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Contador, Sastre content with efforts

Alberto Contador and Carlos Sastre are content with their performances to date as March nears its end.

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Two of Spain’s top Tour de France riders rode away this weekend content with their performances .

Two-time Tour champ Alberto Contador (Astana) has come into 2010 with guns a-blazing while 2008 Tour winner Carlos Sastre (Cervélo TestTeam) finally made his season debut last week.

Contador just missed victory in Sunday’s time trial to close out the Critérium International, where allergies derailed his hopes for overall victory, while Sastre raced for the first time since the 2009 Tour in last week’s Volta a Catalunya.

Sastre’s first race since July 2009 served as a chance to get his legs back to race speed in time for July 2010. Cervélo teammate Xavier Tondo won a stage and rode to second overall while Sastre quietly finished 94th at 35:03 back.

“For being my first race of the race, I leave with a positive sensation,” Sastre said. “The sensations weren’t the best, but they weren’t so bad, either. I know there’s still a long way to go and a lot of training ahead of me to get ready for the Giro. This is my job and I know what I’ve got to do, but this race has helped me know what I’ve got to do from here on out.”

Sastre took a long break following last year’s Tour, when he finished a distant 17th after starting as the defending champion. The Spanish climber is now aiming for a podium finish at the Giro d’Italia, which begins May 8 in Holland.

Sastre traveled Monday to Brussels to help organizers promote the Vuelta a Castilla y León (April 14-18), which traces through Sastre’s home region. His only upcoming races will be Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, two long-distance affairs that he says will help him find his form in time for the Giro.

“These are two important races, two races of 260km, very hard, in which I gain what I need to be 100 percent in time for May 8 in Amsterdam,” Sastre said.

Contador, meanwhile, succumbed to an allergic reaction to a heavy pollen count in Corsica over the weekend that derailed his hopes of winning a third consecutive stage race in 2010.

Already a winner at his season debut at the Volta ao Algarve in Portugal and in a hard-fought win at Paris-Nice earlier this month, Contador switched from the longer Volta a Catalunya to compete instead in the two-day, three-stage Critérium International.

Contador struggled in Saturday’s decisive climbing stage, losing 1:12 to eventual winner Pierrick Fedrigo (BBox Bouygues Telecom), citing a strong allergic reaction to pollen on France’s spectacular Corsica island.

He bounced back Sunday, stopping the clock just two seconds off the best time set by winner David Millar (Garmin-Transitions) to take second on the stage.

“(Sunday’s effort) was different, short and explosive and I got through the day better. It took me a little longer to get the pulse high, but I am content with my time trial,” Contador said. “I wanted to do well, to fight for the overall, but we were here very little time, so that means I had a strong reaction to the allergies. You always like to win, but Millar is very competitive.”

The race also marked the first showdown between Contador and ex-teammate Lance Armstrong (RadioShack) since last year’s Tour de France. Armstrong was also struggling with illness and lost even more time in Saturday’s summit finish. In Sunday’s TT, Contador was 17 seconds faster than Armstrong.

More than topping Armstrong, Contador was once again pleased with how his Astana team is rallying around him and giving him the support he’ll need come July.

“(Seventeen) seconds are enough, but I am not giving it too much importance, either,” he said. “The team did a great job. If I had had a good day (Saturday), the tactics would have been perfect. I am very happy with my teammates. Also, we keep perfecting the time trial, we are improving little by little. Overall, the legs and the preparation are going perfect.”

Contador will not be defending his title at the Vuelta al País Vasco next month and instead is expected to race the Vuelta a Castilla y León.