Team manager Johan Bruyneel has spoken in favour of defending champion Alberto Contador returning to this year's Tour de France. Despite ongoing doping accusations, which will be settled by a final verdict by the Court of Arbitration for Sport only in August, the current RadioShack manager thinks that his former rider should take the start in France next month.
"He's convinced that he's innocent, so why should he not start?," Bruyneel told Het Nieuwsblad on Friday. "I think that Contador is innocent. There is nothing worse than punishing an innocent athlete."
The Belgian, who was Contador's directeur sportif from 2007 to 2009, went even further, insisting that the recent Giro d'Italia winner will be at the start of the Grande Boucle if he is physically in shape to do so. "He has to take part in the Tour, if he has recovered enough from an immensely hard Giro. He will do so if he thinks that he can win," Bruyneel added.
The RadioShack manager himself did not believe that his team will be able to contend for the final victory on the Champs-Elyseées this year. Without one designated leader, Bruyneel will decide on his realistic objectives as the race unfolds. "I'm in the same situation as in 2006, after the seven Tour wins with Lance Armstrong. I have four protected riders: Brajkovic, Horner, Leipheimer and Klöden, but you don't hear me saying that we'll win the Tour this year."
Instead, he pointed to his fellow countryman Jurgen Van Den Broeck as a possible contender. "The Tour podium is within reach for Jurgen," he continued. The Belgian climbing talent also used to race for Bruyneel from 2004 to 2006 at US Postal and Discovery Channel, so the team manager knows him well.
"When he became a pro with us, he was already very focused. His lifestyle is very dedicated. I understand perfectly why he didn't want to drink a glass of champagne after his victory on Monday [Van Den Broeck won stage one of the Dauphiné - ed.]. Why would you do that one month before the big goal if you haven't done it for three months? He's up for a top three at the Tour."
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