Armstrong and Contador: teammates or rivals?
The battle for supremacy in Astana has been brewing since the day the returning Lance Armstrong signed for the team and an irate Alberto Contador voiced his disapproval. The battle is now being played out in the climbs of Le Tour and the fallout will decide the fate of the yellow jersey.
Armstrong’s initial escape from the pack, which put distance between he and Contador, may have been the result of an unexpected break in the peloton, but it was the spark that ignited Contador’s surprise attack on the first Pyrenean stage
It was an individual decision.
Armstrong admitted he was surprised by the move and even team manager Johan Bruyneel claimed that such an attack wasn’t part of the teams strategy for the stage.
For Contador to attack with such ferocity, against Armstrong and the other leading contenders of the race so early, hints at his displeasure with not only Armstrong’s early race move that prompted such a media frenzy regarding just who is team leader, but also his desire to start testing Armstrong early.
He also knew it would most likely deprive Armstrong of a certain yellow.
It was a fascinating move.
This is what makes the Tour de France so incredible.
For all the strategies and planning that goes into the preparation for the race, inevitably it comes down to individual decisions.
Saturday’s stage was but a prelude to what we can expect as the race heads towards Paris.
Despite consecutive attacks from the likes of Cadel Evans, the strength of Astana has been too much.
They have the manpower to quash their rivals and enough candidates to assume the team leadership should disaster befall Armstrong and Contador.
This Tour is theirs to lose.
But should they squabble amongst themselves, leading to a division within the team, they could very well open themselves up to further challenges and attacks.
The key question is whether Armstrong has the legs to maintain the pressure on Contador.
If he doesn’t then it will make Contador the unquestionable leader of Astana.
If he does and the two protagonists split the team, then it negates their key strength and makes them vulnerable.
An Astana split will only boost the likes of Evans, already fighting solo.
It will reduce Armstrong and Contador to individuals rather than a team.
In such sports where teammates are, theoretically, meant to work together for the benefit of the team, yet also racing for individual glory, the balance between individual desire and the collective good is a very delicate one.
It’s what makes such team sports so fascinating.
A similar scenario unfolded in Formula 1 two decades ago when two greats of the sport, both at different stage of their careers, were paired together at the same team.
A young Ayrton Senna, a proven race winner already, arrived at the leading McLaren Honda team, pitted against the already multiple world champion Alain Prost.
In the end McLaren team boss Ron Dennis could not contain the simmering tensions between the pair and the inevitable falling out materialised on the track.
Like Armstrong and Contador, despite being at different stages of their careers, they both have that strong urge to prove themselves as the best.
For Armstrong a legacy is at stake, for Contador a reputation.
Should Armstrong keep pace with Contador, how Bruyneel manages the egos and desires of his riders will determine the victor of Le Tour.
Adrian Musolino is editor of V8X Magazine, and has written as an expert on The Roar since 2008, cementing himself as a key writer who can see the big picture in sport. He freelances on other forms of motorsport, football, cycling and more.