Toward Peace and Love Within Team Astana

The Tour de France (TdF) is approaching, more and more rapidly. Seriously, it’s approaching increasingly rapidly. The Doppler effect is as undeniable as it is distressing. And as the TdF approaches (at a very alarming rate), I am resuming my annual tradition of getting wound up about the Tour.

And I would like you to now get wound up with me.

Today’s topic for wound-uppedness is General Classification riders (GC), the guys in the race who hope to stand on the podium at the end of the Tour. GC racers are protected by their teammates, given assistance at critical stages of the race so that they can finish the Tour in the least time possible. In order for a GC racer to do well, the rest of the team must often be willing to sacrifice personal glory — the winning of a stage or improving their time by joining a breakaway, for example.

A cohesive team is crucial to the success of a GC rider in the Tour. With that in mind, here are some GC racers you’ll want to keep your eye on this year:

  • Lance Armstrong
  • Andreas Kloden
  • Alberto Contador
  • Levi Leipheimer

There is, alas, something very peculiar about this list I would like to point out to you: all four of these riders are on the same team!

Yes, I know. It made me do a double-take too. Frankly, I was so freaked out yesterday when I noticed this for the first time that I quickly Twittered a note to Johan Bruyneel, the full text of which I hereby relay to you:

Hey, just noticed you have four top GC guys in your TdF lineup. D’oh!!!1ONE!!

I’m expecting his tweeted reply, but wouldn’t be surprised if it takes him a while, because now that he knows, I’ll bet anything that he is scrambling for a solution.

Disharmony On the Postal Discovery Astana Bus

Thinking I’d better take my discovery all the way to the top, I started composing a tweet to Lance himself, the thrust of which was the fact that there were three other guys on the same team as him, each likely with TdF aspirations of his own.

Except Levi, of course. Levi’s used to this kind of thing.

But then, after finishing the third draft of my tweet to Lance (when you tweet Lance, you want to make darn sure you get it just right), I took a break and did a little reading at one of my favorite blogs — Joe Lindsey’s Boulder Report on Bicycling.com. And yes, it really is one of my favorte blogs, and it does not bother me even a little bit that Lindsey blogrolls Bike Snob NYC, but not me. After all, they’re coworkers. And it also does not bother me that Lindsey blogrolls Trust but Verify but not me, even though Trust But Verify has been inactive for half a year. Why would that bother me?

I’m sorry, I seem to have lost the thread of my post. Give me a moment. OK, there we are.

In his very excellent blog (in spite of the absence of certain very popular and award-winning cycling blogs in his blogroll, as if Bicycling.com were perhaps too good to link to aforementioned very popular and award winning cycling blog), Lindsey dishes a scoop that is as earth-shattering as it is stunning:

Astana is far from a cohesive unit. Although the strongest team in the race on paper, with Armstrong, Contador, Leipheimer and Andreas Kloden all confirmed to start, their internal divisions could fracture the team and cost them the Tour de France.

Internal divisions? Internal divisions?! This must end. Now. Team Astana needs to be functioning like a well-oiled machine (but not too much oil, or the rear derailleur will get all gummed up), not like a bunch of squabbling children. Or — perhaps more accurately — like squabbling professional athletes, one of which is the most accomplished grand tour racer in a generation, another of which is a 3x grand tour winner at the very top of his game, and the other two of which are TdF podium alumni with aspirations of their own.

Not only is it impossible for all four of these guys from the same team win the TdF, these four guys from the same team can’t all even get on the podium.

Gee, why can’t they simply get along?

Well, they’re going to have to. And I’m just the right person to help.

In other words, I am finally getting to the bullet list that was the point of this post in the first place. Given the opportunity, it turns out that I can be incredibly long-winded.

Techniques for Resolving Inter-Team Strife

The two methods currently being entertained by the Astana GC racers to determine who will be The Chosen One during the Tour de France are as follows:

  1. The Sullen Transfer: Lindsey’s (tragically misblogrolled) article notes that Contador was considering making the jump to Garmin-Slipstream. Which I have to admit would be totally awesome, but only if he makes the jump right in the middle of the race. Picture it: he’s riding along as if he’s in support of Lance. Contador’s leading Armstrong up a steep mountain pass. All’s well with the world. And then suddenly — BAM! — Contador rips off his Astana jersey (which has been pre-perforated for easy tearing) to reveal a Garmin-Slipstream jersey! Suddenly, Armstrong’s domestique is his rival! The pandemonium is so complete that Phil Liggett makes up a new quirky metaphor featuring a chameleon and carry-on luggage on the spot.
  2. The Slug It Out At Game Time Method: The racers can simply attack each other over and over during the race itself, letting attrition choose the ultimate winner. While this would make potentially the most awesome television ever, it’s also theoretically possible that some other team might take advantage of the wasted energy from Astana infighting. Naaah.

The problem with both these coping mechanisms is that they both suck.

Instead, to resolve their team conflicts, I would like to suggest using any — or better yet, some combination — of the following:

  • Jenga Tournament: First guy to knock down the tower’s the bottle carrier. Second guy to knock down the tower gets to wear the yellow jersey, but only for the first half of the Tour. Third guy gets to be the Jenga champ’s lead-out guy (lots of TV time). The Jenga champ gets to be the champ. Unless someone else on a different team is better at Jenga. Or is faster, somehow.
  • Take it to Court: Do it the American way: put it before a judge. I’m going to have to institute a couple of unorthodox rules, though. First, everyone has to represent themselves. This is to keep those who might happen to be very very very very wealthy from bringing in a whole bevy of lawyers. Second, three-day trial limit, and no appeals. Otherwise, there’s no way this thing will be over before the Tour de France begins. In fact, it probably wouldn’t be over before the 2010 Tour begins.
  • Ultimate Fighting Deathmatch. Four GCs enter. One GC leaves (and suddenly there are three new spots open in the Astana TdF roster). Let’s find out which of these guys really has the most fight in him.
  • Pageant: Consisting of eveningwear, bathing suit, congeniality and talent competitions, this pageant will prove once and for all which of these four are just good at riding bikes, and which is truly a contender.
  • Take it to the Limit: Instead of a team consisting of four GC alpha dogs, how about a team featuring nothing but GC riders? Bring in Vande Velde. Sastre and Evans, too. Ask Ulrich and Landis if they’d like another shot at the title. They’ve got time to train. And then try to tell me this wouldn’t be the most awesomely wacky Tour ever.

It took some time, but I managed to condense all these suggestions into 140 characters, which — just to be safe — I sent as a direct tweet to both Johan and Lance.

I will let you know when I hear back.

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