Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) came through the opening stage of the 2017 Critérium du Dauphiné without any trouble, finishing safely in 39th with a big group containing the GC contenders. The Spaniard is racing for the first time in almost two months and conceded 59 seconds to stage winner and race leader, Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal), but crossed the line on the same time as Sky's Chris Froome, AG2R La Mondiale's Romain Bardet and BMC Racing's Richie Porte.
"That was a hard stage for the first day of competition after a long time without racing but I'm happy and I feel very good," Contador said after the stage 1 finish in Saint-Étienne.
"We generated a lot of watts at few points in the stage and there wasn't a crash or any problems out there. Maybe the feelings were better than I thought."
Contador, like many of his Tour de France rivals, has spent the last few weeks training at altitude has looks to top up his form ahead of July. The Dauphiné marks his final preparation race before the Tour, where he will be looking for his first overall win since 2009. The 34-year-old's 2017 campaign has been consistent to date with several podium places throughout the first few months of the year. That said, he has not tasted victory since last summer.
"For me it's not important. In cycling you can analyse your performance in different ways and in the finale I've never won but I've been second again and again. For me it's more important to have the feelings in the legs for July."
Trek-Segafredo are certainly looking to take the pressure off Contador ahead of this year's Tour de France. They have tightened the amount of media appointments in order to allow their star rider to train in solitude, while team director Steven de Jongh has stressed that Contador is not at the Dauphiné to challenge for the overall honours.
"We've had an easier preparation than compared to the last few years and we're really going to use the Dauphiné as part of this block of intensity," De Jongh said. "Alberto has never won the overall here and it's tempting to dig deep here and win but in the end the Tour is more important. The Tour is going to be hard, even in the first week, so we went a little bit easier in Tenerife and use this as a real preparation race."
Trek have not turned up at the Dauphiné with their strongest team even if Contador does find himself challenging for the overall honours. Several strong riders are still recovering from the Giro d'Italia and new signing Jarlinson Pantano has been tasked with leading the team at next week's Tour de Suisse. For De Jongh, the team selection for the Dauphiné makes perfect sense when married to Contador's lukewarm GC objectives.
"There are some guys like Felline and Pantano that we'll miss for the mountains, they're not here but in the end we have a balanced team. We're not here to control the race or try to win. That makes it easier to make the decisions when it comes to the composition of the team."