Contador downplays weekend match with Armstrong

Criterium International features the two Tour rivals

Spain's Alberto Contador insisted on Friday that he was not trying to send a message to rival Lance Armstrong by lining up against him in the Criterium International.

Contador, a two-time Tour de France winner, announced after his Paris-Nice victory earlier this month that he was changing his schedule and skipping the Tour of Catalonia in order to race in Corsica.

Asked whether he wanted to send a message to Armstrong, Contador replied:  "No message. I come here only because it's best for my preparation and I'm not sending any messages to anyone."

The Spaniard explained that he had changed his schedule "because my preparation for the Tour (de France) is almost perfect at the moment".

He added: "My results have been very good. Paris-Nice was a tough race. After that it was the Tour of Catalonia, which was seven days of racing on a course that doesn't suit me. The Criterium is only two days and the course is good for me."

The Criterium gets under way on Saturday with a 175.5km ride finishing at the Col de l'Ospedale.

Sunday begins with a 75km race in the morning, followed by a 7.7km time-trial in the afternoon.

Asked on who he fears most in the race, Contador said there were many "strong competitors".

"I can't give all the names, but there is one who is very strong, it's Cadel Evans (Australia's world champion)," he said. "He's the strongest right now. He had a very good Tirreno Adriatico (Evans finished third)."

On Armstrong, the Spaniard added: "There are riders who are in better form at the moment than him."

Alain Gallopin, one of the top officials at Armstrong's RadioShack team), also admitted that the American "hasn't the means today to win the Criterium facing Alberto Contador".

"It's certainly a challenge but Lance isn't at the same level as Alberto at the moment. There are a lot of favourites like Evans, Samuel Sanchez (the Olympic champion)," said Gallopin.   

© AFP 2010

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