Astana are playing down the talk of discord but Alberto Contador is in the uncomfortable situation of wanting to win the same race that his teammate, Lance Armstrong, is gunning for. Contador won the Tour in 2007, beginning a run which would see him complete the treble of Tour-Giro d'Italia-Vuelta a España in record time.
Prior to that, Armstrong set his own record when he took seven-consecutive Tours de France. While both start the Tour on supposed equal status, the Texan's close relationship with general manager Johan Bruyneel and the dynamic of the team leads many to believe that Armstrong would be favoured if it came down to a straight tête-à-tête.
Stephen Roche was in a similar situation in the 1987 Giro d'Italia, aiming to win the race despite the fact that his Carerra team clearly preferred that the flash Italian - and defending champion - Roberto Visentini came out on top. After losing the lead in a time trial, Roche threw down the gauntlet on the stage to Sappada and directly attacked the Maglia Rosa Visentini. The rebellion earned him the pink jersey but also a very tense final few days.
Cyclingnews spoke to Roche on Friday, asking him what he would advise Contador to do as the race heads towards its big showdown. "Stay where he is," he answered. "The race will unfold itself. If I was in Contador's shoes the only thing I would be worried about is that Armstrong is basically an unknown quality because he has come back after retirement, he is 37 years of age. We also know from the past that he gets better as things go on. But if I was in Contador's shoes in Verbier, I would just let things unfold."
While an attack by Armstrong would, in theory, require Contador to hold back – or otherwise declare all out war - Roche feels that the Spaniard has a stronger card to play, even if that attack transpires.
"I think that if Armstrong goes up the road, he will be followed. Then of course Contador can follow with them," he said. "Armstrong doesn't have the power or the liveliness that Contador does in the mountains. If Armstrong goes on the attack, I am sure he will have a Schleck or someone else behind him, which in a way is ideal for Contador because he can counter-attack then. And if he gets a length or two ahead, I can't see anyone getting him back, other than perhaps Andy Schleck.
"Basically, I think that if I was in Contador's shoes, I would just let things unfold. He is my man for the overall. That said, you wouldn't know what Armstrong is capable of doing in a time trial. Imagine if he takes a lead in the time trial and then you have Armstrong in the lead and Contador second overall going onto Mont Ventoux, with Contador being a better climber? The finish could go right down to the wire."
Roche has been working with Eurosport on this year's Tour, providing analysis of the stages while fellow Irishman Sean Kelly has been doing direct commentary. Roche has been outspoken during this year's Tour; for example, he has expressed criticism at Mark Cavendish's statements in interviews. Nor did the winner of the 1987 Tour winner hold back when giving his opinion of Friday's 13th stage of this year's race.
"I was very disappointed today, that should have been a good stage," Roche said of the rain-lashed race to Colmar. "There is no way at all it should have finished off like that. When you see the final climb, not even one leader had an attack on it. They all stayed wearing their [rain] capes…they should have at least taken them off and had a go. It's insulting not to do that, to not even lift their backsides off the saddle."
He feels that time is running out fast for those who would challenge Contador and Armstrong. "Every day they are saying wait for tomorrow, wait for the next day. So why not just give the jersey to Contador tomorrow and say, 'here you are, instead of racing to Paris we'll go on holidays?' It is bit harsh to say it, but that is how I feel."
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