Contador feels sympathy for Tour rival Armstrong

LANCE ARMSTRONG’s demise as a contender for the 2010 Tour de France was met with sorrow by his biggest rival, Alberto Contador.

The duo endured a fractious relationship during the 2009 Tour, as team-mates in Armstrong’s comeback season at Astana.

Spaniard Contador took the 2009 honours on the road, winning the Tour for a second time, and this month is targeting a third title.

Armstrong, though, is out of contention for his eighth title after a disastrous day in the saddle in Sunday’s first Alpine stage from Station des Rousses to Morzine-Avoriaz.

However, rather than take joy from the American’s fall to 39th in the general classification rankings as he trailed in almost 12 minutes behind the Tour favourites, Contador said his respect for Armstrong had grown by the events of Sunday’s eighth stage.

“It was a complicated situation, we had never seen it before yesterday,” said Contador, of Armstrong being dropped on the Col de La Ramaz.

“When I saw it on TV, I thought about Armstrong’s career.

“Yesterday he was very unlucky — I don’t enjoy watching great riders like him suffer.

“But my admiration is still the same, maybe my admiration is even stronger now.”

Contador’s Astana team moved to the front of the main bunch to keep a high tempo on the Col de La Ramaz, the 97th Tour’s first category one climb.

But the 27-year-old, who won the 2007 and 2009 Tours, maintains his team would have applied the tactic even if the Team RadioShack leader had not been struggling.

“When we saw that Armstrong had been dropped, we understood that it could be good for the race,” said Contador.

“We understood that he was unlucky, but it didn’t change our approach.”

Contador sits third in the race for the yellow jersey, currently occupied by Australian Cadel Evans.

Evans (BMC Racing) is 20 seconds ahead of stage eight winner Andy Schleck (Team Saxo Bank), with Contador a further 41 seconds behind in third.

Schleck was able to accelerate away from Contador in the final kilometre of the ascent into Avoriaz on Sunday, with the Spaniard seemingly struggling to keep pace.

When asked if this was the end of an era, Armstrong replied: “I think that era ended a long time ago.”

In his comeback year in 2009, having spent three years fundraising for his foundation to fight cancer and “drinking beer”, Armstrong finished third in Le Tour.

With his dream of an eighth title now over following two falls and the narrow avoidance of a third collision, Armstrong may seek to add to his 25 Tour stage wins, the first of which came in 1993, aged 21.

He added: “Obviously the Tour’s finished for me, but I can stay in the race, try to win stages, help the team, but really try and appreciate my time here and appreciate the fact I’m not coming back here.” The first opportunity for Armstrong comes in today’s ninth stage, the 204.5km route from Morzine-Avoriaz to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne.

Ireland’s Nicolas Roche has impressed on the tour so far and will be hoping for another strong finish today. He currently lies 16th overall.

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