Former Tour de France winners Alberto Contador and Chris Froome will go head-to-head in their first outing of the 2015 season in the five-stage Ruta del Sol in Andalusia starting today.
Spain’s Contador announced on Monday that he intends to retire after two more seasons at the top.
However, he also hinted that date could be moved forward should he succeed in becoming the first man since Italian Marco Pantani in 1998 to win both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France in the same season.
Contador was too good for British rider Froome as he stormed to a third Tour of Spain triumph in September, but is desperate to make up for the disappointment of having to retire during the 10th stage of last year’s Tour de France after suffering a broken leg in a heavy crash.
“I start my season in two days and I am desperate to get going, I have trained a lot,” Contador said.
“I am a rider that likes to compete. We will see what shape I am, perhaps I will be a little slower than last year with this great Giro-Tour challenge I have planned.
“Obviously, when you plan something it is because you want to win.
“I don’t settle and I wouldn’t sign for anything other than first place in both.
“It doesn’t mean I am going to win or that it will be easy, to win one will be really difficult, much less both of them.”
Kenyan-born Froome has also stressed that the Tour de France remains his priority after he too had to retire just five stages into the defence of the title he won in 2013.
Last year’s Giro champion Nairo Quintana misses out after crashing at the Colombian national championships last week and his Movistar team-mate Alejandro Valverde is skipping the event despite winning in Andalusia for the past three years.
The race should therefore provide an early season pointer as to which man is in better shape with Contador and Froome expected to battle it out for the general classifi-cation victory.
A split stage today will provide the first test with a short 118km stage followed by an 8.2km individ-ual time trial.
However, the real intrigue will come on stages three and four with steep mountain climbs to the finish on Friday and Saturday.
Italy’s Andrea Guardini (Astana) sprinted to victory on Tuesday’s opening stage of the Tour of Oman.
Guardini crossed the line first in the mass sprint to claim his first win of the season ahead of Belgium’s Tom Boonen (Etixx-QuickStep) and Italy’s Matteo Pelucchi (IAM Cycling).
— Tour of Oman (@tourofoman) February 17, 2015
The Italian Guardini will wear the leader’s red jersey after his victory in the 161km stage from Bayt Al Naman Castle to Al Wutayyah.
Wednesday’s stage two runs from Al Hazm Castle to Al Bustan over a distance of 195km.
Due to time bonuses, Guardini leads Boonen by four seconds with Austria’s Patrick Konrad (Bora-Argon 18) third overall at five seconds.
Dutch rider Niki Terpstra of the Etixx team retained the leader’s gold jersey of the Tour of Qatar after Wednesday’s fourth stage was won by Norwegian Alexander Kristoff, the Katusha cyclist’s second success.
Kristoff triumphed after a bunched sprint finish at the end of the 165km stage between Al Thakira and Mesaieed, finishing ahead of Slovak Peter Sagan and German Nikias Arndt.
In the overall standings, Terpstra now enjoys a six-second advance on Poland’s Maciej Bodnar, with Briton Ian Stannard 12sec adrift.
With his second success in just three days, the Norwegian, 27, asserts himself as one of the men to follow early in the season.
2. win for me and @katushacycling. Happy with the effort my teammates did! bringing me to the front in this caotic final!
— Alexander Kristoff (@Kristoff87) February 11, 2015
“It’s my best start of a season. I didn’t expect to be that good. I feel good, I feel confident. I have never felt so strong in Qatar before. It’s a great feeling”, said Kristoff.
His Wednesday sprint win turned out be easier than Monday’s, which came after a high-tempo and windy stage.
“Maybe I started a bit early but I felt I had to go otherwise I would have come in from behind. In the end, Sagan was fast. I saw him on my left and I wasn’t too sure I had won. It was a tight one”, Kristoff explained.
Thursday’s fifth stage sees the riders tackle 153km from Al Zubarah Fort to Madinat Al Shamal.