By Andrew Hood
The future of two-time Tour de France champion Alberto Contador is still far from certain, but Garmin-Slipstream remains a top option if he can break his remaining year contract with the troubled Astana team.
Contador said Garmin would be an attractive choice if can reach an agreement with Astana officials to exit the Kazakh-backed team.
“(Garmin) is a very interesting option. It’s an interesting team, a strong team, an experienced team,” Contador said Friday. “They did a great job at the Tour this year and it would be a good option for me.”
Contador also confirmed reports that he was considering joining Garmin before the start of the 2009 Tour, when the future of Astana looked uncertain and there was a possibility the team might fold over money disputes last June.
“I had conversations with Garmin about the possibility of changing teams before the start of the Tour,” Contador said. “My brother was talking with them and there were some negotiations.”
Garmin is among several teams allegedly courting Contador. Others mentioned include Caisse d’Epargne, Katusha and Quick Step.
Garmin team boss Jonathan Vaughters told VeloNews in an e-mail last month said Contador’s contract situation makes a switch difficult.
“I’ve commented a lot already on this. Contador is great, love to have him, but he has a contract. End of story,” Vaughters wrote VeloNews in an e-mail. “I haven’t really considered it as an option ever since Astana announced that he had a contract for 2010.”
Contador’s latest comments came during an impromptu press conference Friday as part of a visit to the Vuelta a España, which he skipped this year despite being the defending champion.
Contador reconfirmed previous statements that he’s still under contract with Astana in 2010, but would like to leave the team if possible.
“There’s nothing new to report. The situation is still unclear about (Astana),” Contador said. “I want a team that is secure for the future and we can build a solid structure for the Tour. What I don’t want to repeat is to find myself in the same situation as 2008 and miss the Tour again because of problems.”
With many riders scrambling to secure their future, Contador said his biggest worry is to have a strong team to bring to the 2010 Tour.
With many of Astana’s top riders leaving the squad to join Lance Armstrong at RadioShack, Astana will be a shell of the squad that helped push Contador into his second maillot jaune this summer.
“The thing that I’m most worried about is the riders. I want to make sure I have a team that is 100 percent competitive for the Tour,” he said. “If Astana can guarantee it can bring a strong team to the Tour, I will have no problems. I have one year left of the contract, that’s what we’re trying to resolve.”
Team manager Johan Bruyneel has reached an agreement to exit the team, leaving a vacuum within the Astana structure of exactly who’s in control.
Contador’s brother, Fran, has been heading up negotiations for the Tour champ, but he said there’s a lot of uncertainty in Astana management.
“We don’t know who is in control of the team. Every time we talk to someone different. The problem is, there is not captain of the ship,” Fran Contador told VeloNews. “There is no buy-out clause in Alberto’s contract. Alberto would like to leave Astana. We’d like to reach an amicable agreement with them, not end up in the courts and have a big fight.”
Contador said he wants to resolve his situation “as soon as possible” and said he expects to have the UCI to “play a key role” in defining the future of Astana.