Lance Armstrong is keeping his Astana team’s yellow jersey rivals guessing by refusing to officially endorse Spanish ace Alberto Contador as their definitive team leader.
“We’re trying to keep it open a little bit,” said Armstrong when asked if the results of Saturday’s opening stage time trial had helped decide whether he or Contador was now the team’s definitive leader.
Contador, the 2007 champion, stamped his yellow jersey credentials on the race by finishing second in the opening stage time trial at 18secs behind Fabian Cancellara.
While Saxo Bank ace Cancellara got to start the second stage from Monaco to Brignoles in the race’s yellow jersey, he is not considered an overall race contender.
Contador is, and the talented climber and time trialler scored some early points in the long battle for victory in Paris by topping all his race rivals, including Cadel Evans, Denis Menchov and defending champion Carlos Sastre.
Astana finished impressively with four riders in the top ten with Andreas Klöden of Germany, runner-up in 2006, in fourth while Levi Leipheimer, third overall in 2007, finished sixth. Armstrong finished a commendable 10th.
Contador’s result seemed to end recent speculation about whether he or Armstrong will lead their yellow jersey bid over three tough weeks of racing which could be decided on the penultimate stage, which finishes on the legendary Mont Ventoux.
It may simply have been bluster to cause confusion among rival camps, but seven-time champion Armstrong, competing at the race for the first time since 2005, is maintaining the suspense.
“It’s just so hard to say,” he added when asked to comment on Astana’s team leadership strategy.
“They just say right now we’re focused on the team time trial (on Tuesday), and that will start to sort things out amongst the other teams.”
And Armstrong appeared not to rule himself out of aiming for an eighth Tour triumph by adding: “You look at the last week, the last four days of this Tour de France with the Alps and the final time trial, (and the climb to Mont) Ventoux – it’s just so hard for a team to say, ‘okay, this is what we’re going to do’.
“We’re keeping it open, Levi’s obviously good. Right now we have four guys who can win the Tour, and there’s eight guys in the whole race that can win the Tour.”
Asked what his plans would be for the next two stages before the fourth stage time trial, the American added: “We definitely want to stay together as a team, although all the favourites try to do that.
“I’ll just try to stay out of trouble. We’ll be safe.”
© AFP 2009