Alberto Contador has had his say on his rivals for the 2017 Tour de France, marking out Chris Froome as the out-and-out favourite and commenting that Nairo Quintana is playing a 'risky' game by attempting to win the Giro d'Italia as well.
On Wednesday, Contador will line up at the Ruta del Sol for his first competitive outing of the season - and first appearance in a Trek-Segafredo jersey - and he spoke to the press at a PR event for his development team on Monday.
"It's clear that in the last few years Froome has been dominant at the Tour and this year he will once again be the favourite," he said. "Froome will arrive at the Tour at the top of his game, while Nairo is taking a risky gamble."
Contador was the last rider to attempt the Giro-Tour double in 2015, aiming to become the first since Marco Pantani in 1998 to pull off the feat. He ticked off the first part of the challenge with a commanding performance at the Giro, but those efforts took their toll and he was below his best at the Tour, finishing fifth.
"It has its difficulties," Contador said. "It will all depend on how he approaches the race, since he could leave the responsibility to riders like [Vincenzo] Nibali or [Fabio] Aru, who will be going all out in the centenary Giro. Quintana will be one of the favourites for the Tour, even if doing the Giro maybe isn't the best option."
Contador is widely regarded as the best stage racer of a generation, with two Tour de France titles, two at the Giro, and three at the Vuelta a Espana – not including the 2010 Tour or 2011 Giro that were stripped from his palmares after a doping sanction. Froome, however, is quickly catching up, with three Tour victories in the last four editions.
Contador feels he has not been able to do himself justice at the Tour in those years, with crashes and illness disrupting his 2016 race but, despite initially considering retirement in 2017, he is heading into his first race full of optimism.
"I have high hopes this year with Trek. I'm excited to get cracking with this season. Everything has started out better than in previous years," he said. "I'm demanding, but I see that at Trek everyone's like that. That motivates me.
"The Tour is my major objective and I hope not to have any setbacks and be able to perform as I hope to, because in the previous years I've not been at my level. I want my performance to depend on myself, on my legs, and not on other factors. At the moment, all the numbers after the Tenerife training camp are very good and that's a real boost."
Basso: Contador is one of a kind
One man who believes Contador can win the Tour this year is his close friend Ivan Basso, who has followed the Spaniard from Tinkoff to Trek in a support staff capacity.
Basso, himself a two-time Giro champion, told Spanish news Agency EFE that Contador's battle is a personal one - not a case of constantly looking round at his rivals - and that if he can banish the recent spate of bad luck then his class will show through.
"I've never seen Alberto Contador with his head down. He's one of a kind who fights for himself, for his objectives. He conducts himself like Usain Bolt when he goes to a World Championships or Olympic Games. We're talking about the best active Grand Tour rider. His titles at the Tour, Vuelta and Giro are plain to see," said Basso.
"The main rivals are Froome and Quintana, but Contador's fight is with himself - the fight over his own legend. Last year he was in form but luck wasn't with him. If he goes up against those guys in equal conditions, then it's clear he can win the Tour. I hope he doesn't have bad luck. He's 34, but he's still a unique rider."