Alberto Contador (Astana) has done what Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and Lance Armstrong (RadioShack) have failed to do: win in his season's first outing. The two-time Tour de France winner won the Volta ao Algarve overall classification yesterday in Portugal, an aggressive start and contrast to the slow build up of his rivals.
"I have thought about this," Astana Sports Director Giuseppe Martinelli told Cycling Weekly. "He has told me when he lines up for a race he lines up to win, so this is the only response that I can give. It is the first time for me to have a Grand Tour rider who can already win a race so early in the season."
Before joining Astana over the off-season, Martinelli had his hand in helping win five Grand Tours: Stefano Garzelli (2000 Giro), Gilberto Simoni (2003 Giro) and Damiano Cunego (2004 Giro) and Marco Pantani (1998 Giro and Tour). When pressured on a comparison, he can only recall Pantani's 1998 year.
"Marco one year won Murcia [in March]. He was also a rider who when he started he liked to win. But, when you are strong in the climbs the wins sometimes come even easier.
"He [Contador] has the added benefit of being able to ride well in the time trails. If you are only a climber then you risk losing the race in the final time trial, but he was able to defend well yesterday."
Contador took the Volta ao Algarve overall when he won Friday's mountain stage to Alto do Malhao. He locked up the win by finishing second to Luis León Sánchez (Caisse d'Epargne) in yesterday's 17.2-kilometre time trial in Portimao. His Tour de France rivals did not have such an impressive season debut.
Wiggins debuted with Sky by winning the opening team time trial at Qatar. The Brit went on to finish 114th overall, 19-19 behind winner Tom Boonen (Quick Step). Armstrong started at the Tour Down Under in Australia, where he finished 25th overall.
Contador's top Tour rivals are "[Levi] Leipheimer, [Andreas] Klöden, Armstrong," he told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "Then Wiggins, [Cadel] Evans, [Roman] Kreuziger, [Robert] Gesink, [Carlos] Sastre, [Alejandro] Valverde... The road will be lit on fire."
RadioShack's Tiago Machado finished third overall yesterday, Leipheimer fourth and Klöden eighth. And Armstrong, together with these domestiques and another year of racing, should be stronger than he was at last year's Tour de France.
"It is not a problem that bothers me. What impresses me, however, is the strength of his team."
Contador, 27, took win number 39 yesterday in Portugal, a list that includes all three Grand Tours, Paris-Nice and País Vasco. His next race is Paris-Nice, March 7 to 14, where he will come up against Leipheimer and Valverde.
Wiggins races Vuelta Murcia, March 3-7, next and plans to have a go at the overall classification.
Cavendish and Wiggins battle through rainstorms in Andalusia
Contador wins Tour of the Algarve
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Gregor Brown is an experienced cycling journalist, based in Florence, Italy. He has covered races all over the world for over a decade - following the Giro, Tour de France, and every major race since 2006. His love of cycling began with freestyle and BMX, before the 1998 Tour de France led him to a deep appreciation of the road racing season.
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