Saturday, July 04, 2009

Shades of 1985, 1986, or 2007? - Astana’s Tour Dilemma and Why They Will Win Regardless

Last fall, when Lance Armstrong decided to end his three and a half year hiatus from the sport, questions and speculation abounded. Chief among them was whether he could recapture the form that earned him seven (7) Tour de France titles, and once he declared his intentions, whether he could coexist with riders who not only had Tour aspirations, but also were grand tour champions in their own right.


For most, the parallels to first of the super-teams, La Vie Claire, were evident. The outcome of that experiment provided fans with perhaps the most competitive Tours in modern history. But for the riders and management within La Vie Claire, who played out the drama on the world stage, it was a three-week nightmare that tested individual resolve and forever shaped reputations.

The task presented before Johan Bruyneel, Director Sportif of Team Astana, is as daunting as the one that faces his riders. And as we have seen in the days preceding the start in Monaco, many of the issues have yet to be resolved.

The decision to support “the strongest rider,” is ambiguous, at best, and straddles the line of being disingenuous. After all, as we have seen in past Tours, the strongest at the beginning of the race is not often the strongest during its crucial points or at its end.

But if you’re expecting the kind of turmoil that created the schism of La Vie Claire in the late eighties, you may be sorely disappointed. Lance Armstrong is too diplomatic and aware of his public image to be seen as a selfish and divisive force. Rather, expect the team drama to be confined to a few select stages as in 2007 when Levi Leipheimer rode with and for Alberto Contador, but still had an opportunity to best his teammate and claim the overall during the final time trial.

Ultimately, this is Astana’s race to lose. No other team can match its firepower on an individual basis, and their domestiques are tireless and unwavering. What remains to be seen; however, is whether a team packed full of stars, as is the case with Astana, can best a team of eight riders all pulling for one (a formula which Armstrong and Bruyneel are all too familiar).

It’s no mere coincidence that the 96th Tour de France begins on July 4th as we are sure to see a few fireworks.

1 comment:

Tour of '03 (Steve Klein) said...

Watch out for the Schleck brothers. That said, I'm rooting for Lance, Levi and Alberto in that order. Levi because he has had a great '09 and deserves the opportunity to win the Tour, too. AND, please scroll down a few posts to my comments on Crankset coverage of the Tour.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Shades of 1985, 1986, or 2007? - Astana’s Tour Dilemma and Why They Will Win Regardless

Last fall, when Lance Armstrong decided to end his three and a half year hiatus from the sport, questions and speculation abounded. Chief among them was whether he could recapture the form that earned him seven (7) Tour de France titles, and once he declared his intentions, whether he could coexist with riders who not only had Tour aspirations, but also were grand tour champions in their own right.


For most, the parallels to first of the super-teams, La Vie Claire, were evident. The outcome of that experiment provided fans with perhaps the most competitive Tours in modern history. But for the riders and management within La Vie Claire, who played out the drama on the world stage, it was a three-week nightmare that tested individual resolve and forever shaped reputations.

The task presented before Johan Bruyneel, Director Sportif of Team Astana, is as daunting as the one that faces his riders. And as we have seen in the days preceding the start in Monaco, many of the issues have yet to be resolved.

The decision to support “the strongest rider,” is ambiguous, at best, and straddles the line of being disingenuous. After all, as we have seen in past Tours, the strongest at the beginning of the race is not often the strongest during its crucial points or at its end.

But if you’re expecting the kind of turmoil that created the schism of La Vie Claire in the late eighties, you may be sorely disappointed. Lance Armstrong is too diplomatic and aware of his public image to be seen as a selfish and divisive force. Rather, expect the team drama to be confined to a few select stages as in 2007 when Levi Leipheimer rode with and for Alberto Contador, but still had an opportunity to best his teammate and claim the overall during the final time trial.

Ultimately, this is Astana’s race to lose. No other team can match its firepower on an individual basis, and their domestiques are tireless and unwavering. What remains to be seen; however, is whether a team packed full of stars, as is the case with Astana, can best a team of eight riders all pulling for one (a formula which Armstrong and Bruyneel are all too familiar).

It’s no mere coincidence that the 96th Tour de France begins on July 4th as we are sure to see a few fireworks.

1 comment:

Tour of '03 (Steve Klein) said...

Watch out for the Schleck brothers. That said, I'm rooting for Lance, Levi and Alberto in that order. Levi because he has had a great '09 and deserves the opportunity to win the Tour, too. AND, please scroll down a few posts to my comments on Crankset coverage of the Tour.