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Astana's Alberto Contador, left, will lead a team at Paris-Nice, while Alexandre Vinokourov captains a squad for Tirreno-Adriatico.
Astana captain ready after repeat win at Algarve
Alberto Contador has predicted a tight contest for the overall title at this year's Paris-Nice, but says he will fight to claim the title that slipped from his grasp last year.
Contador won the event in 2007, but fell out of contention at the 2009 Paris-Nice after he suffered a dramatic and well-publicized hunger knock on the race's penultimate stage to Fayence. The Spaniard named the man who assumed his race lead on that day, compatriot Luis Leon Sanchez, and the latter's Caisse d'Epargne teammate, Alejandro Valverde, as the major favourites in what he described as a "broad" Paris-Nice field.
"Of course I'm going with the team and we will try to fight for victory; aim to be in the fight, although it is very difficult to win," said Contador. "There are very strong riders who will have a better shot than me, like Luis Leon or Valverde, who have raced more this year. [Our] aim, in any case, is be there.
"But in an event like Paris-Nice the list of favourites in very broad. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Fränk Schleck (Saxo Bank), Sandy Casar (Francaise de Jeux) and [Sylvain] Chavanel (Quick Step) are also threats."
Contador will enter the French race on Sunday, as he did last year, with a victory at the recent Volta ao Algarve. The 27-year-old picked up a minor illness at a wet edition of the Portuguese race, but said he had trained well in the interim and felt encouraged ahead of his first race in France since taking his second Tour de France title last July.
"I rested a little longer than expected [after Algarve] because it was a hard return and because of the cold I suffered," he said. "I've also done some more training with the idea of building on the work done during the winter, but I'm not sure if I'm better or worse than in Portugal, because I was already in very good condition there."
Referring to last year's spectacular collapse in Fayance, Contador said he had learnt lessons from that day. "No, I do not want revenge. That was quite a valuable experience that helped me to know that nothing can be neglected. Yes, it took the victory [away from me] in 2009, but it gave me important experience."
On what is a tough course laid out for the 2010 Paris-Nice, Contador pin-pointed the stage four summit finish at Mende as a decisive moment in what will be another tight contest for the overall classification.
"It is a good course, but the difference is that the arrival at Mende is short and very explosive. When I won in 2007 the differences were minimal. This year's victory will be decided by a few seconds and bonuses will likely be important. The last three days mountain will be very difficult to control, as always in Paris-Nice. The podium will be decided by very little."
Contador will hope to get his Paris-Nice campaign off to the same start as last year, where he dominated the race's opening time trial in Montfort-l’Amaury. Despite the complication of the recent ban enforced on his Specialized Shiv time trial bike, Contador will look to repeat on Sunday.
"I will not be using the [bike I used at] Algarve. [A replacement] has not yet come from the United States, but it will arrive on time and I will hopefully record as good a time I can. The route has hills, is eight kilometres and [finishes] fairly flat, but still hope to be with the front. Last year I got the victory; I think this year I'm at the same level."