Here are some more photos from the Team Radio Shack pre-season camp.
The boys coming back from their 100km training ride. Lance is leading the team with Levi to his left and Haimar Zubeldia on his right.
Chris Horner had a very up-and-down season in 2009. He showed signs of brilliance in the mountains during the Giro, but it seemed like everytime he was just about to hit his stride he went down in a crash. Here's hoping that he has much better luck in 2010 including a ride in the Tour de France.
The Trek-Livestrong U23 team was also training in Tucson at the same time as their professional big brothers. Taylor Phinney is the team leader of the squad. He won the U23 Paris-Roubaix and the World Championship in the 4000m pursuit in 2009 while he was still a teenager!
Jani Brajkovic is undoubtedly Slovenia's most talented cyclist. He had a breakthrough year in 2009, his best racing came at the Giro where he was very strong in the second and third weeks.
South African Daryl Impey is probably best know for being taken down in a sprint finish in the Tour of Turkey by Theo Bos. He is recovered and motivated to ride well.
With the Alps looming all eyes are on the battle expected to commence as the third week of the Tour begins. Actually, it will most likely be two battles in the Alps as first, Team Astana tries to sort out the leadership on its squad and secondly as all the other teams with overall contenders such as Silence-Lotto (Cadel Evans), Cervelo Test Team (Carlos Sastre) and Saxo Bank (Brothers Schleck) try to either take down Astana or at the very least, climb onto the Tour podium.
The battle for leadership at Astana has already has already seen two rounds as first, Lance took charge in the crosswinds of stage three then in round two, Contador took the initiative by attacking in the final four kilometer to the mountain top finish in Arcalis. Since then the two pugilists have been in their respective corners waiting for the bell to sound for round three.
I expect Lance to take the initiative in the Alps and not wait for Contador to show his ambitions. However, the tricky part is that riders like Carlos Sastre, who seems to get better in the third week of a grand tour, and Cadel Evans, who continues to show the aggression we first saw in the Dauphine Libere, and the Brothers Schleck to attack, attack and attack.
If Astana can't control the lead group and they let riders like Sastre and Evans get up the road, then the advantage shifts to Contador as he is more able to respond to sharp attacks than Armstrong. Having said that, I am impressed by Lance's improving form and he might just be able to match Contador's legendary accelerations by the time the Tour reaches the Alps.
One interesting development is that the director sportifs of several of the teams with overall contenders may be waiting to see if the disharmony inside Astana is weakening the team and making them more vulnerable to cracking in the Alps. In talking with those directors, none of them have any answers on how to take down Astana. With three or four strong riders the situation is similar to being only four shots back on the final afternoon in a golf tournament, but having four golfers in front of you on the leader board. You might be able to beat one or even two of them, but expecting all four to fail is long odds.
Clearly, Astana is weaker with the departure of Levi Leipheimer, but Andreas Kloden looks very solid as does Yaraslov Popovych and Haimar Zubeldia. Lance called the third week of the Tour "sinister". With both the battle within Astana and the battle of the best of the rest, it is going to be one of the most memorable finishes in recent Tour history.