After months of wrangling, it looks like Tour de France champion Alberto Contador will stay with Astana for another year.
The two-time Tour winner announced Thursday he will fulfill the final year of his three-year contract with the troubled Kazakh-backed team and ride in Astana colors next season.
“Alberto Contador and his current team, Astana, have reached a preliminary agreement to fulfill the remainder of the contract that binds them to the end of 2010,” a statement read. “The agreement reached by both sides includes a number of prerequisites for that Contador continue in Astana during the 2010 season, essentially, that the team retains its ProTour license and strict compliance with the code of ethics and internal doping control system that implements the new leadership team.”
The decision comes after months of attempts by Contador and his brother, Fran, to break free of the final year of his contract with Astana. Most recently, Contador’s attorneys were exploring the possibility that the contract could be nullified because the team had failed to meet the filing deadline for submission of documents necessary to reaffirm its ProTour status. The team’s ProTour license is currently under review by the UCI licensing commission. The Contador deal would be scuttled if the commission declines to approve Astana’s ProTour status for 2010.
Contador, 26, has been vocal in his desire to leave Astana after two turbulent seasons with the team. In 2008, Astana was kept out of the Tour and Contador was unable to defend his 2007 victory. Instead, he rode – and won – both the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España.
This year, Contador won his second Tour title, but only after a tense co-habitation with the returning Lance Armstrong.
Armstrong and sport director Johan Bruyneel were successful in breaking free of the Kazakhs, bringing with them nearly a dozen core riders that made up the majority of strength of the team. Nearly all of those departing riders are joining Bruyneel and Armstrong at the new RadioShack team.
Contador, however, couldn’t break free of the clutches of the Kazakh backers, who wanted to keep the Spanish climber to his word of his contract in order to help save the team.
The return of controversial figure Alexander Vinokourov only complicated matters for Contador, whose worst nightmare is a repeat of the 2008 Tour ban for alleged offenses for which he was cleared.
Details of the deal were not revealed, but it’s widely believed that Contador will see a nice pay raise as part of the compromise to keep him in an Astana jersey for 2010.
Contador said he was pleased with the arrival of new team manager, Yvon Sanquer, and new sport director, Giuseppe Martinelli. The foundation of a new team is being built, but it remains to be seen how much support Contador will really have come July.
Contador made it clear he’s looking for new horizons by the end of the 2010 season.
“The contract that will be signed will be only one year long, as well as it is a new project for Astana, Alberto Contador wants not to abandon the possibility of making a decision on its longer term future, fully capable of choosing at the end of 2010,” the statement read.
Senior editor Charles Pelkey contributed to this report