Alberto Contador: Future Cycling Legend

Alex KerstetterContributor IJuly 23, 2009

ANNECY, FRANCE - JULY 23:  Race leader Alberto Contador of Spain and Astana rides towards victory on stage 18 of the 2009 Tour de France, a 40km Time Trial around Lake Annecy, on July 23, 2009 in Annecy, France.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

Alberto Contador continues to show why his explosive riding style earned him the nickname "El Pistolero" in professional cycling's biggest race, the Tour de France.

The 26 year-old Spaniard has fended off attacks from his top competitors, while riding one of the best Tours of his life.  With today's Stage 18 time trail victory, it will be hard for anyone to deny that Alberto Contador is cycling's next Lance Armstrong, as he is just three stages away from leaving Paris with the yellow jersey for the second time in three tries during his short pro career.

The irony of both being on the same team is almost unbelievable, and although their relationship might have gotten off on the wrong foot, they both know what their jobs within the team (Astana) include. 

Armstrong knows he must be the perfect teammate to Contador who knows that he himself must ride to be 1st overall in the General Classification when the Tour concludes on July 25th.

Contador burst on the cycling scene in 2007 when he won the tour and collected the Best Young Rider Classification, in only his second time riding in the illustrious race.  During a time trial on the tour's penultimate stage, Contador fended off superior time trialist Cadel Evans and Levi Leipheimer to retain the yellow jersey and insure himself the tour victory.

After the racing season, he signed with Team Astana in the fall of 2007.  The Kazakhstan-based team would be suspended in February of 2008 from that year's Tour de France, due to doping allegations from the previous tour, a few months after Contador's signing. 

Contador was thus unable to defend his title in the summer of 2008, leading to controversy from Spanish press and media as they felt the move was to keep Contador out of the tour.

Although upset, Contador focused on the two other Grand Tours for the upcoming season, the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a Espana.  He went on to win both, making him the first Spainard ever to win all three grand tours (Giro d'Italia, Tour de France, Vuelta a Espana).  At the time, he was only 25; relatively young for a pro cyclist.

To begin 2009, Contador earned overall victories in the Volta ao Algarve and Vuelta al Pais.  He would also add the title of Spanish National Time Trail Champion to his resume, further bolstering his name atop cycling's best riders. 

Contador is considered by many who follow cycling as the best pure climber in the peloton, although his talents extend to all areas when it comes to riding on two wheels.  If Mark Cavendish is the fastest man on flat land, Contador is definitely the fastest when the tour reaches the mountains. 

His recent success in time trials cements the fact that Contador could take a run at cycling records set by past legends.

Lance Armstrong stated that at this stage in Contador's six-year-old pro career, he is currently the best all-round bicyclist in the peloton.  Considering that when Armstrong began his record, setting seven straight tour victories, he was 28, and it does not seem like a stretch to assume that Contador could break Lance's record or at least come close, barring injury of course.

Contador, at 26, also has two Vélo d'Or (Rider Of The Year) awards to his name.  Lance currently has five.  If Contador can hold on to yellow for three more days, his chances of earning a third award would be substantial.

El Pistolero still has a lot of work left in the saddle, but for this Spaniard anything is possible.  In 10 years, he has the potential to be mentioned among legends like Eddie Merckx, Jacques Anquetil, Lance Armstrong, and Bernard Hinault. 

For Contador no summit is unclimbable; whether it be the Alps or the record books, expect El Pistolero to be first at the top.