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Contador hesitant to ride with Armstrong

Vuelta winner also takes a swipe at Leipheimer

With three grand tour wins to his credit, Contador says he's earned the right to lead Astana.

With three grand tour wins to his credit, Contador says he’s earned the right to lead Astana.

Photo: AFP

Alberto Contador, who won the Vuelta a España on Sunday, hinted he may quit the Astana team if it hires Lance Armstrong, who has announced he is coming out of retirement to seek a record eighth Tour de France title.

The Spaniard was asked by the sports newspaper AS how he would feel if the American joins Astana.

“It would be quite complicated. I think I’ve earned the right to be the leader of a team without having to fight for it,” he said in the interview published Tuesday. “And with Armstrong, there could be difficult situations in which the team would put him first and that would harm me.”

The 37-year-old Armstrong rocked the world of cycling earlier this month by confirming that he was planning an audacious comeback with a view to winning a record eighth Tour de France next summer.

Astana boss Johann Bruyneel, who managed Armstrong as director of the U.S. Postal and Discovery Channel teams, said recently he would “not allow” the American to join another team.

But Contador said he may quit the Kazakh-backed, Luxembourg-based team if it hires the American, who is to give a press conference on Wednesday at which he is to announce his plans.

“I will base my decision on what he says,” the Spaniard said. “I intend to stay because I am under contract until 2010, but I have received a good many offers from other teams.

“Bruyneel believes I can deliver results, but it can’t be denied that he made his name because of his ties to Armstrong.”

Contador won the Vuelta on Sunday, adding to his victories in the 2007 Tour de France winner and this year’s Giro d’Italia.

He is now only the fifth rider in history, and the first ever Spaniard, to win all three of cycling’s three-week Tours.

His comments to AS contrast with those he made immediately after Armstrong’s announcement.

“I would welcome (Armstrong) into the team with open arms because a cyclist like him would fit in anywhere,” Contador said on September 10. “I have always had the highest regard for him and would be delighted to be in the same team as him.”

A not-so-happy family?
Contador also had some pointed remarks about teammate Levi Leipheimer, who finished 46 seconds back in second place.

“I will only say that it’s not normal that someone that is supposed to be working for you finishes less than one minute back in the GC,” Contador said. “If Navacerrada had been 20km more, I don’t know what would have happened.”

The pair would have been tied if there weren’t time bonuses, something Contador said worked in his favor.

“I wanted that there wouldn’t be bonuses, but there were and I took advantage of them,” he said. “If there weren’t bonuses, I would have raced in another manner anyway.”

When asked about the key stages in Asturias, Contador didn’t hold any punches.

“He pulled a little (at Angliru), but Valverde attacked very early and dropped him,” he said. “It was a delicate situation (at Fuentes de Invierno). If I was alone with Mosquera, I would have let him win, but considering how things were, it was important to take the bonuses.”

The reporter asked who is the biggest wheel-sucker, Leipheimer or Cadel Evans?

“Uff, mmm, the truth is, I wouldn’t know what to say …,” Contador said, leaving it with a smile.

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