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Will others follow Contador in Giro/Tour challenge?

Contador wants to race — and win — the first two grand tours of 2015

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MILAN (VN) — Alberto Contador’s decision to race the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France in the same season could convince other grand tour cyclists to ride the double in 2015. The Spaniard and recent winner of the Vuelta a España put his name down for the Giro and Tour last month, making way for Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Chris Froome (Sky), and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) to follow.

“The Giro route hasn’t even been announced yet, has it?” Froome asked last week in a teleconference. “I’ll hold off and wait and see when the Giro d’Italia is announced before making that decision, but at the end of the day, it’s going to be a team decision.”

Giro d’Italia organizer RCS Sport will announce the 2015 route Monday in Milan. ASO will do the same for its Tour de France October 22 in Paris.

Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), who crashed out of the Tour de France on July 14 with a broken tibia, came back to win the Vuelta a España and then announced his 2015 intentions.

“While I am awaiting for some details, such as the route of the race, I have already spoken to [team manager] Bjarne Riis and my coach, and we have decided that my first goal of 2015 will be the Giro d’Italia,” Contador said September 19.

“I feel at home in Italy and it’s important for me to race the Giro d’Italia. I’ll also race the Tour de France if everything goes smoothly throughout the season, since it is the most important race on the calendar.”

The 31-year-old, known as “El Pistolero” and who hails from Pinto near Madrid, Spain, won the Vuelta for a third time (2008, 2012, 2014) last month over Froome. He also has two Tour de France titles (2007, 2009), and won the 2008 Giro. Though he won the 2008 Giro/Vuelta, he has never won the Giro/Tour double.

Only seven cyclists — Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernhard Hinault, Stephen Roche, Miguel Indurain, and Marco Pantani — have won the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France in the same year. Italy’s Pantani was the last in 1998, perhaps benefiting from a Festina Affair-reduced peloton in the Tour.

The closest Contador came was in 2011, when he placed first in the Giro and fifth in the Tour — but both results were later erased as part of a doping-related suspension. Last year, Riis considered racing the Giro too risky ahead of the goal of winning the Tour. He told VeloNews, “The Tour is the most important race, we can’t let that go.”

Tinkoff appears to have changed its tune for 2015, using the 2014 Vuelta and 2015 Giro as a ramp toward Contador’s Tour return. Since his doping ban, he has yet to back up his 2007 and 2009 Tour wins.

“Big four riders have to do all three Grand Tours, sign binding document and go for it,” team owner Oleg Tinkov wrote on Twitter. “Now they’re playing with each other, we wanna know who is #1.”

The Russian also questioned whether Sky’s general manager David Brailsford and Froome were “chicken” not to take up the challenge.

2012 was the only time Froome raced and finished two grand tours in one year; he placed second in the Tour and fourth in the Vuelta.

“It’s interesting that he’s decided to do the Giro d’Italia,” Froome said, “I know how hard it is to do two grand tours back-to-back.”

Quintana already ruled out returning to Italy to defend his 2014 Giro title. He told Colombian journalists that winning the Tour is his primarily goal for the 2015 season.

Nibali, who won the Tour this year, could turn the tide if he decides to return to the Giro d’Italia. He won the race in 2013 and said he would like to have another title.

“I’d like to race in the Giro next year. I already skipped it this year,” Nibali said to journalists at the recent world championships in Ponferrada, Spain.

Astana considers it too much for its Sicilian star, who will ride in his last 2014 race on Sunday at the Tour of Almaty. Nibali indicated as much after the Tour at a fan club party: “The Giro/Tour double? The idea’s there, but I don’t know if you can be at the top for both races.”