Tinkoff-Saxo leader backs Riis, Rogers and Tinkov
Alberto Contador and his Tinkoff-Saxo team are convinced they can take on Chris Froome at this year's Tour de France after learning from the mistakes of 2013. Contador struggled in July and finished a distant fourth overall off the Champs Elysees podium.
Contador will be the absolute team leader at the new look Tinkoff-Saxo team, now owned by Russian business mogul Oleg Tinkov, with Bjarne Riis focusing on the technical and performance aspects of the team.
Contador appeared as jovial and relaxed as ever at the Tinkoff-Saxo training camp in Gran Canaria, be it when leading the training ride, talking about his hopes for the season, defending Riis and Michael Rogers and dismissing suggestions he does not get on with Tinkov.
"We've got a new jersey, a new owner but at the end of the day, nothing's really changed. On the contrary, I think there's more stability in the team. We're focused and ready to have a good season," he told Cyclingnews.
"I know that people were talking about my body language at the press conference to announce that Tinkov had bought the team but at the moment my relationship with him is perfect. We're working in the same direction and things are good."
"Oleg buying the team is great news and good for everyone. The financial stability of the team is very important in this difficult moment for cycling, where backers are scarce. It will help the motivation and unity in the team and so help me perform even better. We know the sponsor is backing us and believes in us."
Turning consistency into victories
Contador was consistent in 2013 but only won one race: a stage at the Tour de San Luis. He knows that's not enough for a rider of his calibre and palmares.
"I think I was consistent in 2013, I was often in the top five in races that mattered but that's not good enough for Alberto Contador. Everyone expects me to win. I know this and understand it," he conceded.
"That's why I'm working hard this winter. Last winter wasn't so good and I think racing so early at the Tour de San Luis affected things. This year I'm going to take things more tranquillo and program well my season. I'll have a complete season, starting off quite intensely with some good races in the spring, then I'll back off and recover before riding the Dauphine so that I can start the Tour de France in the best possible condition."
Contador confirmed he will begin his season at the Volta ao Algarve in early February and then target Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour of the Basque Country before focusing on preparing for the Tour de France and then the Vuelta a Espana.
"I'll be targeting the Tour de France and the Vuelta and that won't be easy, in fact the Vuelta will be a bit of an incognito. But I think I can be at a good level," he said, edging his bets.
"We've decided to go for Tirreno-Adriatico because the Paris-Nice course doesn't seem logical for me. Tirreno is hard and complete with a team time trial, a individual time trial and a mountain finish. That's better for me. After Tirreno I'll do Catalunya and the Volta Pais Vasco. Then I'll focus on the Tour."
Support for Riis and Rogers
Contador believes he will benefit from better support from Bjarne Riis in 2014 after the Dane sold the team to Tinkov and accepted the role of team manager.
Riis was in Gran Canaria carefully scrutinizing his riders and talking to Contador. He faces scrutiny of his own in Denmark due to the on-going investigation into allegations of doping in his teams. However, Contador offered him unequivocal support.
"With the arrival of Oleg, Bjarne no longer has to worry about finding sponsors for the future and so is more relaxed and can focus better on working with us all. That includes me because we live near each other in Lugano. That's important for me to have a good season," Contador told Cyclingnews.
"I don’t have all the information to understand what's happening in Denmark. I can only say that Bjarne has never talked about doping with me from the moment we first met. He's always been against it. I think he's got more moral values than all the team directeurs I've ever worked with in my career. He's the best team manager I could have."
Contador was equally supportive of teammate Michele Rogers, who failed a doping test for Clenbuterol at the tour of Beijing in October. Contador also tested positive for the banned steroid at the 2010 Tour de France. He always said his positive was caused by contaminated food and believes that Rogers' positive was caused by the same reason.
"For me there's nothing strange about his case. In fact it's very simple," Contador told Cyclingnews.
"After my experience with the same Clenbuterol problem it's simple: I've got 100 per cent trust in Michael and I expect everything will turn out right. I'm sure it's a case of food contamination, not a doping case. I hope everything will be cleared up because as well as being a good friend, Michael is a great rider that is fundamental for the team."