by Justin Davis, Agence France Presse
Alberto Contador insists that perfecting his time trial position during the Dauphiné Libéré is more crucial to his Tour de France preparations than winning the prestigious one-week race.
The Dauphiné kicks off on Sunday with a short 6km prologue time trial, but from then on it just gets harder and harder as the peloton heads slowly upwards into the Alps.
With a 49km time trial on stage three, one of the highlights of the week will be stage six when the peloton tackles the 21 hairpin bends of the Alpe d’Huez.
Taking on the legendary 14km climb will be a first for both Contador and the race, which is now under ownership of ASO (Amaury Sports Organisation) which also owns the Tour de France.
However the reigning yellow jersey champion insists the climbing legs that have helped him secure overall victory in all three major Tours (Vuelta, Tour and the Giro) have yet to find their optimum rhythm.
“My main aim here is to put in some base miles in preparation for the Tour,” said Contador, who has not raced since he finished 10th at Liège-Bastogne-Liège at the end of April.
“I’m getting better every day but I really don’t have the form to contend overall victory here. That means I’ll be more relaxed in the mountains than usual.”
One of Contador’s master strokes at the 2009 Tour was his display in the penultimate stage time trial around Lake Annecy, a win which merely confirmed his overall victory in the race.
Having since spent time in a wind tunnel perfecting his time trial position, he will get the chance to test a new, “more compact” machine for real on stage three’s race against the clock from Monteux to Sorgues.
“More than anything I want to see what I can do on the time trial bike because we haven’t had a lot of time thus far to test it on the road,” said the Spaniard.
Although the Dauphine is missing other yellow jersey contenders in last year’s Tour runner-up Andy Schleck and seven-time champion Lance Armstrong, Contador is not expecting a walk in the park.
Denis Menchov, the 2009 Giro d’Italia champion, is a handy climber while Euskaltel’s Samuel Sanchez won the Olympic title in 2008 on a very tough course in Beijing.
The presence of David Millar (Garmin) and Haimar Zubeldia and Chris Horner, both of Armstrong’s RadioShack team, adds some quality to a field that should ensure a week of thrilling racing.
“I haven’t looked at the start list but I know that Menchov and Sanchez will be in the fight for overall victory, plus there’s RadioShack, who have Zubeldia and Horner, so it will be far from easy,” added Contador.
With climbing on the menu every day, Contador should certainly emerge from this week with a better idea of what will be required come July if he wants to add a third yellow jersey to his collection from 2007 and 2009.
And while reticent over using a trademark attack to ride away from his rivals on the Alpe d’Huez, the Astana rider – whose best result here was third in 2009 – says he won’t pass up the chance if Lady Luck smiles on him.
“I would like to add the Dauphiné Libéré to my list of victories, but for me overall victory is not essential,” he added. “If I’m racing and the opportunity presents itself then okay, I’m not going to pass it up. But my main objective is to train in race conditions.”