LIMOGES, France - Alberto Contador is playing down tensions between him and Lance Armstrong at the Tour de France, but the issue over the lack of leadership within Astana's team will continue so long as the two former champions are fighting for the yellow jersey.
On Sunday, the 37-year-old Armstrong told French television that relations between him and the 26-year-old Spanish rider are strained after just nine stages of the showcase race.
Responding to the Texan's comments during Monday's rest day in Limoges, Contador said: "It's a subject which is starting to tire me a bit, it's too repetitive. For me there are no tensions, I am totally relaxed and focused on the competition."
Armstrong, a seven-time straight Tour champion between 1999-2005, is aiming for an improbable eighth win. Contador, unable to defend his 2007 title last year because of Astana's team ban, is desperate to add to his growing legacy.
He has already won all three Grand Tours of France, Italy and Spain - something Armstrong has not achieved.
Outwardly, neither rider admits they want to fight the other, and both have claimed they are prepared to sacrifice individual ambition for the greater good of the Astana team.
"We eat together at the table and are together on the bus. Often the tension seems higher from the outside than it really is," Contador said. "The Tour is a tiring race and you can't waste energy on things that don't concern the race."
But undoubtedly both share the same burning inner ambition, and clearly want to win the Tour again.
Ahead of Tuesday's 10th stage, Contador was in second place, two seconds ahead of Armstrong in third place. Rinaldo Nocentini of Italy held the yellow jersey overnight, six seconds ahead of Contador.
Those positions seem unlikely to change on three largely flat stages from Tuesday to Thursday, or on Friday's moderately hard mountain stage - so the Tour's most intriguing duel should take a back seat at least for a few days.
In his televised interview Sunday, Armstrong applied pressure on Contador by insisting he would not settle for third place overall, and explained that "the honest truth is that there is a little tension" between him and Contador.
The reaction from his Spanish teammate on Monday was to cite several riders as Tour contenders - but not Armstrong.
"I think the most dangerous rivals are the Schleck brothers (Frank and Andy), they are well focused on the race," Contador said. "Cadel Evans is the only one to have attacked, and Carlos Sastre, he has a lot of experience."
The friction between Armstrong and Contador, simmering under the surface before the Tour, came fully to light Friday.
With Astana controlling the peloton and rivals unwilling to attack, it seemed like the seventh stage would grind to an uneventful halt. But Contador could not hold back and attacked late into the final climb up to the Pyrenean ski resort of Arcalis, zooming past Armstrong like the Texan used to do to rivals in his heyday.
Armstrong, respecting cycling etiquette not to chase a teammate, lost ground in the general classification to Contador. After the stage, Armstrong was critical of the Spaniard's attack, saying it was not part of team orders.
But orders for who, seeing as there is no outright leader in Johan Bruyneel's team?
"There's a difference between what's said in the team bus and what happens in the race," Contador said Monday, maintaining he had done nothing wrong. "They are different circumstances, I saw I could attack and I did, thinking about what benefit it would have for the team and to take advantage of the situation."
Fielding endless questions about a rift with Armstrong, Contador eventually admitted he wished things were different.
"If I was the clear leader of the team, there would be none of the controversy surrounding my attack in Arcalis," he said. "It's true that the situation could be simpler, and I could focus exclusively on my (riding)."
Intriguingly, he threw down the gauntlet for the Tour's final, gruelling, week.
"The race will be very hectic in the Alps and things will become clearer," he said.