Reuters - Thu, 08 Jul 16:36:00 2010
He may have won the Tour de France seven times compared to Alberto Contador's two, but Lance Armstrong has still admitted the enigmatic Spaniard is the most talented rider the sport has seen despite the fact that the two don't talk.
Armstrong, who had a tense relationship with the Spaniard when they were sharing the leadership at Astana last year, said things had eased off between the two rivals.
"It's fine. I think in the press room it looks heated but it's really not. There's very little said, very little dialogue and that goes also from our team to his team," Armstrong said by his RadioShack team bus after Thursday's fifth stage of the Tour.
"There's a mutual respect there that we have for each other despite what went on the last 12 months.
"We're both tired of the drama and just looking forward to two weeks of seeing who's the best guy this year."
Armstrong knows Contador is an almost impossible nut to crack.
"You can't take away the fact that he's probably maybe the most talented guy ever to throw a leg over a bike, I don't have a problem saying that," the 38-year-old American said.
"What we saw last year was an extremely impressive performance on all levels: climbing, time-trialing, recovery motivation, mental toughness."
Although he was not there to personally collect a present from Contador in the morning, Armstrong appreciated the defending champion's gesture.
The Spaniard visited Armstrong's team bus before the stage to offer his former team mate a watch inscribed "Tour de France 2009" as a souvenir of his victory in last year's race.
American Greg LeMond started the tradition in 1990 when he gave all his team mates a watch.
"Very generous. Obviously he recognises he had the support of a great team it's a nice gesture," said Armstrong, who is now looking forward to enjoying retirement from highly competitive racing after the Tour.
"I am. I'm extremely motivated but I'm looking forward to...I just... There was definitely stressful first four days," he said.
"This has been an extremely volatile, dangerous first week. It's time to move on."
Although he will take part in some races outside Europe, Armstrong will probably spend some time at the beach.
"I'm gonna watch as much bike racing as I can from the beach," he said with a smile.
"If it's live then I can call (team manager) Johan (Bruyneel) and give him feedback. But I'll be on the beach."
Armstrong lies 18th in the Tour de France standings, 50 seconds behind Contador who is ninth.