In professional sports, more goes into making a champion than winning. Alberto Contador distinguishes himself among a big bracket of cycling greats through his work with the foundation that carries his name.
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The Fundación Alberto Contador is a non-profit based in Pinto, Spain, a charming town of 50,000 residents just south of Madrid. Pinto is where Alberto grew up and sprinted home after school, changing from his colegio khakis into some inexpensive cycling clothing, all while frantically stuffing a snack in his mouth before heading out on an evening ride until sundown. His friends would bellow “Indurain!” at him as he rode by, referencing five-time Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain, a man whose accomplishments Alberto has arguably eclipsed with 67 professional victories including the Triple Crown of the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France, and Vuelta a España.
“The foundation Alberto Contador bears my name,” says Alberto, “but there are many people involved that work for it and work very hard.” The man behind the foundation is Fran Contador, Alberto’s oldest brother. Fran and Alberto shared a room for most of their childhood, and today remain extremely close.
“My brother Fran is at the head of the organization,” Alberto explains, “and without him and his hard work it would be impossible to accomplish all these things. We are in touch every day, as he is also my manager. The foundation requires a lot from him emotionally and physically, and it is very time consuming. It’s fundamental to have him there as a person of confidence.”
The idea for a foundation first came in 2010, when Alberto had already won four Grand Tours (including the 2007 and 2009 Tour de France) and had the resources to give back. Drawing inspiration from the challenges he and his family faced when he was a child, Contador wanted to make it easier for more kids to experience cycling. They came up with the idea of a cycling school for kids between ages 6 and 14.
“When I was young,” Alberto says, “I saw first-hand how hard it was to obtain a bike and even cycling clothes. My parents both put in long days at their jobs, but still they still didn’t have a lot of means to buy equipment. It was anything but easy for them to buy me a bike. It is partly why the foundation has such a special value for me. There wasn’t something like the cycling school back then. It was all about soccer and Real Madrid. I’m very proud that we can offer this opportunity to those kids. Not just because I made a career out of cycling and they might also, but even more because cycling, and riding bikes in general, teaches you a number of values that can help you in life. Few sports can give you that.”
Fran, who has played a crucial role in his brother’s career since the early years, recognized the potential impact Alberto could have on kids in their community. “We started the foundation in 2010,” he says. “Everyone knew Alberto for what he had accomplished in pro cycling. Because of his status, he felt obliged to do more than just racing. He was in a privileged position, a place that enabled him to do things, motivate people, and get projects moving. Cycling is his life, his passion. Through the foundation, he can contribute to making the world a better place and give back to the world of bikes what bikes have given to him.”
From the start there were two objectives. Firstly, the brothers wanted to raise awareness around brain strokes, something that happened to Alberto in 2004 during a race. Secondly, it had to be about promoting and developing cycling through all kinds of activities.
“Everything we do comes down to taking social responsibility,” says Fran. “We want people to know about a condition that affects a lot of people and is the second most common cause of death for men in Spain. On top of that, we want people to familiarize themselves with bikes and ride them. Bikes have given a lot to our family. We wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for bikes and cycling.”
Bicis Para La Vida, or Bikes For Life, is another of the Foundation’s key projects. The Contador brothers have teamed up with a number of other Spanish non-profits like the Fundación Ananta and Fundación Seur y Asociación de Minusválidos de Pinto in order to find a second life for abandoned bikes.
The program, Alberto explains, makes it easy for donors to give extraordinary opportunities with bikes that would otherwise go unused. “People from all across Spain can donate old bikes to us that have gone unused for a long time,” he says. “We collect the bikes here in Pinto in our warehouse. An organization for disabled people helps us to make an inventory and repair the bikes. Once they are fixed up, we gift the bikes to whoever needs them: refugee centers, boarding schools, other non-profits, etcetera.”
In a lot of the foundation’s work there’s a place for people with special needs—as staff mechanics, for example. This is a part of the mission that hits close to home for the brothers. Alberto and Fran’s younger brother Raul has cerebral palsy—something that Alberto or Fran rarely talk about on record, but that is certainly part of their motivation.
“We could choose to work with professional mechanics,” Fran says, “but we prefer to do it this way. Our mechanics are super motivated. They feel useful and part of the society. They have a task at hand and, who knows, maybe one day they can land a job at an actual bike store.”
The location for the Foundation’s headquarters couldn’t be more prosaic: a dusty warehouse filled with used bicycles. But the essence of it is something truly beautiful—a beauty that stems from its potential. This is something Alberto and Fran think about every day. One bike can spark an extraordinary life. Contador himself is living proof.