Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) said that he expects Chris Froome to be as strong as in 2014, and so it will be up to the Sky rider’s rivals to ensure that he faces more challenges both before and during the Tour de France.
“Under normal conditions, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be as good as last year,” Contador, currently racing in the Volta ao Algarve, told Cyclingnews.
While Sky manager Sir Dave Brailsford has hinted that Froome may have a more gradual build-up to the Tour de France rather than hitting the ground running and winning races throughout the early part of the season as he did in 2013, Contador doesn’t buy into that idea.
“Froome was really consistent throughout the season and I imagine he’ll be the same in 2014. Will it be harder for him? That’s going to depend on us rivals. I’ve been working hard and I’m hoping I’ll make it tougher for him this season.”
Asked about Vincenzo Nibali’s chances in the Tour, Contador says he puts Froome “on a level above” the Astana rider.
“Year by year, Vincenzo is getting stronger and stronger and we shouldn’t forget Vincenzo has already been on the podium of the Tour [in 2012 – ed.] He’s a sure-fire candidate for victory. But I’d still put Froome one level above.”
Contador says he is neither pleased nor regretful that Nairo Quintana (Movistar), the runner-up at last year’s Tour, will miss the race this year in order to focus on the Giro d’Italia. Quintana would have been another dangerous rival for the top spot in Paris for the Spaniard, but perhaps would also have helped to weaken Sky’s grip on the race and indirectly made it easier for Contador to inflict damage on the British team.
“I’m neither happy nor unhappy about his not doing the Tour. You can always say ‘oh, it’s better he’s not there’ because it’s one less rival, but on the other hand he’ll be a lot fresher in the Vuelta than those of us who have ridden the Tour,” Contador said.
“So you could see that as an added difficulty for me in another big objective of mine in the year. You never know beforehand how it’s going to work out.”
Another issue for Contador in the past has been his hay fever, which has affected his racing, but so far he has been unaffected. “It’s too early to say whether that’ll be a problem, it’s not really the worst part of the year for that. I just hope that it doesn’t last so late or as strongly as it did last year,” he said.
In an interview published earlier this week in Spanish sports daily MARCA, Contador also revealed that he would reconnoitre the cobbles on stage 5 of the Tour de France, both “to check out the kind of bike equipment we’ll need, because one mechanical problem can wreck the work of months, and to see what the route itself is like.”
He has also done a lot of work on his climbing over the winter, particularly on building up his strength for long climbs, “because in these early races, the time trials are not so important.”
“But I am aware that the final race against the clock in the Tour is going to have a major impact on that particular race and Froome is a really good time triallist. I’m going to have to do very well in the time trials to be able to win.” Contador agreed that people had been used to seeing him win “and that’s why they think my level has dropped".
Either way, Contador told MARCA that he views Froome as “the reference point [for all the Grand Tour contenders] and he’s totally earned the right to be considered that.” But there is no sign, despite his defeats last year, that Contador has thrown in the towel.