Alberto Contador believes Chris Froome’s chances of success at the Tour de France will in no way be diminished by the effects of COVID-19 and the postponement to September, with Froome benefitting from the two-month delay.
The Tour de France is currently scheduled to start on August 29, two months later than originally planned, although as for all sporting events, the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on those dates remain to be seen.
Contador is convinced, he tells Cyclingnews, that Froome will benefit from the delay: partly because with such a lengthy time gap between racing after his 2019 Critérium du Dauphiné crash, it means the Ineos leader will be even hungrier to win. The delay to racing will also equal out any advantage other riders might have had at the start of the season while Froome was still completing his rehabilitation and early training.
"The change of dates for the Grand Tours will favour riders who are strongest mentally," Contador tells Cyclingnews. "It won’t be at all easy for riders to stay completely on track, all the way up until the start of the racing season in the second half of the year."
Rather than a simple physical challenge to stay in good form during lockdown, Contador believes the real tests lie elsewhere.
"All through this lockdown, you have to go on being professional and above all, living that life of a pro – sticking to the diet, training and paying attention all the tiny details – and that process is going to be so tough, it means those who are strongest mentally will benefit the most."
In the specific case of Froome, Contador argues that: "This delay suits him a great deal. Because he had an accident, a really bad one, even if we saw in February his comeback is going very well. But the competitors who’d had a good winter as well were still ahead of him and it maybe was hard for him to be at their level."
In the UAE Tour, his first event back since the Dauphiné, Froome could handle the speed and power requirements of racing on the flat without difficulty but, as was only logical and in keeping with Contador’s analysis, he was still a fair way off the level of the top contenders on the twin ascents of the Jebel Hafeet summit climb. He soon eased up on the climbs and finished 11 minutes down on the winner Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) on the first occasion and five minutes down the second.
Contador believes that when the new post-COVID-19 season eventually starts, the playing field will be more level.
"Now everybody’s got to get through this lockdown, everybody’s starting from scratch and they are in the same place as Froome, when it comes to their physical condition. By August, he’ll have made up on that lost ground," Contador predicts.
"When a rider like Froome gets to the starting line, a rider who’s so motivated to go for a fifth Tour, who’s so keen to go on proving he’s still the same racer as he was before his crash and who’s also going to be so hungry to compete because he’ll have been longer off the bike than almost anybody, then all of that constitutes a huge plus in Froome’s favour."
"That’s why I consider he’s going to be one of the top contenders in the Tour de France and why he’s perfectly capable of winning his fifth."
Helping the fight against COVID-19
Contador retired after the 2017 season, ending his career and rivalry with Froome with two Tour de France victories and two wins at the Giro d'Italia and three at the Vuelta a Espana. Froome has won the Tour de France four times, the Vuelta a Espana twice and the Giro d'Italia once.
Contador now runs a development team with Ivan Basso and his brother Fran and commentates for Eurosport in Spain. Still one of the biggest sports stats in Spain, he has made his contribution to fight against COVID-19 by auctioning the 2011 bike he used in the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France to make money for the Red Cross. The bike had a starting price of 2,500 dollars but the sale hit a glitch when the bidding reached 20,000 Euros.
"It was going really well, but when it reached that price, eBay automatically blocked the bidding because apparently it was making so much more than products of the same type," Contador explains.
"The price went up so much that it ended being cancelled. I tried to solve the problems over the following two to three days, but it was impossible because it was the Easter holidays. Finally we had to do it all through a Spanish auction house and it still went for 22,500 Euro, which is very good but I think it would have been double that price on eBay."
"Even so, still very good to be able to collaborate in this fight against Covid-19 which is affecting Spain so much, and it’s important to try and make a contribution to that, be it small or large."