This is a rough(ish) English translation of my article that appeared in the Spanish daily newspaper El Pais yesterday. Thanks to Carlos Arribas for permission to re-print it.
The Texan recently said that Alberto Contador was surrounded by “yes-men”. He criticised him for not being able to retain almost any of his Tour de France team mates: “…even his roommate left him”.
The Texan also openly insinuated that the kid from Pinto was nothing short of the Spanish equivalent of a bogan.
In view of the Texan’s personal history and authoritarian traits, Freud might have wondered if in fact the Texan wasn’t really projecting his own position.
“But Contador is totally different from me. It is very difficult,” the seven-time Tour winner elaborated. “He knows no better. He is a Spanish guy who is always in the same pueblo (district). He has his friends, family, the street where he grew up, his country, his people. A great athlete like him must employ individuals who support him and have patience with him. But he is surrounded by yes-men.”
There are some obvious similarities between Contador and the Texan.
Both come from modest backgrounds.
Both have won the Tour de France more than once.
Both rode for Astana.
But that is about where the similarities end.
The Texan came out of a trailer park and pursued the American dream, doing everything he thought necessary to achieve his unbridled success.
But Contador has no private jet. He does not react bitterly to those that criticise him. He does not hold himself out to be a leader or some kind of new saviour of cycling capable of gathering thousands of people to ride alongside him with a single Tweet, just as he did on Saturday in Adelaide.
Contador doesn’t aim at being the messiah, or the king of Spain. He doesn’t need a “spontaneous” baño de masas from time to time to feel alive. Contador just lives in Pinto, supports his family, rides his bike and seeks to work in an environment that is free from rancour.
For the third year in a row the Director of the Tour Down Under, Mike Turtur and Mike Rann, the Premier of the State of South Australia are brandishing its Pro Tour status as if they are the new saviours of international cycling. On the back of this hyperbole Turtur has risen to become a key powerbroker in the new cycling world.
Turtur and Rann, using all the political and media clout that they can muster, are making their contributions to a new way of doing business in cycling.
Many in the small world of pro-cycling are concerned with their tactics, claiming that their approach is more about total control of all aspects of their race and that this control is exercised with a zeal and aggression unseen in professional cycling before.
Mike Rann will contest his third state election as Premier of South Australia in eight weeks time, eight weeks that will see a succession of “major events”, of which the Tour Down Under is the first of many.
On his arrival in Adelaide The Texan strongly endorsed Mike Rann’s premiership and said that if he could, he would vote for him:
“It’s safe to say that over the course of the last 12 months we’ve become friends,” he said of the Premier. “He’s an old pro, he knows what he’s doing.“
Mike Rann refuses to disclose how much the Texan has been paid to come to South Australia to race. It has been said that he has been paid $AU3 million for each of his two visits to Australia.
That is nearly enough to kick-start an Australian Pro Tour team that would be able to compete in all of the major cycling events in the annual calendar.
Rann’s control over information is so far-reaching that even senior Ministers in his government don’t know how much the Texan is being paid.
One Minister who does know is South Australian Tourism Minister Janet (“J-Lo”) Lomax-Smith says that:
“There are many people who’d like to steal our major events and our sports and arts activities,” she said. “We don’t want to help those people who we know are sniffing around by giving them an idea of how they’re managed.“
Her comments may be read against the background of the attempts by Australia’s oldest stage race, the Herald-Sun Tour in the neighbouring state of Victoria, to move from its current date in October to the weeks following the Tour Down Under.
The proposed move of the Herald-Sun Tour is a delicate subject because those that have to make the decision – the Australian Cycling Federation – owe much of their current status to Turtur and Rann’s Tour Down Under.
Turtur has stated that he would stand aside when the decision about the Herald-Sun Tour comes to be considered by the UCI. And South Australian Tourism Minister Lomax-Smith is also wary of attempts by the organisers of the cycling World Championships – also in Victoria – to attract the Texan to those races in September 2010.
With the Texan backing Rann in his re-election bid cycling in Australia has now become entwined with local politics in a way not seen before. Cycling in Australia is now more than just circos y pan, now it is very much about marking out valuable commercial territory, about selling South Australia to itself and putting a very powerful spin on a very local political style.
No wonder the Texan feels so comfortable here: hordes of yes-men, mountains of money and the freedom to play at kingmaker.