First of all I'm stoked for Lance Armstrong to be returning to the professional peloton in 2009. He's planning on riding the 2009 Tour of California, so we'll get to see him ride in person! Whatever you may think of as a person, athlete, cancer survivor or other, you can't really knock him for attempting to bring the battle for cancer awareness to a global level. If he inspires more people to ride bikes or encourages you to write to your local congressman / woman to approve a larger budget for cancer research, then we as a nation and world are better off for it. There will always be doubters and haters of anyone who succeeds. I could care less, whether or not Lance used performance enhancing drugs in the past. Of course I'd be disappointed if I found out concrete evidence that he did, but it's what he's doing NOW and in the FUTURE that really matters. The amount of money our country spends on the war in Iraq is staggering when compared to how little money is budgeted for cancer research.
Will Lance ride for Team Astana? Highly unlikely. If he plans on riding in the 2009 Tour de France he will not risk associating himself with a team that has a tainted past. Sure the team is entirely new, they have a transparent anti-doping program and Johan Bruyneel is the Manager, but there is still the "uh hum" history associated with that team. They were denied entry into the 2008 Tour and who's to say the same thing won't happen again next year. Another factor is Alberto Contador. Clearly the best cyclist in the world right now. At the end of this year's Vuelta a Espana, he will already have won the 3 grand tours at the young age of 25. Will he be willing to step aside and give full support to Lance? What about Levi Leipheimer? Perhaps they will all work together and aim for a 1-2-3 on the podium on the new "Kick Cancer in the Nutz Team" ...?
Suppose Lance does join Team Astana. In that case I would guess the team would be slightly re-branded or re-named. As long as they somehow have a guarantee to be invited to the Tour de France, then this is a remote possibility.
In my opinion, which doesn't count for much, if Lance is coming back, he's going BIG! My prediction is an entirely new team with support from Nike, Trek, etc. - all the usual suspects with a new brand / name to bring the fight against cancer to a much bigger scale. Another clue is the Dirk Demol, formerly of the Discovery Channel Team when Lance was there, has recently signed on as director of Team Astana. This will free up Johan to come over to Lance's new team. Lance has already asked Jose "Chechu" Luis Rubiera to postpone his retirement for one more year. He was part of the key team that helped delivery Lance to an unprecedented 7 Tour de France victories. Lance will enlist the help of his former team mates, coaches, trainers etc and make a huge comeback. While he may not win the 2009 Tour de France, he surely will try.
I've also seen a few Twitter posts from the CEO of Livestrong.com note, the .com not the .org infamous with the yellow bracelets, that lead me to believe a new team is in the making.
Lance will be revealing more details of his comeback plans on September 24th at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York. This "announcement" date is right in the middle of Interbike 2008 slated for September 22nd - 23rd in Las Vegas, Nevada. Coincidence?
Stay tuned for more details!