As the beginning of his Giro d'Italia-Tour de France adventure looms large, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) says that he's in the right place both physically and mentally for the feat that lays ahead of him. He has had a consistent but unspectacular start to the year with a single victory at the Ruta del Sol in February to his name.
While Contador admits that his preparation hasn't been perfect, he knows that his early season goals had to take a back seat in light of what he would face in the middle part of this season.
"I am physically ready for the Giro and psychologically prepared for what awaits me after the Giro," Contador said in an interview with Spanish newspaper AS. "I know that I risked the beginning of the season for the challenge of the Giro and the Tour. At the same time this has the attraction that some people see it as impossible, which motivates me greatly."
Contador's rival Richie Porte (Team Sky) has had a much more fruitful start to the season with three stage race victories in the build-up to the Giro d'Italia, but the Spaniard is not worried. "He's been amazing from the Tour Down Under… He looks very motivated, he knows he has a great opportunity to fight for the general classification, and he will be a tough opponent. We'll have to see how it is but my level in the Giro will be very different."
Contador is aiming to be the first rider to win the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France in a single season since Marco Pantani in 1998. He previously attempted the same double in 2011. His season got off to a flyer, and he already had six wins in the bag by the time he reached Italy before taking a convincing Giro victory, albeit one that would later be taken off him when he was handed a two-year retro-active ban for his positive test for clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour.
The 2011 Tour de France didn't go as planned though, after he lost time in a crash during the first week and looked lacklustre in the mountains. This year has been a much more measured approach and Contador is happy with how he’s progressed but, perhaps, would have liked more success. "I would have liked to have better results, but the form itself was scheduled," he explained.
"Before beginning I said to go to the Giro and the Tour would risk the start of the season. I've had a good level… The only two things that have upset me a little are falls in Tirreno and Catalunya, which can always disrupt something."
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Riis and living like a monk
Speaking of disruptions, there have been a number of big changes within the Tinkoff-Saxo set up over the beginning of the season, namely Bjarne Riis' departure as a directeur sportif. Riis has been replaced by Steven de Jongh, who has been working closely with Contador since he joined the team last season. Contador says it hasn't impacted on him and he defended the team’s decision to make the changes.
"It hasn't affected me at all. Now the person responsible is De Jongh, who is also my coach and we talk every day," said Contador. "Ok, Oleg Tinkov can be one way or another but for business he is a very intelligent person. If he thinks we have to do it without Bjarne, it is because he thinks it can be done better. I support him because Oleg has a vested interest in the team working well."
Earlier this week, Tinkoff-Saxo named an experienced squad to support Contador at the Giro d'Italia. Former winner Ivan Basso is part of the line-up along with Michael Rogers and Roman Kreuziger, with Rogers performing the role of road captain. In recent weeks, several of the Giro team have been in Tenerife on a lengthy training camp. Contador has only ridden three races so far this season, choosing to take himself away from everything to train on Mount Teide.
"On Teide I was totally isolated, a monk. Cycling is now so professionalised that the smallest detail makes the difference between winning or losing," he said. "On the one side it’s hard but, on the other, I know the pressure and the responsibility that I have and I can't work like this anywhere.
"We've ridden many thousands of metres at altitude, practically the metres that we’ll encounter at the Giro but in two weeks. It was a very hard training camp but I am very happy."