Thursday morning's press conference fireworks with Lemond overshadowed what I thought was the best question from the floor. When VeloNews' Neal Rogers (who, by the way, was seated between me and Lemond) asked Lance to put himself in Alberto Contador's Sidis for a moment and consider the young Spaniard's reaction to Armstrong joining Astana... his answer was illuminating on a number of fronts.
First, I was struck by how little communication seems to have occurred between Lance and the team. Everything we've heard publicly from Bruyneel suggests he was caught completely off guard by Armstrong's initial decision; and whether it's completely true or not, that's fine. Without a doubt, formulating the basic mission to raise global cancer awareness, sketch out a doping control strategy and juggle scheduled commitments are sure to have dominated Lance's personal energy and attention in this rapidly moving story.
Unfortunately, the kid (Contador) hasn't been part of the equation. Lance stated Thursday he'd not talked to Contador, and suggested the lack of a linguistic common ground might make that difficult anyway. Contador put up a brave front early on, but his latest statements come as no surprise.
Contador may be to cycling what Tiger Woods is to golf. Three grand tour wins in the past 18 months is almost the equivalent of Wood's Tiger Slam. And the parallels don't stop there. Woods wins by unleashing his power on par fives, Contador shreds the competition in the mountains; Woods holds his own on the par fours and likewise Contador is steady in the time trials (and getting better).
While nothing in sport is a given, the kid has the legs, and the smarts to become a stage race legend and this was to be his time in the sun. That future is jeopardized by Armstrong's decision. I don't know if Lance can return to his previous form and reclaim his position as boss of the peloton, but I wouldn't want to bet against him... so there's no way the two of them can ride on the same team as co-captains (it was hard enough with Levi).
Just as Sastre's Vuelta statements citing a lack of support from Riis presaged his exit to the Cervélo Test Team, the writing is on the wall. Contador is leaving and that's not bad news for anyone.
Lance will take his shot with Bruyneel on a team that detaches itself from the Kazakh connection and races under the Livestrong banner bankrolled by Trek and Nike. Contador will find a new home, perhaps on CSC (Levi will also leave) and then the kid and the Texan can duke it out against the mountains and the clock in what will certainly be the most anticipated Tour since Lance left the peloton.
I hope Lance pulls it off and takes his place on the starting line in Monaco and I hope Alberto is at his best surrounded by a strong team of his own, then we'll see a battle for the ages.