Despite having won the last four grand tours he's entered - a Giro, a Vuelta, and two Tours de France - and his universal acclaim as the best stage racer in cycling, Alberto Contador isn't ready to call himself the patron of the peloton. Tellingly, however, he isn't willing to bestow that title on anyone else, either.
"There are many riders in the peloton who have to be respected," Contador said at the Astana training camp in Calpe, Spain, last week. He admitted, though, that his palmarès place him in a different light. "I realize that with my victories and UCI ranking and everything that I'm a point of reference in cycling for many people."
While some athletes search for such points of reference - a rival to target or against whom to measure themselves - Contador says he prefers not to focus on specific riders.
"It's always difficult to win," he said. "It doesn't matter who's in any given race. I'm not making any changes to my training. Yes, you need to look for places where you can improve. Little things, fine-tuning. But why change what's working?"
As expected, Contador says he's ready to put the difficulties of last year behind him - his inner-team battles with Lance Armstrong and the public squabbles between Armstrong, Johan Bruyneel, and him - but not without ignoring the lessons the season offered.
"Each year you get more experience," he explained. "But the last year was probably equal to two or three normal years, in terms of learning. It helps me."