From Hate to Love (or, from intense dislike to grudging admiration)

I’m very conflicted at this moment. I want to hate Alberto Contador. I want him to be a bad person and do bad things so I can hate him. But he’s making it very hard and I’m finding myself wavering.

Of course, my original dislike of Contador started during the Tour last year. I had eyes only for Andy and saw Contador as the evil enemy, denying Andy a win. His reaction during the chain-dropping incident really sealed my dislike for him. I was so angry when Contador attacked after Andy dropped his chain. It just seemed so sneaky and wrong! But, the more I thought about it and the more people talked about it, I realized that while I didn’t like that he had taken advantage of Andy’s misfortune, he wasn’t necessarily wrong to have done it. It’s a race, not a sleepover party and it’s certainly not about making friends. But, my dislike ran deep, and I couldn’t stomach hearing him say how he didn’t see Andy’s mechanical or that he didn’t realize it was so serious. Bull doody. Watching the video it is very clear that Contador saw the chain drop. When Andy’s chain dropped, Vinokourov, who was right behind him, immediately sat up. Even if Contador doesn’t see the chain drop (yeah right!), wouldn’t he have wondered why his teammate sat up all of a sudden? So when Contador tries to explain his attack by saying “I didn’t see anything!” it reeked of dishonesty. You attacked, fine. Own up to it. You did it to win the race. If he would’ve said “Sorry I hurt your feeling Andy, but I had to attack- I wanted to win. Hope we can still be friends,” my opinion of him might have eased. But he didn’t, so I didn’t. After the Tour was over, I vowed to hold him in contempt.

When I read Tour de Lance, my impression of him seemed to be founded. While it was clear Contador got the short end of that stick when it came to being on the same team as Armstrong, I wasn’t willing to let Contador off the hook. As I said in my review of the book,

[Contador seems like] a quiet guy with a wounded personality problem who’s a bit selfish. Not that it’s so bad to be a bit selfish, but when you climb over others to serve yourself, you can’t expect everyone to love you for it.

The divisions on the team came just as much from Armstrong as Contador – one seemed just as capable as the other when it came to underhanded, subtle criticism. They are too similar to co-exist peacefully on the same team.

Then there was the doping positive. And what I perceived as a whining reaction to it all – “whaa, be nice to me or I’m gonna quit cycling!” Another strike.

When the season started, his racing the Giro and potentially stealing the podium from more deserving cyclists fit right into my evil Contador storyline that I had created. But as this Giro has progressed, my intense dislike of him has been wavering. When he attacked for the first time on Stage 8, I was simultaneously impressed and angered. The way he blazed by everyone and bridged up to Gatto, no problem, impressed me. But it still angered me that he attacked at all angered me. If he was going to ride this race, he darn well better not make any attempt to win!

But then, on stage 9, he took the imposing Mt. Etna to showcase his climbing prowess, and powered to a win in a way that made climbing up a volcano look easy. Then during stage 11, he didn’t exactly attack, but he seemed unable to just sit in the peloton, watching the race play out in front of him. Same for stage 13. And stage 14. And 15. And today’s stage 19. Watching his mellow, but unrelenting, attacking style, the way he seems to pass riders as though they are standing still, and the way he can’t seem to not attack has confused my dislike of him. I want to dislike him, but I can’t help but admire his go big or go home attitude. I also can’t help but admire the way his attacking seems to come from a place of intense love of cycling. In all his interviews, he says he attacks because when your legs are good, you can’t say no to them. Even though he has the GC sewn up, he won’t stop attacking and I kinda love him for it. Haven’t we all been lamenting the “defensive” style of riding lately, where riders get their lead through one good attack, then sit and protect it for the rest of the race? Well, here’s someone who’s attacking left, right, and center and it’s awesome to watch.

The way he’s been treating his fellow riders has impressed me as well. While he took stage 9 for himself, he’s not show any interest in taking any more stages. He could’ve handily, at the very least, taken stage 13 and today’s stage, 19. But instead, he let Rujano take stage 13, the little guy who worked so hard to stay on his wheel both that day and on stage 9. Then he helped Tiralingo get the stage win today. Whether or not that was his intent when he attacked, when he did get up to Tiralingo, he pulled his former teammate to the line, then let him have it. Tiralingo might have gotten the stage on his own, but it would have been very, very close, as the chasers were closing fast. He seemed genuinely happy to help his former domestique get his first win of his career.

So now I’m confused! I want to dislike him for racing in the face of an impending ban and for what he did to Andy. But I can’t. He’s racing like it’s his last 3 weeks on Earth and it’s wonderful to watch. He might be a doper, but after watching him race this Giro, I think Contador would still be amazing whether he doped or not. He has a love for cycling that is evident every time he gets on his bike. He has a grace on the bike that is beautiful to watch. His attacking style is amazing to behold. As I come to the end of this post, it seems I am no longer conflicted. I have convinced myself that it is okay to support Contador, because I love cycling and when he’s on the bike, he makes it possible for me to love it even more.


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