Friday, July 17, 2009

Armstrong admits "tension" within Astana

For the first time, Lance Armstrong publicly admitted that there is a certain degree of rivalry between him and teammate Alberto Contador. Speaking in the sports show Stade 2 on French television on Sunday evening, Armstrong responded candidly when asked about his relationship with the Spanish three-time Grand Tour winner.

"Really, it's a race between Alberto and myself." - Armstrong.

"The honest truth is that there is a little tension at the dinner table," said the seven-time Tour de France winner. "Alberto is very strong, very ambitious, and I understand that. I've won this race a lot, and if he wins the Tour de France and I get second or third or fifth, I would say 'It's okay'. Honestly, I would like to win, but if he turns out to be the best rider in the race, then there's nothing I can do. So I try to relax, try to keep the atmosphere as calm as I can. Not only with Alberto, but with all the team, the members of staff. This Tour might be halfway through, but in terms of selection, it is only 25 percent done."

The rivalry between the two Astana leaders was especially tangible when Armstrong forced the pace in a wind echelon on the way to La Grande-Motte last week, taking 41 seconds from his Spanish teammate who was trapped in the chasing bunch. Contador, on the other hand, took some sort of revenge when he attacked on the Tour's first mountain summit stage to Arcalis in Andorra, pulling back 21 seconds in the process.

"The other riders, the Schleck brothers and Evans were chasing behind, so there was nothing I could do," commented Armstrong on that particular moment in the race. "A lot has been said about the team politics, but he's my teammate, so I can't do anything other than follow. That was the case in Andorra, and if that happens in Verbier or on the Mont Ventoux, I have to make the same choice. I can't break the rules of the team. I will always follow the orders of the team."

The American is now third on general classification, two seconds down on Contador. Asked if he was sure to become third in Paris, too, Armstrong replied, "I wouldn't sign a paper, no. I could still win, I could be second, or eighth." TV presentator GĂ©rard Holtz then put it bluntly: 'So you will win the Tour?' - "No, it will be difficult," said a hesitant Armstrong. "I can see that Alberto... no: we're in a good position after the team time trial. Really, it's a race between Alberto and myself. The others - Evans, Sastre, the Schleck brothers, Menchov - they have to ride very aggressively if they want to get us."

Sporting aspects aside, the cancer survivor was very happy with the attention his presence at the Tour generated for the Livestrong cancer foundation. The yellow Livestrong wristbands have sold 138,000 times since the start of the race, raising 138,000 Euros for the Princess Grace hospital and the French national league against cancer.

"Since we started [selling the Livestrong wristbands], we've sold 75 million of these bracelets," said Armstrong. "What's different this year, is that anybody who buys a bracelet during the Tour, all the money stays here. I think it's important for people to understand that the money they spend - 1 Euro - is not going to Texas or the United States, it stays in France."

Armstrong continued by saying that he will "probably" ride one more Tour de France next year, possibly within a team that the 37-year-old is already busy building up with long-time ally and current Astana team manager Johan Bruyneel. "We're working on it with Nike. They are the king of the sports world, and fortunately for us, we're close to them. But I don't see Nike and Livestrong as a perfect fit. We try to find other main sponsors."

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