Speculation that Alberto Contador may team up with Bjarne Riis in 2011 is growing after the Tour de France winner refused to sign a new deal with the Astana team in Paris on Sunday and issued a statement saying that he and Astana will go separate ways when their contract ends later this year.
During the Tour de France, Contador said he was likely to stay with Astana. However his brother Fran is now negotiating a deal with a new team for 2011. The statement says Contador “wants to have time to calmly explore all possibilities available to him for the coming seasons. But so far none has been excluded.”
The Astana team moved quickly to confirm the separation, saying: "By setting a dead line on July 25 evening of the arrival of the Tour de France and then extending it to 48 hours as he had requested, we thought we had complied with the wishes of Alberto Contador. We have never put any pressure, we have always acted according to his will. His decision to leave does not depend on us but on other outside proposals. We respect his choice, and wish him good luck."
According to a report in Wednesday's Gazzetta dello Sport, Contador could be close to signing with Riis, who will has found new backing from US software company Sunguard.
Riis confirmed he has also secured a second major sponsor for his team but refused to say the name of the backer during the Tour de France. Specialized has stepped in to save Riis' team and will bring Contador to the team as replacement for Frank and Andy Schleck, who are leaving to create their own team in Luxembourg.
According to Gazzetta dello Sport, Specialized founder and chairman Mike Sinyard convinced Contador to team-up with Riis during the final days of the Tour de France. As part of the deal, Spanish riders Benjamin Noval, Daniel Navarro, David De La Fuente and Jesus Hernandez expected to join Contador at Riis' team.
Contador has a personal sponsorship deal with Specialized and Riis has an option to continue using the US company's bikes for 2011. Specialized seem convinced that Contador, rather than Andy Schleck, offers the best chance of continued success in the Tour de France. Bringing Alberto Contador and Fabian Cancellara together would also create a cobbled Classics and Tour de France dream team.
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.