Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) was always going to be the focus of some scrutiny during the opening salvoes of the Vuelta a España, and a third of the way into the race, his overall rival Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) has described the Contador’s performance to date as “nervous.”
Contador returned to competitive action in early August after six months on the sidelines as part of his back-dated suspension for a positive test for clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour de France. Valverde, who himself return from a two-year ban for suspected blood doping in January, said that Contador is still getting himself back up to speed.
“After a long time without competing, you need a bit of time to get your rhythm back,” Valverde told EFE. “He is still very competitive, physically he is going well, he’s third overall, but he seems a little nervous and he is attacking where you don’t need to attack. But he has his approach to the race and it is certainly making it tough for us.”
Contador currently lies 3rd overall, a minute down on overall leader Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and seven seconds ahead of Valverde. Contador looked set to claim his first victory since his return to competition when he launched a searing attack on the Collada de la Gallina on Saturday, but Valverde and Rodriguez swept past him in the finishing straight.
In Barcelona on Sunday, Contador attacked before the final ascent of Montjuic, but was unable to follow when Rodriguez went away on the climb itself. Speaking during Monday’s rest day, Contador dismissed Valverde’s charge that he was nervous.
“Not at all,” Contador said. “At Montjuic, I didn’t know the finale, which was a shame, because I could have finished higher up – if not with Joaquim and Philippe Gilbert, then at least close to them. But apart from that, I’m pretty tranquilo.”
The Vuelta resumes on Tuesday with a 190km stage to Sanxenxo, but the next major rendezvous is the stage 11 time trial to Pontevedra. With little more than a minute separating Rodriguez, Chris Froome (Sky), Contador and Valverde, it is set to be a key moment in the development of the race.
“It will be a pretty good time trial for me but the other three won’t go badly there either,” Contador said. “You have to go up and down a climb, so it suits a rider like Joaquim better than if it were a flat time trial.”
Valverde was also bullish about his chances for the remainder of the Vuelta, a race he won in 2009 prior to finally serving a suspension for his links to blood doping doctor Eufemiano Fuentes.
“I have a lot of respect for Froome, Purito and Alberto, but no fear,” said Valverde, who has already won two stages at the Vuelta. “The team and I are going to do everything possible to keep the winning streak going. I had no pressure coming into this race and I’m enjoying it all the more.”