Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) returns to competitive action at the Clasica San Sebastian on Saturday, three weeks after he was forced out of the Tour de France through injury and illness, having crashed twice in the opening two days. The Basque race marks the first phase of Contador’s build-up to the Vuelta a España, which gets underway on August 20.
"I watched many stages of the Tour on television, but it was not easy to follow the race because I knew almost every corner of the parcours and I found it difficult to accept that I wasn't there,” said Contador, who was also forced out of the 2014 Tour through injury but returned to win that year’s Vuelta.
“However, sport is like that, and I'm already feeling better and working towards my next goal, the Vuelta a España.”
On withdrawing from the Tour, Contador immediately ruled himself out of consideration for the Spanish team for next week’s Rio 2016 Olympics, preferring instead to build steadily towards the Vuelta. He is due to ride the Vuelta a Burgos (August 2-6) as part of his preparation. Contador is looking to defend an unbeaten record at the Vuelta, as he holds the distinction of winning the race on each of his three appearances, in 2008, 2012 and 2014.
“I started slowly going on the bike for a spin and although the discomfort was always there and I had a slower rhythm longer than I expected, I haven't been worried about it. I am aware I will lack a bit of pace in San Sebastián and Burgos, which will probably raise my pulse a lot, but I know the best is to think about the Vuelta a España,” Contador said. “I will tackle these two races with a bit of calm and with a longer-term objective."
Contador’s 2016 season was built around trying to win a third Tour title – he was stripped of victory in 2010 after testing positive for clenbuterol – and he acknowledged that he will not start the Vuelta with quite the same condition that he had for La Grande Boucle.
“I feel pretty good but not perfect yet. Of course, there is no comparison with how I was in the Tour, but I still don't want to stretch myself and risk a relapse. Otherwise I'm already almost back to normal,” he said.
Contador took a pragmatic line, meanwhile, about his chances at the Clasica San Sebastian, noting that riders who completed the Tour will be the favourites. "They always have an edge in their form, which makes a difference. It will be difficult to be at their level, but it will be good in order to pick up pace," he said.
The hilly 220-kilometre route of the Clasica San Sebastian features two ascents of the Jaizkibel climb, as well as the short but steep haul up Murgil Tontorra in the finale.
Contador will be joined in the Tinkoff team on Saturday by 2009 Clasica San Sebatian winner Roman Kreuziger, who placed 10th at the Tour, as well as Oscar Gatto, Jésus Hernández, Sergio Paulinho, Evgeny Petrov, Ivan Rovny and Yuri Trofimov.