Bjarne Riis signs Alberto Contador for the 2011 Saxo Bank-Sungard team

Saxo Bank-Sungard boosts its GC strength for 2011 as Alberto Contador signs two-year deal after Schleck brothers leave to ride for new Luxembourg-based team.

Alberto Contador will ride for Danish sport director Bjarne Riis next season in the latest round of major changes for cycling’s top GC contenders.

2010 Tour de France stage 20, Alberto Contador
Contador hopes to continue these celebrations while sporting a Saxo Bank kit.

Riis announced Tuesday that the three-time Tour de France champion will join him in a two-year contract.

“Alberto (Contador) is a world class rider and it’s with great pride that I can welcome him onboard the team for the next two years,” Riis said in a statement. “With three Tour de France victories on his resume and a position as number one on the world rankings, he is sure to stay at the very top for several years to come.”

Riis also announced that current sponsor, Saxo Bank, has decided to continue and the new squad will be called Saxo Bank-Sungard. Both contracts are through the 2011 season.

The announcement was highly anticipated since last week, when Contador rejected a demand from his Astana team that he make an immediate commitment to ink a deal for the upcoming season. While Contador didn’t rule out extending his contract with Astana, he also said he was weighing other options. The team itself, meanwhile, began making overtures to Russian Denis Menchov, who finished third in this year’s Tour.

Contador’s arrival comes on the heels of the departure of the Schleck brothers, who are ending their career-long association with Riis to form a new Luxembourg-backed squad in 2011. Also joining the Schlecks are tactical mastermind Kim Andersen as well as other riders.

The move sets the stage for a dramatic showdown between the sport’s two biggest stars, Schleck and Contador, with Riis and Andersen squaring off behind the team cars.

Contador joined Astana following the departure of Discovery Channel, but had a controversial run with the team. In 2008, Astana was kept out of the Tour that year, prompting Contador to try to break his contract with the team.

Contador again tried to get out of his contract with Astana following his tumultuous 2009 season that featured the return of Lance Armstrong. Following the departure of Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel, who left to create RadioShack, Contador was still unsure of his future at Astana.

This year, things came together and he was close to signing a multi-million-dollar contract extension with Astana, but talks broke down when Riis came with a late-hour offer to lure away the Spanish climber.

Alberto Contador at post-Tour criterium
Contador at a post-Tour criterium in Belgium on Monday.

Riis’s pedigree proved too much to ignore for Contador, who said the Dane’s track record speaks for itself.

“I’m very happy and excited about signing a two-year contract with Riis Cycling,” Contador said. “Historically, Riis Cycling has always been successful and together we will have the ability to play a very important role in the world of cycling in the years to come.”

Though not confirmed, several riders are expected to follow Contador to Saxo Bank-Sungard, including Benjamin Noval, Jesus Hernandez, Dani Navarro and David de la Fuente.