at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Pontevedra, Spain - Alejandro Valverde said the layoff from a doping ban has affected Alberto Contador's rhythm and judgment to hurt his chances of winning the Spanish Vuelta.
Contador returned to competition earlier this month after being banned since February for testing positive for clenbuterol en route to winning the 2010 Tour de France, a title he was subsequently stripped of.
The 2008 Vuelta champion trails overall leader Joaquin Rodriguez by 1 minute in this year's edition to sit in third place. Contador is 7 seconds behind British cyclist Christopher Froome and the same time in front of the fourth-place Valverde.
“He's been laid off without competition for a while, so he is still trying to find his rhythm,” Valverde said Monday, the first rest day of the three-week race. “He's third in the overall standings but we can all see he's a little nervous, attacking when he shouldn't be attacking. But I guess he has his plan and he's doing it for a reason.”
Contador's ban also ruled him out of the Giro d'Italia and London Olympics this year, but he insisted Monday that “nerves” weren't a factor despite slipping back of Rodriguez on Sunday.
“Now is when the race really starts and I feel good,” Contador said. “I've been sidelined from competition quite a while and the route we've had up to now has favored explosive, all-terrain riders. Now the race will come back toward me and the other climbers. I like competing and this is the terrain I feel most comfortable on.”
Contador, like Froome, will be looking to get through Tuesday's 10th stage with his gap to Rodriguez unchanged as Wednesday's time trial offers an opportunity to make up time on the Spanish leader.
“It will be pretty good for me, but it won't be too bad for the others, either,” said Contador, a two-time Tour champion who is one of only five riders to have won all of cycling's top three races during a career.
Valverde, the 2009 champion, believes Froome is favorite in the time trial, even if the Briton seems to be feeling the fatigue of a long season that included runner-up finishes at the Tour and Olympics.
“Froome is the most favored for that day's time trial, but he still looked a little drained on the climb up Montjuic (to finish Sunday's ninth stage)”, Valverde said. “He looked finished at the close yesterday, especially in the last 200 meters.”
The 10th stage is a 190-kilometer (118-mile) leg in the western province of Galicia. The 21-stage race ends in Madrid on Sept. 9.