As he prepares to battle for a Giro d'Italia-Tour de France double, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) says he is in good shape, fully recovered from a micro-fissure in his sacrum caused by a crash late on in Volta a Catalunya and looking forward to getting stuck into the most important challenge of his career.
Widely considered the greatest stage racer of his generation, Contador's aim of taking a Giro-Tour double, the first since Marco Pantani, is an exceptionally ambitious target in anybody's book. But as the 32-year-old Spaniard has said throughout the last six months, therein lies part of the interest in his trying to succeed in it.
With the start of the Giro d'Italia fast approaching on May 9, the first part of that challenge is now just days away. And as Contador told Cyclingnews during the final part of his training block at altitude in Teide in the Canary Islands earlier this week, his form is exactly where he wants it to be for the Grand Tour.
"I'm going very well, the big blocks of training here in the Canaries are all but finished and I'm now beginning to go through the recovery phase prior to the Giro," he said.
"I've done a huge amount of climbing rides in these last three weeks and now what we've got to do is ease back before next week."
The one hiccup, a micro-fissure in the sacrum – a minute but painful crack in a bone in the lower back, caused by the crash in the closing kilometres of the second last stage of the Volta a Catalunya in late March – was discovered with a hospital visit a week after he started training in the Canaries. Contador, although injured, completed the stage, and finished the race fourth overall.
In the Canaries, Contador took the step of training with his back wheel at a lower pressure to reduce the impact on his lower back as his body recovered. "We put the pressure down to four or five bars, around half the usual, and we altered the saddle position so my back wouldn't hurt so much. But fortunately I've now recovered, and for the last three or four days I've been training with my tyres at normal pressure, eight or nine bars, and that makes me feel very confident."
Contador has been training on Tenerife with his director and trainer Steve de Jongh and three other Tinkoff-Saxo riders, Ivan Basso, Michael Rogers and Jesús Hernandez, while Italy's Matteo Tosatto has come in for the last part of the training camp. Rather than taking a lot of books to avoid the boredom factor of training in a fairly remote part of the world for three weeks, Contador said: “Being in your own country, you've got access to television and internet, so it's not so bad. I enjoy it. Other guys have a tougher time of it, but I really like it. I can focus on riding my bike and I don't have the distractions or pressure that I get when I'm in other places.
"Here it's relaxed, you don't have to be constantly looking at the weather forecast like you do in Lugano [where Contador lives – ed.] and adapting your training to those circumstances because you know it'll be good."
Asked if he's ready to go all-out for the Giro, Contador replied with a simple, "Yes." He admitted that he is not yet firing on all cylinders in the way he was before the Tour de France in 2014, "but that wasn't the objective. I've got to remember I've then got 33 days between the end of the Giro and the start of the Tour. The race will show me exactly where I am."
The mid-race time trial, he agrees, is the first major landmark in this year's Giro d'Italia for the general classification contenders.
Looking at rivals, Richie Porte (Sky) has had the most spectacular build-up to the Giro d'Italia by far, with a stage win as far back as the Tour Down Under, and overall wins in Paris-Nice, the Volta a Catalunya – where he beat Contador on the one summit finish, at La Molina – and the Giro del Trentino.
"He's been really strong, practically all the races he's been in he's either won them or come close. He's in good shape, he's really motivated and focused on the Giro. He's going to be hard to be beat. But I wouldn't just think about him, there's also [Rigoberto] Urán and [Fabio] Aru, both were on the Giro podium last year. Aru's young and clearly has got the potential to have improved since then while last year Urán was second and this year the route suits him even more.
"Urán is fast in sprints as well, if there are time bonuses to grab at finishes, and there is a very long time trial, which suits him. So Richie has been very strong all season, but you can't rule out the others. And then the Giro is probably the Grand Tour where it's most likely that names that don't figure in the pre-race contender sheet pop up out of nowhere and have a major impact on the race."
Contador's last full-on training ride prior to the Giro d'Italia will be when he takes part in his Gran Fondo event, the 170-kilometre Marcha Alberto Contador, on Saturday May 2 in Plasencia in western Spain. After that, the gloves will be off for real.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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