Upon his arrival in Rotterdam today, defending Tour de France champion, Alberto Contador, took a few minutes to speak with Dutch newssource, De Telegraaf. The four-time Grand Tour winner was impressively candid in the interview and provided some unique insights.
First and foremost, Contador dispels the notion that he's the rider that everyone is gunning for.
"I find that nonsense. To win the Tour, you must not only beat Alberto Contador. Of course, I understand that I am the defending champion, and I am the big favorite. Realistically though, it is more likely that I will lose than win. I stay calm and look at all the circumstances and all the obstacles that must be overcome. Everyone will exploit a moment of weakness."
The contenders to the top step of the final podium in Paris look stronger than ever, but Contador isn't ready to assess their possibilities.
"I do not know. I am sure that they have worked hard and will be in top form when the race starts on Saturday. I've done the same. I've worked hard. I'm ready."
On a slightly less serious note, Contador went out of his way to compliment the Grand Depart's host country, the Netherlands.
"I am always amazed at how many people show up to watch the post-Tour criteriums in the Netherlands. There is so much interest and enthusiasm - that's not something we are used to in Spain. I am always very sympathetically received and look forward to the coming days in Rotterdam. Only, we must watch out for the trip to Brussels along the coast. I saw today that the wind can have free rein there. We will be attentive."
When asked about his ascension to mega-star status, Contador admits that things have changed since his victory at the Tour de France last year.
"I notice that the world is looking at me differently. I had previously won all three Grand Tours, but this past Tour has had something extra attached. Of course, this also has its disadvantages. Everyone wants something from you. But for me, nothing has changed very much. I try to stay the same. Pinto is my hometown, and I still live there. I can still live a normal life. Sometimes I am approached on the street when I walk around, but that is something I will have to accept."
De Telegraaf asks Contador about his tumultuous winter and the uncertainty caused by the creation of the RadioShack team from mainly the former Astana team. Contador is quick to admit the stress it caused.
"It was not easy for many months. Unconsciously, that takes a lot of energy. Again and again, there were phone calls and negotiations. There was always that uncertainty. Utlimately, it worked out well. For the past five years, it has always taken a long time before I knew exactly what was going to happen for the next season. I hope to get some more rest this fall."
The topic of Lance Armstrong seems to be genetically linked to the Astana captain, and it's something that Contador seems resigned to accept.
"There are so many stories told, and there are so many lies told. I'm not sure what Lance thinks of me. I can say that I have much respect for Armstrong. He is a great athlete. I said that last year, and that has not changed."
While the pre-Tour frenzy has seen questions pop up over the possibility of a third Tour de France victory for Contador, he seems more confident than ever.
"Last year's victory confirmed and strengthened me. That experience will go a long way. Tactically, I can better analyze a race, allowing me to make better decisions."
One of the main questions directed at Contador and his Astana team is the apparent lack of strength in the team. Many feel that Contador's team could be the one thing that could let him down when the race hits its crucial phases. Unsurprisingly, Contador is less than worried and has all the confidence in the world in his team.
"There was much criticism of our team, but I've always had confidence in my team. The victory of Vino at Liege showed how we function as a team. Whether I am the leader or Vino or Iglinskiy, we are always one unit. This is a team of friends, so we've had a good season. The joy we felt after Liege showed how this team really is."