Alberto Contador, who last week returned from his ban due to his positive test for clenbuterol during the 2010 Tour de France, has said that he feels in good shape ahead of his home Grand Tour, the Vuelta, which starts in Pamplona on Saturday.
The 29-year-old Contador, who despite that six-month break from competition starts the race as the bookies’ favourite ahead of last year’s runner-up, Team Sky’s Chris Froome, returned to racing with Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank at last week’s Eneco Tour, where he finished eighth overall. The race was won by Rabobank’s Lars Boom.
“Even though we mostly rode on flat courses, this has been a convincing week of racing for me”, said Contador. “I’m in good shape. I’ve felt better and better every day and I believe there’s still room for improvement in the coming week. I’m also delighted by the way the team rode for me the whole week.”
Describing the Spaniard’s performance as “encouraging,” sports director Bradley McGee said: “We’ve often been asked when Alberto will take the lead at the Vuelta but I don’t think it’s in our interest to have the red jersey too early. Knowing Alberto, he’ll take it when it comes. He just loves to race.
“But we just have to concentrate on final details, stay focused all the way and recover when we can. There’s no way we’ll envisage by how much he’ll win the Vuelta! This is what makes it difficult to win.
“I guess Chris Froome will be the main rival. Our advantage will be that even Sky, with all their strength, would have a hard time dominating two Grand Tours the same year. However, I don’t think the challenge will come from individuals riding for GC but from riders who have nothing to lose.”
With his season typically built around the Tour de France, this will be only the second time that Contador has ridden the Vuelta in his career. He won the race on his only previous participation, in 2008, followed his switch to Astana who were excluded from that year’s Tour following Alexandre Vinokourov failing a doping control in the 2007 edition.
“The level and the course of this year’s Vuelta are very high,” revealed Bruno Pires, who will be one of the riders supporting Contador in the race. “We’ll do everything we can to help Alberto reach his goal.”
The route itself is unlikely to hold much in the way of surprises for Contador. The Bola del Mundo, which hosts the potentially decisive summit finish of the penultimate stage of the race, is within a training ride’s distance of his home town of Pinto on the edge of Madrid, while with no racing obligations troubling his calendar since February, he has been able to recce other key stages at his leisure.
Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank Vuelta team: Alberto Contador (Spa), Jesus Hernandez (Spa), Daniel Navarro (Spa), Benjamin Noval (Spa), Rafael Majka (Pol), Bruno Pires (Por), Sergio Paulinho (Por), Matteo Tossato (Ita) and Nicki Sorensen (Den). Directeurs sportifs: Bradley McGee and Philippe Mauduit.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.