Yesterday’s pathetic apology by Alberto Contador for his apparent lack of etiquette and the subsequent stage-managed kiss-and-make up with Andy Schleck was a classic example of how PR and sponsorship is ruining good, old-fashioned sporting rivalry.
The reason Contador received a hammering in the press was because he had the cheek to catch up, overtake and cross the line ahead of leader Schleck, after the Luxembourg rider lost his chain in the Pyrenees on Monday. The Spaniard gained 39 seconds and an eight-second lead over his rival, but by doing so was accused of showing bad form because he should have waited.
Hold the phone a second, bike fans. If Jenson Button loses a tyre at the German grand prix on Sunday, will Lewis Hamilton or Sebastian Vettel hang around and wait while he pits? If Usain Bolt’s shoelaces come undone while running the 100 metres, will Tyson Gay stop and tie them up for him?
If Schleck lost his chain then that’s just hard lines. The bike can break down just like the cyclist and when it does you just have to just suck it up and get on with it. The only disappointing thing from Contador was that he retracted his initial statement that he hadn’t done anything wrong by announcing on YouTube, “Maybe I made a mistake,” – the ‘maybe’ entirely betraying the fact that he was following sponsors’ orders.
Contador’s apology was about as convincing as the notion that the sport is drugs free. The farce that ensued on the following day was even worse, as both riders raced the entire stage side by side and then hugged at the end for the cameras. Seriously, pass the bucket. If he owes anyone an apology, it’s to cycling fans and, more importantly, punters who backed Contador to win that stage.
Cycling has such a bad image that when something like this happens the authorities and the sponsors bend over backwards to try and prove that there is integrity in the sport. Who are they trying to kid?
Sport needs rivalry, gamesmanship and controversy. It’s what makes it interesting. It doesn’t need interfering, politically correct sponsors insulting our intelligence and, worse still, ruining our bets.