Hernández on form for Armstrong, loyal to Contador

Astana's two leaders: Armstrong and Contador

Astana's two leaders: Armstrong and Contador (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Jesús Hernández is on target to help Astana teammate Lance Armstrong reach his early-season goals. The Spaniard, who is close friend with triple Grand Tour winner Alberto Contador, stood out at the team's training camp on the Spanish island of Tenerife in early December.

Hernández raised eyebrows when he dropped both Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer on one of the island's climbs. The rider from Parla was humble when commenting on that incident. "I was just following the team's orders," he said.

"I'd been in training since October and it is normal, on the climbs of Tenerife, to see the differences,” Hernández said to Spanish newspaper Marca.

Armstrong will call on Hernández in his first official race back since retiring after his seventh Tour de France win in July 2005. The two will start the 2009 season together at the Tour Down Under in Australia on January 20.

Armstrong affectionately noted his teammate's strength, calling him "Sweet Baby Jesus" on his personal website. The American could call upon Hernández later in the year when he faces the Giro d'Italia for he first time in his career or when he returns to the Tour de France. For now, Hernández is only down to race the Spanish three-week Grand Tour, the Vuelta a España, in September.

After the Tour Down Under, Hernández will race with Contador at the Vuelta a Castilla y León and País Vasco. The winner of all three Grand Tours is responsible for Hernández's two-year contract with Astana.

Hernández made his start in 2002 when he debuted with Team ONCE as a stagiaire. He made his formal entrance into cycling in 2004 with Liberty Seguros. He continued in 2005 with Liberty and 2006 and 2007 with Team Relax, but in found himself without a contract for 2008 after that team folded. He maintained his training routine with Contador on the roads around Pinto, Spain.

"If it were not for Alberto and [Astana trainer] José 'Pepe' Marti, maybe I would have left everything, but they encouraged me to continue."

At the beginning of August Contador presented Hernández with a two-year contract that Bruyneel pre-approved. (GB)

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