Spain's Alberto Contador has downplayed the significance of his first race alongside new Astana team-mate Lance Armstrong in the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon that gets under way on Monday.
The pair will be joined by 2009 Tour of California winner Levi Leipheimer, but Contador rejected suggestions the race would be a dry-run for this summer's Tour de France.
"It's a coincidence (that we're racing together), but it will help us see how things go in a race," he said on his personal website. "You can't really consider it a test because it's different here, and although we intend to win if we can, there's not the same pressure."
Armstrong's return to the sport, after a three-and-a-half year absence, has hogged the headlines and sparked rumours of friction between Contador and the Texan over who will be chosen to lead Astana's challenge in the Tour de France.
Speaking prior to Saturday's Milan-San Remo classic, Armstrong conceded that he would be prepared to support Contador if the Spaniard was in better form.
"Some people think that the same rider who stepped off his bike in 2005 is the same as the one in 2009," the seven-time Tour de France winner said. "I don't want to be unfair. It would be a shame if I did not help Alberto if he is doing better than I am. Having said that, I am going to work every day as hard as I can."
Contador, who won the last two editions of the Tour of Castile and Leon, admitted that it would be a relief to get his first race with Armstrong out of the way.
"Whatever happens, it'll be good to be sharing the team, plus the press will relax a little when they see us together."
Despite his personal record in the race, Contador dismissed talk of a third consecutive victory.
"I'm motivated and ready to race," he said, "but I see this edition as very difficult, because everything depends on the 28km time-trial, since the mountain finishes will involve everyone arriving in a group.
"The time-trial is flat and longer than at other times, while the mountains are not as hard, with the big summits quite spread out. It's a less suitable route for me."
Armstrong, meanwhile, will be hoping for a better result than his 125th-placed finish in San Remo.
"I have to show some improvements in the time-trial at Castile and Leon," he said on Saturday. "I don't need it, but I would like to get a little taste of victory."
© AFP 2009...