Can anyone stop Contador winning the Tour opener?

Alberto Contador underlined his pre-Tour de France form by beating 2009 Paris-Nice winner Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d’Epargne) by 37 seconds over 48km to take the Spanish time trial national championship title on Friday.

The Astana rider was announced last week as his team’s leader for the 2009 Tour de France, and must now rank as one of the favourites to win the opening time trial in Monaco on Saturday, July 4.

The twisting, hilly 15.5km test against the clock in Monaco seems to play into the hands of Contador in his current form, although there will be a spirited fight for the first yellow leader’s jersey of the 2009 Tour from time trial specialists Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) and Britain’s Bradley Wiggins (Garmin-Slipstream), and overall rivals such as Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) and Giro d’Italia winner Denis Menchov (Rabobank).

Contador has been working hard on his time trialling over the winter, having spent time in a wind tunnel in San Diego as preparation for this year’s Tour time trials. The homework is starting to pay off.

An opening win for Contador would help the 2007 Tour de France winner underline his status as team leader in Astana. There has been much speculation as to the ‘real’ leader of Astana after seven-times Tour winner Lance Armstrong launched his comeback to racing in January with the squad.

Armstrong has not really proved as yet that he has the form to make a challenge at the 2009 Tour. His only win this year has been at the low key Nevada City Classic in America. Contador has won the Tour of Algarve and Tour of the Basque Country, plus two stages of Paris-Nice.

A decisive win in the opening Tour time trial followed by a team win in the stage four test again the clock would set up Contador nicely for the following two and a half weeks in France. And persuade the Astana team to rally behind him.

 Alberto Contador, Spain time trial national championships 2009

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