By Andrew Hood
Alberto Contador is out to prove his 2007 Tour de France victory was no fluke.
The Spanish climber says he’s ready to get back to the business of training and preparing for the 2008 Tour after a busy off-season that’s included a seemingly endless stream of publicity appearances.
“With so many commitments I’ve hardly had time to rest, but I’m ready to get back on the bike and begin again from zero,” he told MARCA during a break at an award’s ceremony in Spain. “I need to stop these and get back to work.”
Besides scores of post-Tour criteriums, Contador’s hardly raced since his surprise Tour victory.
That will change in the coming weeks as Astana is set for its first team camp with new team manager Johan Bruyneel.
The reigning Tour champ admits he’s already feeling some pressure coming into a new season.
“I’ll really feel it when the racing starts and I have all the world watching me,” Contador said. “But I am also conscious that if I have the pressure it’s because I’ve won and I tell myself, if I’ve won it once, I can win it again. That’s what motivates me.”
Contador has never been lacking of confidence. He was largely hyped as a future Tour winner when he shot out of the blue last year to step calmly into the void left vacant by the controversial departure of race leader Michael Rasmussen.
“I’ve always had self-confidence, but now, after the year I’ve had, I know that I can keep winning,” he continued. “We’ll see how things go. Before, I only dreamed about winning, now, after winning once, I dream of winning again. There are other factors, but I see myself with options.”
Contador counted Astana teammate Levi Leipheimer along with Cadel Evans and Andreas Kloden as the most dangerous rivals. He also pointed to Andy Schleck and Thomas Dekker as possible surprises and also listed Alejandro Valverde, Carlos Sastre and Denis Menchov as would-be challengers to his throne.
“There’s not just one, there are several,” he said.
Contador said he hasn’t had a chance to sit down with Bruyneel to plan his 2008 racing schedule, but added it likely wouldn’t change too much from this season “considering that things went pretty well this season.”
Last year, Contador won Paris-Nice and then built up his fitness through racing some select races leading into July. He also put a question mark on whether he’d race the Vuelta a Espana, which he also skipped this year.
What will change for 2008 are the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing. Although he’s no one-day rider, Contador said he’d love to go.
“I’ve heard the course is very hard, though I don’t know for sure, that there’s a climb of 12km that’s climbed six times,” he said. “If it’s true, then it could be good for me, though I wouldn’t mind working for Freire and Valverde if the course isn’t as hard as they say it is.”
Russian tour plans taking seed
UCI president Pat McQuaid wasn’t kidding when he said the ProTour could be making moves into Russia and China.
McQuaid — who already hinted that the ProTour could be expanding beyond Europe in 2009 during a press conference last month — told The Guardian that discussions are underway with both nations to possibly bring major tours perhaps as soon as next year.
McQuaid said Russian president Vladimir Putin directly made the contacts to the UCI about adding a Russian tour to the ProTour.
“An approach came directly from Vladimir Putin for a ProTour event in Russia. The Sochi [2014 Winter] Olympics is very much his baby, he wants to develop the region, and he knows one of the best mediums is through cycling,” McQuaid told journalist Richard Moore. “Whatever it’s called – the Tour of Russia or whatever -it’s going to be based around Sochi, a magnificent area, with sea and mountains.”
The concerted push for possible expansion of the ProTour to China and Russia will likely cause more rife between cycling’s major players, something McQuaid admits.
He insists it’s necessary to grow the sport internationally and the UCI is committed to continuing with its sometimes divisive ProTour concept.
“We cannot remain a European sport. If we remain a European sport then we die,” he continued. “2008 will be a transition year for the ProTour, but by 2009 we will have a global ProTour. There will be teams within the current set-up who are not happy with that. But there are others who want the global reach and who want us to develop events outside Europe. We’ll get some criticism in the next 12 months, possibly we’ll have difficulty in gaining 100 percent support from some stakeholders. But I think they’ve got to have a bit of vision and look at what we’re trying to achieve in the long term.”
New name for Lotto
It will be musical jerseys for Lotto again in 2008.
The team of Tour de France hope Cadel Evans is changing its title sponsor logo for the second time in three years. After switching its name from Davitamon-Lotto to Predictor-Lotto, the team will now be using the moniker Silence-Lotto for the upcoming season.
The jersey will promote a new product of Omega Pharma, the holding company of the team’s title sponsor. The Belgian-based company has used the team to promote Davitamon, a line of vitamins, and then pushed Predictor, a pregnancy test. Silence is an anti-snoring product.