The Tour of the Gila promoter Jack Brennan confirmed that Lance Armstrong and his Astana teammates Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner will get to race in this week's race in New Mexico after all.
USA Cycling worked out an agreement with the International Cycling Union (UCI), who had earlier denied them permission to do the race because the UCI's rules prohibit top-level riders from entering national-level races.
"USA Cycling was responsible for making this happen," Brennan told Cyclingnews. "I got a call that there was a problem with Astana showing up, and I e-mailed Sean Petty who was in Europe at UCI meetings. I also emailed Steve Johnson on Sunday and spoke with them a few times. They began to resolve this issue with the UCI right away."
Petty was able to work out a solution with the UCI which would permit only three riders from the same professional team to race under a neutral jersey for the national-level event. The agreement will also apply to the BMC Racing Team which, as a Professional Continental squad, falls under the same UCI regulation. Third division continental teams are allowed to race national events with a full squad, and do not fall under the rule.
From near death to bigger than life
The Tour of the Gila is in its 23rd year but was threatened by extinction when it was lacking sponsorship earlier this year. A groundswell of support saved the race, with SRAM stepping in to the rescue. Brennan said that having the sport's biggest stars at his race will be a huge benefit.
"Having Armstrong, Leipheimer and Horner at Gila?" Brennan said. "It's an honour, a big honour. We have a really great race in place, a great organization and great community support and state support. Yes, I think there will be a lot more crowds and we have been preparing for them."
Horner confirmed to Cyclingnews that the three had to change their plans when they were allowed to race at the last minute.
"I had my bags packed for Aspen and then I got the call from Johan and he said 'you're going to Gila instead.' I really don't know much more than that right now. I'm under the assumption that I'll be be racing the Mellow Johnny's jersey."
Mellow Johnny's is Armstrong's Austin bicycle shop.
Big names gathering in New Mexico
Armstrong's former US Postal teammate Floyd Landis will be racing for his OUCH team, alongside Tim Johnson, Patrick McCarty and Rory Sutherland. Also lining up for the New Mexico stage race are Trek-Livestrong U-23 riders Taylor Phinney, Ben King and Bjorn Selander. BMC Racing's Tony Cruz, another former teammate of Armstrong, will have teammates Jackson Stewart and Scott Nydam. The Tour of the Gila has all the makings of a real barn burner.