Where’s Alberto?

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Contador

Today sees Alberto Contador’s pre race press conference and he has some explaining to do. Now maybe you know what’s been happening during the last year, you are aware of the series of events beginning with his positive tests, the delays, the rulings, the appeals and more. But millions of French citizens aren’t aware of these intricacies

So like or not, the positive tests from last summer have left many scratching their heads. This isn’t about doping, it’s more giving the French public an explanation and the chance to put his side of the story. Only nobody’s seen him in France.

With his case heading for the Court of Arbitration for Sport and the inherent uncertainty this creates over both last summer’s result and his ongoing presence in the bunch you’d think he’d be working hard to convince the French that he deserves a cheer this July, he could even do it with humour by saying he should have eaten some delicious French meat instead. But no, we’ve hardly heard from him. In the vacuum the UCI’s had to issue a request that people treat Contador fairly.

L’opinion publique
In an opinion poll conducted in France by IFOP 63% of those asked said they were against Contador’s presence in the race. That said the question was loaded:

Alberto Contador, suspected of doping in the 2010 Tour de France, is getting ready to start the upcoming edition on 2 July. Are you in favour or against his presence in the 2011 Tour de France?

Now when you start a question with the mention of dopage then it’s bound to lead to skewed results. But let’s not dwell too long on polling methodology. After all, the media are going to bring up the subject of last summer’s unresolved business quite frequently too.

Indeed if newspapers like L’Equipe are predictable cheerleaders for the race – Tour race organiser ASO owns the newspaper – other newspapers are arch cynics. The establishment newspaper Le Monde has in the past refused to print the results, claiming they were meaningless and determined by pharmaceuticals. Clearly commercial rivalry means some sections of the media are only too happy to talk down the Tour de France.

Given the skepticism ahead, you’d think Contador’s entourage would have planned a few set piece media appearances to help him reach out to sports fans, to get his side of the argument across. He’s been spending time in France for training and met with the Belgian media for an interview… but next to nothing with the host country.

Maybe that’s just his style. After all he’s used to feeling beseiged, he’s had to fend off criticism from his own team mates in 2009 when he confounded Lance Armstrong. You could say he’s got better things to do than look innocent in front of the cameras and maybe no matter how many appeals he makes on French TV he could still struggle to convince those who say “non” in opinion polls.

Summary
Up to 15 million people could be standing by the roads this summer. Many don’t understand the details but they do wonder if Contador cheated to a win last year. Given all that has happened, it’s curious to see he’s so quiet when it comes to putting his story. I’m surprised he’s not tried to reach out to the French public with a few pre race interviews and set piece appearances on TV shows.

If he finds fans running along side him dangling steaks, if the roads contain bovine graffiti and if the media keep asking him what’s going on then this will partly be thanks to his silence on the matter. Meanwhile Andy Schleck speaks fluent French.

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{ 40 comments }

Guadzilla June 30, 2011 at 9:07 am

Seriously, your personal dislike for Contador is affecting the quality of your blog. I read Inner Ring b/c your articles are usually well thought out and even when subjective opinions are aired, they are well reasoned.

This is just yellow journalism – poison pen at its finest. I am disappointed.

The Inner Ring June 30, 2011 at 9:15 am

Guadzilla: eh? I’ve nothing against him and have set out the timing of events – if anything my criticism has been of the UCI and institutional delays.

If I expressed it wrongly above, all I’m saying is that he’s missed a chance to get the average French citizen on his side, that he needs to get his message out to the French public, many don’t understand what’s happened and because he’s been very quiet, others will fill the vacuum with steak jokes.

Gary June 30, 2011 at 9:18 am

Adopting the “innocent until proven guilty” stance, the next 3 weeks could be a nightmare for Bert. Even more reason then to be on some sort of charm offensive, I’d have thought. Riis seems to be keeping his distance so far too. Another lonely Tour beckons for Contador methinks.

Alan J June 30, 2011 at 9:25 am

@ Guadzilla Never read any bias against Contador on this blog – EVER! Never ceases to amaze me how his defenders are so vociferous. Mind you it’s the same with Lance…

Rob June 30, 2011 at 9:54 am

@Inner Ring: I think this is a balanced entry, its important to highlighted how little people understand – this is not just the case in France; unfortunately this issue is so much at the hands of opinion-makers in the worldwide media its untrue. Ignore Guadzilla. Keep up the good work and enjoy Le Tour.

Gadi June 30, 2011 at 10:01 am

The only thing missing from your blog is not mentioning what got Mr. LA out of standing in front of everybody shouting his stupidities.
I can agree that, as you have said, he has better things to do, considering that the French will be hostile toward him no matter what he says.

Bomsie June 30, 2011 at 10:02 am

I didn’t read any bias towards Contador.

I thought that this article was a typical Inrng gem. An observation on something that many may have subconsciously thought about, but not really questioned in words.

I’ve seen the ‘fans’ running alongside Contador hanging steaks on string in front of him as he rides and wondered what is going through his mind? Guilty or not, this would put immense pressure on anyone and Contador seems able to cope with it and smile through.

Again, no anti-Contador bias in my view, more a take on the reaction of the general French public to suddenly seeing someone they were told was caught doping last year back again a year later in the same race.

An excellent piece in my opinion that broadens my knowledge and thoughts on pro-cycling.

Alex June 30, 2011 at 10:16 am

His quietness is fairly predictable. He’s been quiet all year. Even wanting rid of the pink jersey to reduce press obligations in the Giro. I personally think he’s at his most effective like this. You suggest humour, but unless someone was going to write it for him, I’m not sure he’d pull it off.

I think it’s a sign that he doesn’t really care about anything other than winning. Having said that he did seem a little shaken by what he thought were boos at the Giro, and obviously last year with chaingate. But, honestly, I think he’d rather win and be unpopular.

I just hope that for entertainment’s sake someone can put up a solid fight against him.

Wobbler June 30, 2011 at 11:02 am

Another great article, and no bias. I find it very odd that he’s been so silent, he won a few fans at the Giro by letting Rujano and Tiralongo grab a stage win but I doubt the french public will be so forgiving and he’ll be under much more pressure by the crowds. This could be Andy’s big chance to grab the support (as you implied at the end) and the Tour. Contadors own silence could be his downfall

The Inner Ring June 30, 2011 at 11:16 am

Thanks for the comments about bias, I was worried I’d expressed myself badly above as I didn’t want to come across anti-Contador.

As a follow up I’d say public opinion can matter. Over the last 100 years the public has often sided with the likes of Poulidor over Anquetil and Contador could gain support by a few media appearances. He won’t please everyone but having the crowd on your side can help. Even if he doesn’t want to, then you’d think at least his team would be after a better public image?

Note he’s toured the media in Spain to put his message across. Anyway, it’s no big deal, just an observation that he might have missed something.

GreaseMonster June 30, 2011 at 11:27 am

inrng has mentioned before in the PR game in France and most of Europe, Schleck is light years ahead of Contador and his continuation of avoiding the media where he will get hard questions is not doing him any favours.

Guilherme Neves June 30, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Contador will start the Tour from Madrid. You know, to see if it sparks a bit more competition =D
Seriously, he’s probably under some strict rules to not talk with the media unless at specific occasions.

daniel alpin June 30, 2011 at 12:36 pm

i know the previous comments have expressed it but i agree, i didn’t take an anti-contador message from the above post. i like contador and i think he recieves a bit too much flak for no other reason than he shys away from the spotlight and has no competition in stage races. i think no matter what he does he’ll lose so he opts to keep his head down and win races instead.

daniel alpin June 30, 2011 at 12:36 pm

receives*

SlapshotJC June 30, 2011 at 1:03 pm

The article is fine, even this Contador fanboy will say that: what I would add is that Alberto is doing nothing different than he has done before in my view. He is quiet, he doesn’t purposely try to make a scene, he’s the complete opposite of the character you maybe suggest he should become just to court public opinion.

That’s fine by me but I’m more inclined to think he’ll shirk that to make sure he’s ready to do the main job he needs to do over the next three weeks.

GluteCramp June 30, 2011 at 1:22 pm

An interesting article. I concur re: lack of bias. But perhaps not doing the media engagements is a smart move – think how badly he came off when he started up with “next question” after LeMond starting questioning his numbers. Lawyers don’t ask questions in a courtroom if they don’t already know the answer and I think AC’s advisors will be of the same mindset right now – partially opening up to the media is like being a little bit pregnant, and the wrong question wouldn’t be hard for even Fox News to stumble across.
Although positive publicity would probably be be welcome, generally he likes to avoid taking risks – and the downside to a poor media showing could be much, much worse – disbelieving fans with steaks are bad, but a crowd of people (or even an individual) actively dissatisfied with him could get ugly fast (although extremely unlikely all it would take is one very pissed-off fan and a bit of a shove and AC’s tour could be over).
I don’t think I’d be willing to risk making things worse than they already are. He already has the peloton and respected journalists blaming the UCI more than him for the ongoing farce, so what’s a couple of annoying spectators between him and the top step in Paris?

Phil June 30, 2011 at 1:36 pm

@Guadzilla: Bertie, is that you???

Gingerflash June 30, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Isn’t it correct that he has a policy of only ever giving interviews in Spanish for fear of failing to express himself correctly? If so, that’s hardly going to endear him to the French.

As you say, Schleck is comfortable in English and French. He’s usually criticised for being too nice, not unapproachable and aloof like Contador.

Perhaps generally, like Anquetil was advised, Contador needs to fail and fail badly every now and then in order to be popular. I have come to resent his dominance because it takes the competition out of my favourite races.

BTW – I don’t think you’re biased either.

Gingerflash June 30, 2011 at 3:07 pm

“partially opening up to the media is like being a little bit pregnant”

I disagree. He could have done some carefully arranged and controlled interviews with a favoured magazine or newspaper: an “exclusive” done on condition that Contador and Riis can check and censor it before publication.

In their nice cosy interviews, how often do ProCycling or CycleSport challenge riders about difficult issues?

Guadzilla June 30, 2011 at 3:13 pm

@TiR – that’s not how I read your article. The guy is arriving in France a day or two later, and you start your article by not only linking it to the doping allegations but also make it out that he is doing further wrong somehow.

You really think 15 million French TdF fans have NO idea what has happened in this saga so far and are waiting with bated breath for this press conference to form an opinion? Really?

Then you write things like “you’d think he’d be working hard to convince the French that he deserves a cheer this July” – as if people havent formed their opinions one way or the other already.

Could it be – and I am going on a limb here – that with the Tour a day away, he’s actually focusing on his racing and switching off from this drama that has been going for a year? Naaah. Too far-fetched, right?

I guess it is a matter of perspective and maybe I did misread between the lines. Apparently I am the only one of your readers who felt that way, anyway. Oh well. Has the race started yet?

rufio June 30, 2011 at 4:36 pm

@Gingerflash

“As you say, Schleck is comfortable in English and French. He’s usually criticised for being too nice, not unapproachable and aloof like Contador.”

Good comment on the fickle nature of both fans and the media. On one hand we have an engaging, personable cyclist who, while not always actively seeking it, certainly doesn’t shy away from the media. He is fairly consistently described as not having the killer instinct, the mental edge necessary to win at the highest levels.

On the other hand we have a cyclist who clearly has the tenacity and drive to make those around him suffer while winnning the sports biggest races, regardless of media, teammate, or fan opinion. He is consistently derided for not being more engaging with regards to the controversy surrounding him and more open to media outlets, especially those outside his native country.

Almost seems a damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario; so what is the right choice?

Bundle June 30, 2011 at 5:18 pm

But Contador does care, and a lot, about his PR (remember his video almost apologizing for having done his job, that is, attacking his rival when he was in trouble?). He will have plenty of days with microphones around, to say what he thinks will help him, and plenty of kilometers to speak with the pedals. His basic line of defence, in the long run, beyond the doping case, is “I’m the best, by far, and regardless”. And, by the way, by being more outspoken, Andy can very well putting the pressure on himself. Maybe he’s trying to create and “David against Goliath” kind of plot, but Davids very seldom beat Goliaths in this ruthless sport. And he’s the one who has to attack, and wildly.

Guadzilla June 30, 2011 at 5:24 pm

Another factor with the media is the native languages.

Take another sporting icon – Michael Schumacher. He comes across as being very aloof and standoffish in English media, but has a completely different public persona in German media. Same with Alonso and Contador.

Some of it has to do with a greater comfort level in their native language (although Schumacher’s English is fluent). Some of it also has to do with nationalistic bias in various media – the Spanish media is naturally going to write more favorably about Alonso and Contador. The British media will of course hype up Our Lewis and Wiggo. And also the Northern/Southern European bias (which is very real).

All these factors greatly affect how different sportpeople are perceived in different media. Different people handle it differently. And of course, the media also strengthens this by giving more favorable coverage to the guy who is always personable, has something quoteworthy to say, etc. etc. vs the taciturn, monosyllabic guy.

the lower depths June 30, 2011 at 5:25 pm

“I’m surprised he’s not tried to reach out to the French public with a few pre race interviews and set piece appearances on TV shows.”
what? to the French? the fans that fell over themselves to kiss the hem of Virenque’s bibs, even after he confessed? the fans that go batshit if one of their riders places in the top 15? those guys? why? they might like him (marginally) if he rode for AG2R or Cofidis … and then just barely.

as for Andy’s ability to explain why he hasn’t won a major stage race in French? pffft (as they say in France) …

i believe Contador is doing the right thing from a PR stance : keep quiet, everyone has their own opinion and he’s not going to change their minds one jot with his explanations, and let your legs do the talking …

and hat’s off to Kimmage for being the crusty old sea salt of the journalist flotilla …

xyz June 30, 2011 at 6:10 pm

From your twitter:
“Unfair on Contador as convicted dopers get applause. But public isn’t aware of picograms & CAS appeals, all they know is he tested positive.”
The fault lies with the media, they have constantly portrayed him as a doper and have not bothered with explaining the case so the public can understand what it is about.
I have said this long ago, and if a tragic accident happens during the tour I’ll blame all the media.
It is not a question about Saxo handling the press, it is alone a question about the press handling the case.
None of the press have even tried to explain the difference between the numerous different doping cases in the peloton, a positive test = bad guy = hang him, and now they all blame the public for booing, talk about double standards.

JT June 30, 2011 at 9:16 pm

Is Alberto’s brother still his press officer? He always came across as being way out of his depth, for instance the handling of ‘chaingate’ was amateurish at best. Perhaps this explains the recent lack of a coherent plan of attack, one which makes the best of the situation. Hiding looks bad.

The Inner Ring June 30, 2011 at 9:20 pm

JT: Fran Contador does some work but is more his business agent these days. Instead it’s Jacinto Vidarte, who was previously the unfortunate press officer for the Liberty Seguros team, charged with explaining just what team owner Manolo Saiz was doing with Dr Fuentes.

Beth June 30, 2011 at 9:33 pm

Everyone’s comments here are all pretty insightful and well-expressed. And you all know a lot more about this than I do. I can only add that Contador has several times blamed the press for making all of this worse than it already was (from his point of view). And his lawyers, I think, are threatening to sue someone or other about the propagation of that plasticizers story. And it was the press, after all, that forced this story into the open while the UCI was trying to keep it quiet. So naturally he feels besieged by the media and blames them (us) for hanging and quartering him in the blogosphere and elsewhere. I’d be shy too if I were him. And I’m damned glad I’m not.

the lower depths June 30, 2011 at 10:38 pm

and speaking of those wonderful French tifosi … they boo’ed (loudly) when Saxo Bank was presented and Alberto stepped up … i’m really hoping they behave themselves on the road … it’s tough enough to ride through that throng without fearing for your safety at their hands …

note to Alberto : please pay them no mind but their legs off on the way to Paris? thanks …

bikecellar June 30, 2011 at 11:47 pm

So, where has he been since the finish of the giro, not at the Dauphine or Tour de Suisse, so where? doing what? has he had any out of competition tests since the Giro? Cycling friends of mine have said he is resting because he is aiming for the triple 3 grand tours? The other contenders for the overall have all continued to race so why not Bert what’s the plan?

bikecellar June 30, 2011 at 11:55 pm

@ the lower depths
Em, it’s The Tour de France, not the Tour de whatever nationality you are, Their Tour, hijacked by Big Bucks for years ,no wonder their fed up.

GluteCramp July 1, 2011 at 12:39 am

Interesting thoughts, particularly regarding the French.

Contador became incredibly popular in France after he lost Paris-Nice when he bonked in the mountains. Even though he Rode Himself Inside Out (thanks Phil Liggett!) and only lost about 6 minutes he was still done for, despite trying a Landis the next day.
The French media loved him for failing just as much as they loved him for attacking the next day and loved him even more because the attack didn’t work.

Maybe he needs to go to the Dauphine next year and make a big show of attacking for the win, and then blowing up and losing lots of time? Then he’d be human and the French would cheer him on the side of the roads during the Tour…

Or am I being too cynical?

the lower depths July 1, 2011 at 1:34 am

@bikecellar … thanks for correcting me, i was under the mistaken impression that the Tour was an internationally open, sponsored and paid for sporting event that welcomed bike racers of all nationalities racing around France and brought in many millions in tourist revenue and TV broadcast rights to France …

and i can certainly understand them being ticked off when them pesky foreigners come and win THEIR race (the nerve!) without so much as a “merci …” and some of them are not even socialists!! quelle horreur!

oh, and a scan of the wire services will inform you that Alberto has been, after that storming Giro that ended on My 29th (seems like so much more than just 30 days ago, non?) resting for a bit and then off to recon the mountain stages of the upcoming Tour … c’mon man, you have the Googles and the Internets … use ‘em!

Rider Council July 1, 2011 at 1:36 am

Andy Schleck is fluent in French? He really must want to win the Tour then.

Beth July 1, 2011 at 1:49 am

GluteCramp: Yes you’re being cynical but I love your commentary!

PT July 1, 2011 at 2:02 am

Alberto seems like a quite chap, whatever his language so I’m guessing that unless pushed, he would rather never speak about this matter in the media. Neverthless, its a big question mark hanging over him for all of us following the tour.

Moreover, the validity of his drug test is not in question (IIRC) – it was a failure. He is trying to prove innocence from a position of guilt. Don’t mean to stir a hornets nest but, this is the opposite to Lance who, despite all that has been said and written, has not failed a drug test. This is perhaps why Alberto was booed. His drug test has brought a cloud to a race which is beloved by millions of French ( and other) people.

Really, Alberto being booed highlights how much the UCI is failing cycling on this matter. They’d rather compromise the biggest cycling event in the world than clear up their affairs in a timely manner.

the lower depths July 1, 2011 at 2:02 am

@bikecellar … sorry, forgot to mention it … while you’re googling away at Alberto’s whereabouts … and on the topic of “Their Tour, hijacked by Big Bucks for years …” could you look up the history of the Tour?

apparently, it was started for money!!! those wily Frenchmen! turns out a French rag called L’Auto was not selling as much as they wanted and they started an open to the public (later closed to only professionals) biking event around their country to raise sales and profit … so money has been at the heart of it all along!!!

is nothing in this world untainted by the hideous siren call of moolah??

Goozzer July 1, 2011 at 2:08 am

I think that Contador, just als many other Europeans (except the french), just know that it would be lost energy trying to change the minds of the French public. Of course the following will be an generalization but the French aren’t the most profound people out there, they are quite fixed and conservatively hang onto their own ideas and valuation of things, one way or the other and very outspoken. This isn’t only the matter in sports, but also in politics etc. They have a revolutionary background and untill today’s reality the French are synonym tot protest and strike (rêve)…

Contador could try to influence the public, but it’s a tough job. Especially, taking in consideration the next problem. Will the French media, what also counts for (too) much of their colleagues, give him a straight chance? I don’t want to take sides, but (again) too much journalists don’t really seem to understand all the details, or are not willing to. It’s a problem that works out square negative, first making it very hard for Contador to make his statement and second (extra) influencing the public one-sided – with the known outcome…

bikecellar July 2, 2011 at 12:36 am

@ lower depths. I have followed the Tour since 1964 and spent two years living and racing in Brittany in the mid 70s. So I know the Tour and the French people pretty well. What never ceases to amaze me is the animosity shown to the organisers and the French public/fans by some Tour fans of other nations. Bottom line, if Contador wins and is later disqualified we all look stupid, no matter what nation we come from, for following such a tainted sport, but it is the french tour which will lose out most of all, the french have done more than most to eradicate doping, just look at the police activity this week, do we see police searching team vehicles in other countries?

Anonymous July 9, 2011 at 9:58 pm

In the meantime, Alberto has crept back to 20th after today’s stage. Next week will answer some begging questions following the mutual looks between Andy & hs nemesis hitherto today at Super-Besse. Enthralling battle to come I hope.

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