This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
With just 24 hours left before the Vuelta a España gets underway, Alberton Contador used his pre-race press conference to attempt to play down the expectations surrounding his return to Grand Tour stage racing.
Flanked by all eight Saxo Bank teammates for his home race, as well as his team manager Bjarne Riis, the 29-year-old Spaniard started the conference by dodging the question of whether he was the top favourite of the race.
“It’s up to other people to decide whether I’m the number one ride for this race, not me. I’m just going to try to do this the best possible and that’s all,” Contador said.
“I will be fighting for the victory, for sure. I’m very aware there are a lot of riders out there who are very strong and ready to go, and I’m also very aware that in every race, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.”
Contador denied that anger he might feel at what he perceives to be an unjust ban would act as extra motivation during his first Grand Tour since the suspension ended.
“I’m in good shape, keen and motivated, even if the last two years [of suspension] have had their effect on me. I’ve suffered a lot.”
“But thanks to the support I’ve received from people I’ve been able to overcome this situation. And now I want to do this race as well as possible, enjoy being on the bike and focus on fighting for that victory.”
Asked if he was feeling fresher after such a long spell without racing, Contador said, “relatively so. I’m in good shape but often I train harder than I race. Ok, I’m more rested than other contenders, but probably they’ll go better than me in the first week.
It won’t be my best week. And I’m very aware that the Eneco Tour”- his only post-ban race to date, where he finished fourth - “there weren’t any long climbs, like the ones we’ll have to tackle in the Vuelta.”
“Hopefully, though, I’ll ride myself into top form and be in better shape than my rivals in the third week.”
Asked to name rivals, Contador singled out Chris Froome (Sky) as “probably the rider I’ll have to watch the closest, although there are three contenders here that have already won a Grand Tour [Denis Menchov, Alejandro Valverde and Juan Jose Cobo] and they will be also be important.”
“Froome could be the most dangerous because he’s also a good time triallist and has a very strong team. He could have won the Vuelta last year and he was the strongest rider in the [2012[ Tour de France although it’s impossible to say if he would have won because [winner and teammate Bradley] Wiggins was very strong in the time trials.”
Contador certainly did not seem nervous about all the expectation surrounding his chances of adding a second Vuelta to the one he won in 20008, mingling briefly with reporters and fans after the half-hour press conference.
He and his Saxo Bank teammates planned to do some light training before they went to check out the team time trial route this afternoon. From tomorrow onwards, though, it will be all systems go for the Madrileño in what is arguably one of the most important Grand Tour battles of his career to date.