- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 15, 2009

If teammates Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador keep it up, one or the other is going to demand to be traded any day now.

Cantador cannot win this one.

Robin Williams, the manic actor, did not show up to the Tour de France to check on the weather conditions. He showed up to cheer the legend.

“It’s wild to see him back on the Tour,” Williams said of Armstrong. “You’d think after seven wins, he’d think, ‘C’est fini,’ but no, he is back for one more time.”

And Armstrong is back with a fire in his 37-year-old belly and contempt in his manner if someone is deemed not deferential enough to his cause.

That would be Contador, the 2007 Tour winner who is showing signs of Armstrong-induced fatigue.

“It is a subject that is starting to tire me a bit,” Contador said of his rivalry with Armstrong. “It’s too repetitive. For me, there are no tensions. I am totally relaxed and focused on the competition.”

Armstrong found fault with Contador’s cycling etiquette in the seventh stage. Contador made a late push on the final climb and passed the Texan. That was not part of the team’s game plan, Armstrong said.

Game plans have a way of being dismissed around two alpha males looking to be the lead dog, with each wary of the other.

This is Shaq and Kobe in cycling helmets.

Contador remains in second place, two seconds ahead of Armstrong after the 10th stage on Tuesday. Nothing is expected to be resolved until the race reaches the Alps in its third week.

Armstrong still matters in a big way because he beat cancer, claims the Tour de France as his and has a slew of Hollywood friends. Questions of doping are never too far removed around him either, no matter how many tests he passes.

Armstrong is not one to blink in the face of those questions. He fires back, often with a battery of lawyers by his side.

If Armstrong is no longer the physical specimen he once was, he is showing he can hang around with his mental acuity. It is his job not to let the Tour be decided solely on endurance and strength. It is his job to get inside the psyche of Contador, eager to be acclaimed but found lacking in the charismatic presence of Armstrong.

So who’s leading the Tour, and where’s Armstrong?

That two-part question has not been around on this side of the pond since 2005, which, coincidentally enough, was Armstrong’s seventh Tour title and going-away party. He went out on top until the competitive itch needed to be scratched again.

That was Michael Jordan’s failing. A diminished Jordan still could dominate on occasion during his two seasons with the Wizards. Yet his was a mostly joyless surrender in the end.

Armstrong is hoping he has one more push left in him. He is hoping his steely resolve goads the impetuous Contador into making a mistake. He is hoping his legendary will trumps the physical superiority of Contador.

Armstrong is so buoyed by his showing - a win in itself - that he is hinting he will be back next summer.

That is the kind of talk that could puzzle a younger rival. Armstrong is five or six years past his cycling prime but has no urge to acquiesce.

The grueling race is not breaking his spirit. He is holding back for now, being the dutiful team player, letting Contador strut his stuff. That is not to say he has it in him to overtake Contador. That is the unknowable.

That is the reason more Americans are following the event, checking to see whether the old warrior is able to defy logic again. He can’t possibly win this thing, not at his age, not after being away three years. Or can he?

Here he is eight seconds off the pace, hanging around, waiting to strike, inflaming passions anew.

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