July 20th, 2010
01:15 PM ET

Opportunist Contador learns that winning isn't everything

Alberto Contador leads his main rival Andy Schleck in the Tour de France. (AFP/Getty Images)
Alberto Contador leads his main rival Andy Schleck in the Tour de France. (AFP/Getty Images)

(CNN) - Arcane ideals of sportsmanship often seem out of time in a modern world of professional sport in which doping, match-fixing, handballs and controversies over referees, umpires and technology long ago clouded the Corinthian spirit to which purists still cling.

Given that cycling has long been tarnished by allegations over doping - arguably the most cynical and premeditated way in which a competitor can seek to gain an advantage over a rival - casual followers of the sport might have assumed that a sense of fair play had gone the way of the penny farthing.

This after all, is the sport whose governing body announced the introduction of scanners ahead of this year’s Tour de France to check for so-called “mechanical doping” - the use of hidden engines on bikes.

Yet, perhaps more than their contemporaries in many other sports, cyclists are still expected to adhere to a code of honor dictated by the traditions and rituals of the “peloton” - and never more so than during the Tour de France.

For riders, fans and scholars of the Tour’s history, the overall leader’s yellow jersey is a sacrosanct symbol which should not be sullied by allegations of misconduct.

That is what defending champion Alberto Contador is accused of having done on Monday when, on the slopes of the Pyrenees, he appeared to launch an attack at the exact moment that his main rival and “maillot jaune” wearer Andy Schleck’s chain came off.

Tour tradition dictates that if the yellow jersey holder or a contender for overall victory in the race is delayed by a crash or mechanical mishap, his main rivals should wait for him to rejoin the group, the theory being that a great champion should win fairly and squarely, rather than benefiting from the misfortune of others.

It is a practice which has been habitually honored down the years, with Lance Armstrong and his main rival Jan Ullrich making a virtue of waiting for one another during the American’s long years of dominance.

Earlier in this year’s race, Schleck and others benefited from the tradition following a crash during an accident-strewn stage in which senior riders slowed the peloton to allow those affected to catch up, with yellow jersey wearer Fabian Cancellera even negotiating with race officials to cancel the traditional sprint finish because of the unusual circumstances.

By the time he reached the finish on Monday, Contador had gained enough seconds over Schleck to inherit the overall lead and cycling fans were in no doubt the Spaniard had stolen an unfair advantage over his rival, booing him as he was presented with the yellow jersey.

An angry Schleck meanwhile simply vowed revenge, saying: “I wouldn't want to take the jersey like that. I'm not the jury, but for sure those guys wouldn't get the fair play award from me today.”

Contador initially denied wrongdoing, claiming that he had launched his counterattack before Schleck’s chain came off and that he had passed him before he knew what had happened.

But he took a more conciliatory tone in a YouTube apology on Tuesday, admitting that he may have been in the wrong: “The race was in full gear and, well, maybe I made a mistake. I'm sorry. At a time like that all you think about is riding as fast as you can. I'm not happy, in the sense that, to me, fair play is very important.”

Yet even the cycling world is split over whether Contador was right to attack. Some initially suggested that Schleck;s misfortune was owing to the lack of a chain guard - a piece of equipment some riders choose not to use because of the extra weight. But in an interview with the UK's ITV, a Saxobank mechanic said Schleck's bike had been fitted with a chain guard but it had become bent.

What’s more, the incident happened in the heat of the attack, as Schleck, the superior climber, attempted to put Contador under real pressure for the first time in the race. Was the chain slippage then a consequence of the moment?

This after all was one of the most crucial and potentially decisive climbs on the Tour route; not a point when the peloton is rolling through sunflower fields with nothing at stake, when taking advantage of the yellow jersey wearer’s misfortune would have been unthinkable. Great riders are expected to lock horns and race, rather than admire the scenery, when they reach the mountains.

Still, Contador’s critics will argue that his attack can only tarnish his likely victory next weekend in Paris. While Schleck is considered a better climber, Contador is the better all round rider and, having lived with the Luxemburger in the Alps and the Pyrenees, the two-time winner had been expected to gain a decisive advantage in next Saturday’s final time trial, a discipline in which he excels.

There are few competitors in any sport who would disagree that winning is everything - but Contador may be starting to realize that supremacy on a bicycle is the easy part when it comes to riding like a champion.

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Filed under:  Cycling
soundoff (48 Responses)
  1. Rafa

    As in everything in this life you can't have your cake and eat it. If Andy didn't want the guard and extra weight is his decission and needs to live with it and don't expect others to pay for it.

    July 20, 2010 at 1:58 pm | Reply
  2. Maruca Coneja

    Contador sucks!!

    July 20, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Reply
  3. indifferent

    Who in the world cares about the Tour de France?! As proven year after year.....it's just a bunch of overpaid junkies on wheels

    July 20, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Reply
  4. Go Ryder

    "Yet even the cycling world is split over whether Contador was right to attack. Some argue that a slipped chain is a fault which could have been avoided by fitting a chain guard – something which Schleck obviously didn’t consider worth the extra weight on his bike. A tactical choice therefore backfired in unfortunate circumstances."

    Schleck's bike was fitted with both an inner ring and outer ring guard. So to say that he didn't consider this is completely wrong. There is plenty of video's to prove that his team and his mec. had this looked after. Contador will now be remembered for this very low move in my opinion.

    July 20, 2010 at 3:22 pm | Reply
  5. Henk

    Lol. Contador didn`t even see it. What is all the hype about. We are talking about a 30 second advantage. If Schleck was so good he should easily have been able to catch up. Or do so in the coming races. Give it to CNN to try and make an asshole of Contador over a lousy few seconds. Perhaps it` more about attacking anyone because American Armstrong is no longer going to win the match and is probably going to quiet after this Tour. Stop being so biased please.

    July 20, 2010 at 3:24 pm | Reply
  6. Robert Harper

    I very much appreciated this article. I had read a few others on the "sportsmanship" – or lack thereof of the leader – and never was offered the additional information that his actions may very well have been justified by the rules of the race.

    July 20, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Reply
  7. al b

    i'm not really a fan of 'Bert (the whole pistolero thing bugs me...) but no body wants to win like that. then again, "pas de cadeaux." guess i'd rather now see AS show poise beyond his years and take the yellow t-shirt back the hard way.

    July 20, 2010 at 3:40 pm | Reply
  8. Ann Williams

    Contador has been and always will be a cocky little jerk

    July 20, 2010 at 3:56 pm | Reply
  9. jasonku

    it happens everywhere in sports..there is no such thing as sportsmanship anymore..look at how Luis Suarez of Uruguay handled the ball deliberately to deny Ghana's last minute goal and a place in the semifinals this world cup. and Luis was treated a hero!! that is as low as a scum can go...

    July 20, 2010 at 4:02 pm | Reply
  10. miguelo

    I find CNN's report by Simon Hooper very biased and with little objectivity. If Hopper had done his job well and had researched about Contador's professional and personal life, he would have found that Alberto is not a back-stabbing, the end-justifies-the-means kind of person or sportsman. He would have found totally the opposite. Contador may have made a mistake. I am not sure. But I am sure he is not the character type you are trying to depict. Poor job Hooper!

    July 20, 2010 at 4:04 pm | Reply
  11. Johan

    Contador could not enjoy the victory, not because his action was bad, but because of the controversy it spurred, because of all the so-called unwritten rules and complaining in the Tour. Cycling is a sport of a man and his machine, only when both work perfectly one can win. Andy might be even a better climber, his control over his machine is certainly less. A chain never simply slips. Besides that, in every other sport a failure leads to losing. In formula1 nobody waits when something goes wrong in the pit-stop. When you run a flat tire in mountainbiking you´re out, no matter if you´re the leader for the world cup.
    Let´s make cycling a real sport again. Without shady negotiations, codes of honor and unwritten rules made up by the leaders, not by the attackers, to defend their position and commercial interests.
    Calling Alberto an opportunist is not right and typical CNN quick judgement. We´ll see who really owns the jersey soon!

    July 20, 2010 at 4:20 pm | Reply
  12. Col

    He´s just acting colombian, stealing from others

    July 20, 2010 at 4:21 pm | Reply
  13. Rafael

    1.- Some years ago Beloki fell and Armstrong did NOT wait for Beloki. Quite the opposite, Armstrong sprinted as fast as he could.

    2.- Some days ago, many cyclist fell (including Armstrong and Contador) Schleck did NOT wait for them, and rode as fast as he could to take as many seconds as he could.

    3.- Schleck´s chain going off was simply the consequence of a bad move from his part. As Hinault said, Schleck should learn how to change. What happened was not a mechanical problem, it was a bad move from the part of Schleck, and it´s Schleck the one to pay for it, not Contador.

    4.- What do Contador´s critics expect? Contandor letting his own chain to Schleck?

    July 20, 2010 at 4:23 pm | Reply
  14. Acropolis

    Who in the world cares about the Tour de France? As proven year after year... since 1903.

    July 20, 2010 at 5:05 pm | Reply
  15. Dave

    @indifferent – I want to see you compete at that level even with drugs. They all take them so are therefore all on a level playing field. They have drugs and talent. The quality will always rise to the top😉

    @Henk – You clearly don't understand that even 2 seconds can make a difference at that level.

    July 20, 2010 at 5:05 pm | Reply
  16. Johan

    contador is a arrogent cheat who cant win fairly like amstrong

    July 20, 2010 at 5:21 pm | Reply
  17. Varun

    1. Andy attacked 1st, he was fair game.
    2. As Contodaor said, he waited for Andy earlier in the tour which Andy didn't reciprocate in the Cobblestone stage (I was all for it, but by doing it one shouldn't be hypocritical)
    3. Chain coming off like that is riders fault while changing gear, you expect to win the Tour and can't change the gear properly? It was Andy's fault why should other riders compensate for that.

    July 20, 2010 at 5:24 pm | Reply
  18. Dick Walters

    This report is highly biased. Earlier on in the tour, when Schelck fell, Contador stopped the peloton to wait for Schleck. Later on, when a fall in the peloton hurt Contador, Schleck did not stop to wait for Contador; instead, he gained 10 seconds on him.

    Additionally, did no one else notice that Sanchez and Menchov were also riding ahead of Schleck? Had contador stopped, he would have risked even losing the 2nd place spot.

    July 20, 2010 at 5:26 pm | Reply
  19. Passerby

    Go Ryder . . . . you're right to point out that Any had a chain guard on his bike (shame on CNN for publishing an article stating as fact the opposite of the truth). I would like to point out however that there is a high likelyhood that Andy make a poor gear change and this was the cause of his mechanical trouble. If indeed the 'dropped chain' was the result of rider error, Contador had every right to capitalize. Sadly, Andy is the only person who can tell us the truth and he's the person who stands to gain the most by crying foul.

    July 20, 2010 at 5:41 pm | Reply
  20. Lx

    Oh please, these guys are the biggest dopers and cheats, and now they're playing the "chivalry" card? Ha. They're all swine.

    July 20, 2010 at 5:59 pm | Reply
  21. Joe

    Yes, CNN is being biased, has always been biased against Contador. All you need to do is read the reports from last year. When Mr. Armstrong tried to scr.. up Contador. How many times does Contador need to wait for Schleck? Contador was among those who waited for him when he fell. Hadn't they waited it would have been the end of the race for Schleck. How did Schleck pay back? By going as fast as he could behind Cancellara on stage 3. I didn´t see him then stopping or slowing down so that those that fell -Contador included- could catch up. It was because of the time that he gained during that stage that he was ahead of Contador. Still, it was his own fault, it was his bike and took too long to solve HIS problem. Tough. This is life. I hated how Cancellara stopped the race so that his team-mate could catch up. It is these things that make the race interesting. Those who are the strongest, toughest and take advantage of the oportunities are the ones who win this race. I dont like cry babies.

    July 20, 2010 at 6:58 pm | Reply
  22. JB

    Before you rush to criticize Andy for not having a "chain guard", you might want to read this:

    http://velonews.competitor.com/2010/07/news/technical-qa-with-lennard-zinn-why-did-schlecks-chain-come-off_130090

    Then again, it might be easier to just rush to judgement...

    July 20, 2010 at 7:11 pm | Reply
  23. Jesper Jorgensen

    I have watched the Tour for 22 years and you simply do not do what Contador did yesterday. That is not how you ride the Tour

    July 20, 2010 at 7:15 pm | Reply
  24. Franklin

    The front deraileur provides the ability for a chain to shift and stay on , or "guard" the chain,assumingl it was properly fitted and the cables are not overly stretched. I can promise you that Andy was riding with one. It's not possible to ride a modern bicycle competitively without one! It was Andy's attack and the force he was applying to the pedals on a steep climb that was a part of the equation that through the chain. It was Alberto's team mate Vinikourov who responded most quiclky to the attack. He certainly knew what had happened and Alberto had plenty of time to comprehend that Andy was in mechanical distress. Andy actually had opened a gap, but most likely Alberto would have closed it. We will never know. It would be nice to defeat your opponent not his mechanic, misfortune or chain!

    July 20, 2010 at 7:24 pm | Reply
  25. Bruce Armstrong

    I respect Contador as a cyclist, but not as a man- something Contador said of Armstrong last year. Armstrong might be a brash Texan, but at least he played by the unspoken rule. Anyone who follows the tour would know this. Pot.....Kettle?!!!!

    July 20, 2010 at 7:44 pm | Reply
  26. Matt

    Contador saw it, he would have been told immediately even if he didn't. He led the others after finding out about this and didn't let them do all the work. Even this gesture would have been something. Instead, he tried to finish Schleck.
    Feels similar to the cowardly action he did last year to get time on Armstrong.

    July 20, 2010 at 7:50 pm | Reply
  27. ColnagoPro

    @Henk

    What in the world does Lance Armstrong have to do with this article? Just the fact that you mention shows where your true intentions lie. Lousy few seconds? You obviously know very little about cycle racing. Contador will go down in the books, but in an unfavorable light. Claudio Chiappucci may have attacked in feed zones and tunnels, but even he knew better than to attack someone with a mechanical.

    July 20, 2010 at 8:08 pm | Reply
  28. David

    No one waited for Lance on the cobblestones in stage 3 when he punctured a tire......

    July 20, 2010 at 8:15 pm | Reply
  29. Zach P.

    I guess things have drastically changed in the last year; I didn't know that Schleck was considered the superior climber of the two these days. Though it's definitely "his" strength, Contador was considered a super climber (aside from drastically improving his time trialing and being a "better all-rounder") based off of his performances in the Giro either last year or the year before, I forget which one. He had some record breaking times up some of the climbs.

    And maybe he didn't notice the chain break if he was already attacking?

    July 20, 2010 at 8:41 pm | Reply
  30. Sergio

    Schleck is the superior climber? I'm sure that will come as a surprise to Schleck! Anyway, much ado about nothing. What's next? If your main rival has a sleepless night, you're supposed to stay up too? Gimme a break.

    July 20, 2010 at 9:16 pm | Reply
  31. bumcyk

    @david.
    no one waited for lance, cause lance didn't wait couple years ago, when he was fighting for a win with alex zulle.
    now contandor must knows that if he'll get a puncture, whole peleton won't care 'bout it. that's why he's trying to say, that he didn't see that accident. which is lie, cause it hapenned just afront of him, when schleck was attacking.

    July 20, 2010 at 9:19 pm | Reply
  32. Hogan

    Contador is right in going for it (and he should not apologise for it either).

    If Shleck's tools break it's part of the game!

    You would not see Fernando Alonso stopping to wait for Jenson Button if the latter experiences a flat tyre.

    July 20, 2010 at 9:19 pm | Reply
  33. Chris

    Henk, you obviously aren't a cyclist. First in neither of those cases you outlined was the yellow jersey in trouble. The unwritten rule in cycling is when the yellow jersey has a mishap, you wait. Armstrong and Ullrich did it for each other in 2001 and 2003 and there are many more cases throughout the years. He might be fast, but Contador is too young and inexperienced to have any respect like that.

    Also, a chain guard is something no respectable rider uses.

    July 20, 2010 at 9:35 pm | Reply
  34. Chris

    David, Lance wasn't in yellow.

    July 20, 2010 at 9:36 pm | Reply
  35. NE

    Please get the facts. Schleck was only behind 13 seconds at the top of the climb. He could have easily caught the rest. But, he lost the lead because he can't descend! By the time Alberto and the rest were finished Andy had lost the time he had Cantador. Schleck will have to prove himself the better rider and not gain advantage because he thinks everyone should wait for him. In Lance Armstrong's first TDF win in 1999 he gained 6 minutes when a crash took down the other leading riders. He won by nearly 7 minutes at the end. These things are part of racing.

    July 20, 2010 at 9:44 pm | Reply
  36. lg

    Nothing uncovers the true character of a man than stress. And, how one behaves in situations such as this is the truest indicator of a man's character.

    A formal apology was issued by Contador because he believed that needed to apologize.

    The legacy left from Contador behavior – personal character is secondary to winning.

    July 20, 2010 at 10:22 pm | Reply
  37. Canary Islands

    Contador was not very loyal in that actión. Here in Spain people think he acted well , but my opinion is that he did not the best for the fair play. he lost an oportunity to show his fair play .. what a pitty-

    July 21, 2010 at 12:58 am | Reply
  38. Rashmin Perla

    Contador cannot hide behind the line that 'he did not know'. There's a team radio right? Sportsmanship is long dead...no one waited for Lance during his mis fortune on the cobble stones.

    The irony is that if Contador wins...he still loses and if he loses he is not as good as Andy !!! There you go.

    July 21, 2010 at 4:12 am | Reply
  39. gilles

    I saw it happening on TV. They were side by side. Contador looked down at Schleck's chain, saw what was happening, and immediately took off as fast as he could, along with Sanchez and Menchov. THAT you dont do.

    July 21, 2010 at 4:27 am | Reply
  40. alberto

    I think Contador do well, if you have a problem in F1 or in motos noone wait you....if the problem was a lesion in his leg.? Contador couldn´t Know it. The problem is that Contador is the N.1 and when one is the BEST people speaks of all the thinks.

    ¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡ A N I M O C O N T A D O R !!!!!!!!!!

    July 21, 2010 at 10:58 am | Reply
  41. Coqui

    If Contador wants to be remembered as a Great Tour de France Champion (like his predecessors over the years), assuming he's got the physical abilitiy and talent to do so having won the Tour twice already, he DOES NOT need any kind of help or cheap advantage, like Andy's chain incident. Even if there are arguments in favor of his taking advantage of the moment, Come on ! you Contador don't need that, you can still win on an even playing field. Show it to the world that you can be like the Mercky's, Hinault's, Indurain's, Armstrong's of the Cycling World, beat them with what you've got, not with what they give you.....free, accidentally.

    July 21, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Reply
  42. GORKA

    LANCE IS OUT IN THIS RACE -HE HAVE TO GO TO YPOUR HOME.
    NOW HE NOW DO NOT HAVE PEOPLE TO PULLED LIKE OTHER TOUR,SO BETTER GO HOME LANCE.
    AND TH ESPAÑISH COMENTRITS LIKE TOO MUCH LANCE ,BUT SHE HAVE TO BE PARCIAL
    SANDOVAL BE PARCIAL.
    GORGE

    July 21, 2010 at 10:10 pm | Reply
  43. Jazzzzdude

    Schleck did have a chain guard fitted as his mechanic confirmed in an interview the following day but they are not 100% reliable.

    @indifferent You're an idiot.

    July 22, 2010 at 9:48 am | Reply
  44. Javier

    Do you all forget that Contador was left behing after a crash and Schleck and the others didn't wait for him???? He lost 1'14 in that stage. Schleck still owes him some time. BRAVO CONTADOR!!! CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!

    July 25, 2010 at 7:57 pm | Reply
  45. terry

    I agree with other posts – this report is highly biased and I agree in particular with posts by Rafael and Varun.

    July 26, 2010 at 3:07 pm | Reply
  46. Greg

    Contador's "I didn't see it" defense is getting old. It sure appears in the video that he got a good look at Schleck's predicament as he went by. "Do whatever it takes, then claim ignorance later."

    July 26, 2010 at 8:05 pm | Reply
  47. rmsbl4

    Scaners to detect hidden engines? Wouldn't it be funny pulling into a gas station along the way to fill-up you bicycle.

    August 2, 2010 at 8:21 am | Reply
  48. Aydin

    Sorry folks but nothing to see hear. All for nothing. Contador did what he does, ride his bike, Andy does the same . Mechanicals happen , that's life. If this were a world cup mountain bike race this would not even be discussed, because you don't have a bunch of cars and techs running after you trying to fix things. Imagine the roadies not having their tech cars following! They would all be dead on the road.

    August 6, 2010 at 3:07 pm | Reply

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