As the Grand Depart in Monaco draws closer, Team Astana remains a subject of great debate. With the recent struggles just to force their sponsors to pay the bills, Johan Bruyneel and co. have more than enough to distract them from the goal at hand: winning the Tour de France.
But being one of (if not the) best stage racing team in the world means having a few options for who can take the yellow jersey. So perhaps the question shouldn't be "Who will lead Astana", but rather "Who will emerge as Astana's leader?"
Check out Bruce Hildenbrand's recently updated (for post-Giro results) article,Who Will Lead Astana at the 2009 Tour de France?. Whatever happens between now and July 4, one thing is clear: It will be an exciting ride to the finish in Paris.
The route of the 2009 Tour de France was revealed yesterday in Paris. The 96th Tour will begin in the luxurious principality of Monaco on July 4 and finish in Paris on the 26th. Along the way it will cross into Spain, with stops in Girona and Barcelona, and Switzerland, with stops in Verbier and Martigny. In addition to two individual time trials, there will be a team time trial on Stage 4 in Montpellier.
The race will also feature two long transit days, one by air, the second by high-speed rail. This latter transfer is the result of the penultimate stage ending with a mountain-top finish on the legendary Mont Ventoux. It has been seven years since "the giant of Provence" has been included in the Tour.
TOUR 2009: THE VENTOUX 24 HOURS BEFORE THE CHAMPS-ELYSÉES
The kick-off of the 96th edition of the Tour de France was symbolically given through the announcement of the course by Christian Prudhomme, at the Palais des Congrès of Paris, in the presence of Prince Albert II of Monaco, the 'Grand Départ' of the 2009 Tour taking place in the Principality. After the international stature of London in 2007, the heart of cycling's roots at Brest in 2008, the riders will look for their energy and inspiration next July in the prestige of Monaco.
The balance of difficulties, the choice of the climbs and the position in the course of each stage, are part of the elements that directly condition the confrontation between the champions. By deciding to spread the mountain stages on over two weeks, the teams of the Tour guarantee an intense battle to the fans until the penultimate day. From the finish at the Andorran resort of Arcalis, Friday the 11th of July to the fearsome climb up the Mont Ventoux, on the eve of the finish in Paris, the yellow jersey could change shoulders on numerous occasions.
To soften the "bonus to the time-trial specialists", the format of stages competed against the clock was thought over. The total of 55 kilometres covered during individual time-trials will be one of the smallest since the systematic introduction of the solitary effort in 1947. The 2009 Tour will also be marked by the return of the team time-trial absent since the 2005 edition.
A showcase of the French territory, the Tour is also keen to help discover the variety of landscapes throughout the country. This year, the theme of the sea will have a key role with the visits of three great lighthouses of the Mediterranean Sea: Monaco, Marseille and Barcelona. The itinerary designed in a clockwise way, will then lead the pack to the Pyrenees, go upwards towards the centre of France then the Vosges and the Alps before a decisive bend to the Giant of Provence.
Discover the course of the 2009 Tour de France and Christian Prudhomme's commentary at www.letour.com .
+It may not be unveiled next week, but the word is that Armstrong is involved in a possible buyout of Tour organisers Amaury Sport Organisation from its parent company the Amaury Group.
Furthermore, Armstrong may saddle up in the deal with Hein Verbruggen - the former president and now vice-president of cycling's world body, the Union Cycliste Internationale. Some say it may be an Armstrong-UCI deal.+
While this is purely rumor right now, so was "Lance Armstrong is coming back" before it actually happened. Who knows?