Lance Armstrong is well known for fostering personal conflicts in the media in order to intimidate his competitors, a fact he acknowledges in a recent interview. But Armstrong said that the contentious relationship he had with teammate Alberto Contador during this year's Tour de France was not a public-relations ploy.
“We are not making it up. It's there,” he said about his feud with Contador in the December issue of the Australian magazine Sport&Style.
During the American's string of seven Tour de France wins, he admits that there were times that conflicts were manufactured for competitive ends. “We would create those things. But I am a different person than I was 10 years ago.”
While it was clear during this year's Tour de France that there was not a close relationship between Contador and Armstrong, the depth of feelings was revealed after Armstrong skipped the Spaniard's victory celebration dinner. Contador later said of Armstrong: “My relationship with Armstrong is zero. I think that independently of what his character is, he is still a great champion.
"He has won seven Tours and played a big role in this one, too. But it's different to speak at a personal level... I have never really admired him that much, or will, ever. But of course as a cyclist he is a great champion.”
“It's no secret that we are not friends,” Armstrong admitted. “It was just typical. Young guy, tons of success, never faltered. I called his PR guy and said, 'I don't want to tell you what to do, but I don't think that's such a good thing to say. That's stupid.'”
There is one advantage to the bad blood between the two, though, with respect to the upcoming 2010 Tour de France: the two will now go up against each other on separate teams. “It will make for an epic build-up, an epic Tour,” said Armstrong. “Those key stages will be epic.”
Armstrong did not specify which conflicts he manufactured on purpose, but his strife with Contador harks back to Armstrong's previous Tour rivalry with German Jan Ullrich.
One notable occurence was in 2003, when Armstrong and Iban Mayo crashed during the 15th stage of the Tour de France. Ullrich, who was slightly behind the two, slipped around the crash scene and continued on, only to slow down and wait for his rivals when he realised what had happened. At the time, Armstrong acknowledged Ullrich's action and said he “appreciated” the German's sportsmanship.
But in his book Every Second Counts, published later that same year, Armstrong changed his story. “In retrospect, I’m not so sure that he did wait,” he wrote. “In replays, he seems to be riding race tempo. He didn’t attack, but he didn’t wait either.”
The most famous incident between the two was “The Look” on the Tour's 2001 Alpe d'Huez stage. In what Armstrong later happily admitted was “a bluff to make Telekom work,” he acted as if he was suffering throughout the mountainous stage. Armstrong's US Postal Team director Johan Bruyneel joined in on the act by telling a television reporter that things weren't going well for the squad on the day. The German team fell into the trap and pounded away on the front of the peloton.
However, when the race reached the lower slopes of the Alpe d'Huez, Ullrich's exhausted teammates quickly fell away as Armstrong and teammate Jose Luis Rubiera attacked. When Armstrong came to the lead, he glanced back over his shoulder to see where Ullrich was – the famous “look”, which many considered a taunt – before riding away to a solo victory, finishing 1:59 ahead of the German.
Armstrong finished the 2003 Tour 1:01 ahead of second-placed Ullrich, the smallest winning margin of his seven Tour wins. In 2001, he finished 6:44 ahead of Ullrich.
This season, his first after a three-and-a-half year retirement, Armstrong finished third at the Tour de France, 5:24 behind Contador.
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