Stephen Roche Insight: Lance Armstrong vs. Alberto Contador – ‘no contest’
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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Stephen Roche Insight: Armstrong vs. Contador – ‘no contest’

by VeloNation Press at 9:16 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France, Critérium International
 

Past Tour de France winner Stephen Roche is known for being outspoken about matters relating the sport, and has given a frank assessment of the first meeting of Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong since the 2009 Tour de France.

The Irishman told VeloNation that he believes there is ‘no contest’ in terms of who is the stronger rider, believing that Contador is clearly superior and will get the upper hand in this weekend’s Criterium International. He also doesn’t expect any great change to that position by the time the Tour de France starts in July, saying that Armstrong will lose any straight fight between them in the mountains and the time trials.

Roche’s opinion is that the American can only come out on top if Contador is injured or if he incurs sizeable losses by missing a break.

Interestingly, the Irishman draws attention to the way Caisse d’Epargne rode in the recent Paris-Nice. Although Alejandro Valverde and defending champion Luis Leon Sanchez were lying second and third overall, their team dragged the peloton along on several occasions, most notably on the penultimate stage. This, he believes, made things easier for Contador, particularly as his own Astana team didn’t appear to have the strength to control the race.

Reports that Valverde has now been sidelined by his team pending the outcome of the CAS hearing facing the rider will increase speculation that Contador could end up riding for the Spanish squad next season. While the current backers Caisse d’Epargne are known to be pulling out, rumours have linked Contador, the team management and Formula One star Fernando Alonso to the creation of a new setup.

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VeloNation: Stephen, Alberto Contador has changed his race programme and is doing Criterium International. Originally he and Lance Armstrong were not due to line out in the same event until the Tour de France. Do you think Contador is trying to prove a point by riding in Corsica?

Stephen Roche: But prove a point to who? Who genuinely believes that, on a one to one, Armstrong can beat Contador? People know that Armstrong has it up against him this year again. We all know that Contador will beat Armstrong in time trials, he will beat him in mountains. The only way Armstrong can beat Contador is through injury, maybe, or missing out on the good breaks. But if he missed out on a break, that will be one minute, two minutes, three minutes. Yet in the time trials and the climbs, that will be brought back very quickly.

I think the only thing it [the Criterium International clash] could do is spark a lot of press interest. That said, it might basically dampen down the strength of the Armstrong versus Contador story.  There is a time trial and a high mountain stage in the Criterium International, and if you see a huge difference between the two of them at the event, if Armstrong isn’t at the races, then people could start jumping to conclusions and saying it would be no contest.

The discussion will be changed by some, of course. People will say that Armstrong is on his building time for the Tour de France, saying that the Tour will be different, but we all know it will be the same.

VN: Is it clever from Contador’s point to put in a little psychological dig at this time of the season?

SR: Well, once again we are forgetting that there is no contest. I think Contador himself knows that there is no contest. You and me and the general cycling public know that there is no contest. Armstrong is going to be there all right, he is a force to be reckoned with, but on a one-to-one it is difficult to beat Contador.

I think that with Contador at the Criterium International, Armstrong won’t like it much if there is much of a gap between them. At the same time, he will say that his preparation is for July, not for April. So Armstrong will get out of it in some kind of diplomatic way. But I can’t see things happening any other way [than Contador being better].

I believe the fact that Contador is coming to the Critierum International is also because he has great form at the moment. Coming into it with a good chance of winning the race means it is one race up on his stats as well. It is also showing Armstrong that he is there. It is going to go a lot in Contador’s favour.

The thing is, Armstrong is so media-intelligent that no matter what happens at the weekend, he will talk his way around it and make us believe again whatever he says. But we all know he is going to be limited. He says it himself that this year is for Livestrong.

He has a great team around him, and Contador doesn’t have a great team. But if we have Caisse d’Epargne and other teams riding the same way as they rode in Paris-Nice, then Contador will go very far.

I don’t know if there was an agreement in Paris-Nice, or if Caisse d’Epargne really believed that they could blow out Contador at a good stage. But riding on the front they way they did it was ridiculous.

VN: Are you impressed that Contador has done two stage races this year and won both of them?

SR: It is good. It is good to see the Tour de France riders showing so early and being so consistent, Valverde and Contador doing well. It is good because sometimes the big stars hide away and only come out when the sun shines in July for the Tour.

It is definitely a good thing – it is good for cycling, for fans, for sponsors and events. While you have good fights on the bike, when everybody has big riders coming to these races, it will only enhance the profile of cycling.

During his career Stephen Roche added many of the sport's biggest races to his palmares, and will be sharing his candid insight with VeloNation readers throughout the 2010 season. Stephen now runs the Roche Marina Hotel in Villeneuve-Loubet, near Nice, France. He hosts teams and individuals who use the hotel as a training base, giving them access to famed local climbs such as the Col d'Eze and Col de Vence, as well as a location that enjoys 320 days per year of sunshine. Roche Marina Hotel
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