With the start of the Giro d'Italia only 16 days away, Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-SunGard) knows his health needs to improve if he is to reach his top level. After finishing 11th in Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday, he told journalists that he was "still recovering" from a cold.
"I felt really strong, in the race my legs worked well," Contador said near his team bus, smiling and looking relaxed. "The problem was that when I was going up the climb I wasn’t at 100 percent."
During his quick interview Contador tried to be reassuring in light of some of the rumours circulating about his form at the Vuelta a Castilla y León last week. Some riders and directeurs sportifs confided to Cyclingnews that the Spaniard was unusually uncomfortable in his teammates’ slipstream. However, Contador explained that he had mechanical problems, notably five punctures, as well as a bad cold. He finished 24th overall and won the final time trial.
On the eve of Flèche Wallonne, Contador had said in a statement that he was not feeling very optimistic: "I started the Castilla y León not feeling great and it’s since gotten worse. I thought I would get better faster, so I don’t think I’ll be at my best." Nonetheless, that same day experts including Laurent Jalabert and Jean-François Bernard tipped Contador as the number one favourite for Flèche Wallonne, especially as he finished third in the race last year after launching an attack 300 metres from the line.
This time around Contador ultimately finished in 11th place, 17 seconds down on Philippe Gilbert. While that is a good result for a rider suffering with a cold, it was not big enough to put an end to the concerns about the state of his health.
However, team manager Bjarne Riis said that the cold won't affect Contador's performances in the Giro. "I don't believe this," he smiled. "Alberto enjoyed himself riding the Flèche Wallonne and he tried something. Physically he's very strong now as the results show."
In his interview after the race, Contador added that he was "very pleased with the team’s work today" and with his "sensations." Saxo Bank-Sungard indeed provided a strong presence at the front of the peloton.
"Once we decide Alberto is the leader we have to protect him all the day," his directeur sportif Philippe Mauduit explained.
The Frenchman also pointed out that Contador needed to ride the Flèche Wallonne as part of his Giro preparation. "He could do some punchy efforts," he said.
Contador won't ride Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday as his 2011 schedule didn't include the Classic. Asked if he was sorry not to race La Doyenne, he answered: "Yes, but I have to recover fully from this cold and I’m building up now for the Giro and I need to be at 100 percent for that."
Cyclingnews understands that Contador will train in Italy next week, carrying out a reconnaissance of four key stages, primarily in the Dolomites.