Alberto Contador knows where he needs to be strongest if he wants to win a third Tour de France crown: the Pyrénées.

The Tourmalet has a great history at the Tour.
The Tourmalet has a great history at the Tour.

The Astana captain completed a four-day reconnaissance of the decisive climbing stages in the mountains along the French-Spanish border and came away convinced that’s where the 2010 Tour will be decided.

“These four days in the Pyrenees have been hard, because we’ve seen the stages that will decide the Tour,” Contador said Tuesday. “The Pyrenees will decide and, of course, this Tour will be harder than last year’s.”

Contador was joined by Astana teammates likely to join him in his bid to win the Tour. Training with him in the mountains were Benjamin Noval, Paolo Tiralongo, Dani Navarro, David de la Fuente, Jesus Hernández, Oscar Pereiro and Dmitry Fofonov. Missing was Alexander Vinokourov, who recently completed the Giro d’Italia.

Contador was impressed with the severity and challenge of climbing stages in the Pyrénées, coming in the third and final week of the Tour.

“All (four stages) offer a lot of possibilities. The first one (stage 14) has the final at Ax 3 Domaines summit after a demanding climb, the Palhieres,” he said.

“The next day we will have another very hard climb at the end, Bales, with the finish line after 20 kilometers of descent. On the third day there’s legendary climbs like the Tourmalet and L’Aubisque, where a lot of people will crack despite the race still being far from over.”

“And the final day (in the Pyrenees) is the main course, with the finish on the summit of Tourmalet, the last chance of victory for the climbers. By then, overall victory should become a lot clearer.”

Contador bumped into the Schleck brothers while on a training ride. The Saxo Bank pair were also previewing the climbing stages and the surprised riders posed for photographers on the summit of the Tourmalet on Monday. Contador had come from the direction of the Col d’Aspin, while they came from the other direction, from the Soulor.

Contador is now set to have a look at the race’s alpine stages, of which there are only two ─ on stages 8 and 9 ─ on this year’s race.

So far, Contador says his pre-race plans are running smoothly.

“I’m preparing just as I wanted,” said the 27-year-old. “I had a long break of 10 days after the (one-day) classics and after that it was hard to start again, but everything is going as planned. I’ll be racing the Dauphine without any pressure, looking to perfect my set-up.”

Agence France Presse contributed to this report