Alberto Contador: 'More motivated than ever' for 2010
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Monday, January 25, 2010

Contador: 'More motivated than ever' for 2010

by Ben Atkins at 11:05 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France
 

Tour de France champion Alberto Contador eventually decided to see out his contract and stay with Astana for 2010. Despite this, with a new manager, new bike sponsor and a raft of new riders it seems like a new team.

“My mind doesn’t suffer,” said Contador in an interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais at the team’s training camp in Calpe, Spain, “I start the year more motivated than ever."

Certainly though, things at Astana are very different this year to last.

“This year the atmosphere is calmer,” said the 27-year-old. “The training camp last year in Tenerife, with the hotel room closed all the time, it seems exaggerated. You can’t leave people out.”

Despite losing a number of key riders – mostly to Lance Armstrong’s new RadioShack team – Contador is optimistic.  The situation forced Astana to sign a number of younger riders and riders from smaller teams, but he doesn't think things are looking too bad for the new-look Astana.

“I’ve been positively surprised by the team,” he said. “We did some tough rides and all of the riders have responded. The Kazakh riders are precisely the ones I have been surprised by: with their enthusiasm and motivation because they are riding for Astana.”

“Vino is fundamental”

One Kazakh rider in particular always makes headlines, often for the wrong reasons, as with his positive test for an autologous blood transfusion at the 2007 Tour de France. Contador denies that the return of Alexander Vinokourov to the team he created in mid-2006 creates any problems.

“Vinokourov is fundamental,” he confirmed, “he bonds the Kazakhs and keeps group together. Tactically, if he rides the Tour he will be a very important element.”

No one though, says Contador, has an assured place at the Tour’s start this coming July. “Everyone will have to earn it,” he said.

As well as the departure of more than half the team’s riders, the team’s manager Johan Bruyneel also left to join Lance Armstrong at RadioShack. Frenchman Yvon Sanquer has stepped in at the very top, but Contador’s main tactician in the campaign to win the Tour will be Italian Director Sportif Giuseppe Martinelli.

Contador has worked with a Spaniard in the form of Manolo Saiz, a Belgian in the form of Bruyneel, but this is the first time he has had an Italian director.

“The Italian philosophy is different,” he said. “The first thing that was made clear to me is that for ’Martino’ the team must be built from the ‘capitano’ down, that everything should revolve around the leader.”

After working with many of Italy’s top teams, Martinelli spent 2009 with the lowly Amica Chips-Knauf team. This return to the top has been as good for the veteran Italian as it has been for Contador and his team.

“Martinelli is excited,” said Contador. “In a way coming to us has revived his enthusiasm for cycling. He is a very experienced director, who has won I don’t know how many Giros [d’Italia] and the ‘Tour de Pantani’. Talking to him is like taking lessons from history. I could spend all night listening to him tell stories.”

Armstrong will be missed, on the road

Inevitably, after last year’s Tour de France and the media war that has happened since, the conversation turned to Lance Armstrong. Contador conceded that the team might well miss the American this season.

“Maybe yes,” he admitted, “having Armstrong in the team gave us more strength, we controlled the race better, but now I have the freedom to build my career.”

Despite being teammates for the biggest race of the year and all that has passed since, the two riders have not communicated face to face since the Tour finish in July. “I have not spoken to him,” said the Spaniard, “nor have I anything to say.”

“For me there is no conversation to be had. When we meet – I think the first race in which we meet is the Volta a Catalunya, in March – I’ll greet him politely.”

There has been a constant barrage of stories about conflict between the two riders in the media, and Lance Armstrong himself has already referred to ‘psychological games’ on the lead up to the Tour in July. Contador won’t he drawn into anything though.

“For my part I won’t do anything to be at war,” he said, “but I don’t know what Lance will do.”

Even if provoked by Armstrong’s camp, Contador will refrain from retaliating he said: “I will not go for any of the rags that are waved at me if he does.”

Astana 2009 now at The Shack

Astana’s Tour winning team of nine riders was specifically targeted by Armstrong’s new RadioShack team, with eight of them – all except Contador himself – choosing to join the American. Contador concedes that there was nothing that he could have done to prevent this from happening.

“Because we only began to build the team in December, and from nothing,” he said, “I couldn’t bear the responsibility of the eight depending on me so late. It is very different from being a new team since August.”

The wholesale changes within the team have also meant new technical sponsors and time constraints have meant that not all equipment has arrived in time for the start of the new season.

“For example, our radios have only just arrived,” he said, “those who are riding the Tour Down Under in Australia don’t have them… nor blue bikes, just the first ones given to us by Specialized, which are training bikes. I was not even sure if I would leave, or to continue in the Astana. Bruyneel and Armstrong had already been signed [to RadioShack] since August.”

Although Contador relied upon the eight departing riders to get to Paris in yellow last July, he didn’t feel able to prevent them from leaving. “I didn’t ask any rider to stay with me,” he confirmed.

Stronger than last year

Preparation for the coming season and the defence of his Tour title is going well, says Contador. “I’m stronger even than last year,” he claimed, “my training data says so.”

The Spaniard still relies on the same ways of preparing for each season. “Every time I'm more of a perfectionist,” he said, “but the key is always training.”

Having won his last two Tours de France (he was unable to take part in 2008 because the Astana team was not invited after the scandals of the 2007 race) and the last four Grand Tours he has started (Tour de France 2007 and 2009, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España 2008), Contador’s targets remain the same and will do for the remainder of his career.

“All my life I will try to continue to win the Tour,” he said. “All the time what I enjoy most is being a cyclist. My motivation is huge, and while I can maintain the physical level that allows me to aim for everything I will carry on racing.”

As the outstanding Grand Tour rider right now, there are many that believe that Contador could afford to lose time in the Tour’s first week because he will be able to take back as much time as he wants when the race hits the mountains. The Spaniard would prefer not to do things like that however.

“On the Tour I want a quiet race, none of that,” he said. “[I want to] reach the mountains ahead and stay ahead. My main rival will be Andy Schleck – who is also a very good friend and a great person – he is the strongest, the one who made my life difficult the most last year. And then a few, and Armstrong of course.”

RT @albertocontador?

Many cyclists, and sportspeople in general, now project themselves as a brand in order to appeal to the public. Many, like Lance Armstrong, use social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to communicate with their fans. Contador is not one of these, but concedes that it may now be necessary to enter that world.

“It is not about choosing between being a brand or a person,” he said, “you can be both, both aspects are linked to your personality. It is true that I am not on Twitter or Facebook like many of my colleagues. I believe it is a way to lose privacy, but somehow the sponsors require it.”

If he does take the plunge into social networking though, he will try to keep his private life separate. “So I’ll go into that world but in a very measured way,” he said. “I will never put in my Twitter, for example, that I am with my girlfriend at the movies...”

Many of the myths of the sport have had great public characters, but it doesn’t always follow. “It’s possible to be a myth and be a quiet person,” he said, “a man who stays at home. Look at [Miguel] Indurain, everybody admires him, all he has won, and he leads a quiet life as well.”

So is it a case of being like Indurain?

“No, it's about being myself,” he replied.

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