Lance Armstrong has stated that if he was defending Tour de France champion Alberto Contador he would not be afraid of seven-time winner Armstrong going into this year's race. Speaking to Spanish newspaper Marca, which was a very vocal cheerleader for Contador during last year's Tour, Armstrong was asked whether Contador should be afraid of him.
"No. If I were Contador I wouldn't be afraid of Lance," he responded. "He's got a very privileged brain, because from the moment he gets up all he thinks about is cycling and that's very important."
Of course, that does not mean that Armstrong is even remotely thinking about conceding the Tour title. He said that he hoped to arrive at the Tour start following a more "traditional" route than last year, a route that doesn't for one thing include being set back by a broken collar-bone. "I hope this year is going to be more peaceful and I will reach the Tour in better shape," he said.
Armstrong added that last year his body looked more like that of a swimmer than a cyclist. "But now I've lost muscle mass, I'm not working out in the gym and I feel good about competing at the maximum level... Last season I wasn't at the same level as Contador and Andy Schleck, but this Tour is different. It's technical and I've already said that I can win it," the Texan insisted.
The American believed his best hope lies in improving his time trialling. "Last year I didn't get this right and ended up losing a lot of time in the time trials... Also, my style of riding will be different. I have to be more calculating, more conservative. You could say that I have to be more boring, but that will be better for me," he explained.
He admitted he didn't know what aspects will prove decisive at the Tour, but added: "I do know that psychological games will be very important, and [Johan] Bruyneel is a master at that kind of thing." Consequently, it looks like comments about the strength of Contador's team and the fact that even the Spaniard's Tour room-mate departed Astana for RadioShack have clearly been just an opening salvo in a campaign of mind games.
Asked about Bruyneel's recent comment that he and Armstrong were like brothers, Armstrong replied: "We are more than brothers. We both understand each other so well. If we were brothers we would be twins."
Armstrong also talked about how the atmosphere in the RadioShack team was having a beneficial effect on him. "Now I've got a close relationship with the sponsor again. We talk about things together, which is something that didn't happen at Astana. Now I feel this is my team, last year it wasn't. In fact, the only Kazakhs that I have ever spoken to in my life were the riders at Astana," he stated.
The Texan said that although his focus is very much on the Tour de France, "I would like to win something before that, whether it's a stage or a race. For example, we've got some options at the Tour of Murcia. The Tour of Flanders would be good too, but that requires a knowledge of the terrain that I don't have."
Marca also questioned him on comments made to the Belgian press in which he accused the Spanish paper of "kissing Contador's ass". Armstrong responded by saying: "I can understand that in Spain its idols are protected. The US has done that with Tiger Woods, Italy did it with Marco Pantani, but it annoyed me that during the Tour de France Marca published stories that weren't true. I read them and didn't understand what was being talked about. I said to myself, 'What is this?' In [Miguel] Induráin's era his status as a hero was protected, but no one said things like that."
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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).