Madrid - US cyclist Lance Armstrong thinks other riders in the pack have changed their attitude towards him since he came back from retirement last year.
"I know in the old days they feared me and maybe now they respect me," Armstrong, 38, said in an interview that the Spanish daily El Pais published Monday.
Armstrong, a seven-time Tour de France winner, retired from cycling in 2005 and returned to the sport in early 2009. Although he had been away from competitive cycling for three years, he still came third in last year's Tour de France.
"In those years (cycling) was a job, and now it's more of a passion, something fun. There is a different motivation," he said. "Winning or not winning the Tour will not change my life, nor the life of my children."
The legendary Armstrong will again be a candidate for the yellow jersey in Paris in July. But the man to beat will be defending champion Alberto Contador, whom Armstrong had a tense relationship with when they were both at Astana last year.
"The coming Tour will be a big story: rivalry with Alberto, what happened last year..." he said.
Armstrong stresses that he did not mind coming third in a race that used to seem his own.
"From (Contador's) point of view, he liked to have me down there," the US cyclist said, making clear the rivalry with the Spaniard.
"There is a great difference between ending fourth and ending third. I realized that for the first time. I was extremely happy not to be fourth," Armstrong added.
He spoke directly about Contador, possibly the world's best cyclist right now.
"He is a nervous person, which is not bad. I am like that too. We always think that we have to do more, work harder, be better. All the great champions are like that, all have a touch of insecurity in their lives and they have to compensate that," he said.
Tensions with Contador led to the exit from Astana of Armstrong and of team manager Johan Bruyneel, who - like Armstrong - has joined the RadioShack team.