Alberto Contador is undeniably the reigning king of the grand tours, but one day he wants to come to the Ardennes and add one of the major classics to his palmares.
Contador has won four of the past grand tours he’s started plus scores of other week-long stage races across Europe, but he’s never won a major, one-day race.
“One day I will make the classics a major goal and have my first part of the season built around coming here and trying to win one of them,” Contador said on the eve of Liège-Bastogne-Liège. “This year I am here to learn more about these races so that I can come back to challenge for victory.”
Contador was close to reaching that goal with Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday. He surged past Igor Antón (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and looked to have the win in the bag when he was passed by the more experienced Cadel Evans (BMC), who’s raced the Ardennes year-in, year-out while Contador was only back for his third career start.
“I came up 60 meters short of victory (at Flèche), so it’s kind of like having the honey on your lips but not getting the prize,” he said. “Still, I am satisfied with my performance Wednesday. I didn’t expect to be so close to victory in these races, but Sunday is another story.”
But Contador said he doesn’t lose heart in close calls. Despite his winning and aggressive attitude when on the bike, he said he never expects to win every race he starts.
“What’s not normal is to win all the time. When I don’t win, I don’t go back to the hotel room feeling angry,” he said. “I know it’s complicated to win any race, no matter how important. What’s normal is that most times you race, you don’t win.”
Liège-Bastogne-Liège is the race that measures true champions and Contador admits he’d like to win it someday.
“These races are prestigious and they’re historical. I do want to win them some day,” he said. “I’ve won a lot of stage races, but never a one-day race, something these guys (nodding to the press with a smile) remind me about.”
Contador rode the final 60km of the course Friday with his Astana teammates to get a closer look at the Roche aux Faucons, the decisive new climb where Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) attacked to victory last year.
“That climb is the hardest in the race and will probably decide the race again this year,” he said. “Whoever has the legs there can win. The climb comes with 40km left to go and after that many kilometers in the legs, it’s decisive. For me, the longer distance, after 220km, is a question. It all depends on the legs you have that day.”
Another worry for Contador is his allergies flaring up. Forecasters are calling for milder temperatures and sunny skies, ideal conditions for Europe’s notoriously potent pollen count to sky rocket.
“Wednesday was cooler, with some rain, so my allergies weren’t a problem. We’ll see if they flare up Sunday,” he said. “Fortunately, I only have the problem in the spring. I’ve never had any allergy flare ups in July.”