Defending Tour de France champion Alberto Contador is expressing confidence that the re-rigged Astana team will be able to support him as he searches a third maillot jaune in four years.
Contador has no other option but to try to rally the depleted Astana troops as he rolls into 2010 after efforts to break out of the final year of his contract failed.
With Lance Armstrong and a dozen ex-teammates all making tracks to RadioShack, Contador says he will have to make the best of what’s left behind at the depleted Astana team.
“In 2010, we will not have such important names as we did in 2009, but even though we’ve only been together a few days, I am very happy about my teammates,” Contador said Saturday during a press conference. “I have a very good impression, everyone is very motivated and I believe we will have a potent team for the Tour.”
Whether Contador is putting the best face possible on the situation remains to be seen, but the Spanish climber has a unique knack for being able to turn adverse scenarios to his advantage.
Contador is meeting with his “new” Astana teammates in the squad’s first workouts following the departure of Armstrong and team manager Johan Bruyneel.
Stepping into the void left by the experienced Belgian is Yvon Saquer, an old hand who’s been absent for the better part of the decade.
While he miss strong riders like Levi Leipheimer, Chris Horner, Haimar Zubeldia and Sergio Paulinho, Contador said the team responded when he wanted to sign riders such as Davide de la Fuente and Paolo Tiralongo.
“They all have the same goal of working for a team leader,” Contador said. “We’re a little off in terms of the level of well-known riders, but we have to test it on the road, because it’s very different to ride for one sole leader and think at the same time about another.”
Despite being asked several times about his polemic between Armstrong, Contador again refused to throw more gas on the fire, simply stating he has “no problem” with the seven-time Tour winner.
He said the tension within Astana in 2009 only made his stronger.
“Everything turned out OK and I am very about that,” he said. “I lived a situation to the limit with a lot of stress, but I believe me it made me mature as a rider and I’ve learned to look at the race with a cold eye. I believe this experience will serve me well in the future.”
Contador also said he’s hoping that controversial rider Alexandre Vinokourov will be able to race the Tour. The unrepentant Vinokourov served a two-year racing ban for blood doping and vows that he will work to help Contador come July.
Whether he likes it or not, Astana is his home for 2010. And knowing Contador, he will make the most of it.