Commentary

Tour's big rivalry: Lance vs. Contador

Updated: July 2, 2010, 7:50 PM ET
By Jim Caple | Page 2

This year's Tour de France features the sort of intense, bitter, nasty, petty, back-biting, name-calling rivalry seldom seen outside of a married couple arguing over the remote control: Lance Armstrong versus Alberto Contador.

The two were teammates last year, though only in the sense that they both rode for Team Astana. Lance and Contador made Kobe and Shaq seem like Bert and Ernie. There are American tourists who have had better relations with Parisian waiters than the two cyclists have with each other. If Astana had a slogan, it would have been "I know you are but what am I?"

[+] EnlargeContador & Armstrong
Patrick Hertzog/AFP/Getty ImagesThe Contador-Armstrong rivalry came to a head on last year's Tour podium after Contador won the race and Armstrong finished third.

Lance complained during the 2009 Tour that Contador was not being a team guy, ducked the team party after Contador locked up the race on the Mont Ventoux climb and has ripped him on Twitter so often I think he just sent a tweet accusing Contador of tipping only 10 percent. Contador, meanwhile, said relations were so strained during last year's Tour that he rode two races, "one on the road and one in the hotel. ... The days in the hotel were harder than those on the road."

The two are riding for separate teams this year (Armstrong for Team RadioShack, Contador still for Astana), but what I would love to see is these two ride this year's Tour together on a tandem.

"Some teammate you are. I might have known you would decide to have an extra helping of beans the morning I'm riding in back."

"Don't be afraid to mix in a salad before we hit the Pyrenees. You've gained 5 pounds since we started the Tour, you fat @#%."

"What do you mean you're drafting behind me? Pedal harder, you miserable @#%$!"

"No, Matthew McConaughey can't ride in between us."

Is France (plus the Netherlands and Belgium) big enough for the two cyclists this month? And whom do you root for in this rivalry, anyway? Let's break it down:

Background

Lance grew up in Texas with his mother after his father left them. Contador grew up in Spain with his father, who stayed home to care for one of Alberto's brothers (who has cerebral palsy), and mother, who worked for the local government.

Edge: Even. Both are made for an ABC Afterschool Special.

Medical heroics

In 1996, Lance was diagnosed with testicular cancer that was so aggressive, it spread to his lungs and brain. Given less than a 40 percent chance of living, he underwent testicular and brain surgery, as well as chemotherapy. He survived and won the Tour de France a record seven consecutive times. He retired after winning the 2005 Tour, then came back and finished third last year.

During a 2004 race, Contador suffered a seizure and fell off his bike. He underwent brain surgery that left him with an extensive scar across his skull. He recovered and has won the past four Grand Tours he's entered. He's one of five cyclists in history to win each of the three Grand Tours.

Edge: Lance. He not only beat testicular cancer, but he also raised countless millions for cancer research and inspired millions to wear yellow wristbands.

Name-calling

After holding his tongue during the Tour, Contador said afterward that his relationship with Armstrong was zero. "I think despite what his character is, he's still a great champion. ... But it's different to speak at a personal level. I have never really admired him that much, or ever will."

Lance responded to the postrace comments via Twitter: "If I were him I'd drop this drivel and start thanking his team. W/o them, he doesn't win."

Edge: Even. Contador's comments were stronger, but Lance's reached a larger audience due to his million-plus Twitter followers.

Teams

Immediately after Contador won the time trial in last year's Tour, Lance announced the formation of Team RadioShack. The new team wound up including the core of the old Astana roster except, of course, for Contador. (And if you think Lance's performance last year at age 37 was impressive, how about a company named RadioShack still thriving after all these years in an Apple world?)

Contador, meanwhile, still rides for Astana, which is funded by a group of Kazakhstan corporations. At least, he hopes it's adequately funded. Last year, Astana had trouble making its payments.

Edge: Lance. RadioShack has a stronger, deeper team of support riders. Plus, the company's checks clear.

Personal lifestyle

Lance divorced his first wife, had a long relationship with singer Sheryl Crow, dated Kate Hudson, was reportedly linked with one of the Olsen twins and is currently with Anna Hansen. On the other hand, he enjoys hanging with the bare-chested actor McConaughey.

Contador reportedly lives with his fiancée, drives a Porsche and used to raise canaries. Yes, canaries.

Edge: Contador. The canaries are odd, but it's harder to overlook the McConaughey thing.

Doping allegations

Lance has often been accused of doping, but hasn't tested positive and vigorously maintains his innocence. He is currently dealing with what may be the most serious allegations yet, made by former teammate Floyd Landis, who pointed a finger at just about everyone short of Dave Stoller on the Cutter team.

Contador was mentioned in the Operacion Puerto case, but was cleared of any wrongdoing. He has been suspected of doping since then as well, but, like Armstrong, has not tested positive and maintains his innocence.

Edge: Even.

Age and condition

Lance turns 39 in September. No one older than 34 has ever won the Tour. He announced via Twitter this week that this will be his final Tour. He struggled in the spring (crashing out of the Tour of California), but rode very well in the more recent tours of Luxembourg and Switzerland. He's also just as tactically strong as ever. Contador is 27 and could have several more yellow jerseys in his career. He won Paris-Nice and is the best climber in cycling.

Edge: Contador. Unless, of course, you're 38 or older and looking for a little inspiration.

That gives Lance the edge in two categories, Contador the edge in two others, and the pair is even in the other three.

So whom do you root for? That's easy. Luxembourg's Andy Schleck.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter at jimcaple.


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Senior Writer, ESPN.com