Contador says he admires Armstrong more than before

Alberto Contador (Astana) lost 10 seconds to Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) at the first uphill finish of the Tour de France in Morzine on Sunday. That comes in addition to the 20 seconds he lost in the final kilometre of stage 3 after the cobblestones, but the 27-year-old Spaniard isn't worried at all.

"My sensations are good and I'm very happy with how things are going at the Tour so far," said the leader of Astana who is in third place overall, 1:01 down on Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) with Schleck 41 seconds in front of him.

"We can't draw any conclusion from yesterday's stage because the uphill to Avoriaz wasn't steep and the attacks at the end occurred on a flat road," Contador said at a press conference during the rest day. At the back of his hotel in the mountains, he celebrated the win of the Spanish team at the football World Cup with the jersey of "La Roja" on his shoulders. He also showed that he was able to play football as well - juggling is his forte.

"I went out to catch almost all the attackers," Contador said. "In the coming stages, I'll have to select which rider I should follow. But my legs were good and my team was very good."

Contador suffered at the end. His breathing was short but all the people who usually have pollen allergies felt it in Avoriaz. This shouldn't affect him in the Pyrénées.

"Maybe some riders now think they have more possibilities than before to attack me. Fine! They'll find more motivation. That's not bad for me," Contador said. "Andy Schleck has always been one of the favourites. Maybe he's psychologically a bit higher now but there is a lot of racing remaining. I don't give much importance to what happened yesterday."

The Spaniard has learnt the game of making friends and enemies in the bunch. Does he suspect some possible alliance of Schleck and Lance Armstrong to make him lose the Tour? In any case, Contador has become very diplomatic with his former biggest threat. A few days ago, he offered him a watch to thank him for being his teammate in the Tour de France last year.

Contador denied having put the hammer down on purpose to make the American lose the maximum amount of time. "It wasn't at all against him," Contador said. "I've seen him being dropped off. We saw that he was off the back. That was good for the race. But we have to admit that he was marred by bad luck. What happened to him hasn't changed our tactics. Now RadioShack is a bit less of a protagonist in the Tour but it's still a highly regarded team."

The Spaniard added about Armstrong: "It's a complicated situation for him. Nobody has ever seen him like this in the past. I've watched the stage on TV last night and I've thought about the career he accomplished. I still admire him. I admire him maybe even more now than before."

The rest day at the Tour de France is also a business day. Contador's brother and agent Fran was busy finalising details about a contract renewal with the Kazakh owners of the Astana team. "It's very likely that I'll stay here," Contador said. "This team gives me a lot of tranquillity. I have good riders around me. They are also my friends."

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