Alberto Contador (Astana) is an automatic favourite for Sunday's Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but the Spaniard insists he is only riding the event to gain experience for the future. Contador says he intends to return to Belgium to target the Ardennes Classics later in his career.
"It'd be nice to be up there, but I don’t know what will happen," he said at a press conference in Liège on Friday.
"I was happy with my result in Flèche Wallonne and I'd like to do well again. Of course this has nothing to do the Tour de France and the result is not important for July. I've ridden this race I think twice, but I haven't really got any experience and so my goal is to learn as much as possible and get to know the course. I'm going to give it everything, but there are questions about what I can do."
"For sure I'd like to come back to try and win the Classics one year. They're important races with lots of history and everyone wants to win them. When the calendar is compatible, I'll ride these race with 100 per cent form."
Contador did not want to make a prediction about what will happen in the race on Sunday, but made it clear he would not want to arrive at the finish in Ans with riders like Alejandro Valverde and Damiano Cunego, who could easily beat him in the sprint.
"I honestly don’t know what going to happen. If I could chose I'd rather finish alone with my arms up. Valverde and Cunego are very fast and so it'd be complicated if I finish with them. With other climbers like Igor Anton or Andy Schleck, I perhaps have more of a chance. Of course, I think [Philippe] Gilbert is a favourite to win. He's racing on home roads and this is the most important week of his season. He will give 100 per cent for sure."
Preparations for the Tour de France pavé
While in northern Europe, Contador will also take the chance to study the sections of cobbles that have been included in this year's Tour de France. He will head to Northern France on Tuesday and test a new bike on the three sections of cobbles that will feature in the final part of the Tour's third stage from Wanze to Arenberg Porte du Hainaut.
"I'm going to see the cobbles on Tuesday to test some new equipment. It's going to be a complicated and difficult stage, and I know I'm going to have to be concentrate 100 per cent. There will be a lot of tension but I'm not worried about it," he said.
Told that Fabian Cancellara has promised to put Fränk and Andy Schleck on his shoulders and blast off the front on the cobbles, Contador joked: "Cancellara has big shoulders and so as well as Andy and Frank there's a room for me too. He can take all three of us…"
Contador knows he will always be asked about former-teammate and now Tour de France rival Lance Armstrong every time he talks to the press. They both raced the Critérium International race in France last month, but there was no clash between the two at the race and Contador avoided any further problems by saying he had not even spoken to Armstrong during the event.
"I saw him… But we didn't speak, not even by chance," he said.
"How did he seem? Like every other rider in the peloton..."
Last week, Contador had been forced to drive from Spain to Belgium, covering almost 2000km in a day and a half because of the consequences of the eruption of the Icelandic volcano. While the long trip was trouble-free and it did not affect his form, Contador made it clear he would be flying home after his reconnoissance session on Tuesday.
"In avion, in avion," he joked, in French. "The long road trip was kind of fun but I'll be going home by plane."
Who knows if he will be going home as the winner of Liège-Bastogne-Liège.