Contador says Astana assured him he's still team leader despite Armstrong

SOMMA LOMBARDO, Italy -- Alberto Contador says he has earned the right to be the top rider for Astana, and he might quit the squad if he's displaced as team leader by Lance Armstrong.

Armstrong announced Wednesday he was joining Astana, reuniting him with his friend Johan Bruyneel after three years in retirement. Now Astana's team director, Bruyneel coached Armstrong during his seven Tour de France victories.

"I spoke with Johan about the Tour next year and he said there is no problem and that I will be the leader," Contador told The Associated Press in an interview. "But Lance Armstrong is a champion and I think he will want to race to win. I am sure that he also wants to be the leader of the team."

Team members are expected are expected to ride in support of the team leader, working together to get the win. Team loyalty was already a hot topic at Astana even before Armstrong's announcement.

Earlier this week Contador told AS newspaper that he got no help in his Spanish Vuelta victory from American teammate Levi Leipheimer, who finished 46 seconds behind the 2007 Tour de France champion.

"It's not normal that someone working for you finishes less than a minute off in the general standings," Contador said.

Contador, winner of the 2007 Tour de France, said he has received offers from cycling teams, though he is not considering them now.

"If I am not happy I will change teams," the 25-year-old Spaniard said. "The team has said it has complete confidence in me, but this is a particular situation and I will have to see what happens in the coming weeks to then decide what is best for my future. Four weeks from now the situation could be completely different."

Contador is under contract with Astana until 2010 and said his main objective for next season is the Tour de France. That could put him on a collision course with Armstrong, who also plans to race in the Tour in a bid for an eighth victory.

"I respect Armstrong. He has done incredible things, but I don't think that I have to prove to anybody that I should be the leader," said Contador, who is in Italy preparing for Sunday's road race at the world championships. "I want to be sure the team guarantees that I will be in the Tour as the team leader."

Contador won the Spanish Vuelta this month, completing the fastest sweep of the three major multi-day races. Contador has won the Vuelta, the Tour and the Giro d'Italia in 15 months. On Sunday, he will be riding in support of teammates Oscar Freire and Samuel Sanchez, who are among the favorites.

Armstrong has been an inspirational figure for Contador. While the Spaniard was recovering from a massive blood clot in his brain in 2004, he drew hope from Armstrong's book recounting his comeback from cancer.

"It was important for me to see that somebody could make a comeback like Armstrong did," Contador said. "At the time it was easy to have him as an idol because we were from different eras and I didn't have to ride against him. When I was finishing my recovery he was winning his last Tour, but now these eras are colliding and it's not so easy."