Last week, Alberto Contador travelled to Paris to receive the Velo d'Or, the prize for rider of the year. While in Paris, Contador paid a visit to L'Équipe, and gave an interview about his plans for the season, his reaction to the Lance Armstrong comeback, and his impressions of Team Astana.
Below is a translation of the full interview, which appeared in the print edition of L'Équipe on 16 January 2009. A slightly different version of the interview appeared in the online version of the magazine, and I have included two questions from the online interview at the end. Contador also confirmed his racing program for the months leading up the Tour de France. They are listed at the end of the interview.
After your victory in 2007 and the disappointment of not having been invited last year, the Tour de France is your main objective for the season....
The Tour de France gave me the biggest satisfaction of my career. I can't wait to return there. But I am very aware that it is necessary to get there progressively. I still have three kilos to lose and I am a little behind in my preparation because of an operation on my nose. But nothing to worry about.
Are there going to be any changes in your preparation?
My program is going to be similar to that of 2007. I am not going to change anything that has already brought me luck.
The difference this year is that Lance Armstrong has returned to competition with your team and he talks also of the Tour...
Now that the effects of the surprise have passed and the disappointment at not having been kept up to date [by the team] has faded, I must say that the return of Armstrong is a good thing for cycling. He is a great champion who knows how to sell the sport like no one else. His return brings nothing but advantages.
That is your real view?
Yes, this is, and not only for the weight that is lifted from me in relation to the media. That appears anondyne, but for me, there is some peacefulness again for a season and less pressure on me when I go to the Tour.
Doesn't the return of Armstrong put more pressure on you than before?
At first, I thought that it would be important. Now, it is no longer a pressure, but a motivation. I am going to ride at the side of someone whom I have admired since the age of 15.
How are you going to define precisely each other's roles?
We have two distinct programs with the common thread of preparing for the Tour. I am going to concentrate on my program of races in order to arrive in the best possible form at the start. But not with the obsession to be the leader. One thing is clear: Only the road will decide. The decision to designate a leader will not be made on the basis of our performances up to the morning of 4 July.
With the arrival of Armstrong, have you made any specific demands?
Only having as often as possible riders like Benjamin Noval and Sergio Paulinho at my side. Nothing more.
A team also for the Tour?
I already have them. But I know that it is going to be a true headache to decide a list of nine names. Johan Bruyneel will decide the selection.
How did your first meeting happen with Armstrong?
Like with any other rider. We were simply at the table with the team in Tenerife training. He waved his hand at everyone, nothing more. Then, we had the occasion to talk a little more. Nothing extraordinary.
Armstrong has said that he has not returned in the guise of a patron. Is that the feeling that he left you with?
It is clear that he has a presence. One feels that he is influential, especially when he talks of marketing, sponsoring. On the bike, I do not feel any will to dominate on his part.
How did you find him in terms of fitness during the training camp at Tenerife?
I saw someone extremely motivated to train. He gives off a sensation of enormous will. As if he was looking for the form to come immediately. I could tell that he had a rather significant muscle mass.
Armstrong has said that he doubts that you could play the role of gregario if it is necessary...
I have always said that if a rider on the team has a better chance than me to win the Tour, I will put myself at his service.
You have already won the Tour, the Giro, and the Vuelta. What still motivates you?
This year, the Tour. Maybe next year, I would tell you the Tour and the Giro, and the year after that, the Tour and the Vuelta. The important thing, is to continue to win the big races.
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A slightly different version of this interview with Contador appeared in the online version of L'Équipe. Here are two questions that were not included in the print edition.
The arrival of Lance Armstrong at Astana:
There were several phases. I took a little time to reconcile myself with the situation. When I learned [about the Armstrong comeback], I was riding the Vuelta. I was battling for the General Classification. A new situation could be upsetting at a moment when concentration was ncessary, above all, when there was a rare chance to win the Vuelta a España. [Armstrong's plan] was not especially good news. Then, after a few days, I talked with Johan Bruyneel about the new configuration of the team. At first, I thought that the cohabitation would be impossible, but the situation is better than I would have imagined.
The cohabitation with Armstrong:
The relationship between Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel is very strong. They began together as a team and they won the Tour together. Their relationship is stronger than that which I can have with Johan. I understand that and I accept it, but I believe that it should not have influence during the race. All must play by the rules. I have chosen my racing calender on my side, he has also. The programs do not coincide at any race, for now. He knows his program until the Giro d'Italia. We will meet perhaps at the Dauphiné Libéré, if he starts. The only sure thing is that we will be together at the Tour de France. I found Armstrong very good at Tenerife. He is very motivated for his return to competition and he is training very hard... He is in Australia. Me, I remain in Europe in the cold (laughing.)
Contador will ride the following races in his preparation for the Tour de France: Tour d'Algarve, Paris-Nice, Vuelta a Castille y Leon, Vuelta a Pais Vasco, Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré. He will ride the Vuelta a Pais Vasco to win, then he will use the Dauphiné Libéré to test his legs for the Tour, but the team will not put pressure on him to achieve results.
Interview by Manuel Martinez, L'Équipe. Translation by Gav.