Alberto Contador appeared fit and determined as he reached the Swiss Alps before tackling the Critérium du Dauphiné, which is his first race since Liège-Bastogne-Liège in April. He played down his ambitions to win the French stage race and insisted that the recent renouncement of defending champion Bradley Wiggins doesn't modify his mental approach of the Tour de France.
"After the Classics, I really needed to take a rest," Contador told reporters in a press conference in Val d'Illiez. "The early part of my season had been long and intense. Now I've started a harder bloc of training than at the beginning of the year. It's too early for me to tell in what condition I am right now. There's still one month to go to the start of the Tour de France and the third week will be very difficult.
"I'm at the Dauphiné to figure out my state of form and see if the engine needs some adjustments for the Tour. But I'm happy with my preparation."
Contador has raced the Dauphiné only three times, each time prior to winning the Tour de France (although he was later disqualified from the 2010 victory after testing positive for clenbuterol), but he has never won the race. He isn't expecting that record to change.
"Every time I've raced the Dauphiné," he continued, "it's been for gearing up for the Tour. I've come second [in 2010], third [in 2009] and sixth [in 2007] here before and once again, I'll race without thinking of the overall victory. The Tour is the goal. I'm motivated. I need to resume racing and ride long climbs. Shall there be a day to test myself, I'll give it a go but I'm looking at a bigger picture. The overall classification of the Tour de France is the one I want to win."
Questioned about the absence of Wiggins at the Tour, the Spaniard answered without any hesitation. "Truly, it doesn't change much for me and it won't change the strategy of the race," he said. "Wiggins is a good rider. He has won the Tour once. But this year, his teammate Chris Froome is the favorite. I wasn't surprised about what happened to Wiggins at the Giro. This is a race with a lot of rain, narrow roads, ups and downs where things can change anytime."
Asked to comment about his duel with Froome in the early season races (Tour of Oman, Tirreno-Adriatico) and the upcoming races, Contador turned down the concept of a match between them. "I think it would be degrading a three-week race to only take two riders in consideration," the leader of Saxo-Tinkoff reacted.
"This year, Froome is the reference. Me also, but for my past. The Giro has given the perfect example of an expected duel that didn't happen. It was going to be Wiggins vs. Nibali, wasn't it? At the Tour, the race can be different than in the early part of the year and the Dauphiné.
"The Tour is more than just about two riders. There are always some young riders improving their level. I never like to list the favorites because I'm sure to miss someone, but there a lot of protagonists. Joaquim Rodriguez has also improved a lot with his second places at the Giro and the Vuelta last year. Alejandro [Valverde] has always been a great rider over three weeks. [Cadel] Evans has also won the Tour de France, I need to take it into consideration."