The man credited with helping Alberto Contador rediscover his top form, Steven de Jongh, has said that a number of factors were responsible in the Spaniard’s resurgence.
The former professional previously worked with Team Sky but was released after he admitted to doping during his career; he then moved to Saxo Tinkoff at the start of last season and has worked more closely with Contador in recent months.
The Spaniard won the Tour in 2007 and 2009. He was however below his former level for some time after he returned from a suspension arising from a positive test for clenbuterol in 2010.
He had hoped to win last year’s race but faded in the final week and ended up fourth overall. De Jongh spoke to CyclingTips and explained the various changes that have been made between then and this year, modifications and additions which he has previously said were responsible for his strong overall 2014 season.
“We gave him a pretty decent winter,” he said. “Last year he had a very hectic winter with a lot of sponsor commitments, then he had to race early already in Argentina. So we skipped all that and focussed on training this winter. That brought him to a really decent level.
“Then I think the altitude camp he did in Teide made a huge difference to the pre-season.”
De Jongh said that altitude training was ‘pretty new’ for Contador, and that he had done three camps in total this year.
“If you are at altitude, you lose the weight easier,” he said, talking about the benefits. “You can do a lot of work on torque and everything. And of course, to do a lot of climbing for a climber is the best training to prepare.”
Using altitude camps at various times in the season is something which the Sky team – and, with it, the past two winners of the Tour, namely Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome – have done in recent years. De Jongh picked up various insights into that way of preparing for the Tour then and his signing, plus that of Michael Rogers, have enabled the Tinkoff Saxo team to have a view of what the Sky team had been doing.
However De Jongh said that it wasn’t a case of copying Team Sky’s formula. “I think I learned in all the previous teams where I was. You take every good thing you remember and all the bad things you leave away,” he said. “I think that is the way you need to go.”
Contador has finished either first or second in every stage race he has done this year. It’s in marked contrast to a quiet 2013 season, and the resurgence has done a lot for his confidence and self-belief. De Jongh said that he is quite a different rider to the demoralised one he was after his 2013 Tour campaign.
“Mentally there is a big change. Last year after the Tour he was pretty down because wherever he went on an attack he was brought back and dropped,” he said. “This year he was able to attack and drop Froome sometimes. So he is in a good place. We are going to try to keep it like this on the way to the Pyrenees.”
Contador got a further boost on Saturday’s eighth stage when he attacked on the final climb and put many of his general classification rivals in trouble. He was marked most closely by Vincenzo Nibali, who gave the impression of being stronger by remaining in the saddle while Contador rose out of the pedals.
However inside the final 200 metres the Italian wilted slightly, conceding ground and crossing the line three seconds back.
CyclingTips spoke to Tinkoff Saxo directeur sportif Bjarne Riis this morning; the Dane said that the gain was more than just what the clock showed.
“I think everything is important…small seconds will also be important. I think for him it was a good sign. He was able to drop the other boys. To Nibali was not a lot, but to the others on a short climb, actually…if you look to Valverde and some of the other guys, it was some seconds.”
Riis said that it was unlikely that Contador would attack on stage nine, noting that the final part of the race to Mulhouse was either downhill or flat. Monday’s stage to La Planche des Belles Filles is different, though, as it finishes atop a category one climb and a strong climber has the chance to put others under pressure.
Nibali remained in the yellow jersey prior to the start of stage nine and was one minute 44 seconds ahead of the next rider, his team-mate Jakob Fuglsang. Sky’s Richie Porte is third, one minute 58 seconds back, while Contador is sixth, two minutes 34 seconds in arrears.
He lost time on the cobblestones of stage five and still has over two and a half minutes to recover in order to reach yellow. Does Riis have confidence that he can do so against a strong Nibali?
“Yes, I believe so. We have to believe in it and try,” he answered. “We will see. I can’t tell you if it is going to happen, but that’s the plan.”