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Armstrong says closing gap on Contador a tough task


Radioshack team rider Lance Armstrong of the U.S. cycles during the fifth stage of the Tour of Murcia cycling race in Murcia, eastern Spain, March 7, 2010. REUTERS/Joseba Etxaburu
Radioshack team rider Lance Armstrong of the U.S. cycles during the fifth stage of the Tour of Murcia cycling race in Murcia, eastern Spain, March 7, 2010. REUTERS/Joseba Etxaburu

MADRID (Reuters) - Lance Armstrong said he will take on the Tour de France this year as a better cyclist but is unsure if he can close the gap on reigning champion Alberto Contador.

The seven-times Tour winner returned to competition last year and finished third behind Spaniard Contador in Paris, but suffered a troubled relationship with his then Astana team mate.

Armstrong is back in action with a new U.S.-funded team Radioshack for 2010.

"Last year I was more about brute force, this year I feel it is more cycling power," Armstrong said in an interview with Spanish daily El Pais on Monday.

"I'm a better cyclist now. I feel more comfortable in the peloton. Last year, at the start, I was nervous, fearful, at the back, and that's why I fell in Palencia."

But he tried to steer clear of stirring up the controversy between himself and Contador again.

"He (Contador) is highly strung, which isn't a bad thing. So am I. All the great champions are like this, they all have a bit of insecurity in their lives, and feel they have to compensate," Armstrong added.

"I don't think it was Alberto more the people around him. Alberto isn't stupid. He's an intelligent person. He will continue to improve and gain experience in everything."

As to his chances in the Tour, Armstrong recognized it would be tough for a 38-year-old to beat someone who was still only 27.

"It doesn't look to be in my favor...(but) we'll go to the race and see who is best," Armstrong said.

"It isn't essential (for me to win). I don't need to especially, other than to reward all the hard work. There is no difference between winning seven or eight.

"The next Tour will be a great story, the rivalry with Contador, what happened last year...This is good for the Tour but it won't change my life whether I win or not."

(Writing by Mark Elkington, editing by Miles Evans)

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