By Jean-François Quénet in Amilly
Since he won the Tour de France in July 2007, Alberto Contador only returned to France for functions, mostly the launches of the Tour de France. Paris-Nice marks his first race back on French territory. "It's another symbol to me because I won it two years ago," the Spaniard explained at his hotel in Ferrières-en-Gâtinais. "I was frustrated last year when I was not able to defend my title and I'm happy to be back, I like this race."
Astana is no longer banned by the ASO. The "race to the sun" is the start of a new relationship between the world's current best cyclist and the world's most powerful race organiser. Having won the Volta ao Algarve, the only event he's competed in so far this year, the winner of last year's Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España is a natural favourite for Paris-Nice. "After the operation I had to my nose during the winter, I didn't expect to be in good form so early," he said. "I've started training a bit later than usual.
"I don't have an obsession to win Paris-Nice, but I'll race for the win," Contador continued. "This race is courted by many riders so it won't be easy. I cannot control it from start to finish. The last three days suit me but there are dangerous stages before that. I've seen the course of Sunday's time trial, it's dead flat and not technical at all. There aren't changes of rhythm. I'll start strongly and try to lose the minimum of time compared to the other candidates for the final, overall win."
This year, Contador has decided to not take part in any race for the purpose of training. Only if he's got a chance to win will he line up. "Paris-Nice is a very important race, it justifies the first part of the season," he commented. "Shall I win it again, it would for sure give me the confidence for the Tour de France. In any case I won't draw any conclusion and I'll avoid comparisons with 2007."
It was a surprise for him when his teammate Lance Armstrong announced his participation alongside him for the Vuelta a Castilla y León at the end of March. "I haven't insisted for him to come," Contador stated. "This came from some confusion in the media. I think it's good for us to do one race together prior to the Tour de France. Lance gives confidence to the team and the staff. I don't have anything to prove to him. I'll race flat out at the next two races without anything at the back of my mind. I have no doubt about Lance's loyalty during the Tour de France. I'm sure he'll help me if the circumstances of the racing dictate so."
After the Tour of the Basque country, Contador will decide whether or not he'll compete in the Flèche Wallone or Liège-Bastogne-Liège, or both.