PARIS (Reuters) - The sight of Alberto Contador sitting up during the climbs on the Criterium du Dauphine was a worrying one for his fans - but was actually part of his new strategy to win a third Tour de France title.
Contador used to be one of a very few riders who went out for victory and nothing else when they pinned a race number on their back. This time he has switched to a different approach, one adopted by three-time champion Chris Froome: use all other races just to prepare for the Tour.
The Spaniard said his all-for-the-Tour strategy should mean he starts the race fresher than ever.
"Cycling is very difficult and I would prefer to win each race but I understand than this is a better approach. I feel better than last year," the 34-year-old Contador told a news conference on Friday.
His Trek-Segafredo sports director Luca Guercilena explained that Contador was too old to chase other stage races as well as the Tour.
"I'm not stressed about it (him struggling at the Dauphine earlier this month). He's ready to be up there and we are ready as a team," the Italian said.
"We took a softer approach to the Dauphine because we know the Tour is long. It is something we believe he needed.
"Age is a factor. The quality of big champions' performances does not change over time but the way to getting to their best level is different, and we needed to take care of that."
Contador will enjoy the support of Dutchman Bauke Mollema, 11th last year and seventh on the Giro d'Italia this season, and Colombian Jarlinson Pantano, a Tour stage winner.
The route, with few summit finishes and limited time trial mileage, is also expected to favour Contador, who like France's Romain Bardet and Ireland's Dan Martin is an extremely aggressive and sometimes unpredictable rider.
"This route is very good for trying other tactics, to do something different," said Contador.
"Many things can happen. It's not a typical route, the Pyrenees and the Alps are really close this time, and there will be other mountain stages before."
The Tour starts on Saturday with a 14-km time trial in Duesseldorf, where Contador hopes to limit the damage against Team Sky's Froome and Australian Richie Porte of BMC Racing.
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Andrew Roche