Benjamín Noval is more motivated than ever to get back to the Tour de France and help teammate and friend Alberto Contador win a third maillot jaune.
The Spanish workhorse promises to be there for Contador come July and admits he is looking forward to regaining his position as the Spaniard’s top “bodyguard” in the peloton after being left off the Tour team with Astana in 2009.
“Just like a lot of fans, I believe that Astana didn’t work for Alberto during the last Tour. They were not united,” Noval told the Spanish sports daily MARCA. “In 2010, nevertheless, I am convinced that we are all going to be rowing in the same direction. We don’t have the stars like RadioShack does, but in the end, I believe we will be up to the job because all of us are clear on who is the leader, what the objective is and how our jobs are.”
Nicknamed “el toro,” the Bull was sidelined from this year’s Tour de France as part of the internal power struggle within the Astana team as it fractured between camps rallying around Contador and Lance Armstrong.
Just as Chris Horner was left behind in the USA because he was viewed as too much pro-Armstrong, Noval was kept home because he was seen as pro-Contador. At least that’s how team manager Johan Bruyneel explained it as he tried to find a balancing act on the divided Astana team in 2009.
For next season, Bruyneel and Armstrong are gone to RadioShack, along with much of the heart of the squad, leaving Contador to count on Noval more than ever.
Despite the frustration of watching the race from his home in northern Spain, Noval had nothing bad to say about Armstrong.
Noval rode on Discovery Channel during the final two of Armstrong’s seven consecutive Tour victories and even though Armstrong is now his rival, he said he hasn’t lost respect for the Texan.
“He will be one year older, yes, but this year, after three years away from cycling, he reached the podium, that’s something impressive and in 2010, he will have no other goal than to win the Tour,” Noval said. “I am sure that there is nothing else passing through his mind. I don’t doubt that he will improve even though I do not want to say he’s going to be on the same level as Contador.”
He said he doesn’t expect other RadioShack riders to have too many options as long as Armstrong is feeling confident about his chances.
“I cannot say anything bad about Lance Armstrong because I know as a cyclist I learned a lot from him, but now I owe Contador, who is the best rider in the world,” Noval said. “I am sure, as long as (Armstrong) believes he has possibilities to win, neither Klöden nor Leipheimer will have options, because Lance will not permit it. Before, when he was winning, there were big riders on the team, but the only leader was him.”
Noval said he enjoys a very close relationship with Contador, much closer than when he joined Discovery Channel as a largely unknown Spanish rider at the peak of Armstrong’s powers.
Noval will be a key component of the new-look Astana team, trying to rebuild following the exit of Armstrong and a dozen of the team’s best riders for RadioShack.
Astana, though backed by Kazakhs, is taking a distinct Spanish flavor for 2010.
Noval is joined by returning Astana riders Dani Navarro and Jesus Hernández, who will all take on a larger role within the team.
New Spanish riders include Oscar Pereiro, Josep Jufre and Davide de la Fuente.
In all, there are six Spanish riders who will do everything to help Contador win the Tour again.