Fortune may not have been on Alberto Contador’s side during last week’s Vuelta Castilla y León, but the indications were that the Spaniard’s form was improving as he moved towards his first major goals of this season: Flèche Wallonne and next month’s Giro d’Italia.
The Saxo Bank-SunGard team leader punctured 2km from the finish of Castilla y León’s key mountain stage to Laguna de Peces, thwarting his hopes of a fourth overall victory in that event. But he came back to win the following day’s time trial to claim his sixth victory of the season. Contador is free to race while the Court of Arbitration for Sport deliberates on whether he should be sanctioned for a positive test for Clenbuterol at last year’s Tour de France, following an appeal from the UCI.
Speaking to Cyclingnews in Zamora during Castilla y León, Contador admitted that his form was still a step or two below his best, but is improving. Although keen to contend for the title in what is almost his home race, he explained: “The real objectives are a little bit further ahead of me. I’m looking more towards Flèche Wallonne and of course the Giro d’Italia, which is the principal objective of this first part of the season.”
Third last year at Flèche behind Cadel Evans and Joaquim Rodríguez, Contador admits that the finish on the Mur de Huy suits him well, and even more so after the experience he gained last year. Back in 2010, Contador responded to the attack made by Euskaltel’s Igor Antón on the third and final climb in Huy, but launched his counter-attack too early to hold off Evans and Rodríguez in the closing 100 metres.
Contador was disappointed to hear that Evans won’t be back to defend the title this year. “I saw on the web that he is not going to be riding the Classics. I think it’s a real shame because he’s a rider who is a specialist in this kind of race. He’s already won before and riding races like this you always want to test yourself against the very best riders. The level won’t be quite as high because of his absence,” said the Spaniard.
After Flèche, Contador will be heading to Italy to check out some of the Giro’s key stages. “I’m not going to see the Etna stage, but I will be checking out the Zoncolan stage, plus the time trial and the mountain time trial. I’ll also be looking at the stage that finishes in Austria, and I can’t remember which other one as well,” Contador revealed.
As for the Giro route as a whole, Contador described it as looking “incredibly difficult”. He added: “A lot of the stages are more than 200km in length with a lot of climbs en route. I think there’s one stage with more than 6,000 metres of climbing. There’s no doubt that it’s the hardest course that I’ve ever prepared for during my whole career.”
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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).