Paris-Nice, episode 80: Alberto Contador

March 1 st 2022 - 17:30

"Hit and Nice" for Contador (VIII/X)

Since 1933, Paris–Nice has been the first major event of the season for the stars gunning for glory in stage races. The balance of power on the Promenade des Anglais or the Col d'Èze, depending on the season, gives us our first glimpse of where each Tour de France favourite stands. To mark the 80th edition, is looking back on how the Race to the Sun shaped the careers of ten riders who shared a special bond with the event.

Alberto Contador's performances in the Race to the Sun were a mixed bag, but he never failed to put on a show.

"El Pistolero" becomes the new sheriff in town

Alberto Contador's huge potential was still an unknown factor when he lined for his first Paris–Nice in 2004, at the age of 21. He made a strong impression from the get-go with fifth place in the opening time trial, right behind David Millar, and went on to finish the race in 26th place as the highest-ranked Liberty Seguros rider.

His meteoric rise continued over the next couple of seasons and took him to a whole new level in 2007. He started with a triumphant campaign in Paris–Nice, picking up a stage win in Mende and another on the Promenade des Anglais along the way. It heralded the start of a winning streak that saw him clinch his first Tour de France just over four months later. He returned two years later as a lauded champion, dominating the prologue in Amilly ahead of Bradley Wiggins. He crushed the opposition at the top of the Montagne de Lure, but the next day, he bonked and relinquished his lead —and the title— to Luis León Sánchez, one of his most frequent rivals in the Race to the Sun.

Defeated and fourth overall in Paris–Nice, "El Pistolero" bounced back to win the 2009 Tour amid an internecine struggle with Lance Armstrong within Astana. In 2010, a new exhibition in the climb to the airfield in Mende laid the foundation of his second triumph in Paris–Nice. The Spaniard carried over his dazzling form to the Tour de France and took the yellow jersey all the way to the Champs-Élysées, only to be later stripped of the title after testing positive for clenbuterol.  

Second, but a champ nonetheless!

Contador skipped five editions of Paris–Nice, one of his favourite hunting grounds, before making a comeback in 2016. As brilliant as ever, the most spectacular climber of the 21st century was almost at the top of his game but failed to follow the right move. Third in the key stage to La Madone d'Utelle, the next day he launched a prodigious counter-attack on the road to Nice in an attempt to topple Geraint Thomas from the top of the leader board, only to come up four seconds short! Almost the exact same scenario unfolded when Contador came back to the race for the last time the following season.

This time round, the Spanish hunter had Colombian Sergio Henao in his sights, but he crossed the finish line in Nice with an even narrower and more frustrating deficit of two seconds. Yet another bitter podium spot.  

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