Its not everyday you get the chance to talk to a Tour de France winner, so when I received the invitation from Team Astana’s press office to spend some time with Alberto Contador, I jumped at it. It meant an early rise and a couple of hours drive, but it was well worth it to see a Pro-Tour team at work and hear what the top man had to say.
It was a cold December morning on the East coast of Spain for the Astana training camp, the Tour winner Contador was there to meet his new teammates for next year and reacquaint himself with a lot of his old team mates from Discovery Channel, as there are a lot of the same faces going to be wearing the light blue of the Kazakhstan team that were in the Discovery black and blue.
The very posh and very well hidden Hotel El Rodat, Javea is the venue for this first get together of what will become “The Tour Super Team Astana”, here as Johan Bruyneel explains “The terrain is great, there is flat, undulating and big hills and the roads are quiet, combine that with the best weather in Europe, so it’s perfect to start off the season”.
The morning consisted of the team going for a four hour ride in the hills, back from the coast, the afternoon was to give the press a chance to talk to the riders, but seeing as seven riders including; Levi Leipheimer, Chris Horner, Andreas Klöden and Aaron Kemps were not here it was to be left to “Bert” Contador to do all the talking.
Sat in an adjoining conference room with Contador, Bruyneel and assistant Director Alain Gallopin were a dozen journalist and a TV crew from the local Valencian station Channel 9 and the questions were all directed to Alberto, mostly the usual stuff, but here is how it went.
Why Team Astana, Alberto?
“My decision was fundamentally because of Johan (Bruyneel). He is the director with the most Tour wins and he is fundamental to my race. Also, the important group that is coming from Discovery; riders, technical team and mechanics, all will help me win the Tour.”
Arriving in a team that had Vinokourov, now suspended for doping, how could this affect you?
“Cycling today is a little crazy, but this thing doesn’t have anything to do with the other.”
Have you configured your calendar for the coming campaign?
“On Thursday we talked and decided to race similarly to last year. I start in Mallorca, Vuelta a Valencia, Paris-Nice, with less pressure than last year, Castilla-LeÃ³n or Criterium International, Amstel, Fleche and Liege. Then a rest before the Dauphiné and the Tour.” (Ed – Sounds familiar).
Will you ride the Olympic Games in Peking?
“This is on my mind, I don’t know if I can hold my form of the Tour for ten days more. The Games are uniquely different. The time trial course suits me and I like it very much. In the road race I would dedicate my work for my other team mates.”
And the Vuelta?
“After Paris and the Games we will talk, I hope to leave the Tour with the result I want; it’s a complicated career, though not for the lack trying.”
In the Tour you will start with the No. 1 on your back and be the maximum favourite, how will this change the way you rode from last year?
“I’ll have more pressure. Last year Leipheimer had to carry more weight, this will give me motivation and me work harder.”
You have signed for a team that has two other “Cocks” with Klöden and Leipheimer?
“With Leipheimer there is no problem, he is at my disposition in many races, but he is as much a favourite as I am. Klöden I don’t know, he has been in the service of other riders, Vinokourov and Ullrich. Also, I won’t respond against him, he is with us.”
Has your life changed much since last July?
“I have no time for anything. I don’t even know what’s happening on the Tele!”
So that’s what last year’s winner of the Tour de France had to say, he is a nice boy who has that look in his eye of a champion and that enormous scar that runs from one ear to the other over the top of his head.
If things run to the plan of Bruyneel and Gallopin that will be another Tour de France win. In the words of Johan Bruyneel, when asked to compare Armstrong and Contador, “Alberto might not win seven Tours, but he has more Tours in his legs”.
With the old Discovery set up behind him there is no reason why he shouldn’t be on that Tour podium again. A full report on the Astana Training Camp will appear here on VeloVeritas soon.