Three paras on Contador

One must admit, dear reader, to now finding Alberto Contador an all-together more interesting rider now that he has shown some fragility and humility. Just one victory this year and 4th in the Tour – a race that he previously looked untouchable in with three victories on the road (one subsequently stripped). With his two Giro wins (one subsequently stripped) and two Vuelta wins as well, he remains the best grand tour rider of his generation. But seeing him struggle this year has made him seem, well, more real. Seemingly gone are the unstoppable attacks on the climbs and a cynic (or a realist?) might say that he is now operating under the same constraints as most of the peloton; this year he complained of “errors” in his race programme and different “sensations” in his legs for the Tour, the sorts of issues that can’t be smoothed out by other interventions. Contador has always been an elegant rider, and showed real fortitude in his 2009 Tour win, but there were always ‘doubts’ about his performances. Seemingly no longer.

One must admit, dear reader, to having a couple of degrees less separation from Contador than what might be expected. Once, through a local friend, your author had lunch at the home of one Bjarne Riis’ soigneurs in Denmark, and while said individual was out of town (at the Vuelta), there was apparently nothing but praise for Contador’s physiology. One mentions this not to claim insider or special knowledge, but simply that there can often be small coincidences (the purpose of the visit was not cycling) when certain events intersect. Based on such a coincidence, it is hard not to have more than just a passing interest in the subject.

One must admit, dear reader, to having been inspired by Contador’s equipment setup at this year’s Tour. Contador ran a mid-cage SRAM ‘WiFLi’ derailleur to enable him to use larger cogs (reported as a max of 28, although short-cage derailleurs are supposed to be able to support this size so presumably he did go larger at some point) on the rear so he could climb for longer in the big ring. He used this setup at the Vuelta last year as well. Having recently discovered the risks and rewards of big ring climbing – in a 50t, admittedly, not a 53t – your author now has a similar setup with a 30-12 (30, 27, 24, 21…) on the rear. The 30 is a bit redundant (although a nice 36×30 spin up some very steep climbs can be nice) and is not practical in the big ring except with some front derailleur tinkering and ill-advised cross chaining. But the second cog, the 27, is pretty versatile and 50×27 covers a lot of possibilities. And the 50×24 combo is a serious contender for short, steep-ish efforts. A 28-12 (28, 25, 23, 21…) might be the sweet-spot compromise. Mid-cage derailleurs certainly were not a PRO item in recent times, but perhaps they are now.

Winning times at the Vuelta in 2012. One must admit that the 'pistolero' salute might have been getting a bit old (SRAM pic)

Winning times at the Vuelta in 2012. One must admit that the ‘pistolero’ salute might have been getting a bit old (SRAM pic).

5 thoughts on “Three paras on Contador

  1. I’m propped up in bed trying to extract a burp from my 3 week old as I write this. Not three hours ago I drifted off to sleep mulling a future crankset purchase.

    A derailleur issue recently left me with a 50 x 25 lowest gear for a week or so and I was struck by the versatility of the 50 ring. Trutg be told, I rarely need the extra speed afforded by the 53 and I found I could stay in the 50 on anything short of a real climb.

    What drives me back to the standard 53/39 though is the infuriating uselessness of a 34 ring in anything short of a categorized climb.

    I’ve not yet ridden a 50/36 – maybe that is the answer. Anyway, thanks for providing a bit more food for thought inspired by the once mighty, now merely great, AC.

  2. 50/36 is a good compromise (although a cat.2 buddy rides 52/38 + 28-11 and swears by it). A 27-12 fits well – you can climb a wall in the 36×27, the 50×24 is pretty versatile, there are some big jumps from 27-24-21 but it still has the famed 16t cog (who needs an 11 anyway?), and the 36 can actually be used on rolling stuff (or even the flat) on the lower cogs of the cassette . Still, different combos suit different riders and terrain, and changing moods, which is why I’m tinkering – again. Good luck with the little one and thanks for reading!

  3. I like the feeling of whipping the big chain ring against a gear from the middle of the block on climbs, like a 15 or 17. Perhaps there is no difference mechanically (or biomechanically) to using a similar sized small-ring/ gear combination.. the experts can comment on this.

  4. I agree that Contador’s fallibility has made him a far more interesting rider, but as you say it may well be due to a more level playing field; it’s never fun when one rider begins a race looking unbeatable and spends three weeks holding the rest of the field at arms length. Froome’s Tour win was great to watch and full of sparkling moments (Ventoux!) but lets hope he is seriously challenged next year by the likes of Nibali and, who knows, Contador.

    I have to say, Contador’s comments on the launch of the TdF 2014 route were pretty defensive to say the least – already 9 months out he’s talking about how strong Froome is and that he’ll just do his best – although to be fair, shouting the odds at this stage with little in the way of form would be pretty poor behaviour from Contador.

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