If it seems Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) has been off the radar so far this season, you’re right.
While many of the peloton’s top names have been racing for a month or more, Contador will discreetly make his season debut Wednesday at the five-stage Volta ao Algarve in southern Portugal.
It’s part of a smoother, more focused approach to the Tour de France for Contador, who was on his back foot last year in a showdown against Chris Froome (Sky).
“Alberto is coming into the season later this year, but he’s already stronger than last year,” Tinkoff-Saxo general manager Bjarne Riis told VeloNews. “Alberto is more focused this year. He will be ready.”
Contador said his first major goals arrive in the coming weeks, with Tirreno-Adriatico, Volta a Catalunya, and the Vuelta al País Vasco all lined up in March and into early April.
“Algarve will be my first touch with competition, and there will be other riders who will have better rhythm than me,” Contador said in a press release. “I am very motivated and excited about this season. I have been able to prepare more quietly than last year, working on my base, and I hope it’s something we’ll see on the road.”
The five-day race features some moderate climbing, including a summit finish at Alto do Malhao on Saturday, and a short, 13.6km technical time trial Friday that will provide a litmus test of where Contador is on form. He certainly won’t have pressure to win, but a strong performance would help set the stage for 2014.
While big names such as Chris Froome (Sky) are racing at the Tour of Oman this week, the Algarve is drawing some top names. Chris Horner, Sacha Modolo, and Rui Costa will line up for Lampre-Merida, while others include Tony Martin, Michel Kwiatkowski, and Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin), Rafa Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo), and Arnaud Démare (FDJ.fr).
Valverde squares off against Sky at Ruta
Contador’s compatriot, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), will try to make it three in a row at the five-day Ruta del Sol, also starting Wednesday in nearby Andalucía in southern Spain.
Movistar will have its hands full with a strong Team Sky, featuring Bradley Wiggins and Richie Porte.
The 60th edition of Ruta del Sol has survived some choppy waters that have seen other Spanish races disappear, but the race continues to see support from regional government agencies.
The race opens with a prologue Wednesday, and features three hilly stages that will decide the GC, as well as one stage for the sprinters.
Other big names include Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano), racing for the first time since winning three stages at the Dubai Tour, with Michele Scarponi and Jakob Fuglsang lining up for Astana.