Tour de France - Contador 'upbeat' for Tour despite form doubts
The outright favourite for the 2011 Tour de France, Alberto Contador has won all six of the last major Tours he has participated in.
The Spaniard freely admits, though, that the most recent big race, the Giro d'Italia in May, took a great physical toll and could damage his chances of a fourth Tour de France victory.
On May 29, Contador crossed the Giro's final finish line in Milan to claim the race for a second time in his career with a solid six-minute advantage over closest rival Michele Scarponi of Italy.
However, the 28-year-old from Pinto near Madrid was so exhausted by what he described as "the hardest stage race (he had) ever done" that he refused to commit to the Tour de France for a further 10 days.
Throughout June, Contador said that his form was as solid as could be expected but that he was still tired from the Giro, and that "racing the Giro is far from being ideal preparation for the Tour".
"My Tour form is incognito," he said after taking bronze in the national championships' time trial and silver in the road race near Castellon in Spain last weekend.
"But what made me happiest here was the team work, because (in the road race) the four riders who will race the Tour (for Saxo Bank) were a great help.
"I felt good and that's what matters although obviously I'm not going to be in the same shape as the riders who've done the (Criterium du) Dauphine and the Tour de Suisse."
Contador, however, believes the Spanish championships' time trial was a good indication of what he will face in the penultimate stage of the Tour on July 23.
"The time trial route here was similar to the one in the Tour in Grenoble and it went well, so I feel very upbeat," he said.
"Neither national race was particularly suited to me in terms of terrain but it was important to come and get some racing miles under my belt."
Thanks to his Giro victory, Contador could become the first rider to take the Tours of Italy and France in the same year since the late Marco Pantani in 1998.
He has a good chance to achieve the feat as the route of the Tour once again clearly favours climbers, with four hilltop finishes and a punishing third week in the Alps.
However, the Spaniard will start the Tour with 44 days of racing behind him this season, nearly 50 percent more than he had raced before winning the Tour in 2009 and 2010.
Apart from his physical condition, Contador's other big Tour test will be handling the psychological and media pressure of an unresolved doping case.
An appeal by the International Cycling Union and the World Anti-Doping Agency against a Spanish federation decision to clear Contador of knowingly taking clenbuterol will not be held at Switzerland's Court of Arbitration for Sport until early August.