Spain’s Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) is set to be one of the key challengers of the Tour de France this summer, after a solid spring campaign with a near-miss in Paris-Nice, victory in the Vuelta al País Vasco and a prologue win in the Critérium du Dauphiné. Having got over a spell of illness which saw the 33-year-old drop out of the Spanish National Championships at the last minute, Contador tells Cyclingnews he has the 2016 Tour in his sights.
Cyclingnews: Last week you missed the Spanish Nationals because of a cold. Have you recovered fully now?
Alberto Contador: Yes. I’ve still got a few days left to go before the start so I’m fine.
CN: Compared with this time last year when you had done (and won) the Giro d’Italia and the Route du Sud in the weeks prior to the Tour, how would you say you’re feeling now?
AC: One thing is clear. I’m fresher than I was in the build-up to the Tour, and I hope my body will react accordingly as we get into the Tour, and I recover better than I did from my efforts. I think I was more on the limit last year.
CN: Chris Froome (Sky) said in a recent interview that the Tour won’t be decided until the very last summit of the last mountain stage. Do you agree?
AC: Yes. I think it’s going to be a very unpredictable Tour because the route is so hard. If the past Tours are anything to go by, Froome may well be able to open a gap in the first few mountain stages. But then the last five stages are really hard and everything can change. It’s going to be wide-open until the very last day.
CN: Froome’s team is widely agreed to be one of his strongest points, how is it possible to take it on?
AC: I think you can only have one opinion of Sky, anybody who’s seen the names that they have in their Tour line-up would be impressed, any one of them could be a leader in another team. And some riders they’ve left at home like [Pete] Kennaugh, Nicolas Roche, [Leopold] Konig, Michal [Kwiatkowski], [Beñat] Intxausti would all be definite fixtures in any other Tour de France team line-up. Sky’s team, specially for the mountains, are on a level above the rest, and that’s maybe what the main difficulty is for his rivals. Froome is really strong in the mountains and time trials and what hugely increases that advantage he has is the team he has with him. He has a team of leaders, and that is not the best scenario for me, obviously. But the Tour is going to be very eventful, and I’m not going there thinking that I’ve got no chance at all of winning. Not in the slightest.
CN: So at the risk of stating the painfully obvious, you’re going to the Tour to win it?
AC: Yes, yes of course. If I wasn’t, then I wouldn’t be motivated to train so hard for the Tour. The only thing I have in my mind right now is to fight for the win. I know that there are other very strong riders, others who have prepared it conscientiously, but let’s see what I can do. My goal is to win, that’s for sure.
CN: Everybody talks a lot about the Alps, but could they not be losing track of the fact that the Ventoux could be crucial as well?
AC: Obviously the Ventoux is an important stage, but it won’t hold the key to the Tour this year. The key stages are the Alps. Anything can happen there, but regardless of the advantage that one rider or another can take on the Ventoux, there’s more than enough terrain in the Alps to pull that time back.
CN: And everybody talks a lot about Sky, but what about Tinkoff, what kind of a team are you taking to the Tour?
AC: A very good one. I’m very pleased with them and I’m very confident about what they can do. The three key riders who’ll be with me in the mountains will be [Roman] Kreuziger, [Robert] Kiserlovski and [Rafal] Majka, and they are definitely riders who will back me up really well. At the same time, Peter [Sagan] is not a climber, but he’s going to be a hugely important factor in the Tour for us, he’s just the kind of rider you want to have riding with you when a race needs shaking up. Strategically, he could be crucial for me, particularly when I want to try and destabilize things. Overall, Tinkoff are going to the Tour with a very good team both for the flat and in the mountains and they’ll be able to help me out a lot when or if things get complicated.
CN: Given the way Nairo Quintana has been racing this season, does Froome remain the man to beat?
AC: Well, maybe the biggest advantage that Froome has over Nairo is his team. But Nairo has shown he can race strongly in the last week of the Tour, he’s seemed to be stronger than Froome at that point in the Tour, and that perhaps makes them equal favourites.
CN: Are you any closer to deciding whether you’ll do the Vuelta?
AC: There’s still a very good chance I’ll do it, but we’ll have to wait until after the Tour.
CN: What about your team for next year, is there any news there?
AC: Things are well en route to getting sorted out, but I want to be sure I’m making the right decision and I want to be sure I’ve got a good group of riders around me for next year.
CN: But you haven’t signed a contract yet?
CN: This will be Tinkoff’s last Tour as a team, does that make you feel a bit nostalgic?
AC: It does, given Tinkoff has been a very important sponsor in my career since 2012, and that’s a long time and this is the last year. I appreciate that budgets for a cycling team are really big, and that makes it the whole financial question a big one. But in terms of the team itself, as individuals and as a great group of dedicated professionals, it’s a pity the team is folding because it’s not something which can be created overnight; it takes time and effort. The only thing we do is try to win the Tour as a way of saying thanks to Oleg for his support over all these years.
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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