Alberto Contador has admitted that this year's Tour de France will be a different proposition without seven-time champion Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel in the Astana team.
And while Armstrong will return to the Tour on July 3 as leader of the RadioShack outfit, the 27-year-old Spaniard and one-time Armstrong teammate believes that Andy Schleck will pose the biggest threat to his superiority in the season's biggest race. "In my rivals I see a lot of strength. Andy Schleck tested me a lot in the mountains last year and this [rival], with more experience, could be the one to maybe put in difficulty," he told Spanish news agency EuropaPress.
The star attraction at the presentation of the 'Mountain Wolf', a range of electric mountain bikes, Contador stated that the 2010 Tour will "change a lot" for him without the presence of Armstrong and Bruyneel, leaving him as Astana's sole leader for the event. "Last year there were several strengths [within the team] and we would see who was better positioned in general [classification]," he said.
When it emerged last July that Contador was in fact the strongest of the squad's overall contenders, a silent feud developed within the Astana team that only became vocal soon after the Tour finished on July 26. Armstrong and Bruyneel quickly established the RadioShack outfit and will line up in Rotterdam on July 3 as fierce rivals.
Contador has begun the year in fine fashion, winning the Volta ao Algarve and Paris-Nice, while Armstrong and Schleck have both endured a chequered start to the season, the latter experiencing knee problems while the American has been forced to change his Spring racing schedule on several occasions.
Astana's number one also admitted the not riding the Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco, where he was defending champion, made him feel a little "homesick" but the decision not to race in light of his Tour preparations "was for the best".