Contador to lead Astana at Paris-Nice

Vino to skip Montepaschi, captain squad at Tirreno

Alberto Contador returns to Paris-Nice on Sunday, March 7, as captain of the Astana team and is a favourite for overall victory, a feat the Spaniard accomplished in 2007 but failed to repeat in last year's edition. Last year Contador won the opening time trial and seemingly had the race under control following his victory in stage six's summit finish, which put the Tour champion back into yellow, 1:13 minutes ahead of compatriot Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d'Epargne).

The following day's penultimate stage, however, saw Contador crack and Sanchez assume the race leadership which he would defend through the final stage. Contador would finish fourth overall, 1:24 behind Sanchez.

Contador's revamped Astana team returns in 2010 with only two of his teammates from the previous year's squad, Spaniards Daniel Navarro and Benjamin Noval. In addition to Contador's two trusted Spanish domestiques, Astana will support Contador in 2010 with Kazakhs Dimitriy Fofonov and Maxim Gourov, Ukraine's Andriy Grivko, Spain's Oscar Pereiro and Slovenia's Gorazd Stangelj.

Contador enters Paris-Nice with good form, having won his season debut at Portugal's five-day Volta ao Algarve. The 27-year-old Spaniard earned the leader's jersey after winning the third stage and finished second in the final day's time trial to seal his overall victory.

While Contador seeks another Paris-Nice victory in France, Alexandre Vinokourov will lead an Astana team in Italy for Tirreno-Adriatico on March 10-17. Vinokourov has normally competed in Paris-Nice, and is a two-time former winner, but the Kazakh has also had success in Italy as well with a third place overall, 13 seconds behind race winner and then Astana teammate Andreas Klöden, in the 2007 Tirreno-Adriatico.

While many of the protagonists for Tirreno-Adriatico will race in Italy's Montepaschi Strade Bianche on Saturday, March 6, Vinokourov won't be present on the start line for Astana as originally scheduled due to dental problems. The 36-year-old Kazakh will consult with his doctor on Friday, March 5, but will return to competition for Tirreno-Adriatico four days after the Italian one-day event, according to a statement from Astana.

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