All set to take on Tour challenge
Alberto Contador will be joining his Astana teammates in France on Tuesday for one last test run of the stage four team time trial in Montpellier, before arriving in Monaco for the start of the 2009 Tour de France set to begin next Saturday, July 4. Following his recent victory at the Spanish national time trial championships the 2007 Tour winner says he will arrive to this year's edition well-prepared and highly motivated.
"I have done the preparation that I believed is well-suited, always thinking of the Tour," Contador said. "I have not had any setbacks and I hope to have success. The team time trial will be the fourth day of the race and it's a key stage for the general classification riders. Because of this we are going to see it before travelling to Monaco."
Contador claimed his first national time trial championship title in Spain on Friday. His time trialing abilities have improved dramatically since past years where he has claimed three time trial stage wins in the Tour of Algarve, Paris-Nice and Pais Vasco.
"Winning the national jersey has not influenced me a lot, but it gives me more morale now," he said. "I'm very proud to have won the championship. I knew that I could win or lose but my idea was to make it my last test before the Tour and that if I won, it would be a burst of morale."
Contador noted the importance of performing well in the opening individual time trial in Monaco on Saturday. "It is better than in the other years when it was completely flat," he said. "The course is not too bad for me and my aim is to lose as little time as possible to those in contention for the general classification and if it is possible, take some time early. In this Tour the differences will be small and any time that can be taken will be very good in the end."
He went on to point out his likes and dislikes of the the Tour route and its changes since his 2007 victory. "The first and second week lack the more decisive mountian finishes like the Aubisque or Plateau de Beille when I won in 2007," he said. "On the other hand, I like the first time trial, the distance is longer, a relatively good distance for me, and then the first mountain stage is not too far, the seventh. I also like that the third week is more difficult - recovery will be important and this should benefit me."
Cautious Contador acknowledges Tour rivals
In 2008, Contador was sidelined from starting in the Tour de France after his Astana team was not invited to the race by the Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO). This year he is back and ready to work hard in the face of tough opposition for a second Tour title.
"The whole world expects me to win but I'm conscious that it is very difficult," Contador continued. "I'm going to try [to win] with all my power but I am conscious of the difficulty. There are a group of riders who also have the ability and that stand out from the rest and I am there too, no more and no less. But the Tour is 21 days and there are many factors that influence the outcome: crashes and wind. I am a favorite, but so many other people are, too."
The organisers of the Tour de France announced that Astana would not be invited to any of their events in 2008 due to previous doping violations by Astana, despite the fact that its management and most of its riders had changed before the 2008 season. The non-invite meant that Contador, along with Levi Leipheimer, third placed in the 2007 Tour, were unable to defend their podium positions.
"Certainly this is something special to race this year, but not because of missing 2008," he said. "It is special because it is the best race of the world, which changed my life, and also because I have been preparing for it the whole year even though I did not go last year."
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