Triple Grand Tour winner Alberto Contador is taking a decidely more gradual approach to the 2009 season than his Astana teammate Lance Armstrong, who is about to kick of his season racing at the Tour Down Under. Rather than hitting out in January, Contador is choosing to set his sights on March.
"It is true that this year my preparation is coming along slower than recent years," said Contador to L'Equipe in an interview published Wednesday. "I finished the 2008 season very tired after racing the Giro and the Vuelta."
The Spaniard is predicting he will reach a "good level" by Paris-Nice in mid-March, but he said his first real test will be the Vuelta a Castilla y León – a race he has won for the past two years – at the end of March. Vowing to ride to win, Contador made clear his objective, which is part of a training plan he has put together with Astana Team Manager Johan Bruyneel.
All of Contador's hard work will be done with one overarching goal in mind: winning the Tour de France. Contador won in 2007, but had to sit out in 2008, when his Astana team was not invited by Tour de France organizers due to doping violations sustained by the team the year prior, before Contador was a member of the squad.
In the lead-up to the Tour, Contador expects to contest the traditional June test, the Dauphiné Libéré. In 2007, Contador lost more than three minutes in the decisive time trial, a margin he could not make up for in the subsequent mountains. After winning the Giro d'Italia in 2008, Contador got a much deserved vacation in June, but he is clearly not finished with the race.
"I would love to win the Dauphiné Libéré is a very prestigious race," said Contador. "But it is a pivotal time. Often, whoever wins Dauphiné pays for his efforts during the Tour. I prefer to arrive at the Dauphiné a little slow and then be ready to fight for victory in the Tour."
After racing the Vuelta al País Vasco in April, Contador will scope some of the key Tour de France stages and undertake some specific preparations for the mountains and the time trials. He observed that there will be only approximately half of the total distance of time trial kilometers that featured in the 2007 Tour de France. "That difference is enormous," he said.
While the media flocks to document Armstrong's comeback attempt in great detail, Contador is enjoying the relative peace that surrounds his training and Tour preparations. "For me, it's quiet now, but there will be more pressure when I return to the Tour."
The two are not scheduled to overlap at races until at least after the Giro d'Italia. "Armstrong's program is unknown after the Giro. We will perhaps be on the line together at the Dauphiné Libéré. The only certain thing is that we are both on for the Tour de France."