First up at the start of a day-long run of press conferences in Porto Vecchio, Alberto Contador was his usual calm and relaxed self as he faced what is likely to be the first of many grillings about his rivalry with Sky’s Chris Froome. Describing his condition as being at “90 per cent due to the difficulty of the race this year,” the two-time Tour de France champion played down suggestions that he and Froome are the overwhelming favourites for this year’s title, saying, “There are a lot more actors than us in this film, that’s for sure.”
Back at the Tour after missing last year’s race due to suspension, Contador said of his return: “It’s not much different to other years. The plan is to do the best possible.” Asked about being nudged out of favourite status by Froome, he replied: “It doesn’t change much, it’s better in a way as in previous Tours that pressure all fell on me. That said, the pressure is the same as it always has been at the Tour.”
Speaking at Saxo-Tinkoff’s hotel overlooking stunning Porto Vecchio bay, the Spaniard admitted he had been impressed by Froome’s performances this year, but not intimidated by them. Do you think you can beat the Briton, he was asked? “If I didn’t think I could beat him I wouldn’t be able to find the motivation to be here today.”
As for his admission at the Critérium du Dauphiné that he was only at 75 per cent of his best after being crushed by Froome in the time trial during that race, he commented: “It’s difficult to say where I am right now. That will become clearer when the race gets under way. I would say that I am at about 90 per cent right, which is just about where I want to be given the difficulty of the race this year.”
Understandably, he wouldn’t be drawn on tactics, on when or where he might decide to test out Froome and the other contenders for the yellow jersey. But he did acknowledge: “The route this year provides a lot of opportunities. There are some short mountain stages where you can take a risk and make attacks from a long way out if things have got complicated in the overall standings. But if things go to plan I won’t be thinking about tactics until after the second time trial. At that point, my tactics might need to become more aggressive or perhaps more conservative. In any case, one thing that’s for certain is that there will be more action on this route than in recent years.”
He also played down suggestions of a possible Spanish coalition against Froome. “Everyone will do their own race because we each have our own objectives, but there may well be circumstances when riders’ objectives do overlap. There was a lot of talk about Italian riders forming a coalition against me at the Giro [two years ago], but in the end it came to nothing.”
He acknowledged that one major factor in his favour is the strength of the team around him. “It’s stronger than the line-up we had in 2011 and that will change the way we ride. It’s going to help a lot knowing that they will be able to put me in a better position when we get to the foot of the climbs.”
Contador offered particular praise to his team captain Michael Rogers, who was one of the Sky team who guided Bradley Wiggins to victory last year. “He’s given us some insight into the way Sky work, but he’s also very important because of his palmarès and experience.”
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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).
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