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Defending Tour de France champion Alberto Contador stopped by the RadioShack team bus bearing gifts prior to the start of Thursday’s stage 5 from Épernay to Montargis.
The Astana rider ventured alone to the RadioShack bus bearing two gift bags. He entered the bus, stayed for just a moment, and then disappeared through the thick crowd of journalists and fans that surround the bus daily.
Fifteen minutes after Contador stopped by, Monaco’s Prince Albert also dropped by the team bus, joined by Tour boss Christian Prudhomme, to pay Lance Armstrong a visit.
When Armstrong spoke with reporters before the stage, he said he hadn’t spoken with Contador during the Spaniard’s brief visit.
“I didn’t speak to him,” Armstrong said.
Asked if he hadn’t seen Contador, Armstrong answered, “I was in the back of the bus. I didn’t see him. I was in the middle of something else.”
Pushed further to reveal the nature of Contador’s visit, Armstrong said, “You’ll have to ask (RadioShack manager) Johan (Bruyneel). He had a discussion with him, not me.”
Bruyneel said Contador had stopped by to drop off gifts related to last year’s Tour win.
It’s common for Tour winners to reward teammates and staff. Though he still rides in Astana colors, the Spaniard won the 2009 Tour riding with Bruyneel’s organization, which now runs RadioShack.
“(Contador) had some gifts,” Bruyneel said. “It was for Lance and me. All the other guys have gotten it already.”
Bruyneel wouldn’t say what the gifts were, although Contador’s brother Fran told VeloNews they were watches.
“It’s something we had still pending from last year,” Bruyneel said. “He had said a few times already, or sent a message, ‘Hey, I have something for you guys.’ But we never got together. We hadn’t seen each other since Critérium International. It’s nice he thought about that and brought it to the Tour.”
Bruyneel said he and Contador have maintained a cordial relationship.
“He comes out to the bus on his own initiative,” Bruyneel said. “I think that says there are no hard feelings. We are on different teams, and we are rivals now, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a normal relationship.”
The close encounter marks the second time at this Tour the two champions have occupied the same space, yet, according to Armstrong, not spoken.
After an Associated Press photo showed what appeared to be Armstrong and Contador exchanging tense words on stage 3, Armstrong denied having spoken with Contador.
Via his press manager Mark Higgins, Armstrong told VeloNews he hadn’t spoken with Contador — not during Tuesday’s stage, nor at any other point during the Tour.
Regarding the photo, Contador’s press manager Jacinto Vidarte told VeloNews via email, “Alberto asked Lance about the fall the previous day, how he was — just a little conversation, both inquiring about the health of each other.”
Bruyneel said the two had spoken — not on the team bus, but during the race — and that he expected them to chat again during Thursday’s stage.
“They didn’t talk here, but they talk in the race,” Bruyneel said. “I’m pretty sure they’re going to talk today, a little bit.”
Asked about the photo, and the discrepancies between their answers on whether they’d chatted, Armstrong elaborated.
“I saw that picture,” he said. “It looks like we’re having an argument. It’s complete bullshit. There’s nothing … absolutely not. I don’t remember the chitchat, to be honest.”
Prodded that he would likely remember if he’d spoken with his arch rival, Armstrong answered, “I would remember. (The photo) is not what it appears to be, and it’s irresponsible to say that it’s anything different.”