Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) returns to the Tour de France for the first time since his backdated clenbuterol ban with all intentions of reclaiming what he sees as his crown.
In a pre-Tour interview with the Spanish daily AS, Contador, who was sidelined during the 2012 Tour and saw his 2010 victory stripped, promises to go all out to win another yellow jersey.
“I am going to be very motivated to be at the maximum,” Contador told AS. “The Tour is a race that changed my life and I am going to fight for the win. I hope to be as high as possible on the final podium in Paris.”
Contador returns to the Tour as a very different rider. Since his 2010 Tour crown was officially erased from the record books, he is now 30 and has a lot to prove.
Back by a strong Saxo squad, Contador is the favorite behind Chris Froome (Sky) to win.
His discreet performance during the recent Critérium du Dauphiné, underscored by losing 2:45 to Froome in a flat time trial, has many wondering if he will be able to challenge the Kenyan-born favorite for the win.
Contador admitted he’s impressed by Froome, but promises to swing for the fences.
“They’ve had an impressive season, also with Richie Porte. They can’t get any better,” Contador said of Sky. “For the races he’s won, and his evolution as a rider over the past year and a half, Froome will be the big reference in the Tour.
“That [time trial] in the Dauphiné, it was flat as the palm of your hand and over uneven roads,” he continued. “The one in the Tour is somewhat more difficult, with some hills at the start, and it’s not flat. And the Tour’s [time trial] is stage 11, not the fourth stage, and the capacity to recover will count for a lot. My condition will change a lot in two weeks, and the allergies as well …”
Contador said he’s more meticulous and less risk-taking than when he was younger, adding that he never rides a motorcycle in the months before the Tour because the “risks are too high.”
“To win, the difference can be in any type of detail,” he said. “It’s going to be a hard and spectacular final week, open until the day before Paris.”
Contador admits his 2013 season has been less than spectacular, with only one win with a stage at the Tour de San Luis in Argentina in January, but he said he’s not losing any sleep. The Tour has been his major goal of the season.
“Last year was very hard, the season that ended [with me being the] most tired of all of my career. I trained a lot to win the Vuelta. The effort was brutal, but I pulled it off,” he said. “I had a busy winter of commitments, and for the first race, San Luis, I didn’t arrive in good preparation or weight. On the other hand, we have strengthened Saxo-Tinkoff with good riders, so I am more calm.”
Contador said he might have to improvise his tactics depending on how things stand in the overall classification following the second time trial.
“We’ll see how the GC shakes out. If you’re ahead, defend; if you’re behind, you have to take risks,” he said. “Before Sky, you have to be more calculating, don’t make any mistakes, and hold back a little bit. But sometimes it’s your own instinct that dictates what you have to do.”
On Armstrong, Puerto, Wiggins
Contador also commented on the Lance Armstrong and Operación Puerto doping scandals.
“They are episodes from the past. I hope that the change in attitude, except in a few cases that I cannot understand, takes the sport in a different direction,” he said. “The changes won’t be black and white in one year, but we are very content about the direction cycling is going.”
When asked what he remembers of Armstrong, he said, “of a rider who was very ambitious, who knew what he wanted to achieve, and used all available means at his disposition, be it within or outside the law.”
On Bradley Wiggins, who will not be returning to defend his yellow jersey, Contador only had kind words.
“I believe the performances of Wiggins are based only and exclusively on hard work and sacrifice,” he concluded.