- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2009

MILAN (AP) - Lance Armstrong was only trying to help Alberto Contador when he said last week that the Spanish rider “still has a lot to learn.”

“I didn’t mean it as a criticism per se,” Armstrong said Friday in a news conference ahead of the Milan-San Remo, his first race in Europe following 3 1/2 years of retirement.

Last week, Contador lost 3 minutes and the yellow jersey on the penultimate day of the Paris-Nice. Contador said he ran out of energy, forgetting to eat in the excitement of the key stage.

“I have a ton of respect for Alberto,” Armstrong said. “He’s the best multi-day racer in cycling. There’s no one better, myself included. I like Alberto. He’s on our team and it’s my job as an older rider to help him.”

Armstrong added that he planned to sit down with Contador, the 2007 Tour de France winner, to smooth things out before the pair race together for the first time as Astana teammates in next week’s Vuelta of Castilla and Leon in Spain.

Before retiring, Armstrong raced the Milan-San Remo six times and never won.

“I don’t want to sound like a complete slacker, but I don’t have a whole lot of ambition for this race,” the American said, looking forward to Saturday’s single-day classic. “It’s no secret that the finish can be very dangerous. I just want to stay out of trouble and get to the finish.

“If there are 40 riders at the finish and I’m in there, that will be a sign that I’m coming along.”

Armstrong said the Vuelta of Castilla and Leon would be important preparations for the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France.

“Next week will be a big week in Spain with two uphill finishes and a time trial,” he said. “That will give me a real indication of where I am. I think we’re on schedule.”

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