Fun With Alberto

It’s not every day that a bike company makes a bike that is ridden to a Grand Tour victory. And even for those that do, having the winner drop by your office is less common. It was a big day in Morgan Hill for the Specialized staff to have Alberto Contador come by for a tour of the facility. It was an occasion that gave founder Mike Sinyard a chance to address the staff in a way he seemed born to do. In his introductory remarks you could see each of those sides of the man that have made Specialized a revered and feared (detested?) competitor: He was at once a passionate bike enthusiast, a visionary business leader, a staff cheerleader and the strictest of taskmasters.

After Mike and Alberto addressed the staff, Tom Larter and crew gave Alberto and the cadre of pressies a tour of the Specialized HQ. As Alberto was being shown the first Specialized road bike, the Sequoia, Alberto spontaneously began telling the story—in broken English and sound effects—of how he removed the brake cable braze-ons from the top tube of his first road bike with a grinder and then made holes in the top tube for internal cable routing. When he lacked a verb he went with “Vvvvv-vvvv!”

I was struck by how comfortable he was telling stories of his past, that he understood his place as a champion and how those stories of a humble beginning inform a portrait of someone. While he moved with humility, he was the epitome of someone comfortable in his own skin.

Scott Holz is the head of Specialized Bicycle Component University (SBCU) and arguably one of the world’s foremost authorities on fit. His résumé includes stints at places like New York’s Signature Cycles before deciding to teach others how to fit riders. His enthusiasm for the reach Specialized has is infectious.

This is the bike cage that holds the bikes ridden by SBCU students. Each attendee gets to ride both road and mountain bikes.

I don’t even recall what Mike was talking about during this part of the tour, but what I found remarkable was how comfortable the two were with each other. So often I see deferential interplay between athletes and sponsors, sometimes the sponsor bowing to the star athlete, sometimes the athlete genuflecting before the meal ticket.

These are but two of the many show bikes (as in for Interbike) that Robert Egger and his crew have created over the years. These “Go-Go” bikes incorporated a martini mixing station which Larter is showing off, a pannier purse compartment and handlebar-mounted compact make-up case for the go-go girl on the, uh, go.

Within the Morgan Hill facility lies a fully-functional Specialized Concept Store to give the big red “S” a chance to showcase what it believes best practices to be. It’s accurate down to the last detail, even including other brands where Specialized thinks the best fit is. Alberto stopped to check out a photo of him with Sinyard and the Giro trophy following his win earlier that year.

Following the tour we went out for the lunch ride, of which you’ve already seen photos. Afterward we grabbed lunch and then did a final press conference interview before heading for airports. Rather than rehash the entire interview here, I’ve selected some highlights.

 

On the responsibility of team leadership: “I am the leader of my team. I need to movtivate all my teammates for victory.”

Regarding BMC and its many acquisitions: “If you’re going to look at the entire season, they might get a lot of great results, with a good program. If you look at the Tour de France, I don’t think all those new riders are going to make a great team.”

On the difficulty of the Giro: “There should be a little more control. This year there was a stage that was 7.5 hours. That day went a bit over. We climbed the Giau and Marmolada; it was just too much. I think with shorter stages the race is more beautiful because the riders are fresher at the finish.

On PR: “I believe it is very important to come here to meet with the sponsor and to interact with the fans. Social networking, like Facebook, is very important.

On Team Sky: “For sure, it is a very strong team and they will have a great roll in the Tour de France. But considering the overall win, there are teams that are better than Sky. BMC, RadioShack, Saxo Bank (laughs).”

On being beatable: “There is nobody in the world who is unbeatable. Everyone prepares for the win, but there are many factors, many variables that a rider can’t control, so no one is unbeatable.”

On his relationship with Specialized: “I definitely feel very lucky to have good companies to support me. For sure I feel that Specialized is the one that is more in touch with me and more follow my demands and inputs.

On Lance: “With Lance, we both had the same objective. I respect that he was a great champion and that he had this ambition of winning. I would have thought that our relationship would have been closer. I believe that if we were to meet now, our relationship would be very different.”

On Bruyneel: “I perfectly understand it [his relationship with Lance]. Like many people say, Lance and Bruyneel are one person. They made history together. The relationship they had—we couldn’t build up in one year. He was staying more with Lance; even though I understood it, it was difficult at times.

 

 

 

 

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8 comments


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Michael: I think that was Specialized’s real goal behind bringing him over. And very likely why they invited me. I haven’t been easy on him and part of my response to him in the past has been due to the way he had come off in the media. He’s a truly decent guy.

      That doesn’t change my incredulous attitude when he said he believed his CAS appeal would have a favorable outcome. No one ever beats the house. Even so, given the sheer number of illogical occurrences and decisions coming out of the UCI mean I shouldn’t allow myself to think I know how his case will be decided.

  1. Big Mikey

    Good to hear you are open to a change of opinion, Padraig. Interesting to read your impressions of the guy after meeting/talking with him.

    I’ve been impressed with the guy in interviews I’ve seen. Even through the language barrier, he seems to come off as sincere and likable. The OLN guys do a number on him every July, but the more I see, the more I like the guy.

    Note that this has no bearing on whether he doped or not. Tyler was quite likable as well, by all accounts.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Jeepers: That might be my favorite comment of all time.

      I can tell you those Go-Go bikes would be right at home here in L.A. with the Midnite Ridazz.

      But I like where you were going with your comment. Yes I do.

  2. Andy

    Alberto, love him or hate him, is an amazing rider. The more I read about him the more I’m reminded of Miguel Indurain. Both are quiet, self assured and determined. While very few Americans followed cycling in the prime of Indurain’s career, I tend to think that he would have gotten much the same response that Contador has gotten from western media. American’s like their champions loud, chest pounding and brash and neither Indurain and Alberto have ever been that way.

    So did he cheat? I’m sure he did, if not in this current Clem. case, than in the past. Do I care? After watching this summer’s Le Tour…….not a dang bit.

    I really enjoyed your write ups from riding with Mr. Contador, thanks for taking the time to be a professional journalist and giving an accurate account of your first had observations rather than just a jaded blogger with a very public ax grinding forum.

  3. vectorbug

    It’s unfortunate that its so hard to find good press in American cycling journalism on AC as a person who has won some amazing races. They don’t really paint him as a villian, but there isn’t nearly as much coverage on him as there has been on LA. I suppose the reverse is true in Spain as well.

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