“Armstrong isn’t necessarily going to be a rival that can win, but one who can help” competing cyclists by reading the race better than other participants, said 1988 Tour winner Pedro Delgado in an interview. “He will be a problem for Alberto Contador.”
Odds for the 38-year-old Armstrong, the record seven-time champion who placed third in 2009, are 14-1 on the London-based Betfair website, compared with 6-1 for last year’s Tour. Contador is the 4-7 favorite for the 2010 race, which starts tomorrow in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and ends July 25 in Paris.
Armstrong and Spain’s Contador fell out as teammates on the Astana team last year, prompting the Texan to start a team sponsored by RadioShack Corp. Contador, 27, remains with Astana.
The rift was exacerbated on stage three of last year’s tour when Armstrong anticipated that crosswinds would break up the peloton and he stayed with the leaders as Contador lost 41 seconds and dropped down the standings.
Contador recovered to pass Armstrong in the standings during the 15th stage to the Swiss ski resort of Verbier. Armstrong eventually finished behind Contador and Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck in the overall standings. Armstrong wrote June 28 on his Twitter account that this will be his last Tour. The comment was confirmed by his spokesman Mark Higgins.
“It’s been a great ride,” Armstrong wrote. “Looking forward to three great weeks.”
Armstrong and Contador weren’t available for interviews for this story, according to RadioShack spokesman Philippe Maertens and Contador spokesman Jacinto Vidarte.
The race starts with a prologue in Rotterdam before moving through Belgium into France. As in last year’s event, Armstrong and other riders could make ground on Contador during stage three, in which eight miles are over cobblestones, said Jonathan Vaughters, who manages the Garmin team and is a former teammate of Armstrong.
Riders will jockey for position at the start of the cobblestoned portion, increasing the risk of crashes splitting open the main pack of riders, Vaughters said.
“There will be somebody who loses the Tour on that day,” Vaughters said. “I don’t know if it will be Contador, but it could be.”
The course heads to the Alps in the second week and in the final seven days participants will go over the Pyrenees climbs of Peyresourde, Aspin, Tourmalet and Aubisque in one day for the first time since 1969, when Belgium’s Eddy Merckx won a stage with an 87-mile solo ride. They will scale 2,115-meter (6,900- foot) Tourmalet again three days before the event ends on the Champs Elysees in Paris.
Armstrong will be assisted in the mountains by Andreas Kloeden and Levi Leipheimer, who both switched with him to the RadioShack team. Contador has been joined by Alexander Vinokourov, who returned to Kazakhstan-backed Astana after a two-year ban for blood doping.
For Francaise des Jeux team manager Marc Madiot, Contador is “the big favorite” and no one can catch him if everything goes to plan. Delgado agrees.
“It’s very difficult to beat Contador: He’s the great rider of his times,” Delgado said. “Whether it’s cobblestones, wind or mountains, you have to be able to handle it.”