LONDON (Reuters) - Former Tour de France champion Chris Froome has put last year’s troubles behind him and has Alberto Contador in his sights as he plans an assault on cycling’s major prizes.
The Briton’s hopes of back-to-back Tour de France victories ended in agony when he crashed out early in the 2014 edition, just one of several setbacks for the Team Sky rider.
But after the team’s training camp in Mallorca, Froome is ready to go head-to-head with Contador after finishing second to the Spaniard in last year’s Vuelta.
“He definitely pushes me to train harder,” Froome said of the Tinkoff-Saxo rider who has won the Tour de France twice, the Giro once and the Vuelta three times.
“When I’m out training, I wonder what he’s up to today, I wonder how hard he’s training somewhere in snowy, wet Lugano.”
Froome admits he has some way to go to cement his name among the cycling greats.
But starting the season fresh, without nagging back problems and with the spotlight off his supposed strained relationship with team mate and 2012 Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, will help his cause.
“I feel I’m in a better place mentally,” Froome said in British media. “I feel I don’t have the same kind of pressure I had last year.
“Last year, through the winter it was very much ‘Okay, I’ve won the Tour, now I’ve got to do it again. Everyone’s banking on you doing this’. It felt a bit overwhelming at times.”
“There’s a better vibe than this time last year.”
Contador also crashed out of last year’s Tour de France, but he and Froome are expected to battle for the yellow jersey this year when the race starts in Utrecht, Netherlands in July.
“He is an extremely tough rival for me. If anyone knows how to win the Tour de France, it’s him,” Froome says.
“Alberto can smell weakness. He can smell it when you’re having a bad day.”
Contador, who was stripped of a third Tour de France victory because of a doping violation, will attempt to win the Giro and Tour de France in quick succession this year, a schedule some think is foolhardy.
“I wouldn’t say it’s impossible, but he’s set himself a difficult task. By the time you get to the third week of the second Grand tour, you’re on your hands and knees,” said Froome.
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Alan Baldwin