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Contador eyes other Tour rivals, not Armstrong

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

SION, Switzerland -- The tension with Lance Armstrong is all but gone and the line of authority is clear. Now, Alberto Contador wants to concentrate on those teams intent on seizing his Tour de France lead.

The Spaniard used Monday's rest day to lay out his plan of attack to keep the yellow jersey he won by capturing the first stage in the Alps a day earlier.

Contador, the 2007 Tour champion, said his lead over other contenders "looks good" so far, but cautioned: "It's not done yet, we still have a hard week left to go."

Armstrong, the seven-time champion who returned to the race after 3 1/2 years of retirement, is in second overall -- 1 minute, 37 seconds behind his Astana teammate.

The 37-year-old Texan has conceded that his chances of victory on the Champs-Elysees in Paris on Sunday are slim. He pledged to be a faithful support rider for Contador.

"Yesterday, he gave me his support, and I believe him," Contador told a news conference at a team hotel in the Swiss town of Sion, near the start of Tuesday's 16th stage in Martigny.

On his Twitter page Monday, Armstrong wrote: "Just finished a easy ride on rest day (No.) 2. Beautiful here in Sion, Switzerland. Lots of vines."

Armstrong wasn't speaking to reporters Monday, Astana spokesman Philippe Maertens said. But a week earlier, after the two riders leapfrogged each other in the standings, Armstrong referred to "tension" within the team.

That's all but vanished now.

"We have come down a lot from the level of tension, both at the (team) dinner table and on the course," Contador said.

He said his top concern in the punishing final week is Andy Schleck of Luxembourg, a strong climber who is 2:26 behind in fifth place.

Bradley Wiggins of Britain, a strong time-trial rider who has proved his ability to climb at this Tour, is third and 1:46 back. Contador said Wiggins will be "dangerous" in Thursday's time trial in Annecy.

"I still have a small gap with him, (and) he's one of my biggest competitors now," the Spaniard said. "So maybe I'll try to take some more time on him beforehand. We'll see."

Astana's Andreas Kloeden of Germany is fourth, meaning Contador is counting on two teammates in the top five to help him to retain the jersey. But Contador won't wait to be attacked.

"I would sleep better if the gap was bigger," he said. "It all depends on how the stages develop. If I can take advantage of some situations, I'll do it."

Tuesday's 99-mile stage from Martigny, Switzerland to Bourg-Saint-Maurice, France, marks the second of three Alpine rides this year. It features the Grand-Saint-Bernard and Petit-Saint-Bernard passes, each about 14 miles.

Then, Contador expects Wednesday's 17th stage to be the week's toughest. The course takes riders up five climbs, including the super-steep Colombiere and Romme passes.

Friday marks a relatively flat stage before the race climax this year -- an uphill finish at Mont Ventoux, which Armstrong has called the hardest climb in France -- on the next-to-last day.

Contador knows he'll need to be on guard, and in form.

"You can always have a bad day in cycling, then the others will attack," he said. "But it's my job not to let it happen."


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