By Gregor Brown
Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) told a packed hotel of journalists on Thursday in Utrecht's outskirts that this Tour de France, starting Saturday, will be the toughest ever for him given the stages.
The Tour begins with an individual time trial, but quickly becomes technically complicated as it heads to and over the boarder of France.
Contador, who is aiming to win the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France in one year, faces a flat and possibly windy stage two, two Classics type stages with the Mur de Huy on Monday and cobbles on Tuesday, and a team time trial at the end of the run in Brittany, France.
Only the transfer south to Pau could be relaxing, but the next day he faces the high mountain passes in the Pyrenees.
Tinkoff-Saxo’s captain earned the right to cast judgement on the route with a palmarès that already has with two Tour wins, or three if you add in the one lost to a doping case in 2010. He has also won three times in the Vuelta a España and twice in the Giro d'Italia, the last in Milan nearly a month ago.
"This year, this Tour, could be the toughest Tour in my life with a lot of mountains and the first nine days are maybe the most difficult that we raced in the last years, with six or maybe more intense days," Contador said. "It will be a Tour without rest and consistency will be the most important."
The route includes seven mountain stages with five summit finishes in the high mountains: Pierre Saint Martin, Plateau de Beille, Pra Loup, La Toussuire and Alpe d'Huez. Those could be relaxing for ‘El Pistolero’ or ‘The Gunslinger’ after the first nine days in the Netherlands, Belgium and France's north.
Besides the route, Contador faces a stacked list of competition with Sky's Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) – all Grand Tour winners. Beyond those three, Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) and others stand in his way of another Tour title.
Contador does not need another Tour title. His Giro d'Italia victory last month matters little. He explained what counts for him is the Giro/Tour double and a chance to write his name in the history books with a select and prestigious lists of cyclists.
Only seven cyclists ever won both the Italian and the French grand tour in one season. The last was Italian Marco Pantani in 1998, who added his name to the list with Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Stephen Roche and Miguel Indurain.
The list is a who's who of cycling. Contador, if he was to win the Tour on July 26 in Paris, would likely not be the last to double, but he would be one of the select few and would add another jewel to his already studded crown.
Contador, who sat next to a yellow canary that Dutch journalists presented to him at his hotel, said that it is the double or nothing for him in 2015.
"I know that if I win another Tour win without the double, that's not something that can change my career," Contador explained, "but if I get the double, that's something that will change my career, something that people will remember."
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