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.