s decision to send neither Andy nor Frank Schleck to a climber-friendly route that either of them should have been a serious contender for? Or Ivan Basso’s decision to not defend the Maglia Rosa?
    We all read the “it’s too tough if you’re aiming at the Tour” rhetoric from various riders. ”

    I don’t think it’s a good call to say grand tour riders are focussing on the Tour based simply on Contador’s absence.  The Tour is the focus because it’s the Tour, it’s not to do with Contador. Those focussing on the Tour are no doubt prepared to race for yellow with or without him there, I genuinely don’t see that as a factor.  It may impact the racing that takes place but not who wants to take part.
     
    Even with no Contador at the Giro, you wouldn’t have had a Schleck or a Basso turning up.  Neither Schleck will return to the Giro before Andy has at least one Tour in the bag. It simply doesn’t figure for them right now, nothing to do with Contador. 
    With Basso and Evans, the focus is on the Tour because they had nothing after last year’s Giro and how many more chances are they realistically going to have at the yellow jersey? They have to do it differently this year.  
    There are articles in which Andy Schleck has intimated that his main rival for this year’s Tour is still Contador so he at least is prepared for that possibility, as I’m sure the other GT riders are.  So that part doesn’t really stand for me as a valid point but the rest is very good and solid and far better than what Cycling Weekly thought fit to publish.

    • Switch it round: if Contador had been guaranteed to be going to the Tour, how many GC riders might have taken a punt on winning the Giro celebrating 150 years of Italian reunification, one of the most high profile editions of the race in recent years?

      OK, in the case of Basso, Vinokourov or Evans, opportunities to win Le Tour are getting sparser as the years go by, but you look down the start line and only Scarponi and Nibali stood out as challengers for me. Why would Basso, an Italian, and Evans, with strong connections to Italy not want a piece of the action?

      It can’t just be that others have decided to focus on the Tour, surely?

      The whole mess around it is another concern perhaps? Not having the podium shots, the rider in the jersey, all those things that make it worth a sponsor’s investment. Perhaps that’s why so many stayed away. 

      I think a number of riders were happier to skip the Giro rather than become collateral in the whole sorry finazzle.

      • I think you’d have gotten the same riders with or without Contador.  150 years reunification or no, this was a hard Giro route (that seems universally accepted), anyone with a view to a high placing in the Tour would not have turned up.  There was/is a general fear that going too deep at the Giro would leave nothing for July (as with Basso last year).

        Honestly, looking at the startlist for this year and comparing it to the two previous, no I don’t see a great deal of difference.  The big names who want to compete at the Giro are there – the only difference is Basso and Evans.  Garzelli couldn’t compete at the same level this year, nor could Menchov, Sastre or Arroyo.   Early on Basso said that he had no intention of defending his  jersey – he placed well in 2009, won in 2010. What’s next? The big one, the Tour. 
        It’s entirely possible that the riders just looked at which route seemed “easier” and chose that way, but I really doubt Contador’s influence.  I would love to read an interview where someone says as much!
        I’ll happily accept arguments that the racing was different because of Contador’s presence but I don’t believe his very being  impacted who made the decision to take part.I would love to agree with you on this but I’m afraid not 🙂