Contador: this year's Giro d'Italia to be his hardest Grand Tour

Alberto Contador believes the 2011 Giro d'Italia will be the hardest Grand Tour that he has ever ridden. The Saxo Bank-SunGard team leader has won five Grand Tours, including the 2008 Giro but he describes this year's route as much harder.

“In 2008, I was clueless about the Giro. I didn't know how it started or what the route was like or which riders were riding. I knew absolutely nothing,” he said on the Saxo Bank-SunGard website.

“I think the route is much harder this year than the one I rode in 2008, although it's true what some riders say, that the 2008 route was really hard, too. But I still think the difficulty of this one is greater.”

Contador is best known for his climbing ability, but can also win time trials. He knows the time trials in the Giro d'Italia will be decisive. ”Both the mountain TT and the Milan ITT are demanding. The mountain TT has some very tough stretches, and the last ITT is tough because everybody's legs will be shattered towards the end of the race, and that might tip the balance in the case of two riders being really close in the GC.”

The three-time Tour de France winner refused to name his main rival for the Giro but suggested that Nibali, Scarponi and Menchov are the most motivated and under the most pressure to win.

Contador is going into the race slightly handicapped due to recent cold and breathing problems. “I had to take it a bit easy at times. But on Saturday, when the race gets started, I'll be in good shape.”

His last race was the Fleche Wallonne, two weeks ago. Since then he travelled to Italy to check out the mountain stages and also did a three-day camp in the Sierra de Madrid mountains.

He noted that he approaches the Giro entirely differently than he does Tour de France. “In the Tour, I'm under much greater pressure than in the Giro. But regarding the difficulty of a race, you never really know. Sometimes the Tour turns out to be easier than you would think before the race. And then on the other hand, you go to the Giro, and it turns out to be way more difficult to win than expected."

“The difference between the Tour and the other Grand Tours is that the mountains are being climbed at an extremely high speed and the flat days absolutely wear you out, while in the Giro they're a little more bearable.”

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