Alberto Contador returns to competition this weekend for the first time since April to race the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré in France, where he will line up as the pre-race favorite.
After a busy spring, the Spanish climber enjoyed a brief resting period and then recently did some hard efforts during recon missions of some of the key Tour stages in the Alps and Pyrénées.
“I want to regain the rhythm of competition in the Dauphiné, because the race is like a ‘mini Tour’ which demands a big effort whether you’re trying to win it or not,” Contador said. “I hope these preview training sessions allow me to be at a good level in the race, without suffering too much.”
The 2008 Giro d’Italia champion skipped defending his title in May and hasn’t raced since winning the Vuelta al País Vasco in mid-April.
Despite downplaying his chances, Contador is expected to challenge for overall victory in the prestigious pre-Tour stage race.
The demanding course, which tackles Mont Ventoux and two challenging stages across the French Alps, will be Contador’s final test before returning to the Tour.
Contador has only raced the Dauphiné once, quietly finishing sixth in 2007, just weeks before his surprise overall victory in the Tour later that summer.
Contador missed last year’s Tour after his Astana team was blocked from racing by race organizers, a decision that opened the door for Contador to win the Giro and the Vuelta a España last year to complete the grand tour sweep.
Contador will lead the Astana team in the eight-day Dauphiné Libéré, which clicks into gear Sunday in Nancy.
Joining Contador on the eight-man squad are Benjamin Noval, Haimar Zubeldia and Sergio Paulinho, three riders expected to support Contador in July in his quest to win a second maillot jaune.
Dauphiné Libéré 2009
Stage 1 Sunday June 7
Nancy 12.10 km (ITT)
Stage 2 Monday June 8
Nancy – Dijon 229.00 km
Stage 3 Tuesday June 9
Tournus – Saint Etienne 182.00 km
Stage 4 Wednesday June 10
Bourg-les-Valence – Valence 42.40 km (ITT)
Stage 5 Thursday June 11
Valence – Mont Ventoux 154.00 km
Stage 6 Friday June 12
Gap – Briançon 106.00 km
Stage 7 Saturday June 13
Briançon – St François Longchamp 157.00 km
Stage 8 Sunday June 14
Faverges – Grenoble 146.00 km
Astana for Dauphiné Libéré
Alberto Contador (Spa)
Alexandr Dyachenko (Kaz)
Jésus Hernández (Spa)
Benjamin Noval (Spa)
Sergio Paulinho (Por)
Sergey Renev (Kaz)
Tomas Vaitkus (Ltu)
Haimar Zubeldia (Spa)