One year ago, almost to the day, Alberto Contador won the uphill finish to Alto de Hazallanas in Ruta del Sol, but this February, the Tinkoff captain is off to a slower start.
In Thursday’s stage 2 at Volta ao Algarve, which featured four categorized climbs, the Spaniard could only manage 21st place as Astana’s Luis Leon Sanchez rode to victory ahead of defending Algarve champ Geraint Thomas (Sky).
“I think it’s evident I still lack a bit of pace,” Contador said. “In the penultimate climb I was feeling better, but the finish was tough because of the strong wind. It was difficult to keep the rhythm and behind me, the group had a better pace. When the race accelerated in the final kilometer, I was unable to follow, and I lost time. For me, the important aspect is that the sensations I have keep improving.”
In part, Contador’s slow start can be attributed to his 2016 race priorities. Last year, he targeted — and won — the Giro d’Italia in May but this season, his sole summer objective is the Tour de France, although Contador says the Olympics could be added to the list as well.
“I think Alberto was going well,” sport director Sean Yates said, “but he took too much wind. It was a long day, a very windy day, and he tried his way until the final climb but in the end, the strongest man won, and he was excluded. We had hoped for better.”
Though February results are always welcome, Contador made it clear that Volta ao Algarve is merely a tune-up race, that his first objective will be Paris-Nice, March 6-13.
“Tomorrow, we will tackle a time trial, and although it will be long and flat, it will be a very useful training towards my upcoming objectives,” Contador added. Though this year’s Tour is said to be a climbers’ affair, the two-time yellow jersey winner will surely have July’s 37km stage 13 TT on his mind when he heads down the start ramp in Portugal on Friday.