Contador dismisses Armstrong threat

PORTO VECCHIO, Corsica -- Alberto Contador dismissed Lance Armstrong as a challenger at the Criterium International in Corsica, their first competitive encounter since last year's Tour de France.

Contador, the reigning Tour champion from Spain, said he is wary of other riders, such as Cadel Evans of Australia, for the two-day race, which begins Saturday.

"Other riders are in better shape than he is right now," Contador said.

He earlier called Armstrong "a rider like any other" in comments on the race Web site.

Seven-time Tour champion Armstrong, riding with his new RadioShack team, is aiming for a record eighth Tour victory this year but admittedly isn't in his best condition.

The Tour is still four months away. But at age 38, time isn't on Armstrong's side, and rivals will be looking for any signs of weakness that they could exploit come July.

The race will have some of the dramatic offerings of a Tour, just crunched down to two days. A 109-mile ride awaits Saturday with an uphill finish at the Ospedale Pass. Sunday, the pack gets a double-dose: a mostly flat 46.6-mile ride in the morning before a 4.8-mile time trial in the afternoon.

Armstrong and Contador were testy teammates on Astana last year and bared their rivalry both during and after the Tour, in which Armstrong finished third.

This month, Contador has been in impressive form, winning the Paris-Nice, while Armstrong finished a disappointing seventh in the Vuelta de Murcia in Spain.

While Contador exuded quiet confidence at the news conference Friday, Armstrong didn't speak to reporters after flying in by private jet. He tweeted that he inspected Ospedale and found it a "Tough one. Long and windy."

RadioShack sports director Alain Gallopin noted Armstrong had a case of acute gastroenteritis that kept him out of the Milan-San Remo last week. He said the Texan knows what he's doing.

"The big favorites tomorrow are Alberto Contador, [Luis Leon] Sanchez [of Spain] and Cadel Evans. They are today a notch above Lance," Gallopin said. "He doesn't have to prove that he knows himself perfectly. If we can win, we're going to try, but in my view that's going to be difficult.

"Lance is taking a slower approach to his objective," added Gallopin. "Lance isn't stupid, he knows what his level is, and in any case, this a two-day race: His strength is a three-week race."

This Criterium is the first big pro race in Corsica since 1982. It's also the first time in a decade that the Criterium International has not started in Charleville-Mezieres in northern France.