Taylor Phinney will race for Astana's U23 team in 2009

Belgian retired pro Axel Merckx to direct team

During his press conference in New York on Wednesday, Lance Armstrong announced that he would be supporting an Under 23 racing team, which would be built around the 18-year-old Taylor Phinney, son of former champions Davis and Connie Carpenter Phinney. The team will be directed by Armstrong's former Motorola teammate Axel Merckx.

"Taylor is the future of American cycling. This is what the sport needs. It's one thing to have a pro team and try to win big events, but as a bike shop owner, I think it is critical that we develop young riders," Armstrong said.

While racing for the Slipstream (now Garmin-Chipotle) under former Armstrong teammate Jonathan Vaughters, Phinney won the Junior World Championship title in pursuit this year, and was also the US pursuit champion and Junior World Time Trial Champion in 2007. He took seventh at the Olympic Games in the pursuit.

Vaughters told Cyclingnews that he knew about Phinney's plans, but hadn't yet spoken with the rider about the change. 

"Losing Phinney is a bummer from a publicity standpoint," Vaughters said, "but from a performance standpoint it won't have too much impact on the team. We have a very talented group of riders - Peter Stetina wore the yellow jersey in the Tour de l'Avenir - that hasn't happened since Floyd Landis - and he just took sixth at the U23 worlds time trial."

He wasn't afraid that a team run by Armstrong would have a negative effect on his own developmental squad. "If you look at the history of our programme, 80 percent of the US riders who have started racing professionally in Europe in the past few years have come through our team.

"It's nice to see Lance mimicking us - imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so they say," he added.

Vaughters was confident that Armstrong would make the new team successful, even if he is starting out rather late in the year with the concept. "Lance has a lot of influence, and you can solve a lot of problems with the right funding. And he doesn't organise things shoddily, so if anyone can do it, it's Lance."

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