Bjarne Riis has claimed that the potential for unrest and conflict within the Astana squad has been exaggerated by the media, though the Saxo Bank team director added that, “if they do [have problems], it’ll be fun to watch.”
Riis also said that Alberto Contador, rather than Lance Armstrong or Levi Leipheimer, would be undisputed leader if he were in charge of Astana.
Riis’s squad is expected to provide the main competition to the three-pronged Astana machine. “I can’t imagine they’ll have conflicts,” said the Dane. “It’s more [something] the press talks about. If they did have conflict they’d have serious management problems.
“To me it’s obvious that they should have one leader – and that’s Contador,” Riis continued. “But I’m not directing that team. That’s just how it would be for me.”
Riis played down the seven-time winner Armstrong’s chances of a successful return. “First, it’s fantastic he’s back. I think he has courage to come back and I respect that,” said Riis. “We all have to thank him for the increased interest in our sport [as a consequence of his return].
“But I don’t believe he can beat these young guys, Contador, Andy and Frank [Schleck], on the climbs. I just don’t believe it.”
The younger of the Schleck brothers, Andy, believes, meanwhile, that he is ready to challenge for the yellow jersey. Though arguably the strongest rider in the final week of last year’s Tour, he rode in the service of his team-mate, and eventual winner, Carlos Sastre.
“Last year was my first Tour, but at the  Giro [where he placed second] I showed I can perform over three weeks,” said Schleck.
“I showed that at the Tour last year, too, but I had one bad day,” he added, referring to the stage to Hautacam where he suffered hunger knock and lost nine minutes. “I was at 100 percent the rest of the time. I’m not going to make the same mistake [of not eating enough] this year. It was my mistake.”
Schleck nominated “Astana’s three leaders” along with Cadel Evans, Denis Menchov and Sastre as his main challengers. “I’m pretty sure the Tour will be decided on the climbs,” he said.
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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.