by Ryland James
BARCELONA, Spain, July 9, 2009 (AFP) – Lance Armstrong is backing Astana team-mate Alberto Contador to come out fighting when the Tour de France moves up into the Pyrenees on Friday on the road to Andorra.
Spaniard Contador, the 2007 Tour winner, goes into Friday’s 224km stage third in the overall classification and 19 seconds behind yellow jersey holder Fabian Cancellara with Armstrong in second.
The first summit finish of the race is at the ski station of Arcalis, but after just six days of unexpected drama Astana have taken significant steps towards eliminating some of their rivals.
Armstrong has hogged the Astana spotlight since the start of the race, leading to speculation that he, and not Contador, will earn the team’s support over three weeks and therefore allow him to aim for an eighth Tour crown.
But for Friday’s stage at least, the American is tipping Contador to take a lead role in the race.
“I know Alberto wants to assert himself in the race, I don’t need a team meeting to tell me that,” said Armstrong.
“I know he is ready to go (attack), if he goes – and no one can go with him
– I will just hang back and stay with the other leaders.”
Astana have the luxury of being able to sit back and wait for teams to make their move in the mountains high-altitudes.
Pre-Tour favourites like Cadel Evans (2:59), defending champion Carlos Sastre (2:44) and 2008 white jersey winner Andy Schleck (1:41) need to claw back time and Astana can afford to wait for them to make their move.
“I haven’t talked to the team about tactics yet, but I think we are in a position where we can wait and watch the others,” said Armstrong.
“We can watch Carlos, watch Evans and watch the Schleck brothers (Andy and Frank).
“If I had to try to guess, I would think the others will attack before we do.
“I don’t know if we are in a position where we need to attack, but I expect Carlos (Sastre) to make some accelerations.”
Having suffered a shoulder injury during the Castilla y Leon in March, Armstrong returned to finish 12th at the Giro d’Italia and joked he has only limited experience in the Pyrenees.
But his vast experience after seven Tour wins is sure to be a factor in the next three days of racing before Monday’s first rest day.
“We have one really, really difficult day tomorrow and then the long uphill finish, with some long stages, it makes it the most difficult of the Pyrenees,” he said.
“Then you throw in a rest day, which always complicates things.
“It won’t be easy, but I didn’t see the Pyrenees this year, I have more recent knowledge of the Alps this year, so I am a little uneducated when it comes to them this year.”