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Contador faces challenge within his own Astana team

ALBERTO Contador will need more than his unquestioned racing prowess to win a second Tour de France this year, he will need the resolve to overcome a seemingly unwinnable power struggle in his Astana team.

The Spaniard's crushing defeat in the Paris-Nice race last week showed he cannot necessarily rely on the full support of his colleagues to guide him to success on the Champs Elysees in July.

Contador, winner of the Tour in 2007 and a rare Giro/Vuelta double last year, maintained a solo effort in the week-long race and failed to win after collapsing on Saturday's penultimate stage.

Minutes after Contador crossed the line exhausted, his face a drawn mask of pain, teammate Lance Armstrong said on social networking site Twitter:

"Amazing talent but still a lot to learn".

Contador did learn that he could not count on any help from the peloton. He also realized he would even have to take a few hard knocks within his own team.

Team Saxo Bank helped Caisse d'Epargne lead the chase on Sunday's final stage when Contador launched a bold attack after 40 kilometers. Caisse d'Epargne's Luis Leon Sanchez won the race.

"What they (Armstrong and Astana manager John Bruyneel) did to him was lousy," a cycling official, who declined to be named, said of the comments made about Contador.

"It is strange. It looks like they are not supportive of him at Astana. Did Armstrong really need to make this comment publicly? Same applies for Bruyneel.

"If they were backing him, they would not do that."

Clearly, Bruyneel has a preference for Armstrong, the man he coached to his record seven Tour wins and who became one of his closest friends.

He said during the preseason Astana training camp in Tenerife, Spain, that he was happy with Armstrong's return because he had been bored in the previous years, including 2007, when he guided Contador to his Tour triumph.

Belgian Bruyneel also hit Contador hard, telling sports daily L'Equipe at the weekend: "He did not ride cleverly."

Bruyneel's comment was seen as a message to Astana sporting director Alain Gallopin, the Frenchman who has been grooming Contador this season.

The pair appears isolated within the squad, Armstrong not even mentioning Gallopin in an interview with L'Equipe on Tuesday.

"(Contador) can learn a lot more. He can learn from me, from Johan Bruyneel, from Vyaceslav Ekimov (Astana's other sporting director)," said Armstrong.

Asked 10 days ago who he could rely on in the team, Contador named lesser riders Benjamin Noval and Sergio Paulinho, but the soft-spoken Spaniard does not want to go to war.

"Despite all the media reports, there is no problem between me and Lance," he said last week.


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