UTRECHT, Netherlands (Reuters) - The Giro/Tour de France double would be a career-changing achievement, Alberto Contador said on Thursday as he embarks on a the world’s greatest cycling race less than two months after winning in Italy.
The Spaniard, who has won seven grand tours since his maiden Tour title in 2007, is one of four pre-race favorites along with Britain’s Chris Froome, Italian defending champion Vincenzo Nibali and Colombian Nairo Quintana.
The last rider to win the Giro and the Tour in the same season was the late Marco Pantani in 1998.
“The most important thing is motivation — this is what you need to achieve this double. If I win just another grand tour it’s not going to change my career but if I achieve the double this is something people are going to remember,” Contador told a news conference.
“I take a lot of motivation from this.”
Of the 12 grands tours he has completed, Contador has never finished outside the top five, ending up first on nine occasions. He lost two of those titles following a positive doping test for clenbuterol in 2010.
He attempted the Giro/Tour double once, in 2011, but both his results — first in the Giro, fifth in the Tour — were annulled after his positive test.
How he has recovered from a brutal Giro, during which he was pushed to the limit by the Astana team, will be key.
Asked what would be matter most, Contador replied: “Maybe how my body responds to this race because it’s new for me.
“It’s a tough Tour and in the first nine days there are at least six very intense stages maybe some more.
“It’s going to be a Tour with no rest and regularity will be the most important thing.”
The 32-year-old takes five riders who rode the Giro with him as Tinkoff-Saxo appeared a bit weak in supporting their leader.
But the Spaniard is confident it is going to be a different story when the Tour starts on Saturday with a 13.8-km individual time trial.
“They’re experienced and strong, and I hope they have the capacity to recover well from the Giro,” he said.
“I trust them, I hope that the level of the team will be better than in the Giro.”
His team will be expected to take him safely through a treacherous first week that feature cobbles and possible bunch-splitting winds.
“The first objective is to try and avoid. The most important is not to lose the Tour (in the first week),” he said.
A canary breeder before he turned professional, Contador was offered a canary during the news conference by Dutch reporters. The bird was yellow — the color of the overall leader’s jersey on the Tour.
Editing by Ed Osmond