Although both Alberto Contador and his Tinkoff Saxo team have played down the speed of his recovery, saying that participation in the Vuelta a España is impossible after his July 14 crash in the Tour, speculation about a return to competition this season has been fuelled by reports that the rider was already back training before the end of July.

Ulrich Fluhme, who is the CEO of the Gran Fondo New York, has told CyclingTips that both he and his wife Lidia saw the rider training on climbs on two separate occasions.

He said the first such instance was on Monday July 28 as Fluhme descended the Marzio climb from Marchirolo to Brusimpiano at Lago di Lugano in Italy.

“I saw a rider come up and immediately knew he was a pro. A second later I realized it was Contador who lives somewhere in Lugano, which is about 20 kilometres from there. He wore full Tinkoff kit and had a bandaged knee. I stopped and turned around but was already about 30 metres behind him at that moment. And just then he started to accelerate out of the saddle so I let it go immediately.

“Lidia was descending a little further back and saw me turn around as well as Contador get out of the saddle. When she came to me she said ‘What? Contador?’ We were laughing at my attempt to catch him when he was going hard.

“It even looked like he tried to get away from me, but he could have gone out of the saddle at that moment coincidentally.”

Fluhme said that two days later he and his wife were descending the Campanna Bar climb, which he describes as a ‘long and hard’ ascent north of Lugano, and which would take a pro rider more than half an hour to scale.

“I saw a fit looking rider coming up in long-long (it was a cool day) just before Bidogno. From there, you can either climb Bar or continue up Val Colla. When we passed each other, I realized it was Contador again, this time riding in a blue/white Alberto Fundacion kit.”

Fluhme sent a link to what he said was the same style kit, or a similar version of it.

He added that his wife had started her own ride a little later than his and saw the Spaniard as she was descending from Bar.

If Fluhme and his wife are indeed correct, it means that Contador’s recovery at that point was considerably more advanced than either he or his team had communicated at the time.

Contador suffered a fractured tibia when he hit the deck between the first category climbs of the Petit Ballon and the Col du Platzerwasel on the Tour’s tenth stage. On July 23 he said via Twitter that his recovery wasn’t going well. “Bad day, the wound healing gets complicated, I’ve no date to take the bike. Goodbye to the Vuelta.”

Team manager Bjarne Riis sought to downplay this, telling media it was still too soon to say that Contador wouldn’t do the Spanish Grand Tour.

However Contador’s spokesman Jacinto Vidarte subsequently said that the rider had no interest in riding for riding’s sake. “The injury is not really good,” he told CyclingTips at the Tour de France. “The most important [factor] is that he doesn’t know how much time he will need to recover properly and, especially, to start riding the bike again. He has no time to take the start in a good condition, to fight for the victory.

“He doesn’t want to be at the Vuelta just to be there.”

On August 1st, four days after Fluhme said he saw the rider training on climbs near Lugano, Contador indicated he was only then able to start pedalling. “Hello all, I’m going on with recuperation, I can already flex the knee and am starting to take contact with the bike!!!”

On Thursday CyclingTips contacted representatives connected to Tinkoff Saxo and Specialized, plus Contador’s spokesman Vidarte. They were asked to comment on Fluhme’s claim, and whether an early return to training meant the Vuelta a España might be possible after all. However no responses have been received thus far.

Fluhme insists his identification of the rider is correct and said that he can’t understand why Tinkoff Saxo hasn’t been more forthcoming about Contador’s recovery. “We see pros from various teams such as Astana, Trek, Tinkoff, Lampre, Bardiani etc here all the time. I don’t know why he and his team think they can claim he isn’t training and then go out in full kit in an area full of cyclists.”

“Either way, good to see him back on the bike and in all but bad shape!”