Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) is in his 12th year as a professional cyclist and one man has been near ever-present at his side – the five-time Grand Tour champion’s personal mechanic, Faustino Muñoz Cambron.
Contador, who is on course to secure a sixth Grand Tour title having earned a one minute and 19 second lead over Chris Froome (Team Sky) with three stages remaining of the Vuelta a Espana, has established a close-knit team around him which includes his brother and agent, Fran, his personal soigneur, Valentin Dorronsoro, and Muñoz.
Both Muñoz and Dorronsoro have worked with Contador since the Spaniard turned professional with the ONCE team in 2003. Muñoz, however, is enjoying his 38th year as a mechanic in professional in cycling and in that time has worked with a host of top riders, including Laurent Jalabert, Fernando Escartín and Joseba Beloki, but it is with Contador that he has forged a unique relationship, following the Madrid-born rider from ONCE, to Discovery Channel, to Astana and finally, his current employer, Tinkoff-Saxo.
“I have worked with some big names – Jalabert, Escartín, Beloki – but my relationship with Alberto is as a human being, not just a rider,” Muñoz told RoadCyclingUK.
My relationship with Alberto is as a human being, not just a rider
“I have been around for a long time but my relationship with Alberto goes beyond just a normal relationship between a rider and a mechanic.
“After I had finished working with Astana I was about to quit and return to normal life, because I’ve spent nearly 40 years on the road, but Alberto asked me to join this team.”
Muñoz accompanies Contador to every race to service the 31-year-old’s Specialized Tarmac. The 5’9″ climber rides a 54cm frame, dressed in a SRAM Red groupset – Muñoz says Contador combines a 53-39t chainset with an 11-28t cassette for the vast majority of races – an aluminium Zipp Service Course SL cockpit, Prologo saddle and Specialized Roval wheels.
The competence of a mechanic can mean the difference between winning and losing at the sport’s highest level, where the margin for error is so small, and Contador’s quest for the best extends to his equipment and the man tasked with looking after it, day-in, day-out. Having established a reputation as one of the best mechanics in the business, Muñoz thrives on Contador’s infectious perfectionism.
“What makes Alberto special, and what makes me love working with Alberto, is that he always is looking for and reaching for perfection, and he never sets a limit, he always wants to get better and better,” said Muñoz.
Alberto is always looking for perfection – he never sets a limit
“He is very particular and it is very difficult to satisfy him because he is always searching for the small details. This is what makes Alberto get better and better, and this year I’ve seen him be even more focused on everything. That’s what makes it a pleasure for me to work with Alberto.”
Muñoz may be Contador’s personal mechanic but Tinkoff-Saxo remains his employer and his skills are at the disposal of all the team’s riders. Each member of the squad is afforded the same professionalism and perfection as Contador, with the united aim of delivering their team leader to victory.
“Of course, I work with Alberto, but there’s nothing special that I do for him and not the other riders,” said Muñoz. “If Alberto wants to win then it’s important that everyone has the same treatment as Alberto and is given the same level as Alberto – not necessarily the same level of performance but they all deserve the best. The eight other riders [at a Grand Tour] are as important as Alberto.”
Muñoz has been part of the professional cycling circus for nearly four decades – “I could write a book about everything that’s happened in my 38 years as a mechanic,” he says – and in that time has seen the sport evolve, and not least the bikes and components with which he works on a daily basis.
The sport is more professional than ever, Muñoz says, but while some riders are happy to be handed a bike setup to their measurements on the morning of each race, others, Contador included, are actively involved in the testing and development of new equipment and clothing – Contador spent time in the wind tunnel with clothing sponsor Sportful to test the Italian firm’s new time trial skinsuit – and the marginal gains that can be subsequently accrued.
This isn’t my job, it’s my passion. I love to be with somebody who wins and that gives me my motivation
“The equipment has changed a lot in my time,” said Muñoz. “The technology has stepped up a lot. Before I was just a normal cycling mechanic, now the technology reaches the perfection of Formula One.
“Before there was no testing, now everything is at the limit every time, so there’s always more investment in testing – in the wind tunnel, stiffness tests – to make everything better, to make the small differences which have an impact on overall performance.
“Alberto likes to test equipment, likes to improve, and is always interested in a new innovation on the bike. He’s always looking for improvement and he likes to experiment. That’s also what makes Alberto different to a lot of other riders. Alberto knows everything about the bike and anything that he uses. Some riders just ride the bike.”
Muñoz may be in his 38th year on the road but he remains as committed and enthusiastic as in his first season and, he says, the success that comes with working one-on-one with the pre-eminent stage racer of this generation is at that heart of that motivation.
“This isn’t my job, it’s my passion, and I’m always happy to be at races because it’s my hobby,” said Muñoz. “I am passionate and I love to be surrounded by the stress of a race because if you don’t know how to deal with the stress then you cannot do this job.
“I love to be on top and I love to be with somebody who wins and that gives me my motivation.”