Tuesday, June 16, 2009
La Gazzetta dello Sport has gotten the admission of the year. Alberto Contador has declared that in addition to the Schleck brothers, Carlos Sastre, Denis Menchov and, of course, Cadel Evans, he will have to face down his own teammates, Levi Leipheimer and Lance Armstrong.
"I will have to deal with [Denis] Menchov, [Cadel] Evans, the Schleck brothers, [Carlos] Sastre and my teammates Armstrong and Leipheimer," he told the legendary pink rag.
It’s a stunning setback for Bruyneel and for Contador, too. One of the most important keys to Bruyneel’s success in Grand Tours has been his ability to unite nine riders with a single mission: first place in general classification. He never brought sprinters or time trialists with individual goals for stage wins.
With the admission that not only is Armstrong a rival, but Leipheimer as well, Contador has shown his hand before betting has started. He has revealed exactly how threatened he was by Leipheimer at last year’s Vuelta and he has also shown the rest of the peloton that Astana won’t be nine musketeers, but instead six trying to work out for whom they will work.
How many riders will work for Armstrong rather than Contador? What of Leipheimer? Can he expect any riders to side with him? At least when La Vie Claire faced the Hinault/LeMond rivalry they were a team of 10.
Hinault understood an important lesson about rivals that Armstrong learned well and Contador doesn’t remotely understand. Make your rivals doubt. Make them doubt themselves. Make them doubt each other. Make them doubt your words.
Hinault never said he considered LeMond his rival, but he raced the ’86 Tour as if no other guy could beat him. And while Armstrong would acknowledge each of the favorites for overall victory at the Tour, he always pointed to one primary rival—usually Jan Ullrich—as the rider to beat. What it told the other riders was that they must not only beat him, they must beat Ullrich as well. He sowed doubt to cause most riders to believe they could finish no better than third.
So now Sastre, Evans, Menchov and the Schlecks all know an important truth: Astana is divided. Armstrong can tell the world that he will ride for the strongest rider all day long, but Contador doesn’t believe he can count on him or Leipheimer for support.
Where does that leave Andreas Kloden? As a former second-place finisher, Kloden deserves as much respect as the Schlecks or Menchov. Can he be counted on to serve as a loyal lieutenant or could he go rogue as well?
Horner is Astana's smartest rider, tactically speaking. He knows where his bread is buttered and can be counted on to do whatever Bruyneel tells him, but if he can credibly ride in support of Contador and Armstrong, such as by making pace on a climb, he’ll do whatever he can to serve the team’s best interest.
What’s the worst thing you could tell your opponent on the start line? I’m scared. Contador has done just this. If he had kept up the charade, at least the other teams would have been left guessing. Now, each rider and director knows if Armstrong goes up the road Contador is as likely to chase as anyone else.
Image courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International.