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Contador gains early edge in Tour

IN the Tour de France battle between Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong, the Spaniard won the first round.

Contador clearly showed his American teammate and rival he deserved to be the leader of their Astana team with a rock-solid performance in the opening time-trial on Saturday in the hilly streets of Monaco.

Contador, who won the Tour in 2007, finished second in the demanding 15.5-kilometer, 18 seconds behind stage winner Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland.

More importantly, in his bid to win the cycling's most prestigious race again, the 26-year-old, whose legs are 11 years fresher than Armstrong's, took a 22 second advantage over the man who ruled the Tour seven years in a row.

"I'm not interested in whether I'm the leader or not, the important thing is that it's a big boost to my morale, and it shows that I'm in a good form," Contador said. "Those seconds are welcome because the Tour is going to be very tight."

Good old days

Armstrong, back on the Tour four years after his last victory in 2005, displayed a strong performance and finished 10th, 40 seconds behind Cancellara.

For the American, it was like the good old days around his team bus, with dozens of cameramen surrounding him and fans of different nationalities screaming his name. The melee annoyed some other riders who struggled to find a path to the start ramp.

"There is not only Armstrong in life!" said Frenchman Stephane Auge on his way to the line.

But on the road, Armstrong, who posted his worst result in a time-trial since his first Tour win in 1999, was not "Le Boss" anymore. "I didn't expect to win or to take the (yellow) jersey," Armstrong said. "I didn't expect a super, super performance. I was nervous, which is logical with the years away. I didn't feel necessarily comfortable."

Contador's performance takes on more importance when you look at the riders in the top 10 of the stage. The Spaniard was able to beat by one second third-place finisher Bradley Wiggins, who won gold at the Beijing Olympics in individual pursuit, and he took a psychological ascent on all his main rivals. Two-time Tour runner-up Cadel Evans of Australia was fifth, 23 seconds behind Cancellara; Giro d'Italia winner Denis Menchov trailed 1:31 back, in 53rd place and Carlos Sastre, the reigning Tour champion, was 1:06 behind Cancellara.


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