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Contador shift leaves Stephens pondering options

Neil Stephens

Neil Stephens (Image credit: Karen Forman)

With news that Alberto Contador has severed ties with Astana for 2011, Neil Stephens could find his options limited when it comes to finding a new team. The Australian directeur sportif had been in discussions with both Astana and Sky, after Caisse d'Epargne announced it would not continue with a team in 2011.

However, Stephen's negotiations with Astana revolved around managing a block of Spanish riders at Astana, with Contador at the head.

"The (Caisse d'Epargne) team is finishing up this year. It's been a fantastic experience in the last three, but at this stage there's no ongoing sponsor, so I've looked at it from my side of things, and obviously I've got a family to support so I'm looking at different options in the sport."

"Astana said to Alberto that if he stayed, I'd be involved," Stephens told Cyclingnews.

"My discussions with Astana have been based around sorting out the Spanish side of the team, and I would be more or less in charge of the Spanish block. It's something I want to resolve, but I've stood back and said that Astana needed to sort things with Contador."

Stephens was originally planning on severing ties with Caisse at the end of 2009 and joining Astana for the start of the following season. However he was unable to break his contract and remained with the Spanish team. Despite this, he kept in contact with Contador right up until the start of this year Tour de France.

"Throughout May and June, he seemed happy and then on the rest day in the Tour, it appeared he would sign in Paris, but he's a young guy and wants to solidify his future," Stephens said.

"It's an internal thing. I've not spoken to Astana since Paris, and I've not spoken to Alberto since before the Tour. I'm not surprised that he might be leaving. He said at the end of last year that he was going to fulfill his contract of one year and then would walk away from it."

Stephens also confirmed to Cyclingnews that he had not spoken to Bjarne Riis. Contador is heavily rumoured to be linking up with the Dane, as Frank and Andy Schleck embark on their own project.

This could leave Stephens with one option - although a strong one - of joining Sky.

"There are a couple of teams I've talked to and they're Astana and Sky. I've not talked to Riis but working with either Sky or Astana would be a dream."