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Alberto Contador might not know what he's doing

The Team Astana cyclist made an attack late in Stage 7 of the Tour de France that put him in second place, ahead of teammate Lance Armstrong, but went against the team's plans.

July 11, 2009|Diane Pucin

Boom.

That is the shot Alberto Contador fired over Lance Armstrong's bow Friday.

When Contador suddenly hunkered down and tried his afterburners in an attempt to seize control of the Tour de France, it wasn't that his Astana teammate Armstrong couldn't keep up.

It was that Armstrong is playing the cycling game as it's supposed to be played. And if this were chess or checkers or Monopoly, Armstrong has gotten himself a free move.

At the end of the Tour's first mountain stage, Frenchman Brice Feillu, who rides for Agritubel, won the day and an Italian, Rinaldo Nocentini of Ag2r-La Mondiale, wore the leader's yellow jersey. That won't be for long, but it was likely a disappointment for Contador, whose aggressive attack seemed timed to get himself in yellow.

Besides not getting yellow, Contador's solo move with less than a mile to go in the 139.2-mile route was not part of the program Astana director Johan Bruyneel had given his nine riders.

The attack, however, pushed the 26-year-old Contador into second place overall, six seconds behind Nocentini, and two seconds ahead of the third-place Armstrong.

On a video of Armstrong's post-stage news conference, the 37-year-old Texan didn't blast Contador; he just sliced away at Contador's motives.

"It wasn't really the plan," Armstrong said in reply to a question about Contador's freelance move. "But I didn't expect him to go with the plan, so that was no surprise.

"It was windy, so it was hard to go alone. Like I said, I wasn't surprised."

But Bruyneel was. He told reporters at the finish line in Arcalis in Andorra, "There were no instructions from the car to attack. We wanted to try to maintain our collective strength and wait for attacks to come. Those attacks didn't come."

Even cyclists who aren't racing the Tour took notice of Contador's rogue move.

Taylor Phinney, who was an Olympic track cyclist last year and who is honing his road racing skills on an Armstrong-funded under-23 team, sent out a Twitter message Friday.

"My take: Astana controls stage perfectly but AC goes rogue at the end. Note to Alberto; there's no 'I' in 'T-E-A-M' . . . "

Bruyneel has suddenly become Phil Jackson when the Lakers had Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal.

A cycling team probably can't get through all three weeks of the Tour without establishing a single leader to support. A team also can't last three weeks if it makes purposeless attacks.

With his actions Friday, Contador has challenged Armstrong and he has also ceded some of the moral high ground to Armstrong.

Armstrong has ridden smartly during this first week. On Monday he recognized the strategy of rival team Columbia-HTC and covered their break while most of the other favorites, including Contador, missed out. In the team time trial, Armstrong rode the difficult lead position more often than anyone on Astana and also during the trickiest parts.

Former Armstrong teammate and Versus announcer Frankie Andreu noted, "If you watch the peloton, you'll see that Lance is riding strongly, he's marking every move, he knows what he's doing."

The question is: Does Contador?

--

diane.pucin@latimes.com

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