Riis: Astana leadership rift exaggerated

Dane says Contador would be his leader

Bjarne Riis has claimed that the potential for unrest and conflict within the Astana squad has been exaggerated by the media, though the Saxo Bank team director added that, “if they do [have problems], it’ll be fun to watch.”

Riis also said that Alberto Contador, rather than Lance Armstrong or Levi Leipheimer, would be undisputed leader if he were in charge of Astana.

Riis’s squad is expected to provide the main competition to the three-pronged Astana machine. “I can’t imagine they’ll have conflicts,” said the Dane. “It’s more [something] the press talks about. If they did have conflict they’d have serious management problems.

“To me it’s obvious that they should have one leader – and that’s Contador,” Riis continued. “But I’m not directing that team. That’s just how it would be for me.”

Riis played down the seven-time winner Armstrong’s chances of a successful return. “First, it’s fantastic he’s back. I think he has courage to come back and I respect that,” said Riis. “We all have to thank him for the increased interest in our sport [as a consequence of his return].

“But I don’t believe he can beat these young guys, Contador, Andy and Frank [Schleck], on the climbs. I just don’t believe it.”

The younger of the Schleck brothers, Andy, believes, meanwhile, that he is ready to challenge for the yellow jersey. Though arguably the strongest rider in the final week of last year’s Tour, he rode in the service of his team-mate, and eventual winner, Carlos Sastre.

“Last year was my first Tour, but at the [2007] Giro [where he placed second] I showed I can perform over three weeks,” said Schleck.

“I showed that at the Tour last year, too, but I had one bad day,” he added, referring to the stage to Hautacam where he suffered hunger knock and lost nine minutes. “I was at 100 percent the rest of the time. I’m not going to make the same mistake [of not eating enough] this year. It was my mistake.”

Schleck nominated “Astana’s three leaders” along with Cadel Evans, Denis Menchov and Sastre as his main challengers. “I’m pretty sure the Tour will be decided on the climbs,” he said.

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