Lance Armstrong: 'If I were Alberto Contador I wouldn’t be afraid'
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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Lance Armstrong: 'If I were Alberto Contador I wouldn’t be afraid'

by Ben Atkins at 2:21 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France
 

One year on since the beginning of his second comeback, Lance Armstrong is as confident as ever about his chances in this year’s Tour de France. Nevertheless, despite the previous war of words, the American was complimentary about his biggest rival and former teammate Alberto Contador as he spoke to Spanish sports newspaper Marca.

Armstrong returned to racing at last year’s Tour Down Under – where he's currently racing in this year's edition – things are very different, he claimed, as he starts the current season.

“2009 was a special season,” he said. “I returned after having been retired from cycling several years and did not know exactly where I would be. I had more muscle – more like a swimmer than a cyclist. Now, however, I have lost muscle mass – I no longer work out in the gym, and I feel good enough to compete at the highest level.”

The Tour de France is, as before, Armstrong’s main target for the season; despite his age he still feels he can match up to his younger rivals.

“Last season I was not at the same level as [Alberto] Contador and Andy Schleck,” he admitted. “It was a difficult year for me, my biological clock still works no matter how much I want to stop it, but this Tour is different, it’s technical and I say that I can win.”

A different approach for 2010

His third place finish at last year’s Tour was remarkable in a number of ways for a man who had been out of the sport for three years. This year he will be focused on stepping up those two podium places to the spot that he is used to.

“Last year my lead up to the Tour was not my traditional one,” he explained. “First I had a fall and broke my collarbone, a setback that I never had before. I raced the Giro d'Italia, and I’d never ridden two Grand Tours in the same year. My fourth child was born ... However, I hope this year will be more relaxed and I’ll be able to reach the Tour de France at my best.”

In order to beat Contador and Andy Schleck, Armstrong knows the areas that he needs to work on.

“First, improve against the clock,” he said of the discipline at which he was once the master. “Last year I was not quite right and I lost too much time in the time trials. It's also unfortunate that in this year's Tour they have eliminated the team time trial; otherwise things would be different. Also my racing will be different. I must be more calculating, more conservative. You could say more boring, but better for me.

“I don’t know exactly what will be decisive or not,” he continued, “but I know that the psychological games will be very important, and for that [Johan] Bruyneel is a master.”

Hero-worship and Media-wars

The reporter from Marca asked Armstrong to comment on his accusation that the paper was “Kissing Contador’s Ass” in an interview with Belgian paper Het Nieuwsblad.  In that interview he referred to a number of instances where the Spanish media – and Marca in particular – accused Armstrong and the Astana team of deliberately working against the interests of Contador during the Tour de France.

“I understand that in Spain you protect your idols," he said.  "The United States has done the same with Tiger Woods, Italy did the same with Marco Pantani, but it bothered me that during the Tour de France Marca published untrue stories. I read them – as I read the Belgian newspaper – and didn't understand what it was saying. I said, ‘What is this?’

“In the time of Indurain they protected their hero, but they did not write these things.”

Despite a number of fierce rivalries in Armstrong’s Tour de France career, none has gotten quite as fierce and personal as the one he currently has with former teammate Contador.

“They were very different situations,” he explained. “With [Jan] Ullrich, [Ivan] Basso, [Joseba] Beloki ... we never shared the same team, and that changes everything.”

Despite his confidence in his own chances, Armstrong still says that his bitter rival Contador is the favourite for overall Tour victory.

“If I were Contador,” he said, “I wouldn't be afraid of Lance. He has a clear mind, as soon as he gets up he lives for the bike and that is something very important.”

New team, better feeling

Having left the Astana team, Armstrong has now formed a new team with US electrical retailer RadioShack. He is now much more comfortable, he says.

“Now I have a close relationship with the sponsor. In the team talk we about things; something that didn’t happen in Astana. Now I feel this is my team, not like last year. In fact, the only Kazakhs who I have spoken to in my life have been the riders that were on Astana.”

He not only has a close relationship with the sponsor, but also Johan Bruyneel, the team director who guided him to his seven Tour victories.  Bruyneel recently described his relationship with Armstrong as like brothers. Armstrong sees it as even closer than that.

“We are more than brothers,” he said, “both of us are very well attuned. If we were brothers, we'd be twins.”

Besides the Tour de France, Armstrong would like to pick up a victory on the way.

“There is no doubt that the Tour is the most important,” said the seven-time winner, “but first I want to win something else, either a stage or a race. For example, a stage in the Tour of Murcia could be an option. The Tour of Flanders would be great, but that requires having knowledge of the terrain that I don’t have.”

How many could he have won?

Despite being out of the sport for three years, Armstrong returned to a highly competitive level. Many have hypothesised about how many Tours de France he could have won had he decided to continue beyond 2005.

“I do not think about it,” he said. “I don’t regret my retirement because I was mentally exhausted and needed to get away from all this. In fact, my retirement was scheduled for 2004, but in the end when Discovery Channel came on I decided to prolong my career for another year.”

Finally Armstrong’s dream for the future, he says, is to leave the spotlight behind him and step away from the public eye; despite rumours of his apparent political ambitions.

“Being an anonymous person,” he said, “and be able to picnic with my kids and no one would recognise me, but I know that would be very difficult.”

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