Alberto Contador – The road towards the Tour

Alberto Contador might not be racing much between Sunday’s conclusion of Liège-Bastogne-Liège and July’s Tour de France, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be busy.

Contador – already a winner of three races in four stage-race starts this season – will likely only line up for the Dauphiné Libéré and perhaps the Spanish national championships in June before making a run for his third career maillot jaune.

Don’t mistake a dearth of racing days with a lack of intensity or focus. The pistolero del Pinto will be using the next two months to intensely focus on preparing for the Tour.

“We will be making special training camps, previewing the stages in the Alps and the Pyrénées and having everything directed toward peaking for the Tour,” Contador said Friday. “I will race the Dauphiné in June and then train in the mountains of Madrid to prepare for July.”

Contador has been on a tear through the opening months of 2010, winning a stage and the overall at the Volta ao Algarve, Paris-Nice and the Vuelta a Castilla y León.

After completing his run through the Ardennes at Liège on Sunday, finishing third in Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne, Contador will now turn his focus completely toward the Tour.

“The first few months of the season have gone better than I could have imagined, but the Tour has always been the major goal of the season,” he said. “I don’t like to speak of percentages of where my form is right now, what I can say is that want to hit my peak during the Tour. That level will be even higher than now.”

Contador intends to leave no leaf unturned as he prepares for July in what could be his fifth consecutive grand tour victory of the three-week tours he’s started since winning the 2007 Tour.

The road to the Tour will begin Tuesday after Liège, when Contador will ride the decisive cobblestone sectors that will be featured in this year’s Tour de France to familiarize himself with the stage in the potentially decisive opening week across Holland, Belgium and northern France.

While many of his rivals are quick to point out that Contador’s weak point might be on the pavé, he says he’s “not losing any sleep over it.”

“I know it’s a stage that everyone is talking about, and that’s why we’re going Tuesday to look at the cobblestones and use some new material that the team has,” he said. “I have respect for the stage, it’s going to be decisive and difficult, and for sure there will be a lot of tension, but it’s not something I am losing sleep over.”

And when he does click into the pedals for the Dauphiné in June, Contador said he won’t be tempted to try to win one of the few major European stage races that he’s raced and hasn’t won.

“The Dauphiné is a race that I have always taken with tranquility and I won’t change anything this year,” he said. “I will not accelerate my form to win the Dauphiné. The goal is to win the Tour and that’s when I want to his my peak form.”

Contador also expressed confidence in Astana’s ability to defend him during the Tour and insisted yet again that the team will be up to the task of carrying him to the Champs Elysées, ideally in the yellow jersey.

“I am more tranquil than I was last year and it gives me confidence when the team riding to near perfection,” he said during a press conference Friday. “The team is behind me 100 percent, they are all in the same mindset of winning the Tour with me in July and we are all working together to achieve that. I am very satisfied.”

Contador with his fans

The inevitable question about Lance Armstrong came when VeloNews asked what his impressions were of his former teammate when the raced against each other at Critérium International in March in what was their first meeting since the podium in last year’s Tour.

“The impression he gave me was that he’s like any other rider in the peloton,” he said.

And did they speak? “No, we didn’t speak. We never coincided during the race,” he said, adding a wink for emphasis.

Contador on winning a Classic

Alberto Contador is undeniably the reigning king of the grand tours, but one day he wants to come to the Ardennes and add one of the major classics to his palmares.

Contador has won four of the past grand tours he’s started plus scores of other week-long stage races across Europe, but he’s never won a major, one-day race.

“One day I will make the classics a major goal and have my first part of the season built around coming here and trying to win one of them,” Contador said on the eve of Liège-Bastogne-Liège. “This year I am here to learn more about these races so that I can come back to challenge for victory.”

Contador was close to reaching that goal with Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday. He surged past Igor Antón (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and looked to have the win in the bag when he was passed by the more experienced Cadel Evans (BMC), who’s raced the Ardennes year-in, year-out while Contador was only back for his third career start.

“I came up 60 meters short of victory (at Flèche), so it’s kind of like having the honey on your lips but not getting the prize,” he said. “Still, I am satisfied with my performance Wednesday. I didn’t expect to be so close to victory in these races, but Sunday is another story.”

But Contador said he doesn’t lose heart in close calls. Despite his winning and aggressive attitude when on the bike, he said he never expects to win every race he starts.

“What’s not normal is to win all the time. When I don’t win, I don’t go back to the hotel room feeling angry,” he said. “I know it’s complicated to win any race, no matter how important. What’s normal is that most times you race, you don’t win.”

Liège-Bastogne-Liège is the race that measures true champions and Contador admits he’d like to win it someday.

“These races are prestigious and they’re historical. I do want to win them some day,” he said. “I’ve won a lot of stage races, but never a one-day race, something these guys (nodding to the press with a smile) remind me about.”

Contador rode the final 60km of the course Friday with his Astana teammates to get a closer look at the Roche aux Faucons, the decisive new climb where Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) attacked to victory last year.

“That climb is the hardest in the race and will probably decide the race again this year,” he said. “Whoever has the legs there can win. The climb comes with 40km left to go and after that many kilometers in the legs, it’s decisive. For me, the longer distance, after 220km, is a question. It all depends on the legs you have that day.”

Another worry for Contador is his allergies flaring up. Forecasters are calling for milder temperatures and sunny skies, ideal conditions for Europe’s notoriously potent pollen count to sky rocket.

“Wednesday was cooler, with some rain, so my allergies weren’t a problem. We’ll see if they flare up Sunday,” he said. “Fortunately, I only have the problem in the spring. I’ve never had any allergy flare ups in July.

Courtesy Andrew Hood and