Contador's road to Tour de France bid starts at Ruta del Sol

Alberto Contador will make his debut for the Trek-Segafredo team next Wednesday as he gets his 15th professional season underway at the Vuelta a Andalucia (Ruta del Sol).

The Spaniard will lead a seven-man team that includes trusted domestique Jesus Hernandez, who followed his leader from Tinkoff, along with Haimar Zubeldia and Markel Irizar. Mathias Brändle will fancy his chances in the time trial, while Andre Cardoso and Fabio Felline complete the line-up.

While the majority of the pro peloton have already banked some racing kilometres in January, Contador is sticking to his tried and trusted February start. On only three occasions – 2005, 2012, 2013 – has he begun a campaign in January. His only other appearance at Ruta del Sol came in 2015 when he won a stage but lost out on the overall in a close battle with Chris Froome.

"I'll want to put in a very similar performance, try and get on the podium if I can," he said in a recent interview with Cyclingnews, adding that the principal aim is to ease himself into the season. 

"I'll have done a lot of training by then but without having done much high-intensity work because I'm looking more towards Paris-Nice, [Volta a] Catalunya and [the Vuelta al] Pais Vasco. Andalucia is a return to competition, and I'll likely find myself in the same kind of scenario as in the Algarve, where I'm much better in the last part of the race than in the first part. I'll maybe be a bit more relaxed about how I race than further into the season."

In 2015 Contador went on to win the Giro d'Italia as part of a Giro-Tour de France double attempt, but this year the focus is squarely on the Tour de France. There will be no other marquee Tour de France favourites on the start line in Malaga next Wednesday, though Ion Izaguirre (Bahrain-Merida) and Warren Barguil (Sunweb) are two of those on the startlist who should be factors in July.

There are a few Giro favourites who stand out, including Mikel Landa (Team Sky), and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), while defending champion Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is always a threat, and Cannondale have options with Pierre Rolland, Rigoberto Uran, Joe Dombrowski, and Hugh Carthy.

The five-stage race contains two crucial days from a general classification perspective, with a summit finish on Peña del Aguila on day two, followed by an 11.9km time trial the following day. The opening stage will be important, too, with a late first-category climb preceding a 20km downhill run-in to Granada. The final two stages still contain hills but are more likely to culminate in sprints.

Trek-Segafredo for Ruta del Sol: Mathias Brandle, Andre Cardoso, Alberto Contador, Fabio Felline, Jesus Hernandez, Markel Irizar, and Haimar Zubeldia.

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