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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 28, 2010

Cycling: Armstrong vs. Contador will have to wait

Associated Press Writer

PORTO VECCHIO, Corsica Lance Armstrong didn't put up much of a fight in his first faceoff this year with rival Alberto Contador.

The Texan placed 47th in the two-day Criterium International, won Sunday by Pierrick Fedrigo of France, but was not disappointed: the race was more about testing his legs than his competitors.

Armstrong repeatedly has said he isn't yet in top form and is focusing his energies on the victory that he covets most: an eighth Tour de France title in July.

The 38-year-old has his work cut out.

He was 3:40 slower than Contador in the single mountain stage one in which the Spaniard wasn't at his best, complaining of allergies. And on a very short time trial, Armstrong was 17 seconds slower.

He will need to improve enough by the end of the Tour in four months to overcome such deficits. But Contador has said he too will be better by then.

One thing Armstrong could do without is the media hype about a looming clash with Contador, the defending and 2007 Tour champion. But the bad blood remains: cycling's two biggest stars didn't speak once during the weekend event.

"I wasn't going to compete with him. I know that, he knows that," Armstrong said after finishing 15th in the final time trial Sunday in Porto Vecchio. "There's no mystery there."

Sunday's final two stages a flat ride in the morning, then the afternoon race against the clock went to Britons.

Scotland's David Millar won the 4.8-mile time trial, clocking 9 minutes, 49 seconds. Contador was second, 2 seconds back. Australia's Michael Rogers was third, 4 seconds back. Armstrong was 15th, 19 seconds off Millar's pace.

In the morning ride, Englishman Russell Downing led a mass sprint to win the second stage, a generally flat 47-mile course in and around the Corsican port town.

Fedrigo won Saturday's stage and was the only man to lead the race. Rogers placed second overall, 14 seconds back, and Portugal's Tiago Machado of Team RadioShack was third, 15 seconds behind.

"I'm 31 years old but I still don't know my limits, I still surprise myself," Fedrigo said. "It's not like winning the Tour the Tour is another dimension but the Criterium International was the biggest race this year so far in terms of the participants, and I'm proud to have won it."

Armstrong, who finished 5:05 behind Fedrigo in 47th, played down Contador's performance: The Spaniard was 15th 1:08 behind overall after complaining of allergy troubles in Stage 1 on Saturday.

"I expected him to be super yesterday. I don't know the problem, but it didn't work out," Armstrong said.

The tensions that first surfaced when they were teammates at last year's Tour, which Contador won and Armstrong placed third, appeared undiminished. Asked if they are on speaking terms, Armstrong said: "Hmm. I dunno ..."

Armstrong said he felt better at Sunday's time trial than he did at one in his last race, the Vuelta de Murcia in Spain earlier this month.

"It was hard to find a rhythm, but I felt better than I did in Murcia," he said. "I felt steadier.

"It was a good as it could be for two days. Yesterday was an extremely hard day."

After Saturday's stage, a wind-swept 109-mile ride with an uphill finish on which Armstrong struggled, the Texan said he had a "really, really bad" day.

"We had 4,100 meters of climbing, that's rare (even) for a Grand Tour," Armstrong said. "A longer race would have been better: five, six, seven days, but this is what we chose to do.

"I always wanted to come to Corsica. So we came, we saw it."

The race was the first on the Mediterranean island of Corsica since 1982, and local officials are hoping to host a Tour stage in coming years.

So will the real competitive showdown between Armstrong and Contador have to wait until the Tour starts in the Dutch port city of Rotterdam on July 3?

"It depends on what he chooses to do, and what I choose to do in June," said Armstrong. "There are only two options there the Dauphine (Libere) or the Tour of Switzerland. So it might be that there's not another confrontation until July."

"I think that he and I both would both prefer that the drama not exist," added Armstrong. "But what matters is what starts in Rotterdam."