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Contador can beat Froome in France, says director

While many of his rivals are already racing around the globe, Alberto Contador is on a slow simmer. In what could be his final season, the Spanish superstar is easing out of the gate in 2016.

Vincenzo Nibali of Astana and Nairo Quintana of Movistar already debuted at the Tour de San Luis, and Sky’s Chris Froome clicks into the pedals this week at the Herald Sun Tour in Australia. Of the Fantastic Four, Tinkoff’s Contador will be last to open his racing calendar this season, and he won’t compete until the Volta ao Algarve February 17-21.

It isn’t for a lack of motivation. Tinkoff sport director Sean Yates said that with so much at stake in 2016, the cycling world should expect an even more focused and intense Contador in 2016.

“Alberto is always motivated, but because this could be his final season, he’s likely to be more motivated, if that’s possible,” Yates told VeloNews. “Alberto is a fighter, and he will be committed to being in the best possible shape for the Tour.”

The 33-year-old Contador is currently on Tenerife, honing his form with a high-altitude training camp ahead of what’s a very ambitious season. Contador wants to leave the sport at the absolute peak, and that means trying to win another Tour de France. He’s also targeting a medal at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

The Olympics present a one-off opportunity for Contador, so it’s the Tour that is the central focus of his racing calendar. And Yates said trying to beat a rider as complete and dominant as Froome only motivates Contador more.

“We all know that Froome is great on the uphill, and he’s great in the time trial, but he’s not unbeatable,” Yates said. “Alberto is motivated to beat him. When Froome is good, you have to be at the top of your game to beat him. Alberto will not go for a lack of trying.”

Following his 2010 Tour disqualification for clenbuterol, Contador desperately wants to return to the top step of the Tour podium. After his attempt at the Giro-Tour double fell short last year — with victory at the Giro d’Italia and fifth at the Tour — Contador is putting everything into hitting his peak in July.

“I believe Alberto is still the only guy who starts out in the same level as Froome,” said Yates, who helped direct Bradley Wiggins to the yellow jersey in 2012. “In 2014, Alberto was in great form and Froome was not. Cycling is like that, and anything can happen, and they both crashed out. I think Froome learned from that and came back stronger last year.”

Froome has usurped Contador as the top man for the Tour, but Contador hopes to have one more yellow jersey in his legs in what he said is likely his swansong season.

“I expect a big battle this year,” Yates continued. “And when you add in [Richie] Porte, [Tejay] van Garderen, Nairo, [Fabio] Aru, Nibali, and the others, and it’s going to be a hard-fought Tour. The level is very, very high, and it’s only getting higher.”