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Contador leaves door open for Vuelta in final season

Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) is leaving the door open for a possible start in the 2016 Vuelta a España in what is likely his final season in the peloton.

In a year when many GC favorites are targeting the Tour de France and Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, the Spanish veteran said a Vuelta appearance could still be in the cards.

“I still have to talk to Oleg Tinkov and the team to decide our schedule, but I don’t rule out riding the Vuelta,” Contador said in a team release. “We have to figure out what is best for the team. My desire is for Tinkoff to finish in the highest step possible of the UCI WorldTour ranking, and for that reason, we cannot rule out my participation in the Vuelta.”

Contador, 33, is a three-time Vuelta winner, and race officials would love to see the popular star finish off his career on home roads.

With the Olympic Games serving up a climb-heavy course sandwiched between the Tour and Vuelta, many of the riders typically going to the Spanish tour are hesitating about committing to racing there. Contador echoed concerns that carrying form out of the Tour-Olympics double will be a challenge.

“2016 will be the toughest year to reach the Vuelta in good form,” Contador said. “After the Tour, it will be very tough to rest because of the Olympic Games. It will be much more difficult, compared to previous years, to fully recover in order to start the Vuelta in top shape.”

So far, only Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge), and Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) have indicated they will likely race the Vuelta. Defending champion Fabio Aru (Astana) is debuting at the Tour de France, and isn’t putting the Vuelta on his radar right now.

Over the past few years, many top GC stars have included the Vuelta on their calendars, in part to use it as a transition into the off-season, as well as due to the ever-more-difficult parcours that favors climbers. Last year’s field saw Quintana, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Chris Froome (Sky), Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing), and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) all start.

Vuelta officials Saturday unveiled the 2016 route, once again riddled with sharp climbs and mountaintop finales. More names will invariably be added to the Vuelta roster as the season unfolds, but right now, the inclusion of the Olympic Games could knock some of the luster off the Vuelta’s field in 2016.

Contador, meanwhile, confirmed his focus will be on the Tour and Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. He said 2016 will be his last season, unless he suffers some sort of major crash or illness, and said he wants to finish off his career on a high note.

“This will be a special year for me,” he said. “I would like it to be a very good one and I’m working hard for that. There is no doubt that my focus in 2016 is, first and foremost, the Tour de France and then the Olympics.”

Contador will debut at the Volta ao Algarve, followed by Paris-Nice, the Volta a Catalunya, the Vuelta al País Vasco, and the Critérium du Dauphiné ahead of the Tour. With the Olympic road race set for August 6, few are ready to commit to the Vuelta yet.

“The Vuelta will always be a very special race to me,” Contador said after seeing the course presentation Saturday. “This year’s parcours has many explosive finishes that aren’t ideal for me, in particular due to the bonus seconds. Nevertheless, it is what it is and if I were to race I would have to look at it on a positive way … I am sure this year’s route will provide strong emotions until the very last moment. It will also be very important to see the form the main contenders will have at the start.”

Whether Contador lines up remains to be seen. Vuelta organizers are certainly hoping so.