Lance Armstrong believes he can see off former team-mate Alberto Contador to land an unprecedented eighth Tour de France title in Paris this July, and expects the rivalry between them to intensify now they are riding for different teams.
An evident split within the Astana team was one of the key sub-plots of last year’s edition of the race, with the Spaniard landing his second Tour de France win in three years despite apparently receiving little in the way of help from the rest of his team, several of whose members have joined Armstrong at his new venture, Team RadioShack, whose creation the Texan announced just days before the race finished in Paris.
Speaking to Australian Associated Press following his arrival in the country ahead of the Tour Down Under, where he began his comeback 12 months ago, Armstrong said of Contador: “"All the personal stuff aside, just speaking about the athlete, he's a fantastic athlete, he's a very complete rider."
On the subject of their rivalry, Armstrong claimed, “there's going to be a lot of buzz and build-up about that in 2010, especially now that we've all left to create another team,” adding, “I will let everyone else build that up. I will be ready, I've got to tell you."
The seven-times Tour de France winner, who finished third on the podium in Paris last July despite a three-year absence from the race, believes that he can be even stronger this time around.
"I'm more excited than I was 12 months ago,” he explained. “I feel good about it, I really believe I can [win the Tour de France]," he added.
He also had some advice for those who doubt he can repeat his successes of 1999-2005, stating: "Every time I say it, there's 100 people who say 'no way', just because of my age, but I'm an optimist, so I'm staying there," adding that "if I'm lucky enough to get another one, then I could see racing for another season, which would mean going again in 2011."
Armstrong received an enthusiastic reception from the Adelaide public when he returned to racing in 2009, and said: “As far as Australia is concerned, I loved it down there last year - the vibe of the race, the treatment of the fans, the reception we all had, the support of the local and state government.”
He added: "It's first class and the organisation there really deserves a lot of standing ovations... three or four years ago it was a small race, now it's on the ProTour."
The race starts next Sunday 17 January and marks the highly anticipated ProTour debut not only of Team RadioShack, but also Britain’s own Team Sky.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.