Diaz Zabala, Olano and Freire analyse Contador’s Tirreno win

The three Spanish winners of Tirreno-Adriatico prior to Alberto Contador’s victory on Tuesday in the ‘Race of Two Seas’ have discussed the implications of the Tinkoff-Saxo leader’s remarkable triumph in Italy’s second biggest stage race and recalled their own wins.

Contador’s victory has sparked much talk of a ‘renaissance’ of the Spanish champion, who scored a series of consistently strong results in 2013 - his near-miss in the Tour’s hilly third week time trial arguably being his closest to actual victory - but with only one actual win, a stage in the Tour of San Luis.

Herminio Díaz Zabala, who claimed Spain’s first Tirreno-Adriatico win in 1991, told Spanish sports daily MARCA on Wednesday that he does not believe Contador’s win constitutes a “comeback”, because “he’s never been away.”

“In 2013 he paid for his year out of the sport” - for a doping suspension - “and for being overly motivated in the Vuelta [2012] that allowed him to win it without being the strongest,” Díaz Zabala argued. “And, of course, after that came the [corresponding] drop in his performance levels.”

“The most important thing is he’s in good shape,” Abraham Olano, who won the race in 2000, told MARCA, “and his wins will help him go on working like he did throughout the winter. If you don’t work well in winter, then you always pay a price later. But when a race goes well like it has done for Contador, then your self-confidence is much greater.”

Triple World Champion and 2005 Tirreno winner Oscar Freire pointed out that “I finished first, second and third in Tirreno”, a timely reminder of how the Italian race has slowly evolved from being one for Classics riders to an event favouring Grand Tour gc specialists.

“Above all the route suited me that year, there were lots of stages with short, sharp climbs. It was one of the best moments of my entire career and I was very motivated because Milan-San Remo came straight afterwards” - although that year the Italian Classic went to Alessandro Petacchi, with Freire, the defending champion, taking fifth.

Contador’s next race will be the Volta a Catalunya where the opposition will be even tougher than in Tirreno-Adriatico and probably the most similar to the Tour de France field of any race this year prior to July.

Chris Froome (Sky) will be heading a British squad also containing Sir Bradley Wiggins and Richie Porte, whilst Paris-Nice winner Carlos Alberto Betancur (AG2R), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Dani Moreno and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Tejay Van Garderen and Samuel Sanchez (BMC), Ivan Basso (Cannondale), defending champion Dan Martin and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp), Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) and Luis Leon Sanchez (Caja Rural-RGA) are all also racing.

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Alasdair Fotheringham

Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, 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. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The IndependentThe GuardianProCycling, The Express and Reuters.