Tour de France champion Alberto Contador has described the 2009 season as both his best and his most difficult year in the sport. Speaking to Spanish daily AS, the Astana team leader said this had been his best season “not only because I won the Tour, but also because I was in contention in every race I took part in and took some very good results”.
Naturally, he was asked about the nature of the difficulties and once again reflected on the difficulties he’d faced within the Astana team during the year without offering any new insight into his rocky relationship with Lance Armstrong.
Quizzed on the decision of so many Astana riders to follow the American to the new RadioShack team rather than sticking things out at Astana, he responded: “It was a logical decision and I understand why they made it. RadioShack offered them a stable and well-paid set-up. I couldn’t offer them anything or make them any promises. I didn’t even have a team until the middle of December.”
Contador did offer a new perspective on the troubles he’d faced in recent seasons, suggesting they have increased his motivation to succeed. “It seems that something happens to me every winter. Either I don’t have a contract, or we’re not going to the Tour, or Armstrong decides to come back, or I don’t have a team at all. I always seem to lack some degree of tranquility, but I always manage to avoid letting it affect my training. In fact when things are running smoothly I don’t achieve the same kind of results.”
Once again, Contador picked out Andy Schleck as his main rival for the 2010 Tour. “It’s a good route for me and for him,” he stated. Pressed on whether Schleck or Armstrong will be his most dangerous rival, Contador insisted: “Andy will be the toughest to deal with in the mountains. He will be more mature and experienced and I’m sure we’ll be going head to head on a number of occasions. But there are going to be a lot of big rivals at the Tour, such as [Levi] Leipheimer and [Andreas] Klöden.
“Lance always has a good chance of course. He was third this year, he’s got a huge amount of experience and a great team. It’s going to be a difficult Tour for all kinds of reasons.”
Much has been said since the Tour’s launch in October about the cobbled sections in the early part of the race, with Contador widely regarded as the Tour contender who’ll be under most threat. He maintains, though, that he’s not too worried by the pavé. “What worries me most about them is crashing. There’s going to be a real battle to be at the front going into the cobbled sections – everyone will want to be up there – and that is going to create a lot of tension and danger.
“I will have to try to get through those sections with as much normality as possible and not run excessive risks. It would be better to get dropped. If you were to lose a bit of time there it could be recoverable. But if you were to crash the damage could be irreversible.”
Talking about his own team for the Tour, Contador described Alexandre Vinokourov, recently returned from a two-year doping ban, as “an important player… He will be a key man in the team’s strategy… We’ve got a great relationship and I think he’s really committed [to helping me]. Of course he will have his own ambitions, but they will be compatible with mine. If Vino is at the Tour it will give us a huge boost.”
Contador refused to be drawn on whether or not he will ride the Vuelta, but did admit, “I like the route a lot. The Cotobello stage is magnificent, as is the one to the Bola del Mundo. But at the moment both myself and the team have to focus on the Tour.”
He signed off by wishing for good health in 2010 for himself, his family and friends “and also for all fans of cycling”.