The Spaniard completed the first half of his audacious Giro-Tour double tilt in May and faces a race against time to recover and get himself in prime condition for July if he is to become the first rider to achieve the Grand Tour double since Marco Pantani in 1998.
After 15 days of ‘active rest’ following the Giro d'Italia, Contador returns to racing on Thursday at the mountainous four-day Route du Sud in France, where he will also face Tour de France rival Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
"For me it is an unknown. I can't know now in what form I will be," he said in an interview published on the Tinkoff-Saxo team website ahead of the race. "The most important thing is that I look forward to racing in the Route du Sud because it will give me speed in the legs and I will be in motion again. Surely, it will take some time to ramp up, but I have a good foundation and this will allow me to carry out a good training in racing mode."
Contador won the Giro d'Italia thanks to his class and experience but he regularly found himself without teammates at crucial junctures, which, with Astana racing so aggressively, took its toll on the Spaniard. The first and only suggestions of real weakness came on the penultimate stage on the Colle delle Finestre, where Contador was dropped but limited his losses with a steady ride to Sestriere.
"Physically and muscularly I still feel the wear from the Giro, especially that of the final week, which was very hard," said Contador. "As a result, I tried above all to rest as much as possible during this time. I focused on recovering and I have only done three days of specific training to activate my body."
Training at altitude for the Tour de France
"After going to Pinto to celebrate the victory with my friends and family, I went to Lugano and from there to Livigno, where I was isolated and concentrated. It's a good place, with iconic mountain passes very close, such as Gavia and Stelvio, but also with the possibility to train in flat terrain at an altitude of 1,800 meters. I took advantage of this to prepare my return to competition, although I will face this race [Route du Sud] in a more relaxed mode."
If Contador doesn’t know how his legs will respond this week, he is even less sure about how things will pan out in July. Nevertheless he is relishing the challenge of achieving something that would cement his place in the pantheon of Grand Tour greats. Whereas victory at the Giro d'Italia seemed to be ticked off with relative ease, doing the double is a different challenge entirely.
"I see it with uncertainty, but also with the motivation to experience something that is new to me," said the 32-year-old. "I'm mentally very excited and motivated with this challenge. Physically, when I get up, my legs still hurt, I feel some muscle fatigue, but this is normal."
"If it were easy, I wouldn't have this motivation and, on second thought, there are still more days ahead to recover than days that have passed since the end of the Giro. I hope to reach the start in top condition."
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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.
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