Can Alberto Contador do the Giro d’Italia – Tour de France double? It’s the big question right now. With the Giro in our minds and in his legs, much of the talk is of managing the fatigue and peaking again in July. Surely Contador’s biggest problem isn’t the success he’s just enjoyed nor the tapering and training, it’s the challenge of trying to beat Nairo Quintana, Chris Froome, Vincenzo Nibali and others in July. Talk of “the double” implies a parity between the Giro and Tour that doesn’t exist.
Precedent: The double as a concept has been done before but the last successful combo was Marco Pantani 1998 doppietta, itself an unusual result given the Tour peloton was pruned by the police. Miguel Indurain did it in 1992, Laurent Fignon was eight seconds away from it in 1989. Others have done it too, notably Bernard Hinault twice and Eddy Merckx thrice.
It’s been a matter of fashion, in one season riding the Giro is ruinous, in others it is en vogue. See when Bradley Wiggins was using the Giro as part of his pre-Tour prep this decade. Contador himself took the 2011 Giro and then finished fifth in the Tour de France behind Cadel Evans; Contador was subsequently stripped of the Giro by the Court of Arbitration for Sport but we can still make the physiological comparison. That year Contador’s Tour didn’t work out but he crashed early in the race and soldiered on and was still a contender until the final days until he cracked on the Galibier. Was it the injury or the Giro that did this? More recently Rafał Majka was sixth in the 2014 Giro and then had an excellent Tour de France with two stage wins and the polka dot jersey too and all after a last minute call-up; not the same as trying to win both but instructive none the less.
y > x: conceptually the double might mean “two” but it’s only 1+1 in the most elementary of arithmetic. In reality the Tour de France is harder thanks to a deeper field and more prestigious. Ascribe a value to x+y=2 where x is the Giro and y is the Tour and most would place a premium on winning the latter.
In physiological terms the values could be inverse. In caricature the Giro’s climbs are steep and twisty, the kind of efforts where you need that zip and zing in the legs. By contrast the French climbs are longer, ski-station steady climbs where you grind out results: a stale rider can still ride hard. If a fresher rival wants to launch yo-yo attacks in July the ex-Giro rider doesn’t have to respond but can instead ride tempo on the even gradients and use the force they gained from the Giro to patiently pull back their rivals or at least contain them. Again, that’s a caricature of each race but enough to use as a base for tactics on some stages.This year’s combo is a hard one. The Giro has been very tiring although for all the complaints in the peloton during May, Contador was rarely on the receiving end. The 2015 Tour is awkward with an opening week that will test riders before several summit finishes of varying types and no steady-state time trialling at all.
Training: yesterday L’Equipe asked Ag2r’s coach Jean-Baptiste Quiclet about the training plans. Quiclet suggests Contador needs to keep up the workload. You might think Contador needs rest after the Giro but for a racing cyclist this means active recovery. No oxymoron it means alternating solid training rides with recovery. Having celebrated the Giro in Madrid Contador will return to his home in Switzerland and then head for an altitude training camp in St Moritz. The idea is to train hard but within limits so that the body recovers.
Freshness: doing the double isn’t an isolated feat, it has to be seen within the context of the rest of the season. Contador has been counting his race days this year and will start the Tour with only 44 number of race days if he rides the Route du Sud later this month. It’s more than Chris Froome and Vincenzo Nibali but not much and Nairo Quintana could have more depending on his programme this month as he’s already on 32 days this year. Of course the timing of all these days matters, Quintana’s count is boosted by January’s Tour de San Luis. But if he rides the Route du Sud Contador will have only four days of racing in June given he’ll skip the Spanish national championships once again.
Rivals > Fatigue: One thing Alberto Contador will find a lot harder in July isn’t the lethargy in his legs, it’s his rivals for the yellow jersey. It’s one thing beat Fabio Aru and Mikel Landa but another to take on Astana’s boss-level leader Vincenzo Nibali and put time into Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana and others too, the field will be that much deeper. Had Contador built 2015 on just winning the Tour, avoiding the Giro, a win in July would not be certain. Contador was solid in the Giro but the competition wasn’t as high and he still cracked on the Finestre. Now 32 years old and having announced a retirement date he’s not got that searing acceleration where he’d take 30 seconds on a climb in no time and preserve this to the end. It’s the prospect of competition that makes the Tour exciting already.
Mental gain: we’ll see who wins the Dauphiné and the Tour de Suisse. These are great races but combined they don’t amount to the Giro. Contador starts the Tour with an enormous advantage of having nothing to lose. Froome, Quintana and Nibali have built their entire season around Le Tour and you can imagine the stress this brings if things start to crumble. Sure Contador has said he wants le doublé but when he looks at his rivals he can relax because he’s already won big and they haven’t. In technical terms he’s got “flow”, the state of mind where he’s immersed in a task and it’s all going to plan.
Contador’s biggest problem isn’t the Giro, it’s the opposition waiting for him in July. Winning the Giro is enormous and something to be celebrated, good on him for going where others spent May in Tenerife. But talk of a double implies parity between the Giro and the Tour and that’s not the case. Contador was ahead of two Astana riders and he’s now got to take on their leader. Beating Vincenzo Nibali, Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana plus all the others is a huge challenge for Contador, even with fresh legs. The Giro makes it just that bit harder but it also provides a mental booster, Contador can race this July knowing that whatever happens he’s got his name on a trophy. Can Contador win the double? Yes but the uncertainty makes the challenge and the next two months all the more exciting.