It’s a universal truth of being a journalist at the Tour de France, that you collect the best material when you least expect it, and usually in the most surprising places.
So it was this afternoon when my conversation with another rider in the ground floor bar of Annecy’s Impérial Palace was interrupted by a fusillade of expletives originating from the mouth of Fabian Cancellara.
It’s fair to say that the rider known as Spartacus wasn’t overly thrilled with his second place behind Alberto Contador. Call it a hunch, but that’s the impression I got from the multilingual tirade to no-one in-particular with which Cancellara announced his arrival.
The object of his dismay? Not so much Contador as the motorbikes which, Cancellara believed, had hoovered the Spaniard to victory.
Several “Vaffancullos!” later, Cancellara had just about calmed down. He then sank a cold beer and threatened to “buy a motorbike to do my next time trial on.”
Cancellara should take heart from the fact that, while he did the business on the road, Contador’s performance in his post-race press conference was, by all accounts, horrendous. I wasn’t there, but for once it didn’t take long to catch up on whatever juicy sound bites I’d missed.
That’s because Contador was asked three questions — all vaguely connected to a column penned by Greg LeMond in the newspaper Le Monde this morning — and he refused to answer all three.
The title of LeMond’s piece was self-explanatory: “Alberto, prove to me that we can believe in you.”
The three press conference questions, two of which came from a Le Monde journalist, were as follows:
1. Can you please respond to what Greg LeMond said in Le Monde about proving that you’re not doped?
2. You were the fastest up Verbier, and now you’re the fastest in this time trial. Can you explain that ?
3. Can you please tell us what your VO2 Max is?
Contador’s three answers were identical: “Next question”.
Now, you might say that Contador did well not to dignify such loaded questions with a response. You might say that, but if you do, you’re sorely mistaken.
Whether Contador has something to hide or not, I’m sorry, but it takes a fool to think that refusing to answer questions about doping is a smart PR move. Or to think that it’s the best way to nip such scrutiny in the bud. A fool or just someone who was born yesterday and not, as Contador’s birth certificate states, long before Festina or Operacion Puerto or any of the other scandals that have brought professional cycling to its knees over the past decade.
For us journalists – or at least those who heard him – it must have been like traveling back in time to that execrable half-hour we spent hanging on Floyd Landis’s every guilt-ridden word in Montceau-les-Mines in 2006. The Tour was about to finish and Landis was the champion elect. A bit like Contador’s today, the American didn’t wanted to answer any questions even vaguely related to doping.
We all know what happened next.
At the end of a Tour whose scandals have been mercifully confined to the road, it would have been nice to feel that trend will continue when Contador steps onto the podium in Paris and even beyond.
Tonight, he had an opportunity to instill that confidence. Tonight, Contador made his first major faux pas of the Tour.