This just in from Radio Lance: he will not be the sole leader of the Radio Shack team in the upcoming Tour de France.
“The days of this team being built around me are done,” said Armstrong. “I’m 38 now, I’ll be 39 this season – it would be irresponsible to build it around me. Going into the Tour we have to look at Levi [Leipheimer], [Andreas] Klöden, the tactics, the ideas that we use…”
The statement frames the tactics and sets up the possibility for plenty of surprises for July’s battle in France. The Radio Shack team versus Alberto Contador and his leftovers. Manager Johan Bruyneel and Armstrong will have Leipheimer and Kloden attacking at every opportune moment, keeping the Spaniard guessing and wearing down his weaker team.
Contador admitted as much, telling the Spanish newspaper Barca, “I am realistic and I know that I have a weaker team than in previous years.” For that reason we’ll have to work hard on motivation in training so that we know what we can achieve and how to do it.”
The scenario becomes even more dramatic if the race radio ban goes into effect, making it harder to make rapid decisions on controlling the multi-headed monster from Radio Shack.
The possibility of tactical mistakes will escalate and that clearly works to the advantage of Armstrong and Bruyneel. Contrast the Grand tour experience of Bruyneel (ten victories) with Astana manager Yvon Sanquer (one Vuelta back in 2001) and you have a mismatch.
In his first official press conference for the new Radio Shack squad, Armstrong sounded more confident than ever about his comeback and his team.
“We have the best team in the world. Of the 9 riders from last year’s Tour de France squad from Astana, 8 are now on Radio Shack. We took the vast majority of the riders from the team that we wanted, so it remains a strong team. We lack that super high level favorite like Alberto [Contador], but I like the chances with the strong guys we have.”
Meanwhile his Spanish rival is already apologizing for his back-up band and hedging his bets. “I know that it will be a difficult year; it’s possible I won’t be able to win the Tour even if I am in good shape. People will be focusing a lot on me, but my rivals know that the team I will have is not the same as before.” Uh, that’s because they’re all wearing Radio Shack jerseys.
The first Astana camp begins this week. With so many new riders coming in, the Spaniard will need name-tags — “Hi, I’m Alberto” scribbled in red ink. Twisted Spoke hopes Yvon Sanquer has some team building exercises in mind, like playing Twister, Kazak Karaoke and flamenco dance lessons.
Armstrong, for his part, thinks he’ll ride even stronger in 2010 than this year after having raced a full season. “All the training, the Tour and the Giro [d’Italia], that will benefit me going forward in 2010. This December already feels different than last December.”
We’re sure Alberto Contador would say things feel different, too.