Alberto Contador has identified Team Sky’s Chris Froome as his principal rival for the Vuelta, which starts with a team time trial in Pamplona this evening. The Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank rider also gave his thoughts on the route of this year’s race, plus the impact of his six-month absence from the sport due to his doping ban.
Froome finished runner-up to Juan Jose Cobo, now of Movistar, in last year’s edition, but many believe that the 27-year-old could have won the race had Team Sky not insisted that he support Bradley Wiggins, who eventually came third overall.
“I have a lot of rivals for the overall ranking,” said Contador, racing in his first Grand Tour since the expiry of his doping ban earlier this month.
“Three of them" - Denis Menchov, Alejandro Valverde Cobo – “know how to win the Vuelta because they have already done it in the past.
“Looking at the results of last year’s Vuelta and this year’s Tour de France, Froome is my main opponent because he’s a good time triallist and he has a very strong team.
“Last year, he had the opportunity to win the Vuelta if his team chose another tactic, but we’ll never know if he had the possibility to win the Tour [de France, where he was runner-up] as Bradley Wiggins was the best in the time trials.
“I’m happy that Chris is here racing. His presence increases the quality of the Vuelta.”
Of his own ambitions for the race, Contador, who won the overall on his only previous participation in 2008, said : “My objective is to fight for the victory. I might win or lose but I’ll start the start with the illusion that I’ll win it.
“I’m not saying that I’m the favourite, that’s an opinion from media and fans. From my side, I know that I’ll have to face very strong rivals. I’m well. I’m motivated. I’m impatient.
“The opening team time trial offers a very nice course. It’ll deliver a huge emotion. I’m never able to come to Pamplona for the San Fermin because of my cycling, so I’m delighted to be here for the Vuelta.”
Contador spoke of the effect on him of the long legal battle that followed his positive test for clenbuterol during the 2010 Tour de France, and that resulted in the Court of Arbitration for Sport handing him a two-year ban, most of it backdated, in February this year.
“Not only the past six months but the past two years have impacted me a lot, » he said. “I can’t forget anything. I’m not angry in any way. I’m mentally very good now and focused on doing a great race.
“During those past six months, I’ve trained very hard in order to lose as little as possible of the shape I had before.
“I’m supposedly fresher than my rivals who have done the Giro or the Tour but that’s debatable. Sometimes it’s harder to train than to compete.
“The main difference between me and the other contenders is that I might be mentally more relaxed than them. They might be physically better than me at the beginning and I’ll possibly be fresher towards the end.
“The doubts I’ve got about my form are in relation to my schedule of the past two weeks: riding the Eneco Tour, I haven’t done any long climb during that period. I might not be at my best during the first week of the Vuelta, but I expect to be better later on.”
He also identified the key stages that he believes will determine the outcome of the race.
“In theory, the 40-km individual time and the three mountain stages in the Asturias will be decisive but something new could happen at Bola del Mundo on the penultimate day.
“At the 2011 Giro [which Contador won, although he would later be stripped of that title together with his victory in the 2010 Tour de France], I took the lead quite early but all three-week long Tours are different from each other.
“I’ll take it day by day. It’s difficult to calculate because it’ll be a very spectacular race.
“The mileage of the stages is short compared to the Giro and the Tour. It favours people to be fresh for the last hill. This Vuelta has a beautiful course. It’s probably better than before.”
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.