After enduring a much-publicised, off-season war of words with Lance Armstrong, Alberto Contador has made his latest statement on the road, winning the Volta ao Algarve against the likes of Team RadioShack's Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Klöden.
Contador took second in the stage five time trial to win by 30 seconds overall, ahead of countryman and early-season pacesetter Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d'Epargne), with another RadioShack rider, Tiago Machado, finishing third. Leipheimer and Klöden finished fourth and eighth, respectively.
Whilst the next-best Astana rider on the overall standings was Daniel Navarro - in 58th overall - Contador said that the win has boosted team morale ahead of Paris-Nice and eventually the Tour de France, where he enters the 2010 edition as reigning champion.
"This race has a very great importance, especially for my team because it has done an excellent job throughout the tour. We had to take responsibility knowing that other riders that were more covered could win the race, but every one has ridden out of their skin. They finished very tired but we are very happy," said Contador.
Contador added that the result had even more importance given the drama surrounding the ineligibility of his Specialized Shiv time trial bike for use in the final stage. "I had my doubts, especially yesterday, when I tested the bike and I had really bad feelings," said the Spanish ace.
"This morning we made some adjustments and went a little better but still had my doubts. Especially when I stood up on the pedals, the bike was very different, but I felt very good and at the end result was good and I could keep the jersey."
During January Contador had stated that he felt good in pre-season training, although he wasn't sure how this would compare to the form of his competitors as the first race of the year approached; therefore his assured victory carries added meaning. "I was OK, but did not know how I was in respect to other riders who arrived more trained. I'm very happy because this always gives confidence, especially to my team," he explained.
As expected, Contador will "continue working towards the Tour". With the focus on his candidacy as a potential triple Tour champion, he has his work cut out in the next few months. "I hope to get good shape, but other riders and other teams are also very interested in this race. I'll go and do the best I can," he said.