Alberto Contador made his return to the professional ranks yesterday when the opening stage of the Eneco Tour began. Having missed barely half of the season, it was unsurprising to see Contador having little trouble in his first competitive day since his ban ended. He was however, pleased to make it through an eventful stage on a parcours that is not suited to his characteristics.
"I had a pretty good feeling, considering that it was not the best day to debut, with more than 200 kilometres, rain, wind and all flat," he said at the finish. "I don’t think we climbed more than 100 meters in the whole stage."
The Eneco Tour is being used by Contador and his Saxo Bank-Tinkoff team as preparation for the Vuelta a España. The nine-man roster is yet to be announced but Contador will have to negotiate a further six stages before assessing his ability to win the final grand tour of the year - for a second time.
"For us it was all about safety and not taking any silly risks, going to the front of the pack and staying out of trouble and we succeeded perfectly. The riders were working brilliantly as a team and Alberto seems as strong and determined as ever. Tomorrow, we hope for a very good result on the team time trial and we have to put in a 100 percent effort in order to deliver just that and put Alberto as close to the top of the rankings as possible," said team director Fabrizio Guidi.
Contador will be able to test his condition against the clock in the penultimate day during stage six’s 17.4 kilometre individual time trial but admits that the main priority is getting through this week without falling. His teammates sheltered their leader throughout the day’s conditions and kept him out of trouble leading into the final kilometres.
"Yes, the goal was to avoid falls and the best way for that is to be ahead. It is true that we spent energy, thinking that tomorrow is a time trial, but the objective here is not falling, because the main goal is later," said Contador.
It would seem that morale within the team is positive and, at least for now, Contador is pleased with the efforts of his teammates in his debut in the newest Saxo Bank-Tinkoff colours.
"I’m very happy to be back with all my teammates of Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank. I am delighted with all of them... I hope that in the rest of the season we can be protagonists."