Astana boss Johan Bruyneel played down the rivalry brewing between team-mates Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador on the eve of Saturday's opening stage of the 2009 Tour de France, restating Contador's position as the team's Number One for the Tour, with Armstrong second.
Bruyneel has a true embarrassment of riches in his squad with seven-time champion Armstrong possibly bidding for another crown nearly four years after retiring, while Contador has won three major Tours in the past two years.
The Spaniard's 2007 Tour de France success was followed by victory in both the Tours of Italy and Spain last year - the reason why Bruyneel has made the 26-year-old Astana's number one here, with Armstrong second.
Contador was only unable to defend his title in 2008 after Astana were not invited following the previous year's doping scandal when the team was under different management, with different riders.
"I think we will have a good indication after the first time trial."
But Bruyneel insists he is happy to have two world superstars in his stable with the Tour set to begin here on Saturday with a 15.5km time trial around the tiny Principality.
"If you have just one leader, you play all your cards with that one guy," explained Bruyneel, the Belgian team manager who has eight Tour wins on his resume. "Everything depends on his performance and you can also lose everything. It happened during the Tour of Spain last year in the last week, Alberto crashed with about three or four days left to go.
"It was a nothing crash and luckily he wasn't injured, but he could have broken a collarbone and everything would have been lost. So we are in a position where we have other cards to play, which is a good thing," he added.
Does Contador look confident in his Astana Tour team leader designation?
While much has been said in the media about supposed frosty relations between the two cycling superstars, Bruyneel insists any lack of communication has simply been down to limited time together.
"There have not been a lot of opportunities for them to be together, apart from one day at the Castille y Lyon (race) when they both raced, but Lance crashed and went home straight away," he said. "There are also the language and cultural barriers between them. But it is the same with the other riders on a team of 25-30 cyclists, their main opportunity to meet is at the January training camp, but that might be it for the rest of the year.
"If things go well on the road, you tend to see things going well at the dinner table, on the bus and in the hotel. I hope that will be the case here."
And when asked who was the best rider, Bruyeel gave the safest possible answer: "I think we will have a good indication after the first time trial."
While many column inches have been dedicated to the issue, Bruyneel used humour to make it clear he feels the media is fanning the flames of any rivalry between the pair.
"The rivalry between Lance and Alberto is obviously something the media has picked up on, but anything like that we have to put out of our minds," he said.
But then added with a smile: "There are only two things you can rely on in a newspaper - the date and the price."
Bruyneel also issued a thinly disguised plea to let the riders do their talking on the road without further intrusion from the media.
"I know there will be questions and attempts to divide the team, we will try to answer all questions as well as we can. But this is the biggest event of the year and the only rivals we can afford to worry about are in other teams.
"If that answers all your questions on that subject, it would be nice."
© 2009 AFP & BikeRadar