The Reuters global sports blog
Don’t tell Alberto Contador his team is weak. He won’t like it and he might be right in saying Astana are stronger than some would think.
Last year, Contador was part of an Astana team featuring Americans Lance Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer, and German Andreas Kloeden. That team was labelled as the strongest ever but Contador did not enjoy much of his season despite winning the Tour de France.
Since Armstrong and manager Johann Bruyneel defected to U.S.-funded team Radioshack for the 2010 season, things have radically changed for Contador. The team may not be as strong as it was but Contador is feeling on top of the world — crediting the support network for his Paris-Nice victory at the weekend.
”I feel that I can trust everyone and everyone can trust me in this team,” Contador said. “Everybody is behind me. I have a good relationship with (team manager) Yvon (Sanquer). Every time I need something, I get it from him quickly.”
The Tour de France is still more than eight months from now, but the much-awaited duel between Alberto Contador and his illustrious challenger Lance Armstrong has already begun.
The Spanish champion and the American veteran, third this year after an impressive comeback following 3-1/2 years in retirement, both attended the 2010 route presentation in Paris on Wednesday.
Seated in the second row of the Palais des Congres, they were only separated by Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck, one of the riders hoping to settle the dispute with victory on the Champs Elysees on July 25.
Contador and Armstrong shook hands on Wednesday, but the tension between the two was already palpable.
The Spaniard, who has won every Grand Tour he has raced since claiming his first Tour de France in 2007, will be the hot favourite when next year’s event kicks off in Rotterdam.
He is the best climber, and Fabian Cancellara — not an overall contender — looks like the only man able to beat him in a time trial.
With four stages in the Pyrenees and a total of 23 passes, it is hard to imagine that Armstrong can compete.
But the Texan is 38 years old and has the experience that goes along with it.
While Contador is still unsure about his future — Astana ? Garmin ? Quick Step ? — former Astana man Armstrong has already set up his new team, bringing Levi Leipheimer and probably Andreas Kloeden to RadioShack.
The American outfit, given a Pro-Tour Licence on Friday, will no doubt be strong.
Contador still does not know who will be his lieutenants next season. If he stays at Astana, he will be able to rely on Alexander Vinokourov, but who else? He wants Haimar Zubeldia to stay but the Spaniard is willing to join Armstrong.
Armstrong is ready to start preparing for the 2010 Tour, Contador is not.
Before the race enters the mountains, the first week will be potentially treacherous. Armstrong has the experience to deal with it, while Contador sometimes has problems holding his nerve. Not good when you are set to face strong crosswinds and nasty cobblestones in Northern France.
Basically, Armstrong has until July 6 — the Tour third stage with 13 km of cobbled sections — to unsettle Contador. After that, it could be too late.