Cycling: Ex-Tour champ Contador relishing arrival in his territory

TOMBLAINE, France (AFP) - Alberto Contador was licking his lips ahead of the start of Saturday's eighth stage of cycling's Tour de France.

After a chaotic first week in which the Tour lost its defending champion to injury - Chris Froome suffered fractures to his wrist and hand after falling three times in two days before abandoning the race on Wednesday - the peloton moves into the Vosges in eastern France ahead of the first true high mountain stages.

Saturday's 161km run from Tomblaine to Gerardmer will provide another chance for the favourites to test themselves against each other.

And Contador can't wait, although he's not sure Saturday's stage will be ideal for him to start pulling back his 2min 37sec deficit to race leader Vincenzo Nibali.

"I can't wait to arrive in my territory to start pulling back some time," said the specialist climber and twice former Tour winner.

"The profile (of Saturday's stage) looks more like a one-day Classic than a true mountain stage, it's for explosive guys like (Alejandro) Valverde.

"But nonetheless, if an opportunity presents itself, I'll go for it."

Tinkoff-Saxo leader Contador, 31, may be tipping Valverde for success on Saturday but the Movistar leader believes he's going to have to watch his rivals to avoid losing time.

"At the moment, I feel very good but Astana (Nibali's team) are working incredibly well," said the 34-year-old Spaniard.

"If they attack me, we have to respond. Contador needs to gain back time so I'll have to keep an eye on his wheel too."

Saturday's stage is mostly flat until the final 30km when the peloton will hit three climbs.

The first two second category climbs, the 7.6km Col de la Croix des Moinats (average 6 per cent) and the 3km Col de Grosse Pierre (7.5 per cent), should suffice to shed the stragglers from the group containing the leaders.

But any time gaps won or lost - unless as in Tejay van Garderen's case on Friday due to a crash - should come on the brutal but short, final 1.8km climb to Gerardmer, with it's 10.3 per cent average gradient.

It won't be minutes that make the difference but any seconds gained on Nibali would help in the grander scheme of things.

The Italian wasn't about to make any predictions on where the attacks would come, only that he was sure they would.

The much tamer finish to Friday's stage in Nancy, with two fourth category climbs in the final 20km, whittled down the lead group to only the best.

"I expect a very nervous race, although there could also be a breakaway from the beginning," said the 29-year-old Sicilian.

"We'll try to manage the stage like we've done up until now and then we'll see. What will happen is difficult to predict."

One thing he is certain of, though, is that an attack will come from Contador sooner or later.

"Alberto has to get back an important amount of time. You always have to expect something from Alberto: an unexpected attack."

Belkin sports director Nico Verhoeven believes this stage is the one where the overall contenders will separate themselves on the overall standings from the rest.

And he said it is crucial for the Dutch team's leader Bauke Mollema to show his credentials.

"The final is not very difficult, but we still have to tackle three climbs," he said.

"Several riders will fall out of the top ten and Bauke will have to prove what he's worth. It will be the first real indication of how strong the overall men truly are."

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