The Spaniard is inarguably the most successful stage racer of his generation, but can he win both races in one season?
On Sunday, Alberto Contador sealed a mostly resounding overall victory at the 2015 Giro d’Italia. But on the eve of the win, even before the final stage, the Spaniard had turned his attention to the Tour de France, which begins July 4.
“When I decided to do the Giro and Tour, I knew I'd expend a lot of energy,” he said. “Now it’s time to rest up as well as possible, starting tonight. I’m already thinking about being as good as possible for the Tour.”
That Contador wouldn’t allow himself even a day to dwell on his victory at hand highlights just how difficult it will be to win both the Giro and the Tour in a single season. If he were able to accomplish the feat, he would become the first rider since Marco Pantani won both in 1998. And he would join an elite and legendary group of just seven others who have done it before him, including Pantani, Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Stephen Roche, and Miguel Indurain.
Contador’s latest Giro victory brings his official grand tour total to seven: two Giros (2008, 2015), two Tours de France (2007, 2009), and three Vueltas a España (2008, 2012, and 2014). And many—Contador included—add the 2011 Giro to that list, a victory that the Spaniard took but had to rescind because of a retroactive ban dating to a Clenbuterol positive in the 2010 Tour. Personally, I agree that Contador should get credit for that 2011 win, as he passed all doping controls and was only dethroned on a technicality due to timing. If the UCI didn’t want him racing that event, they should have settled his doping case and subsequent ban in the 10 months between the two events, not after he lined up and won.
But when it comes to the question of whether he can double up, Contador’s palmarès are only of secondary importance. The last time he tried to win both was in 2011, when the efforts from his Giro campaign left him below his best level at the Tour, where he eventually finished fifth. And other riders who have tried to do the double in recent years have fared even worse, including Bradley Wiggins, who didn’t even make it to the finish of the Giro d’Italia that year, much less the start of the Tour de France.
On the other hand, Contador’s performance at this year’s Giro should give him hope. He paved the win with savvy and convincing strength throughout the race and with two formidable rides. On stage 14, he rode what has to be considered a near-perfect time trial, pacing the 59.2-kilometer course just right and taking huge chunks of time on all of his major competition. And the Spaniard’s poise on stage 16, when his main rivals attacked after he’d flatted and Contador almost singlehandedly brought them all back on the fearsome climb up the Mortirolo, was masterful.
Contador suffered a painful shoulder dislocation in a crash on stage 6. And he also ended up riding many of the race’s crucial moments on his own after his teammates were unable to protect him to the finish. Yet despite all of that, and a fearsomely strong Astana team hitting him at every opportunity, the Spaniard kept pink for 16 stages and won the overall by a handy 1:53.
Of course the competition is likely to be much stronger at the Tour de France than at the Giro. Only one of his main rivals in Italy had taken a grand tour victory prior to the race (Ryder Hesjedal won the 2012 Giro), whereas in France he’ll face Vincenzo Nibali, who has won a Giro, Tour, and Vuelta each, as well as 2013 Tour-champ Chris Froome and 2014 Giro-winner Nairo Quintana.
Some have also looked at Contador’s victory—especially the final mountain stage when he was dropped by all of the top climbers in the race and lost 2:25 on the day—and argued that the weakness presages trouble to come. That’s possible. But it’s also likely that the Spaniard simply knew he had the overall locked up and chose to ride within himself and burn as little energy as he could with a view toward France.
Despite that slight waver at the finish of the Giro, Contador has gotten votes of confidence for his double bid from many past racing champs, including Merckx, Hinault, Indurain, and Greg Lemond. “If anybody can do the double, he can. He’s an impressive rider and is arguably the most consistent Grand Tour rider probably ever,” Lemond said in a Giro wrap-up. “Having the energy for it is more psychological than anything, so he’ll be good. I think in 10 days time he’ll have recovered and be fine. It’s about maintaining that hunger.”
And if there is one thing that Contador has proven over the years, it’s that he has a deep, almost insatiable, hunger to win. “No matter how difficult the Tour de France is, another Tour, won by itself, won’t add much to my palmarès,” Contador said earlier this spring. “But the Giro and Tour in a year puts things on another level. If it’s so hard, that’s what makes it interesting. If you don’t try to do it, you won’t know it’s possible.”
Even if Contador loses in France, there’s no arguing that the Spaniard’s quest for what is possible should make the race that much more exciting to watch. And if he manages to win, he will gird his reputation as the greatest stage racer of his generation—and perhaps the greatest ever.