Waiting for a plane to take him to his first race of the season, as he talks to Cyclingnews it emerges that Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) has one major goal in 2014: to add victories to consistency. And if he could take one win from the early part of the season, that would be Tirreno-Adriatico.
His racing season starts in the Volta ao Algarve on Wednesday, which he has won in 2009 and 2010, and continues with Tirreno-Adriatico, the Volta a Catalunya and the Vuelta al País Vasco. "If you asked me which one I preferred to win, I would have to say Tirreno-Adriatico, because it's not in my palmares yet," Contador, third in the 'Race of Two Seas' last year, comments. "The other three are already there."
"You work for wins, and I hope this year is better than the last. I am very motivated and very keen to get going. I've been able to prepare my season better than in 2013, getting a good base and I hope that works out on the road, too."
As the Madrid-born rider says, there have already been two changes for Contador in 2014 : starting later and starting closer to home. Contador has missed out on the Tour of San Luis in January, a race he rode in 2013 and 2012. And rather than repeat his journey to the Tour of Oman, where he finished second in 2013, he has gone back to his roots, as it were, by making his season debut in the Tour of the Algarve in Portugal.
As the 31-year-old says, "the Algarve is a race I know well. The individual time trial [which tends to decide the race] is shorter than other years and it won't produce enormous differences, and the summit finish is not that tough. Combine the two, and that means more riders have more possibilities."
Can he win it? "It's a race I've always done well in, but maybe back then there weren't so many early season races as there are now, like Dubai or San Luis. So there are people out there who have already got some racing under their belt. Finally what I have to do is get going and see what my form is like."
As for further ahead, "If you look at how I did in 2013, I was up there in pretty much all of my races, in the top five of a lot of them," Contador says. "But that's not enough, it’s winning that’s my objective, and that’s what 2014 is about."
"So I've reduced the number of race days, and I've delayed my season start, with the aim of getting better results when I do race."
Before heading to Portugal and his first race of the season, Contador has spent a large part of Monday in the city of Segovia, at the presentation of the two teams he is helping to run, the Specialized-U23 team and the Flex-Junior squad, via the Alberto Contador Foundation.
The Flex-Junior team kicked off in 2013 and this year the new Specialized-U23 squad has now taken shape, bringing the total number of riders involved in the project to 28. The teams are run by former Spanish national coach Jose Luis de Santos, with ex-pros Felix Garcia Casas and Rafa Díaz Justo as seconds-in-command.
Contador believes that sponsorship in Spanish cycling is experiencing a major crisis, and that particularly at base level "there are not that many teams, so I'm trying to help turn things around."
"It's difficult because you need a lot of different factors to get ahead in this sport, but I'm sure there'll be a lot of top names coming out of these squads in a very short period of time." He points to the example of Alvaro Cuadros, a member of the Contador Foundation junior team who signed with the Omega Pharma Continental squad Etixx-iHNed last October.
"It's important to do things well, because that's how the results come through, although the results are not the most important thing. These teams are about giving the riders the right kind of formation and allowing them to get to know cycling better as a sport." Contador reflects.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 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. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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