Armstrong set to join Astana in 2009
Peter Leonard ALMATY // The seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong will join Team Astana for his return to competitive cycling. Nikolai Proskurin, the Kazakh Cycling Federation's deputy chief, said yesterday said Armstrong agreed to ride for the Kazakhstan-based team for free the first year and has signed up to take part in five races, including the Tour de France. Armstrong was to make a formal announcement at a news conference in New York.
"If people say that they want to join this team, it is a sign that they must hold Kazakhstan in great regard," Proskurin said. "He is coming to Team Astana, he's doing it only so he can continue to win." Astana's team leader is Johan Bruyneel, who was Armstrong's team director for all of his Tour de France victories with the US Postal and Discovery teams. The two are close friends. Armstrong's first race will be the Tour of California from Feb 14-22, Proskurin said.
Meanwhile, the Tour Down Under race director Mike Turtur announced earlier that Armstrong would ride in the Tour Down Under from Jan 20-25. The six-stage Tour Down Under - the first event on the 2009 world pro cycling calendar - will be raced in South Australia state, centred on the capital Adelaide. "The confirmation just came through that he will starting in our race in January," said Turtur, a former Australian Olympic cyclist who won gold in at the 1984 Olympics. "It's great news for Adelaide and the Tour Down Under.
"We're all looking forward to the comeback of the greatest cyclist that raced the Tour de France." There are reports in Madrid, however, that the 2007 Tour de France winner Alberto Contador of Spain would leave if Armstrong joined Astana. "I've earned the right to be the leader of a team without having to fight for my place," Contador said. "And with Armstrong, some difficult situations could arise in which the team would put him first and that would hurt me."