Even though the Vuelta has yet to begin, this is the first time Contador has spoken in public since confirming in a press release that he will quit the sport when the race reaches Madrid late on the evening of September 10. Friday's press conference, then, had something of a farewell feel to it, albeit in the context of a race.
Flanked by team manager Luca Guercilena and his personal press officer Jacinto Vidarte in a hotel conference room on the outskirts of Nimes, Contador revealed that his definitive decision to retire came after stage 9 of the Tour de France and that he will be taking part in the Vuelta a España "both to fight for it and enjoy it". Regardless of whether he wins it or not, he will not be revisiting his decision to retire.
Contador began the press conference by expressing his solidarity and support to the victims of the recent terrorist attacks in Catalonia, saying that "the best way to pay homage to them is by making sure that our lives continue as normal and that we don't change that."
Questions then centred on Contador's upcoming retirement, which, he revealed, he had "thought about a lot, and which included the possibility of continuing through to the Giro d'Italia next year."
"But I was not very, very sure, and it was there, in the Tour de France, that I really decided definitively that I was quitting this year. Before the Tour, it was already almost 70 per cent certain," he admitted.
Contador said that he had not decided to retire because of any particular results, arguing that he was near his best form when he started the Tour de France.
"I wanted to get to the Tour in top condition and I did. My weight was good, the data I was producing was good, it was comparable to 2014," he explained.
"I really decided (to retire) on stage nine of the Tour. There were some crashes, and that was maybe what forced me to see it clearly. Things happening like that can take away all the work you've done, and that was the moment I finally decided. I was also aware it was very important for team to know what my future plans were as soon as possible."
The recent announcement that the Contador Foundation will soon have its own Continental team, he said, had nothing to do with it, although he admitted that working with the Foundation would take up a lot of his time.
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No farewell Tour
Concerning the more immediate present, Contador was adamant that he would go out at the Vuelta after giving his very all. It will not be a Farewell Tour.
“One thing is clear, I have always given my maximum as a rider and i will do that now,” he said.
“It is also true that this Vuelta is special, and I want to enjoy it. I feel lucky that I can be here, it’s a really good place to say goodbye. So I want to see how the legs are feeling, see what kind of form my rivals have, but I have come with the idea of fighting to win and to enjoy it, too.”
On a practical level, Contador said that the last three weeks had been a very different kind of preparation for a race he’s won in 2008, 2012, 2014. He has never previously completed the Tour and then gone on to race the Vuelta. The last 10 days had been dedicated to quality training but admitted, “it’s all a bit of an incognito.”
Also new is the first start of the Vuelta in France, which Contador described as “special”
“To tell you the truth, when I landed in Marseilles airport, for a moment I thought I was back in the Tour,” he joked.
“Recently I’ve been very well received by the French fans, and it’s always good to be here. Tomorrow will be a team time trial. It’ll be similar to Pamplona in 2012 when the Vuelta’s first stage also finished in a bullring.”
Nibali is the best prepared, Froome is the favourite
Regarding the three weeks of racing following Saturday’s kick-off, Contador argued that “Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) is the rider who, on paper, would be best prepared for the 2017 race because he’s done the Giro, although the favourite is Chris Froome.”
“Froome’s strong, there’s that time trial which will favour him, and of course there’s the team he’s got, too. Any of his domestiques could be a leader in another team and that makes beating Froome more complicated.”
“Fabio Aru and Romain Bardet and the Yates brothers will all be in the running, but at this point, the two riders who stand out as favourites are Froome and Nibali.”
Then of course, there is Contador, himself. The Trek-Segafredo leader said that regardless of what happens in the next three weeks, he will not be continuing beyond September 10 and Madrid, even if he wins the Vuelta a Espana.
“I’m very sure of the decision I’ve taken. I’ve got great support here from the team for what I’m doing, but independently of the Vuelta’s results, I will be quitting. There is no better place than here to say goodbye.”
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.