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by Dane Cash
April 11, 2020
Photography by Cor Vos
A little over a decade on from the race, Alberto Contador has offered his side of the story of his intra-team clash with Lance Armstrong at the 2009 Tour de France in an extended interview with Spanish YouTuber Valentí Sanjuan.
Contador, who came into the 2009 campaign expecting to lead Astana at the Tour after winning the race in 2007, found himself in a leadership struggle with Armstrong after the latter decided to come out of retirement and was brought onto Astana by former US Postal manager Johan Bruyneel. What followed was a dramatic Tour that saw tension not only out on the road, but within the team bus and at the hotel.
“The 2009 Tour started with controversy between Armstrong and me over who was the leader,” Contador told Sanjuan in the second part of what will be a three part series focused on Contador’s career.
“There was tremendous tension. Even for our teammates. Before starting the Tour I went to speak with Lance directly in his room and he said, ‘For me it is better that you win the Tour than I win.’ That was the day before the first time trial. Then I saw him put on Twitter: ‘Tomorrow in the time trial we will see who is the leader.’ It was a waste of my time and I missed a siesta.”
Contador said later that he even had to find some equipment on his own for the stage 1 TT in Monaco.
“I had to buy a last-generation wheel because there were only two in the team and they told me they were for Lance,” he said. “And I was the theoretical leader. I spoke with the Milram team, which used the same kind of wheel, and I was able to buy one.”
Contador finished ahead of Armstrong in the TT but lost time in echelons on stage 3 with his own team pulling as he was left behind.
He decided to attack in the mountains around Andorra on stage 7, despite Bruyneel’s direction in the team meeting to “take things calmly.” Contador’s move saw him leapfrog Armstrong in the GC and ignited further controversy within the team the next day, as Armstrong called Contador out on the team bus.
“He said, ‘Yesterday you didn’t respect team tactics.’ I told him, ‘If you want respect, you have to give it to me first. You haven’t respected me, since the beginning of the year, as well as the whole team,” Contador said.
“He stopped me and just said, ‘Okay, Pistolero,’ [Contador’s nickname]. And that’s it. The silence on the bus was brutal.”
After the rest of the team left, leaving Armstrong and Contador alone, Armstrong made his point clearer.
“He came up to me and said [in English], ‘Don’t fuck me,'” Contador said. “I said, ‘In Spanish?’ He said, ‘No me jodas.'”
The pair remained closely matched on the overall leaderboard until Contador surged well ahead on stage 15 and ultimately won his second Tour with Armstrong finishing third behind Andy Schleck. Armstrong’s result would later be stripped after his doping ban.
Looking back now more than 10 years later, Contador said he was mostly able to remember the dramatic race fondly.
As he put it, “There’s always something you can take from those not-so-good experiences that will help you.”
Sanjuan’s interview series with Contador will conclude on Sunday with a discussion focused on his sanction and his palmares.