For the second time in three summers Alberto Contador has to decide what he will do in July.
It?s been a difficult three years for the 2007 Tour winner. On the eve of the 2006 Tour, Contador’s name was one of five Astana Wurth riders officially named in Operacion Puerto and he was sent home. (He was later cleared of any involvement.)
In 2007, he takes part, riding for Discovery – and wins. In 2008, it?s back to Astana, the team taht has already been told they will not be taking part. The difference is their 2008 exclusion is because of Astana?s murky past, not their present.
Last seen with tears in his eyes at the Tour of Mallorca, as he confirmed the absence from the Tour, Contador is already looking towards July. But in 2009.
?We?ve got to keep a clean image.? he told Spanish daily ?AS? recently. ?And if we get in the Tour in 2009, we?re on the right track.
?I?m endebted to this team. It could have pulled out, but it decided to keep going because of the new people – like me – who have joined it.
?We?re not going to let them down. I won?t be in the Tour, but I?m thrilled by the chance of racing in the Olympics.?
The question of where and what Contador will do in the short-term is simple: the Tour of Valencia, starting next Wednesday (Feb 27).
Contador won the toughest stage there last year, and will be determined to put on a show to remind the Tour de France organisers what they are missing – both in Paris-Nice in March, and in the Tour in July.
Longer-term there?s been speculation he could quit Astana. After all, the Tour organisers have said that their issue is with the team, not the rider.
But team manager Johan Bruyneel is adamant that Contador will not be changing teams in order to race the Tour.
?It?s absolutely impossible.? Bruyneel argued earlier this week. ?Firstly because he?s already said that he?s not prepared to do that. Secondly because there?s a contract between rider and team.
?Alberto knows that we?ve done absolutely everything for him in this team. I?m sure that at the end of the road you?ll see that Contador has made a good choice when he signed for Astana.
?As for Astana, we?ll race where we?re made welcome.?
For now, that includes the Olympics, for Contador, and the Vuelta, for the entire Astana squad. This spring, Contador?s race program also includes the Tour of Murcia and the Tour of the Basque Country. But any victories, even in the Tour of Spain, will have a bitter-sweet feeling for the talented young rider.