Who Will Lead Astana at the 2009 Tour de France?

His performance in the Giro was interesting. He could not hold the wheels of the better climbers in the first week, losing three minutes on the finish in the Dolomites at Alpi di Siusi. However, by the third week he was going off the front on the Blockhaus and finishing with the better climbers on Monte Petrano and Vesuvius.

So, it appears that Lance is riding into form. The question is: With the Tour starting on July 4th, does he have enough time to get there? Johan Bruyneel seems to think so. "He needs some time. He needs another month now to have some good training in June. He'll be in good shape for the Tour,"said Bruyneel.

Lance, Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner are scheduled to be in Aspen in early June for a high altitude training camp that will hopefully close the gap.

Contador started off this season by winning Volta ao Algarve in Portugal. He then laid an egg at Paris-Nice and failed to defend at Vuelta a Castilla y Leon, though coming second to Leipheimer wasn't really a failure. El Pistolero de Pinto (that nickname has to go!) then rebounded by dominating in the most difficult stages of the Tour of the Basque Country. So right this minute, he seems to be totally on track.

Levi Leipheimer and Alberto Contador on the podium of the 2009 Vuelta a Castilla y Leon.
AP Photo/EFE, Ruben Garcia

At this point in the season, although Lance has an incredible track record at the Tour and Contador has been a bit inconsistent this season, I would have to say that Contador has the inside track to team leadership. Lance's one big advantage over Alberto was his time trialing. With Contador's improvements and Lance's lack of racing days, I think it is all even in the race against the clock.

While Lance is in Aspen, Contador will be leading Team Astana at the Dauphine Libere. Previously, it was scheduled for Lance and Alberto to be riding side-by-side at the Dauphine, but this will not happen—furthering the speculation as to who will lead at the Tour.

In the end, Team Astana director Johan Bruyneel may decide to take two team leaders to the Tour and let the strongest rider emerge during the race. That was the game plan at the Tour of Spain last year when Contador and Leipheimer battled for the win.

Team leadership comes down to both track record and current fitness. Regardless if you are Team Astana, Saxo Bank or Columbia-Highroad it all depends on the same criteria. For Team Astana will it be Lance, Alberto, or maybe even Levi? Keep a close watch on the major stage races in May and June and see whose stock is heading up and whose stock is going in the opposite direction.

Another insight from Bruyneel came when commenting on Armstrong's potential fitness at the Tour, "I don't know how good that can be, to be with the best, but he will be in good shape." Let the speculation continue.

Bruce Hildenbrand is a freelance journalist covering cycling and a host of other outdoor-related sports. He splits his time between Mountain View, California, Boulder, Colorado and Europe.

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