Like the rest of us, Alberto Contador is waiting to hear whether the UCI will appeal against the Spanish federation’s decision not to ban him after his positive test for clenbuterol. That decision is due by March 24, and in the meantime the Spaniard is focusing on his build-up to the Giro d’Italia, which continues this week with a debut appearance in the Volta a Catalunya.
Speaking to Cyclingnews on the eve of the centenary edition of the Catalan race, Contador admitted that his form and his confidence in his Saxo Bank-SunGard team are growing rapidly. “I’m going better and better all the time now and over the last few weeks I’ve been training normally,” Contador said. “For the Volta I am hoping to be at a good level but I know that I will be lacking a bit of race speed. That’s normal, because my objective is still to do a good Giro d’Italia.”
Contador has good memories of Catalonia going back to 2005, when he was the last rider to win the long-standing Setmana Catalana stage race. That event’s slot on the calendar is now filled by the Volta, a race that Contador has surprisingly not appeared in before. Consequently, he admits that he’s not lacking in motivation this week, especially as the level of competition is extremely high indeed.
“Taking part in a race which I’ve never ridden before always provides an extra bit of motivation, even more so because it’s in Catalonia. But I’ve got plenty of rivals, so many in fact that I cannot name them all. Evans will be there on the back of his Tirreno victory, plus Menchov, Basso, Scarponi, Igor Antón and many others who I have forgotten to mention but will also have serious hopes.”
Contador acknowledged, however, that this year’s Volta route does not play in his favour. “The fact that there is no time trial doesn’t make this an ideal race for me and I think that the third stage, which finishes in Andorra, will now be the one that will make the difference,” he explained.
With a view on the longer term, Contador refuted widely made suggestions that his Saxo Bank team has been fundamentally weakened by the departure of so many big name riders during the off-season. He also admitted that the few months he’s spent with working with Bjarne Riis’s outfit have made him more relaxed than he has been for a long time.
“I think we’ve got a great team, although perhaps one with fewer big names than we had last year,” he said. “But we’ve got riders of enormous quality. Over the last few weeks we’ve been drawing up potential line-ups for the Giro and Tour and I can tell you that we’ve got more than enough quality riders, which makes me feel very happy looking ahead.”
And what about his first impressions of working with Riis?
“My relationship with Bjarne is very good, we’ve got a good rapport and I have to say that I feel so good about this team that I’m more relaxed than I’ve been for a long time. I’ve got a huge amount of confidence in him.”
Contador also admitted that the response he has had from his peers and fans since returning to competition at the Volta ao Algarve last month has lifted him. “My colleagues in the peloton have welcomed back completely normally, which has been perfect for me,” he said. “With regard to the fans, their reaction has been incredible, and I even think that I’ve got more support now than I had before if that’s possible.”