LES HERBIERS, FRANCE // Alberto Contador will seek to make light of the energy spent winning a gruelling Giro d'Italia in May to secure one of the most prestigious doubles in cycling history.
Although the Tour de France is considered the world's premier cycling event, the Giro d'Italia can at times be more difficult. Winning one after the other is a feat achieved only seven times.
Barely a month after securing his second pink jersey at the Italian race, Contador lines up today aiming for a fourth success on the Tour de France. If successful, the Spaniard would become the first rider since the deceased Italian climber Marco Pantani in 1998 to win both events.
Not many cyclists possess the physical, as well as mental, capacities to achieve the feat. But from the current generation, Contador is the best candidate.
"When you're at Contador's level it becomes possible," said Marc Madiot, the sporting director of the FDJ team. "Everything depends on whether he has really dipped into his reserves at the Giro."
In this year's Giro, regarded as one of the most gruelling of recent times, Contador finished over six minutes ahead of the second-placed Italian Michele Scarponi.
"Right now, I am tired and I would just like to enjoy my victory," Contador said after stepping off the Milan podium on May 29.
Lionel Marie, Garmin's sporting director, said he thinks that Contador left the Giro "with plenty still left in the tank".
Alain Gallopin, RadioShack's sporting director, said: "The Giro course was harder than last year's, but ultimately the race was easy [for Contador] because the harder you make the course, the easier it is to control."
Not all are convinced.
"Even though Contador looked as though he coasted through the Giro, it leaves its mark on you," said John Lelangue, the BMC manager. "I think he will feel those effects at some point."
But most agree that when it comes to stage races the Spaniard is untouchable.
"To me, it seems impossible to be competitive for two grand tours in succession, but we're talking about Contador here," said Stephane Heulot, Saur-Sojasun's manager.
Thor Hushovd and Matt Goss are among the favourites to take possession of the yellow jersey today when the first of 21 stages opens the Tour. Dispensing with the opening prologue which, in recent years, has opened the Tour and handed the lead to a time-trial specialist, organisers this year have opted to "shake up" the race in the first week.
Stage one, held over 191.5km from Passage du Gois to Mont des Alouettes, is flat for the first 120km before yielding to rolling hills. A series of five roundabouts in the last 5km is likely to split the field, which will be further reduced on the steady climb towards the finish. It is designed to reward a sprinter who can climb, or a climber who has a good finishing sprint, ruling out all but a select few.