Contador, Quintana ready to stretch legs at Route du Sud

It's unclear whether the two Tour de France favorites will race to win or race to train

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Two of the peloton’s “Fab Four” face off in the last major test before the Tour de France, but don’t expect Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) or Nairo Quintana (Movistar) to be running at full gas during this weekend’s Route du Sud.

Set across the Pyrénées, the four-day race starting Thursday in southern France sees Contador and Quintana each returning to racing after taking different roads to the Tour. Contador, of course, is racing for the first time since winning a hard-fought Giro d’Italia, while Quintana returns to Europe after training in Colombia, and will race for the first time since the Tour de Romandie in early May.

“It’s the first race after the Giro for Alberto Contador, Ivan Basso and Michael Rogers, and these three riders need to compete before the Tour,” said Tinkoff-Saxo sport director Patxi Vila in a team release. “The main objective for Tinkoff-Saxo is that they compete and enter into race-mode once again. After nearly three weeks of break they have to get into the mindset of a competition.”

The same idea plays out for Quintana, who won the race in 2012. The overall could well go to someone else if these two superpowers are content only to stretch their legs before the battle royale at the Tour next month.

Final test before Tour

Seven UCI WorldTeams line up, including all four French squads, but the winner could come from anywhere. Defending champion Nicolas Roche, who won last year with Tinkoff, recently completed the Critérium du Dauphiné in service of winner Chris Froome (Sky), but the British squad is not among the field.

Joining Movistar and Tinkoff are Cannondale-Garmin, with Ryder Hesjedal, and the four French squads: Cofidis, Europcar, Ag2r La Mondiale, and FDJ. All the top French riders, however, raced at the Dauphiné, meaning the Route du Sud could be open to anyone who has the legs, and the motivation, to make a run for the overall.

Tinkoff and Movistar, however, bring the deepest and strongest teams. If Contador or Quintana don’t win, the victor could well come from someone else within their ranks.

One major day to decide GC

The 39th Route du Sud opens with two road stages well-suited for bunch sprints. Set across the rolling hill country just north of the Pyrénées, both stages feature slight uphill kickers at the end, perhaps setting up the likes of Romain Feillu (Bretagne), Bryan Coquard (Europcar), or Fabio Duarte (Colombia) for a stage win.

The GC will likely be decided in Saturday’s three-climb stage, which includes the Cat. 1 Port de Balès before a descent to the finish line. Sunday’s fourth and final stage is another transition stage for a breakaway or sprint.

The question remains whether the big stars, such as Contador or Quintana, will be riding to win or riding to train. Vila said if Contador is feeling good, who admitted he’s still feeling weary from his efforts at the Giro, he will go for at least a stage victory.

“The real test will come in the third stage. It’s the race’s queen stage with three Cat. 1 climbs, including the famous Port de Balès and will give a very good indication of Alberto’s form,” Vila said. “He will, obviously, fight to be in the front and being a very competitive athlete, we don’t rule out the possibility that he might try to go for a stage win. However, there will be other, fresher, riders from other teams that will give their best because the GC will most probably be decided there.”

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