Reports Say Lance Armstrong to Return to Pro Cycling in 2009. With Astana?

Lance Armstrong on Heartbreak Hill Boston Marathon

As I’m sure you’ve seen/heard, VeloNews reported today that Lance will return to cycling next year, riding an abbreviated (but high profile) schedule for the Astana team. As can happen with this sort of story, within hours the team press officer denied that Lance will be riding for Astana. Does this mean it’s not true or that the press officer simply doesn’t know/is trying to keep a secret? Time will tell.

It does beg the question, “if not Astana, then who?” That’s a tough one. Garmin-Chipotle and Columbia are the obvious choices being American teams, but beyond that the obvious affiliation is with Astana… We’ll see.

Anyway, Astana, for those of you that tuned out on pro cycling after Lance’s retirement, is the team run by Johan Bruyneel, the former director of Lance’s US Postal/Discovery Channel teams. Beyond Johan, they also ride Trek bikes, the bicycle sponsor for US Postal/Discovery. See a pattern?

The name Astana, in case you were wondering, refers to the capital city of Kazakhstan. Yes, the Kazakh government sponsors one of the top two teams in the Pro peloton.

Take that Borat.

Anyway the real purpose of this post is to indulge in some musing on the races and some wild speculation about what this means competitively. Good times.

The races are:

  1. Amgen Tour of California
  2. Paris-Nice
  3. the Tour de Georgia
  4. the Dauphine-Libere
  5. Tour de France

We’ll start with the last one first since it’s obviously the most important race on the list.

You heard it here first, but… if he’s with Astana, Lance Armstrong will not be riding to win the Tour next year and if he is, it means something is terribly wrong with the Astana team.

I know it sounds crazy since Lance is the record holder for victories in the race and is one of the best Tour riders of all time (probably second only to the incredible Eddy Merckx,) but Astana already has the best cyclist in the world on their roster in the form of Spain’s Alberto Contador, so there’s not really any place at the head of the table for a past-his-prime Lance Armstrong. In fact, if Contador is able to win La Vuelta a Espana currently taking place on the roads of Spain, he will become only the fifth man to win all three Grand Tours- joining Jacques Anquetil, Felice Gimondi, Merckx (he was pretty good!) and Bernard Hinault. A significant accomplishment and one he will have done so by the ride old age of 25(!) Add to the mix American Levi Leipheimer, riding as well as he’s ever ridden (currently riding second in the Vuelta with a stage win and two Golden jerseys), and Andreas Kloden, two time Tour runner-up and there’s a chance that Lance, four years from retirement, might only be the fourth best rider on the team.

Which is kind of a head kick.

If he’s not with Astana, all bets are off, of course. Personally, I still wouldn’t wager money on Lance winning as Contador is one of the most talented riders in the world and he’s just coming into his prime, but at least the option would be there.

Beyond the Tour, it’s an interesting schedule featuring two great French races and the top two American stage races.

The American races are obvious choices for the health of the sport stateside. California, already one of the biggest races in the world, will be insane next year and the stage up Brasstown Bald in Georgia should be a sight to see if Lance is on form and ready to contest that classic American battleground.

California, especially, should be interesting as it’ll be his first race back and any teams invited will likely send their best riders in order to piggy-back on the considerable press it will generate. With Armstrong making his return I’m betting it will be the second biggest race of the year in terms of hype. Behind only the Tour. If I were a race director I’d bring my best guys.

Of the two French races, the Dauphine is the more interesting because of its placement on the calendar and Armstrong’s own history with the Criterium. The press will be in a pre-Tour frenzy covering the two time race winner on French roads just a few weeks before the start of le Grand Boucle. Don’t get me wrong, watching Lance break in his legs on French roads in Paris-Nice, one of my favorite races on the calendar, will be exciting, but the Dauphine is a race he traditionally rode and seeing him back in it will be intense.

Of course… none of this could turn out to be true. Which would suck, since I’m already excited. At least the musings above have been fun, so even if it turns out to be a pipe dream it won’t be a total loss.

Read the original article:

VeloNews | Sources: Lance Armstrong coming back | The Journal of Competitive Cycling.

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