Contador 'back to 2009 form'

Alberto Contador believes he is back in the form that saw him dominate the 2009 Tour de France but insists defending champion Chris Froome remains the favourite for this year's race.

Contador goes into the 2014 edition on the back of an impressive first half of the season in which he won Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour of the Basque Country and finished second in three other stage races, including last month's Criterium du Dauphine.

It has been a huge improvement on his tepid 2013 campaign, when he registered only one stage win and finished almost six and a half minutes down on Froome at the Tour in fourth place.

The 31-year-old Spaniard, who also won the Tour in 2007, appears to have regained parity with his Team Sky rival in the mountains this year and is confident of producing a far more serious challenge for the yellow jersey.

Speaking at the Tinkoff-Saxo team press conference in Leeds, he said: "This year could be compared to 2009 - I am feeling in the same shape. In that year I was always feeling well and this season I felt very well during the whole season.

"Every Tour de France is special because it is the biggest and most important race in the world, but this one is very special for me because I have had very good results this season and I'm feeling very good.

"But the biggest favourite is another rider, Chris Froome. I think that Froome is the one to beat this year because he has been the best rider in the last two years. Last year he was number one, but this year I am in a better shape than last year. I don't know if I am in the shape to beat him, but I will try."

Contador and Froome played out a nip-and-tuck battle at the Dauphine, with the Briton edging the prologue and stage two's summit finish, before losing out to his Spanish rival on stages seven and eight following a heavy crash.

Contador is conscious of the fact that Froome was hampered by his accident, but nevertheless took confidence from his strong showing at the race.

He added: "It was a confidence boost for me to resist every attack from Chris Froome at the Dauphine. I don't know if he was in the best condition, but for me it was a great test and gave me a lot of confidence. I came out of the Dauphine in my best shape."

Although rivals, Froome and Contador will be united in their desire to avoid losing time on the cobbled fifth stage from Ypres to Arenberg Porte du Hainaut on Wednesday.

The pave, as the cobbles are known, are not only a minefield of punctures, crashes and mechanical problems, but they are also alien territory for light climbers such as Contador, Froome and Vincenzo Nibali, the third favourite for the yellow jersey.

Contador said: "You will have to face stage five with a lot of respect. It will mean survival for everybody. You have to be confident. You can lose the Tour on that stage, but you can't win it. You have to start the stage with motivation."