On Monday, Lance Armstrong went public with his announcement that he hopes to run his own top-flite European professional team in 2010. This year, Armstrong launched an Under 23(U-23) team, Trek-Livestrong, captained by current World 4000m Pursuit Champion Taylor Phinney, but the plan for next year is to put together a squad that will compete at the highest level of the sport.
Also mentioned in the announcement is that long-time friend and team director Johan Bruyneel will also be part of the program. Bruyneel, who currently runs Team Astana will need to figure out how to sever his ties with the Khazak squad. Given the current rumours surrounding the health of Team Astana that might not prove to be too difficult. It appears that the Astana, which is funded by a conglomerate of Khazak companies, has been hit hard by the economic downturn and has not been able to meet its payroll commitments.
There is some speculation that Astana may not be able to stay afloat long enough to participate in the Tour de France. Also rumoured is that the UCI may step in an revoke the squad's Pro Tour license. Obviously, this is all rumour and speculation, but something appears to be happening. Before we jump to any conclusions let's hope that the team can iron out the difficulties and continue with its dominating season.
Also in the announcement, Armstrong indicated that he would like to be a team director and rider for the new outfit meaning that he would still be on the bike in 2010. It is too far off to get a feeling if he would ride the Tour or other big stage races with his new squad. Let's let him get his 2009 season under his belt before we all start guessing on his racing program for next year.
Just who the title sponsor will be for Armstrong's new squad is a mystery. Some have speculated that Nike will step up. Another possibility might be SRAM, the component manufacturer who has a big enough budget to step up in a major way. Whoever decides to write the checks, the Armstrong/Bruyneel combination combined to form a very potent force. We will have to wait and see if Alberto Contador is recruited for the team, but whoever joins the ranks will be part of an exciting new team.
There was another team training in Santa Rosa besides Astana. Team Trek-Livestrong, Lance's Under-23(U-23) development squad was also in Northern California putting in some quality early season miles. The team is captained by 'Mini-Phinney', Taylor Phinney, the 18-year-old son of cycling greats Connie Carpenter and Davis Phinney.
I hung out with the boys and tagged along for a short part of their ride, here are a few photos of the squad preparing for their 107-mile training spin and on the road northwest of Santa Rosa.
Axel Merckx, son of the greatest cyclist ever, Eddy Merckx is the Director Sportif. Axel was a fine professional in his own right and rode with Lance on Team Motorola in 1995 and 1996. When not directing the young bucks, he lives with his wife Jody in Canada.
Long-time Armstrong friend and head honcho at Capital Sports and Entertainment,Bart Knaggs, is helping to oversee the team. A former top amateur racer, Knaggs also rode with the team and looked pretty fit.
Axel and the team during their pre-ride chat.
Mini-Phinney with Bjorn Selander who recently represented the USA at the World Cyclocross championships.