By Hedwig Kröner in Varese
Alberto Contador, who won three Grand Tours within 15 months, is contemplating leaving his Astana team if he is not given guarantees of his leadership role for the 2009 Tour de France. The return of Lance Armstrong into the team now managed by Johan Bruyneel has made the Spaniard think about whether both Grand Tour contenders can co-exist within the squad. At the Spanish team press conference outside Varese on Friday afternoon, Contador confirmed that he had other possibilities for next year, even if he would like to stay with Astana and be Armstrong's teammate.
"Right now, I am still a member of the team and I hope it can say this way," he said. "The sponsor has always been happy with me, and I was always happy within this team as well. But I have to be in the best possible situation for the next year, too."
Contador explained that his number one priority was to win the Tour de France again in 2009, after his squad was not invited to the race this season. He feared that the return of Armstrong, a man he highly respects and values, would interfere with his plans, and did not hide that the present situation was very annoying to him.
"Armstrong is a great champion; he was my idol when I started out cycling," he said. "Armstrong's career was incredible, I don't have to tell you that. He won the Tour seven times; he was the best rider in the Tour ever. But things right now did not happen in an adequate way. I think the situation lacks some communication. I simply think that a rider who has won three Grand Tours [speaking of himself - ed.] shouldn't be in this situation - he should be able to enjoy his time and take some vacation. So I think this situation is not normal."
Indeed, Contador has legitimated his captain's position three times in the last two years. Armstrong, on the other hand, is making a comeback after four years of absence from the racing circuit, and cannot be sure his bid will be crowned by success after such a long break.
"Now, what we have to do is to see which objectives we have, if they are compatible," Contador said. "Maybe he can be team captain for certain races, and I for others. If his objectives are different to mine, then there will be no problem, then we can both stay in the same team and I will be delighted to do so. But changing teams remains a possibility, for sure. I have several offers on the table."
The Spaniard re-iterated he had to be assured about his role as a team captain for next year's Tour, and said it is now up to Bruyneel to act. "Johan [Bruyneel] has to manage the situation now," he said. "Armstrong is a rider, and I am a rider, so it's not for us to do. For sure, this situation is also complicated for Johan. He told me he placed all his confidence in me on a sporting level. But apart from what he can tell me, now that Lance is coming back, I still need to have some guarantees."