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June 28, 2009

So what's Lance Armstrong's endgame for 2009 Tour?

Chris Horner
Astana's Chris Horner,
originally uploaded by Frank Steele.

Like a lot of folks, I was surprised to see Chris Horner left off the Astana Tour squad, but I completely understand why Johan Bruyneel did it. Certainly, after publicizing his desire to get out of his contract and race the Tour with another team (despite 2+ months of racing season still to come after the Tour), I wouldn't look for Horner back with Astana next year. Of course, given the financials, it doesn't look like anyone will be riding for Astana next year.

Bruyneel's made a career (as rider and DS) out of playing the percentages, and the percentage in the hand that he's got is to ride Contador to a 4th Grand Tour title (VeloNews story shows gamblers agree). There are plenty of teams that would let a rider with his pedigree and palmares stack the team with those teammates he feels give him the best chance at wearing yellow in Paris. If the Garmin rumor is true, Jonathan Vaughters was going to sign not just Paulinho but also Noval to support Contador.

You could make an argument that it's not Paulinho's selection that left Horner out in the cold, but Muravyev's, or even Armstrong's, both of which are for political reasons. Muravyev is a hat tip to the team's Kakakh registry, while Armstrong is here for the publicity and excitement he brings to the team's coverage, and in recognition of his enormous place in cycling history.

A bigger question, though, is “What's Armstrong riding for?” I don't know exactly what his goals are for this Tour, but I don't think he will be riding for the overall win. Certainly, he's showing up in great condition, and as a competitor, he's got to believe that he could win, if certain things happen on the road. But this Tour lines up better for the climbers than the TT men, and Contador has shown he's an extraordinary climber. That said, I have a hard time believing Armstrong will be happy carrying bottles for anyone, even the 2009 Tour winner. So what could Astana carve out that would satisfy both Contador and Armstrong?

Other than the maillot jaune, the only other jersey that Armstrong could reasonably contend for is the polka-dot jersey, but no sane team is going to let Armstrong ride off on a multi-peak points hunt, unless he's already down by tens of minutes, and that's how recent maillots pois have been won.

Armstrong certainly could find himself in position to chase stage wins, and there are even a couple of stages that might further polish Armstrong's reputation. Most obvious is Stage 20 up Mont Ventoux on the penultimate day of the Tour, which looks like the biggest stage of this year's Tour. As the marquee stage, there will be a lot of riders eyeing this one, and my guess is it will go to somebody who's more of a pure climber than Armstrong, like Andy Schleck, Robert Gesink, or Carlos Sastre, depending on the race situation. Armstrong himself, though, has expressed his regrets over Mont Ventoux, where he feels he “gifted” Marco Pantani a stage in 2000, and where he was beaten by Richard Virenque in 2002. “I left unfinished business there,” he told Versus.

So, sure, maybe Armstrong's got a circle around Stage 20 on his calendar, but I think his presence here is more about the other half of the “Contador to Garmin” rumor: The 2010 Livestrong-Nike team. Presumably, Johan Bruyneel will be trying to match his UCI license to a sponsor after this season, and Livestrong and Nike are already close partners, with a new “It's About You” ad campaign that launched over the weekend and events planned in conjunction with the Tour. Would Armstrong be the uncontested leader on the road of that team, or did he come out of retirement to launch it with maximum fanfare, after which he'll return to retirement? We'll all know soon enough.

Armstrong spent today pre-riding Stage 16 (and here's video -- note that he's training in Livestrong gear, not Astana), one of 6 stages he's pre-riding.

So what do you think? What's Armstrong looking to take away from this Tour? You can comment here, or on Twitter, where I'm @TdFblog.


Cyclocosm | Astana's Tour Selection is a Ticking Bomb

Spelling out the worst-case scenario for Astana: a T-Mobile like glut of teammates riding for the win, domestiques who will only ride for “their guy”, dogs and cats living together, etc. Should be an interesting three weeks.

Posted by Frank Steele on June 28, 2009 in 2009 Tour de France, Chris Horner, Lance Armstrong, Top Stories, Tour de France 2009 | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

June 25, 2009

Astana finalizes Tour squad

Astana - Tour de Georgia 2008

Astana named the final three riders to its Tour squad this morning: Gregory Rast, Dmitriy Muravyev, and Sergio Paulinho.

It's the first Tour for Muravyev, a pro since 2002, and 3-time Kazakhstan TT champion. He's Astana's only Tour rookie.

Left off the Tour roster were Chris Horner, Jani Brajkovic, Thomas Vaitkus, and Benjamin Noval. Versus should do whatever it takes to get Horner in the booth as often as possible; he could be the next Bobke.

With Lance Armstrong apparently planning a new team for 2010, and Alberto Contador, one of five men to win all three Grand Tours, the stage is set for a potential Lemond-Hinault style intrateam rift.

The full Astana squad:

  • Lance Armstrong
  • Alberto Contador
  • Andreas Klöden
  • Levi Leipheimer
  • Dmitriy Muravyev
  • Sergio Paulinho
  • Yaroslav Popovych
  • Gregory Rast
  • Haimar Zubeldia

The team is presented in a very professional Flash presentation that would have made a great introduction for a Livestrong-Nike team, currently running in place of the team home page.

(Click through for a larger version of the photo above, which I shot at Stage 4 of last year's Tour de Georgia, at Road Atlanta).


VeloNews | Horner left off Astana Tour roster

Posted by Frank Steele on June 25, 2009 in Alberto Contador, Andreas Klöden, Chris Horner, Haimar Zubeldia, Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer, Top Stories, Tour de France 2009, Tour news, Yaroslav Popovych | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 24, 2009

Garmin-Slipstream makes Tour squad announcement

Garmin-Slipstream has announced their Tour squad.


  • Julian Dean
  • Tyler Farrar
  • Ryder Hesjedal
  • Dan Martin
  • David Millar
  • Danny Pate
  • Christian Vande Velde
  • Bradley Wiggins
  • David Zabriskie

Martijn Maaskant has been announced as the alternate. NOT riding the Tour are Tom Danielson, who also missed out last year; Will Frischkorn, who made it last year; or Canadian TT champion Svein Tuft.

Garmin's phenom Tyler Farrar will have one of the great lead-out men trying to put him in front of Mark Cavendish at the finish line, and Irish champion Dan Martin, nephew to 1987 Tour and Giro champ and world champion Stephen Roche, makes his first Tour start.

It's a team with great TT riders: Zabriskie, Millar, Vande Velde, Pate, Wiggins, and Hesjedal. As with Farrar, you have to wonder if they'll be fast enough to take revenge on Columbia-High Road, which beat Garmin by six seconds at the Giro d'Italia team time trial in May.


Slipstream Sports | Team Garmin-Slipstream announces Tour de France roster

CyclingNews.com | Garmin-Slipstream names its nine for the Tour

Posted by Frank Steele on June 24, 2009 in 2009 Tour de France, Bradley Wiggins, Christian Vande Velde, Danny Pate, Dave Zabriskie, David Millar, Julian Dean, Tom Danielson, Will Frischkorn | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 16, 2009

Retired Hamilton gets 8-year ban; Vinokourov will miss Tour

Hamilton as new US champion

Back in February, Tyler Hamilton tested positive for a steroid that he said resulted from DHEA he was taking to deal with his divorce and his mother's recent cancer diagnosis. Informed of the positive in April, Hamilton retired, and pretty much said cycling was less important than getting sane and healthy.

Today, the US Anti-Doping Agency handed down an 8-year ban that should ensure that Hamilton won't, Vinokourov-like, decide to “un-retire.” Hamilton continues to maintain that he didn't blood dope, despite two positive tests in 2004. Hamilton endeared himself to fans through tough rides, like his epic Stage 16 Tour win in 2005 while riding with a broken collarbone. Faced with blood doping charges, Hamilton mounted a defense that taught us all about chimeric twins, and kept his 2004 Olympic gold in the time trial when officials couldn't test his B-sample to confirm A-sample's positive.

I got a cork from one of the bottles of champagne the podium finishers popped after last year's US Pro Championship. I can't say for certain that it was Tyler's, but I like to think it was. I was torn by Hamilton's victory in Greenville, because it seemed so superhuman, the way he essentially rode a pack that included 3 Garmin-Chipotle riders right off his wheel.

On the one hand, I wanted to believe that this tough kid from Marblehead (how perfect!) had come back from his ban, and was riding like a man out to prove something. On the other hand, how could he have been so insanely strong if he was clean? Some days I thought I was keeping that cork to commemorate that heroic ride; others I thought it was a cautionary cork: Resist the yearning for mythic heroes. Some things are too good to be true. Tyler, you may have been a fraud, but you were never boring. I hope you can find a little peace and happiness in your new life.

Vinokourov, now 36 himself, learned today that, even if a team might consider signing and starting him, he is not eligible to ride in this year's Tour. His ban, resulting from a blood doping positive during the 2007 Tour, was set at one year by the Kazakhstan cycling federation, but the UCI stepped in when Vinokourov announced a comeback and the Court of Arbitration for Sport agreed, extending the ban to two years.


VeloNews | Hamilton accepts 8-year ban

Court of Arbitration for Sport | Alexander Vinokourov Eligible to Compete Again as of 24 July (full decision pending)

BBC Sport | Vinokourov has to wait for return

Posted by Frank Steele on June 16, 2009 in 2009 Tour de France, Alexandre Vinokourov, Doping, Top Stories, Tyler Freaking Hamilton | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 15, 2009

Curse of the cycling fan: My codependent relationship with the sport

So I'm sure that a few of you have wondered what's up with this weblog. Generally, I wind things up a lot earlier in the season, offering race results and analyses of Paris-Nice, the Spring Classics, and certainly the Giro and Dauphiné.

I've got to admit, however, that it's getting harder and harder to follow our sport. Every year, it seems, we've got a crop of outstanding new riders who offer breakout performances at the Tour. And every damn year, it seems, it turns out many, even most, of those performances have been chemically enhanced. Ullrich. Basso. Rasmussen. Schumacher. Kohl. Ricco and Piepoli. And yes, Floyd Landis. (Ask me again tomorrow, and I may be back to rationalizing for Landis).

It's enough to turn a fan against cycling. When, for April Fool's Day, Briggs Heaney posted that he was giving up on cycling, I almost bought it, because I shared a lot of his offered reasons. Certainly, it's been enough to turn off some of the other bloggers whose writing and commentary I have enjoyed, including Wim van Rossum, who used to maintain the indispensible cycling4all and the blogger who ran Cycling Fans Anonymous.

So why don't I flip the switch and lock the doors around here? Because, when the action starts, I've got to watch it. I loved this year's Giro, with Di Luca seemingly turning himself inside out day after day, and Menchov matching every move. Mark Cavendish and his team are just astounding. When April rolled around with no Tour de Georgia, I missed it something fierce.

On the other hand, I'm going to change my focus a little bit, back to more of a link-blog. I started this weblog with BoingBoing and Glenn Reynolds' Instapundit (he's authored 10 posts while you've been reading this) as models, and with only TypePad as an authoring tool.

Now, with the rise of Twitter and other social media, I plan on migrating real-time race updates, breaking news, and quick link-only posts to Twitter (I did race updates on Twitter last year -- at http://www.twitter.com/TdFblog ), with stage summaries, photo gallery links, and commentary here on the weblog.

Byron and I are talking about how best to incorporate some Tour coverage on Bike Hugger, as well. Thanks for reading (since 2003!), and for all your comments and feedback.

Posted by Frank Steele on June 15, 2009 in 2009 Tour de France, About the site, Top Stories | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack