Contador: Armstrong Close to Back to Speed

Armstrong currently fifth in Tour of California.

Lance Armstrong isn't quite at his competitive best but he's not far off, according to Astana teammate and former Tour de France champion Alberto Contador.

Armstrong currently sits fifth in the overall standings at the Tour of California -- 1 minute, 5 seconds behind leader Francisco Mancebo of Rock Racing.

It is the second race for Armstrong following last month's Tour Down Under. The 37-year-old cyclist, who came out of retirement three years after clinching his seventh straight Tour title, finished 71st in Australia.

"Lance looks very strong and very motivated, but I still think he's not quite ready to compete," Contador said on Monday.

Contador is putting his money on another American rider in California -- Astana teammate Levi Lepheimer, who is 1:02 behind the Spanish leader.

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Contador begins his season at next week's Tour of the Algarve in Portugal and says he's still not at his best after offseason nasal surgery. The 26-year-old Spaniard is roughly 5 pounds over his ideal weight and has had to change his arm positioning on the bike to assist his breathing.

But Contador is confident he'll be ready in time for the Paris-Nice race, his first serious objective of the season.

"I'm a little surprised at how well my body is responding," Contador said. "I think we've met our objectives so far because, for the time of year and how much I've trained until now, the shape I've managed to be in is very good.

"I sincerely think I'm going to do even better this year."

Contador, who was unable to defend his Tour title after Astana was banned because of doping controversies, became the fifth cyclist to win all the sport's three premier events with his Giro d'Italia and Spanish Vuelta victories last year.

Lance Armstrong isn't quite at his competitive best but he's not far off, according to Astana teammate and former Tour de France champion Alberto Contador.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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