Spaniard bound to Astana by contract
In a press release, Team Astana manager Johan Bruyneel played down the possible leadership conflict between Lance Armstrong, who will be coming back to pro racing in 2009, and the squad's current captain, Spaniard Alberto Contador. Bruyneel, who as Armstrong's directeur sportif co-authored seven Tour de France victories with the American champion, said that the media were "looking to pit these two riders against each other", but that reports of Contador being frustrated with the situation could be due to incorrect translation.
"I am always careful of what I read in the press as often times words and meanings get distorted," Bruyneel stated. "Even more so when translated to different languages."
Still, at the Spanish national team's press conference prior to the World Championships in Varese, the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España winner told Cyclingnews, "Knowing Lance, it's clear to me that he will not ride the Tour as a gregario [helper - ed.]. And to me, there is no plan B. There is no other race for me than the Tour de France next year."
Contador said that he hoped the team management could work out race schedules for both of them that wouldn't interfere with the riders' objectives. "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 I still need to have some guarantees."
Bruyneel, on the other hand, did not want to determine yet who would be the team's leader for the Tour de France next year. "At the end of the day, the strongest rider will be supported, regardless of that person’s name or what they've accomplished in the past," he said in the press release, adding that Armstrong was prepared to work for Contador, too.
"That’s a question that Lance answered himself last week in Las Vegas - Yes. He knows that the decisions are made in the team car and he understands the philosophy - the same one we've always had - we work for the strongest rider. This is not the first time that big names have all been on the same team. It has worked out in the past and I’m confident for the same in 2009," he added.
The question now remains whether this possibility is enough 'guarantee' to Contador, who affirmed he had offers from other teams and contemplated the possibility of leaving Astana. Still, according to Bruyneel, a team change was out of the question. "He will remain with this team for the next two years. Actually, it’s pretty simple - there’s a contract and there are no options to leave," the Belgian said.
Contador, who told Cyclingnews nearly one week ago that he didn't have any direct contact with Armstrong over the matter, may now have to wait until the team's first training camp in December to settle the conflict over the Tour de France leadership. "This is when the directors and I will discuss the 2009 season with the riders," added Bruyneel.