Alberto Contador has taken the challenge of riding the Criterium International very seriously as he flew to Corsica two days before the start of the two-day event.
The Spaniard didn't come just for the beauty of the landscapes around Porto-Vecchio in the south of the native island of legendary Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, but said will be in it to gain form to seek his third title in the Tour de France
"The climate here is usually good," Contador told the reporters on site. "On Thursday I went to reconnoitre the final climb of the Ospedale. It was foggy, a little bit rainy as well and it was almost night time when I went up there. The climb isn't excessively hard but it's going to be a hard stage on Saturday because of the hills preceding the last one. I've also seen Sunday's time trial and I like the course. I don't think stage 1 will create big differences but the small differences will be very significant for the final result."
Contador insisted that as much as he'll try and win the Criterium International like any another race he takes part in, his first aim to improve his condition in the lead-up to the Tour de France.
Asked by Cyclingnews whether he took this event as a game or a job, the Spaniard firmly answered: "It's not a game, it's a competition. I'm here to maintain the rhythm of the competition towards the month of July. Every time I'm racing, I'm focused. I only think of what I have to do."
Contador emphasized the presence on his side of Astana's team manager Yvon Sanquer was a sign of a team "fully committed behind me" a difference from last year when Johan Bruyneel went missing at the press conferences during the Tour de France.
Contador and his new entourage decided to switch from Tour of Catalunya to Criterium International after the penultimate stage of Paris-Nice because Corsica was more suitable for the double winner of the Tour de France this time around. "Paris-Nice was a very hard race, so after that I preferred to go for two days of competition instead of seven," Contador explained. "The course here is very good for me at the difference of the Tour of Catalunya that isn't very hilly this year."
He outlined the quality of the field at the Criterium International. His arch-rival Lance Armstrong is on the start line despite suffering gastroenteritis that left him aside for Milan-San Remo, but there are also world champion Cadel Evans, Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez, on-form David Millar and Simon Gerrans as well motivated Frenchmen Thomas Voeckler, David Moncoutié, Benoît Vaugrenard, Jérôme Coppel and Brice Feillu.
"I don't like to make names before a race because I'm afraid to forget somebody important," Contador said. "Many riders here are strong but one who is really strong is Cadel Evans. He just came out of Tirreno-Adriatico with good results (3rd overall)."