Alberto Contador leaves a legacy of cavalier racing and controversy | William Fotheringham

The Spaniard, who is to retire after the Vuelta, is one of six humen to have won all three grand tours but he departs as an personification of the doubts that still underpin cycling

Alberto Contadors proclamation on Monday morning that he will hang up his wheels at the end of the Vuelta a Espaa astonished merely for its timing. The is the issue of when and how to quit cycling has been hanging in the air over the Spaniard for almost two years; he speculated he might objective his career in 2016 but an unhappy spell riding for Tinkoff inspired him to hang on for another season.

Contador then speculated he might continue into 2018, before posting an Instagram video on Monday morning in which the 34 -year-old stated the Vuelta would be my last professional race. I say that with elation, without the slightest sadness. Its a decision that I come to after matured reflection and I dont think there can be a better way to say goodbye than at a race in your own country.

He retires as one of six riders to have won all three grand tours. He was also the youngest and the quickest to achieve the accomplishment, managing it before the age of 25 and in only 15 months. He remains the most successful grand tour rider of his generation, with two victories each in the Giro and Tour, and three in the Vuelta. Bernard Hinault is the only other man to win each more than once.

Much of the earlier part of his career was mired in disagreement and he departs as an personification of the contradictions and doubts that have underpinned his sport in the post-Lance Armstrong era, as it is universally hoped cycling attempts to leave the years of industrial-scale doping behind.

In February 2012, Contador was banned for two years at the end of a 585 -day battle to clear his name after tracings of the banned steroid clenbuterol were found in his urine. He never disputed the finding but claimed the substance must have been contained in contaminated beef( the Basque governments submission in the case indicated it was probably solomillo veal and that the animal would have weighed 290 kg ).

It was never established whether Contador had doped a theory that the clenbuterol might have entered his system via a contaminated blood suitcase was never demonstrate and the court of arbitration for sport concluded the narcotic most probably had been ingested through a polluted food supplement. What mattered was the principle of strict liability: for anti-doping to work, the athlete has ultimately to be held responsible for what is in his or her system whether or not doping is proven.

It was hard to avoid the sense Contador was also paying the price morally at least for his links to two of cyclings most notorious doping directeurs sportifs : Manolo Saiz, with whom he turned professional in 2003, and Johan Bruyneel, who picked him up when Saizs Liberty Seguros team ran bust in the wake of the 2006 Operation Puerto blood doping scandal, in which Contador was initially implicated but ultimately cleared.

Alberto Contador in amber at the 2007 Tour de France, one of the most controversial races of recent years. Photograph: Joel Saget/ AFP/ Getty Images

Under Bruyneel, at Discovery Channel, Contador emerged the win in 2007 of one of the most controversial Tours de France of recent years, taking over the amber jersey after Michael Rasmussens midnight flit. In 2008, having moved to the Astana team, he and his team were refused entry to the Tour de France following the Kazakh squads doping history. Instead, he was famously called in from a beach vacation to ride the Giro dItalia, which he won, adding the Vuelta afterwards that year.

And 2009 ensure his battle against Armstrong, who had returned from retirement to collectively lead Astana, in the Tour de France, and 2010 a third Tour win, after a much debated attack on the race leader Andy Schleck in the Pyrenees when the latter derailed his chain at a key moment. That victory was taken away from him following the clenbuterol verdict, as was his overall title in the 2011 Giro.

When Contador turned up to start the 2011 Tour a few weeks later, the defending champion only in a provisional sense as the clenbuterol example was continuing, he faced a chorus of boos at the team presentation. He accepted his reception with dignity, so too the clenbuterol prohibition when it came, and on his return began to achieve something approaching redemption with assaulting racing that led to a pair of Vuelta wins and a 2015 Giro victory; most memorably, a dramatic long-distance move at Fuente D that turned the 2012 Vuelta in his favour.

In the Tour, Contador rarely appeared at his best after the ban, often crashing out, often attacking spectacularly to no great effect. In his final one last month he made a mark on the race with well-calculated attacks en route to Foix and Serre Chevalier, but never appeared as if he would threaten for the pulpit. It was hard to avoid the slightly poignant sense here was a human bravely but fruitlessly chasing the sort that had marked his youth. Clearly, since the Tour, reality has set in.

Winners of all three grand tours

Jacques Anquetil ( TDF: 1957, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964; Giro: 1960, 1964; Vuelta: 1963)

Felice Gimondi ( TDF: 1965; Giro: 1967, 1969, 1976; Vuelta: 1968)

Eddy Merckx ( TDF: 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974; Giro: 1968, 1970, 1972, 1973, 1974; Vuelta: 1973)

Bernard Hinault ( TDF: 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1985; Giro: 1980, 1982, 1985; Vuelta: 1978, 1983)

Alberto Contador ( TDF: 2007, 2009; Giro: 2008, 2015; Vuelta: 2008, 2012, 2014)

Vincenzo Nibali ( TDF: 2014; Giro: 2013, 2016; Vuelta: 2010)

Alberto Contador retires

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