Defending Tour de France champion Alberto Contador hopes to have learnt enough from his former team manager Johan Bruyneel to avoid any traps the experienced Belgian and Lance Armstrong may try and set him now they are at the rival RadioShack team.
Contador’s Astana team is totally different from the one he shared with Armstrong last year. Then the team was divided and Contador had to virtually look after himself. This year he can count on a very united team as he tries to win a third Tour de France.
However for the first time in his career, Contador will attempt to win the Tour de France without Bruyneel's tactical advice during the race. But he insists he is not worried.
“I think I’ll have benefited more from our relationship of the last three years than Johan will,” the Spaniard said in a press conference in Rotterdam. “I’ve learnt from him how to ride in a team with a sole leader. I haven’t showed him many of my weaknesses.”
Lance Armstrong describes Contador as “mentally unbreakable” but Contador is wary of the Texan, despite their often difficult relationship.
“Lance is an important rival”, the Spaniard added. “There are ten to twelve riders who will fight for the overall victory in this Tour de France. He’s one of them. I know he’s in good form and he’s very motivated.”
Contador insisted he will not have any problems this year with Astana teammate Alexandre Vinokourov. “Nothing like that will happen with Vinokourov this month”, Contador said. “My relationship with him is excellent. I have total confidence in him. It’s fundamental to have a united team especially away from the racing. This is one month we have to live together away from homes. On paper, my team was stronger last year. But I’m happier with the team I’ve now. I’m hopeful this team will do better.”
The Astana team manager Yvon Sanquer said pretty much the same thing but in a different way.
“The Astana team is perhaps not as prestigious as last year but whether or not the team is weaker will only be seen at the end of these three weeks of racing.”
Ukrainian time trial and classics specialist Andrey Grivko has been selected rather someone like Dimitri Fofonov who is more of a climber. That shows that Astana, and especially Contador, are aware of the importance of the opening stages of this year’s Tour de France in the Netherlands and Belgium.
“I’ve learnt more about riding on the cobblestones with Peter van Petegem than in my whole career”, Contador reaffirmed. “On stage three, I’ll keep an eye on my most dangerous rivals for GC who can do well on the pavé, the riders from Saxo Bank and RadioShack. But most of all, I’ll try to avoid crashing. If I lose one minute, I can make it back later in the race but if a crash sends me home, there’s no way to make it back.”