Alberto Contador’s spring campaign and even his shot at a third victory in this summer’s Tour de France could be in doubt following doctors’ decision to perform three hours of delicate and complex reconstructive hand surgery on Thursday.
Contador, winner of all three of cycling’s grand tours, sought additional medical help after a less-than-spectacular performance in last weekend’s edition of Criterium International.
“Alberto concedes it wasn’t allergies that caused him to lose time on Saturday,” director Alain Sanquer said in a release issued following Contador’s surgery. “He was suffering real and deep pain in his right hand … unable to operate his brakes, his shifters or even to hold his bars. That made climbing nearly impossible. The problem wasn’t allergies, it wasn’t his legs; it was the hand.”
Madrid hand surgeon Ernesta Maria Fontana Fuentes said Thursday that the two-time Tour de France winner has been suffering from the problem for months, but it only recently became serious enough to put the rider’s season in doubt.
Fontana told reporters that four months ago she and her colleagues had originally prescribed physical therapy for lingering pain in Contador’s thumb and index finger, “but the problem really became serious during Paris-Nice. At one point, it became agonizing.”
Fontana said her diagnosis revealed extensive ligament damage in the area of Contador’s right index finger and thumb.
“It was a mystery,” Fontana said. “Alberto had no major accidents in training or while racing. There was no direct trauma.”
“We spent time with specialists,” Fontana said. “I had even contracted with Jean Wauthier, the ergonomics genius at the UCI, to see if we could find any cycling related movements that would cause such a strain. In the end, it had nothing to do with cycling – or at least the motions one generally associates with cycling.”
The source of the problem was revealed while Contador stayed at Fontana’s Mano clínica de Madrid for treatment two weeks ago.
“We kept him overnight,” said Fontana. “I came in one morning to schedule another therapy session when I saw Alberto standing in front of the mirror in his room. He was repeatedly making a hand gesture that put those muscles, tendons and ligaments under repeated strain.”
Asked to describe the gesture, Fontana said it most closely resembled “someone perhaps shooting a gun … a pistol, if you will.”
“Wauthier immediately pointed out that this gesture has caused extraordinary strain,” said Fontana. “It’s not the gesture itself, but the vigor he applies when doing it and the frequency with which he uses it. It is a form of repetitive motion syndrome … almost like a worker on an assembly line.”
“Alberto ‘shoots his pistol’ as many as 200 or 300 times a day,” noted Fontana. “He does it when he gets his coffee from the waitress in the morning, when he sees an old friend on the street … even in romantic settings. Beyond that he practices, sometimes for up to an hour a day in front of the mirror. It has finally caused damage; damage that would have been irreparable had we not caught it when we did.”
Following Thursday’s surgery, Fontana said Contador will spend a week recovering at the Spanish seaside resort of Marbella and then resume physical therapy.
“The therapy is rigorous and it requires him to repeatedly jam his right arm upward with his middle finger pointed to the sky,” Fontana said. “It relaxes the affected area, and exercises the surrounding muscle structures; those areas that had essentially atrophied over the past few years.”
Fontana said the exercise, like the damaging gesture, is also repetitive, but staff have “placed a poster of a certain former Tour de France winner on the hospital wall to aid in the otherwise arduous therapy.”
Contador was not immediately available for comment, but a spokesman told VeloNews that “he is tranquil, his sensations are good and he’s looking forward to resuming the therapy. He’s actually quite enthusiastic about the new exercises.”