Astana have named former yellow jersey champion Alberto Contador as their leader for the Tour de France, which begins in Monaco and will run from July 4-26.
Contador, who won the 2007 Tour de France but did not compete last year, is the pre-race favourite to succeed Spaniard Carlos Sastre.
Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong will be one of the key riders in the Kazakhstan-sponsored team, making his return to the race since he retired in the wake of his seventh consecutive victory in 2005.
As well as Armstrong, fellow American Levi Leipheimer and German Andreas Kloden have been included in the nine-man team which, on paper, looks one of the strongest in the race.
Leipheimer is on his seventh Tour appearance and finished third in 2007, behind Cadel Evans.
Kloden is a two-time podium finisher on the world’s toughest bike race, and wins selection despite allegations in Germany last month that he was involved in doping at the 2006 Tour, when he finished second while racing for T-Mobile.
Also included is one of Contador’s closest team-mates, Portuguese Sergio Paulinho. Kazakh Dmitriy Muravyev, Ukrainian Yaroslav Popovych, Swiss Gregory Rast and Spaniard Haimar Zubeldia make up the team. American Chris Horner, training with Armstrong and Leipheimer near Armstrong’s Aspen, Colorado home, was not named.
Last year Contador became only the fifth rider in history to win all three three-week Grand Tours, including France, Italy and Spain when he won the Giro d’Italia in June and the Vuelta a Espana in September 2008.
However as doubts linger over who the real leader of the team is – much of the media focus has centred on Armstrong’s bid for an eighth crown – the Spaniard was featured second in line on a video presentation shown on Astana’s website on Thursday.
The first rider to feature was Armstrong, who tuned up for his big return by racing the Giro in May and June.
“After three-plus years away from competition I’m very happy with where Lance’s form is leading up to the Tour,” said team manager Johan Bruyneel, who helped orchestrate all seven of Armstrong’s wins, and Contador’s victory in 2007.
“I think racing the Giro was a very smart decision and really prepared him for July. He’s worked very hard during his comeback season and I know he is extremely motivated for the Tour de France.”
On Contador, Bruyneel said: “After winning the Tour in 2007 and then becoming the fifth cyclist in history to win all three Grand Tours, it’s hard to find a better stage race rider than Alberto.
“He has worked very hard, earning the right to represent our team as the leader this July.”
Astana’s Tour de France roster:
Lance Armstrong (USA), Alberto Contador (ESP), Andreas Kloden (GER), Levi Leipheimer (USA), Dmitriy Muravyev (KAZ), Sergio Paulinho (POR), Yaroslav Popovych (UKR), Gregory Rast (SUI), and Haimar Zubeldia (ESP).
© 2009 AFP & BikeRadar