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Alberto Contador may just have done, and won, the Giro d’Italia, and will therefore be less fresh than his rivals for the Tour de France, but Chris Froome has nevertheless marked him out as his number one threat in the race.
Speaking in advance of the campaign which he hopes will net him the second Tour of his career, Froome was clear on who he felt was his biggest rival, and why.
“He’s got an amazing Grand Tour résumé. I can’t write off guys like Nibali, [Nairo] Quintana, [Alejandro] Valverde, but Contador does stand out. He is the benchmark, the guy to beat,” he said, speaking to the Telegraph.
Contador won the Tour in 2007 and 2009, and also took first in the 2008 Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España, the 2012 and 2014 Vueltas plus this year’s Giro.
He was first home in the 2010 Tour and the 2011 Giro, but lost both of those titles due to his clenbuterol positive in the former.
Froome has won one Grand Tour, the 2013 Tour de France. He was aiming to add a second such victory to his palmares but, like Contador, he crashed out of the Tour. He returning to racing several weeks later in the Vuelta a España and finished second overall there to Contador.
On paper, Contador has a far bigger Grand Tour history. However Froome is younger and, when he was on his best form, he finished first to Contador’s fourth in the 2013 Tour.
He said that their rivalry is something which drives him to work harder.
“It definitively pushes me,” he said. “I do think about my rivals quite a lot when I’m training. I think, ‘Would they be training like this? Would they be pushing this hard?’ It’s something I use for motivation.”
While he and Contador both have a lazer focus on trying to win the 2015 Tour, he stresses that they have a mutual respect for each other and that things aren’t in any way personal.
“I’m sure there will be days when that looks more aggressive than I’m letting on but we do respect each other,” he insisted. “We don’t hate each other. I think when it does come to the Grand Tours, both of us want it to be a good race. We want to be able to take each other on and for one of us at the end to be able to say, ‘we were better’.
They have had limited chances to square up against each other this season and so both of them will head into the Tour not quite knowing what to expect. Froome describes the fact that they are taking different paths as ‘interesting.’
“He is over in Italy getting through the Giro d’Italia. I’m obviously out training with the lads [in Tenerife, where he spent a period of time at altitude] and doing the Dauphine.”
Things sound a little more distance with Nibali. Both were training in Tenerife at the same time. Both will also do the Criterium du Dauphiné, starting this weekend.
He said that while the Sky and Astana teams stayed in the same hotel in Tenerife, that the contact between them is limited.
“It is a bit funny up here,” he said. “You see them on the turbo trainer at an odd time of the day and you think, ‘Ah, what are they doing?’ You hear they left before breakfast and didn’t get back until just before dinner and think ‘Wow, are we doing enough?’
“It’s interesting to compare. We know what we are doing, they know what they are doing. You say ‘hi’ passing in the corridors. If it’s someone you have been team-mates with, you might grab a coffee. Otherwise, we do pretty much keep to ourselves and what we’re doing.”
Says he is reassured by amount of out of competition testing at altitude
Last year Froome complained when leaving Tenerife after a period of time training there, saying that he considered it regrettable that he had spent two weeks there and that the general classification contenders there – Froome, Contador and Nibali – had not been tested.
Twelve months later he confirms that things have picked up somewhat. He told the Telegraph that Sky had been tested twice in ten days; he added that Nibali’s Astana also had the same number of tests.
“We had been coming up here for three years, two or three times a year, and we had only been tested once,” he said
“Also, asking around the other teams who had been up here, they hadn’t been tested either. Whenever we went to the races, one of the first questions journalists would ask was, ‘You were up in Tenerife which obviously has a bad reputation in the past. Were you tested?’
“We could only say, ‘No, we weren’t’, which just doesn’t look good.”
Froome further explained his tweet last year, saying that he wanted to be in a position to say that he had been tested and that nobody had anything to worry about.
It wasn’t just about Sky. “I also wanted to know that all our competition is being tested, especially with so many teams using Tenerife as a training hub at those critical times of the year. You think that would be one of the times testing should be at its highest.
“It was something I really felt I needed to draw attention to. I felt the authorities could have been doing more. I am happy with the number of times they have been [here] this year.”
What is not clear, however, is whether any testing has been done after 11pm at night. The need for this was outlined as a necessity by the Cycling Independent Reform Commission in the CIRC report, and reiterated this week by WADA.
Essentially, unless occasional testing is done between the 11pm and 6am window, there is a chance that riders can micro-dose and evade detection under the biological passport system.
Still, while those details remain unclear, increasing the amount of tests at altitude is a step forward in itself.