Bjarne Riis has claimed that Alberto Contador is in the best form he’s seen since signing the Spaniard in 2011 and although Riis has marked Chris Froome as the favourite for this year’s Tour de France, he believes that Contador will be among the Team Sky rider’s main challengers.
Contador finished a distant fourth in last year’s Tour de France and came away from the season with just one competitive win: a stage in the Tour de San Luis in January. However this season the 31-year-old appears to be back to the level when he was the best stage race rider in the peloton.
Contador tested positive for a tiny amount of Clenbuterol after the 2010 Tour de France. He continued to race during the disciplinary process but was eventually retrospectively banned for two years in January 2012. He lost his 2010 Tour de France victory and his victory at the 2011 Giro d'Italia. His ban ended in August 2012 he went on to win the Vuelta a Espana.
“I think he’s reached a good level. There’s been a lot of hard work and it’s been nice to follow. There’s a lot of determination and I’m happy to see him back to that level. I think this is the best I’ve seen him since he came to the team. It’s hard to compare but he’s definitely strong,” Riis told Cyclingnews.
When asked what he put Contador’s recent success down to or whether Contador simply needed a poor 2013 in order to regain his form, Riis replied: “Some years are good, and some years are less good. He had some tough years but he’s had a good winter and has a good programme. For us it’s just important that he’s at a good level and that he’s up there where we want to see him.”
Contador began his 2014 season with a stage win and second overall in the Vuelta ao Algarve and backed that up with two stage wins and the overall in Tirreno-Adriatico. Second overall at the Tour of Catalunya followed before a stage and the overall classification at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco were sealed earlier this month to leave the Spaniard top of the UCI WorldTour rankings.
“He was among the favourites last year and he’s going to be among them this year, “ Riis said in relation to the Tour de France.
“Froome obviously the big favourite and the man to beat, there’s no doubt about that but there will be some other guys. Valverde is doing good.”
Of all Contador’s performance so far this year it’s second place in the individual time trial in Pais Vasco that stands out for Riis. In the 25.9km stage Contador finished seven seconds down on World time trial champion Tony Martin but put around a minute into Alejandro Valverde, Tejay van Garderen and Cadel Evans. Contador’s time trial, once one of his strongest weapons has been inconsistent and on the decline since around 2010, before his ban for Clenbuterol.
“It was important to see the one he did in Pais Vasco. That was crucial for him, mentally, that he was up there and really strong. That has maybe been the most important thing this year because he needed that, to show to himself that he could do it.”