Alberto Contador faces Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France starting on Saturday (July 3), one year after defeating the American in an internal team battle.

Over the winter, the two were separated. Seven-time Tour winner Armstrong formed team RadioShack with his friend Johan Bruyneel and Spain’s Contador became the clear leader of Astana, which was fortified under the direction of Giuseppe Martinelli.

“I prefer it like this, where everyone has his own place. Last year, we were in the same team with the same objectives. You cannot do it that way, it is not right,” Contador told Italian paper La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“He finished third last year and this year his team is awesome. It is the most powerful, even better than the Schlecks’ Saxo Bank team. Armstrong has experience like no other rider and he showed his form to be at an exceptional level at the Tour of Switzerland. He is a candidate for the win, the most dangerous rival.”

Contador will be backed by a group of faithful Spaniards and Alexandre Vinokourov. Armstrong is supported by American Levi Leipheimer and German Andreas Klöden, both of whom have finished on the Tour de France’s podium.

“In more than half of the teams there is at least one rider who can finish on the podium. RadioShack has three, Liquigas has [Ivan] Basso and [Roman] Kreuziger…

“Wiggins was very efficient last year in the time trials and especially in the mountains. At the very least, he will be aiming for the podium.”

Wiggins will have the help of Sky team-mates Edvald Boasson Hagen, Steve Cummings, Juan Antonio Flecha, Simon Gerrans, Thomas Löfkvist, Geraint Thomas, Serge Pauwels and Michael Barry. It is a good mix of British riders (Wiggins, Cummings, Thomas), experience (Flecha, Barry) and talented youth (Löfkvist, Boasson Hagen).

Contador, Wiggins and the other favourites must survive a difficult first week before they can even think about battling their rivals in the mountains. There is a windy stage, an Ardennes stage and a stage similar to the cobbled Paris-Roubaix classic.

“The first and third week will be crucial. In the first, there may be surprises due to the wind and pavé. They will be very taxing days, with a lot of tension. They will require a lot of attention, but the race will be decided in the Pyrenees,” continued Contador.

He has never raced on pavé and stage three features 13.2 kilometres of the worst roads in France. The last section of pavé leaves only seven kilometres to the finish.

“I do not like the fact that a crash on the pavé could undermine the race, your training and your season’s goal – everything.”

Contador said he is leaving the negotiation of a 2011 contract to his brother Fran. He will remain focused on winning a third Tour title, and if time permits, watching the World Cup. He is pulling for Spain, but is worried about the strength of Argentina and Brazil.

Related links

Armstrong: ‘This is my final Tour’

Tour de France 2010: Cycling Weekly’s coverage index