I like that Lance Armstrong is a cycling god, but I love the fact that he’s a tech guy. As we mentioned earlier, he was one of the guys who helped introduce the new electronic age to the Tour de France, and he’s a tech junky. Don’t look for a press release or interview from Armstrong – all the good stuff comes via his Twitter page. Heck, he even tweeted the birth of his new son.
Knowing that he likes to release the best details to his Twitter followers first, everyone’s collective ears perked up when this came across the stream this morning after the day’s TdF stage was complete:
lancearmstrong: Making a very cool announcement on Thursday re: a new American partner for our team in 2010 (and beyond). Stay tuned!
Notice that Lance is making the announcement, not the Astana leadership, and it’s an American partner. Could be very interesting, particularly considering the relatively fragile condition of the Astana team right now.
Astana is a Kazakhstan-based cycling team with a checkered past. Once known as “Liberty-Seguros,” the team took on the Astana name in 2006 after Kazzakh native Alexander Vinokourov was able to secure funding from his country’s government (“Astana” is the capital of Kazakhstan). The team’s financial ties through Vino became problematic when he was banned from cycling for two years in a doping scandal following the 2007 edition of Le Tour. At about the same time, the former Team Discovery folded, leaving their management and riders in search of a new home. Out of the rubble of the two came the new Astana, featuring defending TdF champion Albert Contador as their leader.
Unfortunately, the baggage of the doping scandal under the previous regime kept Astana from riding in the 2008 Tour, providing more than enough motive for Contador and Astana to win both the Giro d’ Italia and the Vuelta a Espana. Things were rolling right along, until first Armstrong announced his intention to return to professional cycling with Astana and Vinokourov’s declaration that, as the former Astana leader, he expected to reclaim his rightful position when his ban ended in 2009. Even though Astana is poised to win Le Tour and place three riders in the top five, turmoil abounds.
So what does this all mean? To me, the sponsor is obvious – the same multi-national conglomerate that has funded the production of all those yellow armbands and other products for the Lance Armstrong Foundation. I feel quite comfortable predicting the team will be Nike-Livestrong, kitted out in black and yellow.
But what team will it be? Will Astana simply be renamed, or will Armstrong start from scratch? Does he pluck another struggling team from the ranks and, injected with all that Nike cash, turn them into a recreation of USPS/Discovery? How about High Road or Slipstream, the two American-based teams racing in this year’s Tour – does he make a deal with one of them? It should be very interesting.
This much we know – if cycling is to grow in America, Armstrong must be involved – he’s too personally invested in the success, and too closely tied to the sport in the minds of most casual fans. By forming his own team, he can ride Le Tour next year as a finale, then sit back and savor the success as Team Nike Livestrong rolls on into the future.
Stay tuned …
Thursday morning update: They just made the announcement – it’s “Team Radio Shack,” and it’ll be a brand new team. OK, maybe the Nike thing seemed a little bit too easy – at least Radio Shack is Texas-based. And the geek in me can’t wait to see the first team bike – the Trek Radio Shack TRS-80! :-)