He’s now 34 years of age and hasn’t won a Grand Tour since the 2015 Giro d’Italia, but Alberto Contador’s new team has faith that the atmosphere at Trek-Segafredo will give him a new edge.
Speaking to CyclingTips at the team training camp in Albir, Spain, general manager Luca Guercilena and directeur sportif Steven de Jongh have both backed Contador in his campaign to win another Tour de France.
They have dismissed the claims of Tinkoff owner Oleg Tinkov that the rider is over the hill and won’t take another yellow jersey to Paris.
“Alberto is clearly a great champion,” said Guercilena. “For us it is really a success to have him here with us. I still think he is competitive in the GC, especially in the Grand Tours. We would love to support him and to create an environment that can help him to be back and to perform at 100 percent of what he needs.
“I think we are on the good way. We would like just to let him feel comfortable and relaxed at the start of the three week races so he can focus 100 percent on the performance.”
De Jongh worked with Contador for four years at Tinkoff and has moved across with the Spaniard, along with several others.
He too was in attendance at the team camp and sat down to talk about the move. Like Guercilena, he too is convinced that Contador has more to give.
“He looks very happy,” de Jongh said. “He is pleased with everything happening with the team and also with all the other signings too. With the riders they have brought to the team and those they had before, he is maybe in better surroundings than in recent years.
“The structure looks really good too, so we are looking forward to the start of next season.”
For de Jongh, there is another factor too which he believed could make a difference: having calmer surroundings.
“For Alberto, the environment here is more quiet than before,” he said, likely referring to the friction between the rider and Tinkov.
However, that said, he also underlined the importance of what the Russian had done.
“Okay, with Oleg Alberto had his ups and downs, but in the end Oleg paid a lot of money,” he said. “Last year Alberto couldn’t deliver a Grand Tour win, but before that there were no major incidents, I think.
“When Alberto won the Giro and the year before when he was in good shape for the Tour, everything was going quite well of course. We are grateful that Oleg put in so much money because in the end he paid it from his own pocket. I respect that.”
‘He is a super-professional rider’
Contador is in the final few years of his career but is one of the most successful riders of the modern era. He won the Tour de France in 2007 and 2009, as well as two editions of the Giro d’Italia and three of the Vuelta a España.
In recent years his push for a Tour win has been complicated by a successful 2015 Giro campaign which left him worn out in the later race, as well as crashes in 2014 and again this year.
He knows that the clock is ticking but is determined to top the podium again in July one more time. His move to Trek-Segafredo is a step towards that goal.
Several people at the Trek camp said they believed that Contador will benefit from his change. Moving from Tinkov’s team brought to an end the ever-increasing pressure from the Russian to win the sport’s biggest race and, when the latter started to publicly slate his star rider, it was clear that their relationship was on the rocks.
While Guercilena also wants to see Contador in yellow in Paris, he said that his team would focus on supporting him in the best way in order to help him get the most out of himself.
He is convinced that getting that aspect right will have a clear benefit.
“What we know is that Trek Segafredo can help him to be back focussing just on the sports side and not to have any other specific stress around doing his job,” he explained. “We all know that a rider’s job is quite difficult. You need a mental approach that should be really targeting only the results and not be distracted by other things.”
However, while he is suggesting the Trek-Segafredo atmosphere will be better for Contador, Guercilena held back from saying that Tinkov’s approach was incorrect.
“A great champion is always able to deal with this kind of stress,” he said, when asked about the tension between Tinkov and Contador. “In a certain way it is normal also that owners can put a bit of pressure on the athletes.
“[But] It is evident that if the environment that you have around you is supporting you 100 percent, it is easier to reach your goals. If it is not, then the mental approach can clearly be affected. But let’s see how it will be with us. Talking about other situations is never easy because we don’t know the situation itself.”
It is early days, but thus far Guercilena makes clear that he is happy with what he has seen.
“The feeling is that he is a super professional rider,” he stated. “He is clearly a person and a rider who looks a lot at the details; we all know in cycling details are what are making the difference.
“On top of that, he is a guy who is fitting in well with the group. I see that he has the capability to merge with the riders that he knows will be supporting him in the next season.”
‘He definitely still has the qualities needed’
During the camp those working with Contador on the technical side of things told CyclingTips that they believe that improvement has already been found in terms of equipment and bike setup.
De Jongh echoed this. “We went to the track a couple of days ago and some interesting things came up there,” he said, referring to the tests carried out.
“Yesterday we went back to the bike fitting people and we improved a bit. It is all those small things that I think we have to work on. You cannot leave any stone unturned…let’s put it like that.”
Contador didn’t speak to media at the camp but will do so at the next get together in January. The aim was to ease him into his new setup and to let him concentrate on getting his position and equipment dialled, on meeting his new teammates and on building form.
He will keep working in the coming weeks and will then make his season debut in the Ruta del Sol in February. After that he is likely to ride Paris-Nice, the Volta a Catalunya and the Vuelta a Pais Vasco in his buildup to the Tour de France.
The latter event is the number one focus and, after the frustrations of recent campaigns, a huge target for Contador.
“Alberto definitely thinks that he can still win a big Tour,” says de Jongh, dismissing any claims he is too old. “He is always super motivated, and has some extra ambitions for sure after the past couple of years didn’t go as he hoped.
“I still believe he can win the Tour. He definitely still has the qualities. He needs to stay healthy…that is the main thing, I think.”