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Bruyneel holding the cards after first mountain finish

Alberto Contador (Astana) riders into second place on general classification.

Alberto Contador (Astana) riders into second place on general classification. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Astana team director Johan Bruyneel has his team poised to claim the lead of the Tour de France, and is in the enviable position of having four riders within a minute of taking the maillot jaune. 2007 Tour champion Alberto Contador moved into second spot on GC, now  just two seconds over Lance Armstrong, with a powerful surge in the final kilometre to Andorre Arcalis.

While many would like to think Contador was asserting his claim to the team leadership, Bruyneel played down any suggestion that the Spaniard had acted in his own, rather than the team's, interests.

"Every opportunity you have to distance your rivals, you have to take it," said Bruyneel. "We didn't have a plan to attack. Our plan was to maintain our collective strength first and wait for attacks from the others."

As Bruyneel pointed out, Contador actually counter-attacked, following Cadel Evans's surge. "Because of the headwind, it wasn't an ideal stage for an early attack on the climb. I expected an attack from [Carlos] Sastre, but he didn't go, also because of this headwind."

"The race itself decided who is the strongest. This morning, we didn't give any specific instructions. I just told them to talk to each other, and do what you have to do. Alberto was strong, he is a great climber and there are three summit finishes at this Tour, so this was one of his possibilities today."

With the race only at the end of its first week, Bruyneel said the team was not intending to take the yellow jersey yet, rather it hoped to give the jersey to a breakaway rider whose team would then be obligated to control the race.

"When we saw who was in the break, our intention was to let it go, and control it with the intention that one of these guys could become the overall leader. Ideally, with two, or two and a half minutes – that would have been even better [Rinaldo Nocentini of AG2R has just six seconds' lead on Contador, eight on Armstrong]. But it's not easy to calculate that because you never know the speed of the bunch on the last climb, and how tired the escapees are. But this was clearly our objective.

"It wasn't planned for Alberto to attack. I told them, if you feel good and you see that you can distance the others, you can do it, but always talk to each other. I think that's what he did.

"For Armstrong, it was an important day. To see that he is on the right level. This will reassure him. It's good to see. Until you see it happening on the road you are always a bit anxious, but it's good to see that he's coming to the right level at the right moment."

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Richard Moore is a freelance journalist and author. His first book, In Search of Robert Millar (HarperSport), won Best Biography at the 2008 British Sports Book Awards. His second book, Heroes, Villains & Velodromes (HarperSport), was long-listed for the 2008 William Hill Sports Book of the Year.

He writes on sport, specialising in cycling, and is a regular contributor to Cyclingnews, the Guardian, skyports.com, the Scotsman and Procycling magazine.

He is also a former racing cyclist who represented Scotland at the 1998 Commonwealth Games and Great Britain at the 1998 Tour de Langkawi

His next book, Slaying the Badger: LeMond, Hinault and the Greatest Ever Tour de France, will be published by Yellow Jersey in May 2011.

Another book, Sky’s the Limit: British Cycling’s Quest to Conquer the Tour de France, will also be published by HarperSport in June 2011.