Tour, Vuelta highlight goals
By Andrew Hood
Alberto Contador’s road to the Tour de France won’t pass through the Giro d’Italia next year.
The Spanish winner confirmed this weekend he wouldn’t defend his Giro title next May and instead focus his season on trying to win a second Tour crown in three years.
“I will not race the Giro. Last year I raced, but this year it’s taking me longer to recover,” Contador told reporters this weekend during a visit to a hospital in Madrid. “I will race the Tour and later I will decide if I will race the Vuelta, but the primary objective that I am going to sacrifice 100 percent for is the Tour.”
Contador’s decision to skip the Giro will mean that the Spanish climber will avoid a head-on conflict with the return of Lance Armstrong, who has made that the 2009 Giro his first major goal in his comeback season.
Whether Contador and Armstrong will square off in the Tour remains one of the biggest questions since the seven-time Tour champ made the stunning announcement last month he would return to elite racing after a three-year break.
After some initial consternation and threats to change teams, Contador seems more relaxed about talking about Armstrong’s intentions for next year’s Tour, at least not now.
“Armstrong has more to lose than win in coming back, but when he made his decision, it’s because he believes he can win and for other motives, like the fight against cancer,” Contador continued. “We’re talking about a great champion, a rider who knows the Tour like no one else, and if he does come back, it won’t do it any other way.”
Armstrong, meanwhile, seems at once ambivalent about his Tour intentions while leaving the door firmly wide open if he feels he’s up for making a run at the Tour.
So far, team brass says that the strongest rider will be named captain of the Astana team, something Contador says he can live with.
“There’s no better way that a rider could retire than what Armstrong did. Later, he’s participated in some marathons, but it’s not the same as racing the Tour. Without a doubt, it will be difficult for him to come back and win, but it’s not impossible,” Contador said. “The road will clarify the physical strength of everyone. You have to back whoever is the strongest because if not, it can be counter-productive when it comes to the moment of truth to win the race.”
Contador also outlined his 2009 racing schedule, which will likely include a return to the Tour after his Astana team was forced onto the sidelines this year by angry Tour organizers.
Like he did this year, Contador will likely debut his season at the Mallorca Challenge in early February and race at Paris-Nice (which he won in 2007), the Vuelta a Castilla y León (victorious in 2007 and 2008) and the Vuelta a País Vasco (winner in 2008).
After that, he’ll take a short break and scope out some of the key Tour climbs before reloading for the Dauphiné Libéré, where he finished a career-best sixth in 2007.