aAs many athletes will testify, a successful spell of pre-season training often provides a useful background for serious competition in the ensuing months ahead. Various sporting disciplines share this concept and professional cycling is no exception with the outcome of the European spring road events usually offering a guide as to which riders are beginning the season in decent form.
Former Tour de France winner Alberto Contador has already demonstrated his current well-being with victory in the Tirreno Adriatico race which suggests that he could be recapturing the climbing prowess for which he was renowned several years previously.
After winning the 2011 Giro d’Italia, Contador was eventually banned from cycling when testing positive for minute traces of clenbuterol during his victory in the 2010 Tour de France. The Spaniard continued to protest his innocence, even after he had served his suspension, and although he claimed the 2012 Vuelta a Espana title on his return to action, he appeared to be a shadow of his former self during 2013.
Despite finishing fourth in the 2013 Tour, Contador lacked his previous panache in the mountains, often failing to show his famed explosive acceleration as Team Sky set a demanding pace. That followed similarly below par displays in prior stage races and perhaps the seeds were sown when he could only occupy third position in the Tirreno Adraitico of that year when failing to show any degree of dominance in the two mountain stages as Italian Vincenzo Nibali secured the title.
This year’s renewal of the same race witnessed a totally different Contador from the previous season. Both mountain stages were claimed by the Spaniard with 2013 Tour de France runner-up Nairo Quintano beaten into second position on stage four. By the end of stage five, he had extended his lead ahead of the Colombian to over two minutes after which a comfortable victory was assured.
It may still be early days in the cycling calendar, but the display of Contador in Italy bodes well for his participation in further stage races later this year. After announcing plans to ride the 2014 Tour de France, he may present a more formidable challenge to defending champion Chris Froome and he may be better able to cope with the wearing tactics of Team Sky in the mountains.
It may also be the case that there was a degree of complacency in his pre-season training last year and that the dominant performance of Froome in the 2013 Tour may have provided the necessary trigger for Contador to refocus efforts on regaining his previous fearsome reputation.
Whatever the reasons for the apparent resurgence of Contador, it does seem clear that cycling fans are guaranteed some real competitive racing for the rest of this year.