Lance Armstrong continued playing mind games with his younger rival and teammate Alberto Contador on Sunday, hinting that he might be the strongest rider this year on the Tour and admitting for the first time that some tensions have emerged in the Astana team.
With the race’s toughest stages still to come, the 37-year old Texan has decided to apply the pressure to his Spanish teammate and to show he is still in control despite trailing Contador by a fistful of seconds overall.
After Sunday’s ninth stage down out of the Pyrenees mountains, Armstrong is third overall _a solid result for a man coming back to competition after nearly four years in retirement. But the seven-time Tour champion wants more and has settled an appointment with second-placed Contador in the Alps. “There’s not going to be a lot of change until Verbier,” Armstrong said, referring to the grueling stage 15 between Pontarlier and Verbier, Switzerland. “We’ll have more moments there when we’ll see who’s truly the strongest.”
Despite losing 21 seconds to Contador at the first hilltop finish of the Tour on Friday in the Andorran ski resort of Arcalis, Armstrong seems convinced he can beat his Astana teammate in his quest for an 8th Tour de France triumph. Armstrong, who has meticulously previewed all the Alpine stages, even stated that he decided to let Contador go to favor his team interests when the Spaniard made his dazzling move in Arcalis.
“I wouldn’t say that I could have easily followed, because it was an impressive attack,” Armstrong said. “I probably could have gone, but I didn’t see it coming and it wouldn’t be correct for me to go across. So, I waited for the other guys. I expected them to be able to pull it back and they didn’t, but that’s life, that’s cycling, and I had to do the right thing.”
According to Armstrong and close friend and Astana manager Johan Bruyneel, Contador went against the team’s strategy when he attacked.
“The honest truth is that there is a little tension,” Armstrong said on France-2 television Sunday in the clearest indication so far that teamwork may be taking a back seat to individual ambitions. “Contador is strong, and he is very ambitious.” The 26-year-old Contador has won all three Grand Tours of France, Italy and Spain a feat accomplished by only five riders.