Contador and Armstrong fire blanks in Criterium International

Neither rider totally up to speed

The expected Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong showdown at the Criterium International turned out to be a letdown, as neither rider sparkled in the race. Contador blamed his weaker than expected performance on allergies, while Johan Bruyneel said that Armstrong lacked race miles.

It became clear on the final climb up to the mountaintop finish of the first stage that the two riders would not play a role in the final overall rankings. RadioShack's Armstrong was dropped early on the climb, finishing 4:51 down in 50th place, while Contador hung on until near the end, coming in at 1:13 down.

Both finished in the peloton with the same time as the winner in the second stage Sunday morning.

Contador topped his American rival again in the closing time trial Sunday afternoon, but was unable to take the stage win. The Spaniard finished second, two seconds behind winner David Millar of Garmin-Transitions. Armstrong was 19 seconds down, in 15th place. The final GC rankings had Contador as 15th, and Armstrong 47th.

Contador, who is plagued by spring pollen allergies, said things went better on Sunday, since it was “a short and explosive effort. The day has been better. I wanted to do well,” he continued, “to fight for victory, and at the end it was a very close time. “

He refused to discuss his rival. When asked about the 17 seconds separating him from Armstrong in the time trial, he responded, “17 seconds is enough, but we shouldn't give it too much importance.”

Armstrong was not as reluctant to voice his opinion on Contador, who had decided to ride the race at the last minute. "If it was a provocation (against me), then it backfired. If it was a simple schedule change because this race suited him better then that was his prerogative," Armstrong said to the Reuters.

"I expected him to be super yesterday (Saturday). I don't know the problem, but it did not work out."

RadioShack team manager Johan Bruyneel didn't appear too concerned over Armstrong's performance. Not only is the seven-time Tour de France winner still recovering from intestinal problems, he has very few race miles in his legs.

“We expected this. This is an explosive race over two days and he’s almost done no racing. When the speed gets high he misses some forces. Already on the second to last climb he told me over the radio he wasn’t feeling so good. Once you have that kind of feeling in the race, you start the last climb with the knowledge that you’re not going to be there anyway.”

Bruyneel looked optimistically to the future, saying, “If we continue to work, step-by-step, without illness and crashes, it will become good.”

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