By Julien Pretot
SALON DE PROVENCE, France (Reuters) - Alberto Contador believes his absence from this year's Giro d'Italia could prove to be a game-changer when he challenges for a third Tour de France title in July.
The 33-year-old Spaniard won a punishing Giro last year but fizzled out in the Tour that followed and finished a distant fifth without ever being in contention.
"Having decided not to ride the Giro, I know I can give my all in all the events I enter, it’s a real deal-changer," Contador told Reuters at the Paris-Nice stage race which he is riding for the first time since 2010.
"The legs are good, I’m satisfied with my form at this stage of the season."
The seven-times grand tour winner last won the Tour de France in 2010 but was stripped of that title after testing positive for the banned anabolic agent clenbuterol.
The Spaniard, who had blamed the failed test on contaminated meat and denied wrongdoing, previously won the Tour in 2007 and 2009.
Contador will compete in the Olympic road race in Rio in August, but he saw that as a natural follow-up to the Tour whereas targeting two three-week events in a single season was another matter.
His queen stage victory in last month's Tour of Algarve came after a trademark attack reminiscent of his greatest days but he preferred not to look back that far.
"Maybe it’s not necessary to go six or seven years back. I think I’m in a better shape than last year -- maybe I’m like in 2014 when I had a great start to the season," he explained.
In recent years Contador has preferred the Tirreno-Adriatico to Paris-Nice, which clashes with the Italian race, because of the mountain stages and the individual time trial.
This time, he said, the route of the Paris-Nice suited him better: "It’s a race that is important to me. It gives you a lot of experience: you learn whether you have to attack or not, how to control a team."
An unpredictable rider, Contador has no rival when it comes to catching his opponents off guard, attacking where and when they are not expecting him to.
Those instincts could make the difference in July against the likes of Briton Chris Froome, Colombian Nairo Quintana or France’s Thibaut Pinot.
(Editing by Alan Baldwin)