Haimar Zubeldia concedes it will be difficult to beat ex-teammate Alberto Contador in this year’s Tour de France.
The Basque all-rounder rode in a support role for Astana in 2009 and has followed Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel to RadioShack for the upcoming season.
The veteran Spanish rider said trying to win the Tour will be RadioShack’s top goal for the year, but said it won’t be easy to topple Contador.
“The Tour is going to be the most important race of the year for me and the team. We will fight for the victory, but it will very difficult to knock Alberto out of first,” Zubeldia said Wednesday. “Right now, he’s the best rider of three-week races in the world.”
Armstrong will count on Zubeldia in the high mountains as the Texan takes on Contador in a quest to win an eighth Tour crown.
While Armstrong and RadioShack make their season debut at the Tour Down Under this weekend, Zulbedia won’t click his season into gear until the Vuelta a Murcía in early March.
“Last year I ended the Vuelta a España pretty tired and we decided to delay my start of my season until then,” said Zubeldia, who will be starting his 13th season as a pro.
He’ll also race the Volta a Catalunya, the Vuelta al País Vasco, the Ardennes classics, the Tour de Romandie and Dauphiné Libéré ahead of the Tour.
Zubeldia twice finished fifth overall at the Tour, but surprisingly took a chance to join Johan Bruyneel at Astana and assumed a support role in the team behind Armstrong and Contador after riding 11 years as a team leader at Euskaltel-Euskadi.
Zubeldia was a key part of Astana’s victory in the team time trial stage at last year’s Tour and later rode to 14th overall at the Vuelta. His season highlights were third overall at the Volta a Catalunya and eighth at the Dauphiné.
Despite divisions within the team, Zubeldia quietly went about his work and earned kudos from team management about his hard work and professionalism.
That helped earn the 32-year-old an offer to move from Astana to RadioShack.
“When Johan told me at the Tour that he wanted to continue counting on me the next few years, I saw it as the best option for me,” he said. “The way the team works convinced me. I believe that I’ve adapted very well to this philosophy and that my performance was good.”