Contador takes valuable seconds, Astana will be tested
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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Contador takes valuable seconds, Astana will be tested

by Steve Jones at 8:50 PM EST   comments
Categories: Cyclocross, Paris-Nice
 

Alberto Contador reminded the field in Paris-Nice today why he's the defending Tour de France champion and, along with his demonstration, picked up the leader's jersey and the crucial bonus seconds on offer for the day's stage winner. Before Paris-Nice began, Contador predicted that the time gaps separating the final overall podium would be small, and after today's victory feels he's succeeded in a critical battle for seconds on the way to Nice.

"The plan was to try to win and create time differences, but most importantly to win so I would get the [time] bonus," explained Contador following the stage. "It all happened as we expected."

He launched his attack about a kilometer and a half from finish in Mende, putting 10 seconds between himself and compatriots Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) and Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) by the time he reached the line. The rest of the pre-race general classification hopefuls, aside from Roman Kreuziger and Luis León Sanchez, took big time losses and, if Contador's assessment proves true, knocked themselves out of contention.

"I had to go from pretty far since I wanted to try to take the most time," he said. "The advantage was not much, but what was important was the victory."

The Spaniard made a bold move to stay with Astana for 2010 considering the circumstances surrounding the Kazakh team at the time. The whole of his Tour winning squad from last year, along with team manager Johan Bruyneel, followed seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong over to his new RadioShack outfit, leaving Contador to fend for himself. Financial troubles also surrounded the team throughout 2009, leaving question marks surrounding its stability for the future.

Contador has been quite vocal about the situation on Astana this year, and has been pleasantly surprised with his team. His recent win in the Volta ao Algarve was a good dress rehearsal for his teammates heading into Paris-Nice.  The "Race to the Sun" will also give the 'new look' Astana valuable experience in riding cohesively for a leader.

“Yes, my team is strong and is completely behind me," he added, “but Paris-Nice is the second or third most difficult race to control on the international calendar. It is very hard and very crazy," Contador admitted. "I don't know how we will respond, but we will try [to win].”

After laying the foundation for final victory in a similar fashion to 2007 when he last secured the overall, Contador knows there is still a lot of work to be done by his team: "There is still a lot of racing left, it has only just begun." He knows his rivals won't let him coast to the finish and, with several big teams caught out on the climb to la Croix Neuve, there will be a lot of action to come. "With the yellow jersey it is more complicated," he explained, knowing his team will be expected to ride at the front.

He said his legs were good on the final ascent "but not super", adding that they felt that way all day. If his Astana team doesn't have the strength to neutralize the threats over the next three stages, he'll be forced to follow the Caisse d'Epargne duo of Sanchez and Valverde to maintain his tenuous lead. The next couple of days should give Contador a bit of an indication of what's to come in July, and a strong showing by his team here will be a silent victory against his Tour rivals.

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