Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) already has seven Grand Tours in his palmares, but even with his extensive experience, the Spanish stage race specialist says that for him this year's Tour de France will be a voyage in the dark.
By bidding to become the first rider since 1998 to win a Giro d'Italia-Tour de France double, Contador has argued that, at 32, he is moving into uncharted waters.
"What worries me the most, because it is totally new, is how my body will recover from those efforts," Contador said in a packed press conference on Thursday. "The Tour route, in terms of its mountains, is the hardest of all the Tours I've done and in the first nine days, there are six stages which are going to be really tough. So staying consistent will be the key.
"If had to decide between the feelings I had before last year's Tour " - when Contador said he had best sensations ever prior to a Grand Tour - "and this year I'd choose last year. [Last year] I had prepared for the Tour very well and last year I was not so worried about fatigue and how I would recover.
"I have more doubts than last year. My objective is to win the Tour but I am aware that it is very difficult."
Contador's only personal reference point for this double would be in 2011, when he won the Giro d'Italia and finished fifth in the Tour de France despite several crashes and challenging injuries. However, on other occasions Contador has said that he only rode that summer's Tour de France under pressure from his team, and he was not therefore fully prepared to do it. This time, ever since last winter, the goal has been to take both Giro d'Italia and Tour de France.
There is only room for one rider at the top of the Paris podium, though. So with so many favourites for this year's Tour, Contador arguably starts out with an advantage because he has already won one Grand Tour this year. However, Contador pointed out that depends on your perspective.
"My way of thinking makes me see the 2015 Giro and Tour as a single victory, rather than two separate ones. Having the Giro in my palmares does make me feel a bit less stressed, but the Giro-Tour double is one victory, not two," he argued.
Contador confirmed that the first time he thought about doing both Grand Tours was immediately prior to his comeback to stage racing at the Vuelta a España last summer, having crashed out from the Tour de France in July.
"It was just before I raced the Vuelta last year, I wasn't in the best of shape, I had a lot of doubts, but I thought, if I win this I could maybe go for the double next year. That was the first moment."
With the Vuelta duly won, Contador has stepped up his game for 2015. Yet even if Contador is aware that the Tour itself will be a voyage in the dark, he says that he will be rolling down the start ramp on Saturday with everything in place to go for the win.
"In general, I'm in good shape. I've been balancing my time between training and rest. I was worried that I wouldn't recover well from the Giro, but I have. Both my head and body are in good shape, and it was maybe harder on my head [to recover well] than anything else. Now it's up to me to take the Tour day by day."
Contador is not the only Tinkoff-Saxo rider to do the double. Mick Rogers, who already did both races alongside Contador in 2014 is another, and three more riders from the Russian squad - Roman Kreuziger, Matteo Tossato and Ivan Basso - are also 'doubling up'. This is notably different to Sky, which has just two riders - Richie Porte and Leopold König - doing both, Astana, who have one (Tanel Kangert) or Movistar, who have no 'doublers'.
"Five of us are doing the Giro-Tour but the five are all veterans, with a lot of experience and endurance," Contador explained. "Hopefully we have recovered well from the Giro and I am really hopeful that the whole group will operate at a higher level than the team did in the Giro, too."
At this point, the press conference was interrupted when Contador was offered a 'good luck' yellow canary by a Dutch tv station, which he accepted with several jokes and a smile. (This was, at least, not as tricky as having to deal with a live eagle, which Federico Bahamontes - aka 'the Eagle of Toledo' - was gifted by a fan when the Spanish climber won the Tour in 1959.)
Whether Contador finally gets to keep the canary or not - he said he no longer has time for his teenage hobby of keeping birds as pets - yellow will be the colour uppermost in his thoughts this July. But is he ready for the challenge? The overall impression he gave on Thursday afternoon was a mood of cautious optimism.
"I really don't know if I'm fully recovered or not, I know that I had 33 or 34 days before the Tour and I have made lots of sacrifices - every hour, every minute, every day - to rest the most I possibly could. I've missed out on parties, dinners, going out, and I hope that's enough. In my head I feel really motivated, and how my body will react is a new challenge, but I'm very happy with the condition I have," he said.
It's often said that you can't win the Tour in the first week but you can lose it, but on Thursday Contador added another twist to that particular well-worn cliché.
"I'd like to finish the first week with 20 minutes to hand over the second," he jokingly observed, before adding in more serious tones that "It's a hard week and as ever it's going to be fundamental not to crash or fall off, and that's hard enough.
"Every year they say the Tour is something you have to take day by day, and that's always true, but this time it's even more the case than usual. The first day [stage] it could be windy, the second day there's the Mur de Huy, the third day there are the cobbles…"
However, Contador is adamant that despite his worries about the Tour, he's found this challenge of trying for a Giro-Tour double to be worth while. "I tend to think that everything in life is a challenge and a motivation and this is something that motivates me and drives me on." he observed. "I I were to win the Tour full stop, it wouldn't change my career so much, something that people would remember would be winning the Giro and the Tour in the same year."
The second half of that challenge, then, is just about to begin.
To subscribe to the Cyclingnews video channel, click here.
Thank you for signing up to Cycling News. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.