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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.

Also:

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

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Comments

I find it hard to believe that Lance would ride anything he didn't plan winning. I think it's just his nature. Also, regarding his outfit ("note that he's training in Livestrong gear, not Astana") are any of the riders wearing the team gear except to race? And the question is what sponsor names will be blanked out, and when?

Honestly surprised that there wasn't a Livestrong/Nike/Bruyneel buyout already. Seems like a good fit, and Lance could switch to a business role after the season (and assumedly his riding career) ends.

Guess we'll all be watching @lancearmstrong to find out what the next twist is… straight from the authority.

Posted by: Brian at Jun 28, 2009 11:06:12 PM

Brian. Great comment. It's normal for riders to train in team gear. It's provided at no cost to them, and it's good publicity for the team. Usually, when riders don't wear it, they're trying to avoid attention, but I think Armstrong will stick out every bit as much in Livestrong gear as Astana.

It's an awfully rare team that comes to the Tour with two possible winners and leaves with the trophy. If Bruyneel is going to use the team to support Armstrong, Contador has every reason to resent it and could refuse to work based on Bruyneel's public (and I'm sure private) assurances that Contador is the Rider Of Now.

I'm sure Johan considered this, and has discussed with Armstrong how they can make Armstrong's season a success while still supporting Contador for the win. If not, we're going to have one hell of a potboiler.

Posted by: Frank at Jun 28, 2009 11:59:15 PM

In reality, Ventoux has to be his goal. I don't know if that's what's running through HIS mind, but from where I'm sitting a successful Lance Armstrong Tour this year features a win on Ventoux.

If Lance has other aspirations Contador is going to have to prove himself dominant at first opportunity. He's got to seize the race. Should be fun.

Posted by: Rob at Jun 29, 2009 9:39:54 AM

Armstrong has trained in Livestrong kit since his comeback began, as far as I can recall - the deal is that he *races* in Astana kit.

(Think back to the Tenerife(?) training camp at the start of the year).

Posted by: John the Monkey at Jun 29, 2009 10:47:28 AM

John, I realize that (I complained about it here on Bike Hugger in February).

I think Armstrong had a chance to send a message, given the discussions of team disunity, by showing up on training rides in Astana gear, and he didn't. It appears he's also taking the "lone wolf" approach with the press, like here in the Denver Post, where he says, "The honest answer is there's no doubt there's going to be tension," Armstrong said. "You can't deny that, eh, Levi?"

Plus, jeez -- he's going to start the Tour in team shorts that aren't even broken in?

Posted by: Frank at Jun 29, 2009 11:17:32 AM

Lance has said it again and again, he is back for cancer. He isn't taking salary and he is "allowed" to wear the Livestrong kit because Burynell having Lance back is a courtesy in itself.

And I don't understand why the press is making this out to be a Contador vs. Lance tour, like its one or the other. Cycling is a team sport and Johan is not stupid. Why would he want that kind of environment on the team? The way cycling works is: every starts off on an even keel, of course the obvious leaders are picked but if there is any question, we wait. We wait until after the TTT, we wait till after the first week, of nothing but flat stages. Whomever does the best on the Pyrenees will be the leader. There has been times in the past when leaders have choked so there is always a teammate who steps up. When it comes to Lance and Alberto, whomever is leading after the Pyrenees will be team leader.

And frankly, I don't understand why everyone is screaming that Lance will win. He hasn't proved to anyone that he is back to the level he was, and he will need to be at that level in order to compete against people like Alberto and the Schleck brothers. He got better during the Giro and he trained hard inbetween, but I still don't see anything that equals an 8th TDF win. I hate to say it, I respect the guy more then most anyone, but Lance will be reduced to a Super Domestic, by the end of the Tour.
Oh, and teams DO NOT sweep the podium. This is too much a team sport with too much sacrifice.

Finally, as for Horner, I'm from Oregon as well, so I know that he and I are chill guys. I think he enjoys Lance and Levi too much to leave simply because he wasn't picked up for the tour. He broke his leg, shit happens, he knows that. And cycling is full of politics. He'll be back with Astana (or Bruynell's team anyway since Astana seems to be taking a nose dive).

In conclusion, the best man will win the tour, Astana or no.

Thanks for listening to my rambling

Posted by: Eric at Jul 3, 2009 1:49:34 AM

I think that Johan planning to sweep the podium. Yes cycling is a team sport and we all know about sacrifice of the other members for 1 leader.

Historically, it has never been done but there also has never been a team with 4 GC top five finishers. It would be possible in my mind to split the team. Both Alberto and Lance have a strong enough team to put both of them in 1 and 2.

However, this is assuming that both are riding to plan and if 1 faulters then its plan B which is the traditional sacrifice all for 1.

Posted by: Dave at Jul 6, 2009 2:45:17 PM

Frank, You guys from Oregon are not only the chill guys, but your rambling is right on.

Posted by: Carl at Jul 7, 2009 4:57:03 PM

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