Team Astana Press Conference
On Thursday, Team Astana held its training camp press conference at its hotel in Tenerife, Spain. The conference centered around Lance Armstrong, Astana's newest member, who is returning to competition after three years away from the sport. Armstrong's return has created a number of issues, and the Texan addressed them all during the press conference.
When Armstrong announced his comeback, Astana team captain Alberto Contador was disagreeably surprised. Contador, who has won all three Grand Tours is less than a year and a half, made noise about wanting to get out of his contract. Astana team manager Johan Bruyneel disabused him of that notion. At Thursday's press conference, Armstrong made it clear that he was prepared to work for Contador.
"I think Alberto has obviously a tremendous amount of natural talent and can read a race," Armstrong said. "I have a lot of respect for the guy. I can't say it any simpler. This guy is the best cyclist in the world." Armstrong added, "There are certain unwritten laws in cycling. The others ride to support the strongest rider. Whether it means supporting Alberto or Levi [Leipheimer] or Andreas [Kloeden], I'll do that."
Armstrong stated that his enthusiasm for cycling and his desire to energize the fight against cancer motivated him to come out of retirement. "I have a passion for bike racing and training," Armstrong said, "and I've rediscovered that passion. Secondly, I feel that I can give impetus to the fight against cancer by racing."
Armstrong declared that aside from lower back pain, he is in good shape. However, the seven-time Tour de France winner cautioned that he has a long way to go until he will be ready to race the Tour. "If the Tour is today," the Texan said, "I don't have the power to win. I am content with seven Tours. If there's an eighth on the line, I'm not going to refuse it."
Armstrong has a busy early season scheduled. In January, he will ride the Tour Down Under, and the man from Austin will tackle the Tour of California in February. In addition, the Texan will ride several spring classics before taking on the Giro d'Italia. He was asked about the effect that riding the Giro could have on his plans for riding the Tour.
"Good question," Armstrong replied, "and I don't know the answer. I had to be well-trained, so I started training earlier. For the [Livestrong] foundation it is better to do the high-profile races. I asked other people about doing the Giro and the Tour...ask me again at the end of July."
Armstrong intends to follow his old pattern of reconnoitering mountain passes. That will be harder to do with the Giro's route than with the Tour's. Because the Giro begins two months earlier than the Tour, some of the passes will be snow-covered until just before the race begins. As Armstrong put it, "Some roads will only open shortly before the race."
One controversial part of Armstrong's comeback is his decision to have independent drug testing done by former UCLA anti-doping laboratory director Don Catlin. In September, Lemond questioned Catlin's methods at a Lance Armstrong press conference in Las Vegas. Armstrong said, "WADA [World Anti-Doping Agency] is not a fan of independent testing. It is saying that WADA, USADA [United States Anti-Doping Agency], and others are not doing a good job. There is some tension there."
Armstrong does not intend his comeback to be long. When the Texan was asked how long his comeback would be, he said "it could be one or two years. Age will become a factor. Or maybe it already is..."
Check in at www.roadcycling.com to watch Armstrong's run-up to the 2009 Tour de France!