The English weather is never welcoming to a Spaniard, but Alberto Contador found a warm welcome yesterday at Dulwich College, where he was the guest of team co-sponsor, Saxo Bank.
In the Great Hall, setting for some of the wizardry of the Harry Potter films, El Pistolero cast his own spell, leaving the young scholars, and Saxo’s more mature clients, open mouthed. With a surprisingly impressive grasp of English for a man who conducts most interviews in his native tongue (an effective barrier against monoglot foreigners in the press corps, one suspects), Contador described the more magical aspects of a professional cyclist’s remit: descending at 100kph, riding for 10km with a broken leg, racking up a cool 35,000km each year.
"Want a signed copy of The Climb?"; "No." pic: Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com
Talk of his last visit to English shores - the glorious Grand Départ of what would turn out to be an ill-starred Tour de France for Contador - prompted memories of the crazed cult of the English spectator, never happier than when stood with back to an advancing peloton, mobile phone poised to capture the impending moment of catastrophe in high definition. Contador shook his head and chuckled in disbelief at our national obsession with the ‘selfie’. The word rang loudly across the hall, clearly registering with the students. Here was a man who, in a very real sense, spoke their language.
The day had begun well for the Vuelta champion, even if his brief sojourn at Herne Hill involved riding his geared bike around the velodrome’s hallowed tarmac (Grand Tour winners clearly have no truck with club bikes). With the potential for accident and injury doubtless uppermost in his mind, Contador was taking no chances with the, ahem, less accomplished riders with whom he shared the track, though a rogue pedestrian nearly took him down. Talk of an attempt at the Hour Record was quickly scotched. While the banking at an indoor track can seem vertiginously steep to the amateur, it clearly lacks the sustained upward gradient to interest Contador. The scenery must seem a little dull too, after the Ancares.
The college pupils were remarkably well behaved. None proffered a copy of Chris Froome’s The Climb for signature, and Rouleur’s emissaries considered the moment inopportune to thrust a freshly printed copy of Issue 51 into his mitt. In matters pertaining to Lance Armstrong, however, Contador had the last laugh - again. Prompted by a guest to recall his attack on the climb to Andorra in the 2009 Tour, he paused, allowed a broad grin to spread slowly across his face, and delivered a reply as decisive as the acceleration that left the American in little doubt that there would be no ‘glorious’ comeback.
"I'm saving that for my book."
STAT’S THE WAY, UH HUH UH HUH
167 – Length in metres of the Kuipke track in Ghent, helping to create its steep banking and intimate, carnival atmosphere.
11 – The record number of Ghent Six Day wins by an individual: Patrick Sercu, between 1965 and 1981.
Merckx, Maertens, booze and brass bands in this gem from the 1977 Ghent Six.