Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) has stated categorically that nothing less than victory will count in the Tour de France this year, and that while Chris Froome (Team Sky) is top favourite and in great shape, “nobody is unbeatable.”
“The objective can only be to win,” Contador told Spanish sports daily AS on Tuesday. “If I was only fighting to finish second, I wouldn’t be motivated enough to make the sacrifices I have to.
“But it’s clear that there is a top favourite [Froome], who’s been really strong in the last two years, and who will be equally strong this year.
“It’s going to be difficult to beat him, but nobody’s unbeatable. That’s what they said about me, too.
“At the end of the day, what you have to do is be as strong as possible and see where that gets you. Last year he dominated the Tour and there was absolutely nothing we could do about that. I felt a bit odd when our team went up on the  Tour podium as winners of the best team award. That’s one of the things that has spurred me on to do better this year.”
Contador described his relationship with Froome as one of mutual respect. The Briton certainly expressed admiration and thanks to both Contador and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) for slowing the pace in the peloton when he crashed in stage six of the Dauphiné.
Although he pinpointed the final time trial of the race as “the day which will decide the outcome of the Tour” and Froome’s time trialling as the Briton’s “strongest suit,” Contador was very impressed by Froome’s attack on the Dauphine’s first mountain top finish, where he felt he was stronger than at the 2013 Tour.
“I’ve never seen anybody ever do that. It was way stronger than what he did on the Ventoux last year,” said Contador. “It was very tough and sustained, 35 seconds flat out. That gives you something to respect, although not to fear.”
One interesting subtext here is that while Contador couldn’t handle Froome’s attack in the Ventoux last year, in the Dauphine, though never able to counter-attack or even overhaul the Briton on the stage two ascent, he did manage to hold his wheel to the top.
The gap between the two, then, appears to have been a lot closer, and Contador went on to finish the Dauphiné in second place overall - and ahead of Froome, who cracked on the final day, still suffering, it seems, from the effects of his crash on stage 6.
Contador remains seriously impressed by Froome’s form, but he also argued that Bradley Wiggins’ absence from the Tour line-up represented a loss for Team Sky, at least viewed from outside the team.
“What we can see, from an external point of view, is that they are not going to have a rider there who has won the Tour, who has a great deal of experience and who right now is in a great state of form. From inside... I don’t know what the circumstances are that have caused them to take this decision.”