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Noval: Difficult times at Saxo Bank, but ‘Contador will come back to win’

Spaniard's top lieutenant talks about life without embattled captain, says Saxo Bank was on the brink this spring

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MARMARIS, Turkey (VN) — Benjamín Noval says Alberto Contador will be a man on a mission when he returns from his controversial clenbuterol ban in August.

As one of Contador’s closest friends in the bunch, Noval believes Contador’s recent racing ban will only fuel his ambitions when he returns in August.

“Alberto will come back to win. I know he will come back motivated to win, to fight for the victory,” Noval told VeloNews. “He’ll be just as strong as before, and probably even more so because he wants to come back after he was sanctioned to show everyone that he is a champion. He will be even a little bit stronger than before, above all, mentally.”

Nicknamed “El Toro,” the 33 –year-old asturiano is one of Contador’s most loyal lieutenants. He raced alongside his compatriot for most of his major victories, including the 2010 Tour de France when Contador tested positive for traces of clenbuterol.

Noval stays in contact with Contador, whom he said is trying to forget the back-dated, two-year ban and the pending disqualification of the 2010 Tour and the loss of all other results since then, including the 2011 Giro.

“Alberto’s taking it as best he can. He’s staying calm, training well,” Noval said. “I believe Alberto has put it all behind him. He’s focused on his training. Without racing, he is training even harder. He’s tried to forget all about it and now there are just a few months before he can come back. I know he’s very motivated to get back into the races.”

The long-running legal battle in Contador’s controversial clenbuterol case ended in February when CAS handed down the maximum ban of two years as well as disqualifying him from not only the 2010 Tour but all of his subsequent results.

Noval said Contador still considers those victories his even though his name has been struck from the history books.

“To lose the Giro and the other races was a very hard blow, because he beat everyone on the road, he passed all the controls, just the same as everyone else, or even more so,” Noval said. “Just like Alberto said, he stays with the sensation that he won the race, that he stood on the podium, that these races are his. Even though his name will not show up on the palmarès, he still feels like he’s the winner.”

Noval is racing this week at the Tour of Turkey, where he is going about his job as gregario and trying to set up teammate J.J. Haedo for a stage victory in the sprints.

In the wake of Contador’s ban, Noval and his Saxo Bank teammates have been forced to search for new goals and ambitions without their star rider. Instead of racing for the yellow jersey at the Tour de France, the team is struggling to keep its morale high while they wait for Contador’s comeback.

Contador has indicated he will return to Saxo Bank when his ban ends in early August, but admitted he has received up to six offers from other squads.

“It’s been difficult without Alberto, because the team is built around him. So without him, we are obviously handicapped,” Noval said. “The sanction was hard to take, but he is back in August, and we hope he’s back with us. So we plan to enjoy it when he returns.”

Noval admitted Contador’s ban has pushed the team to the brink, including a recent row over Contador’s points and the threat that the team might lose its ProTeam status.

After receiving a reprieve from the UCI License Commission, Saxo Bank seems safe for now, but without Contador until his return in August, the team is trying to make the most of an awkward situation.

“With Contador, this team is a protagonist in every race he starts,” he said. “Without him, we look to do what we can, get into breakaways or to win stages.”

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