Taking Shape

Tour de France 2009 Montpellier TTT Stg 4

In one of the bigger surprises of the week, the UCI announced that it had approved the extension of Astana’s ProTour license. The announcement puts to rest any speculation about whether Alberto Contador would remain with the Kazakh-registered formation for 2010.

On the heels of the announcement, 2006 Tour de France winner Oscar Pereiro revealed that he will finish his career riding in support of Alberto Contador. He signed a one-year contract contingent upon Astana being approved for the ProTour.

But the news doesn’t end there. Haimar Zubeldia pulled the ripcord and announced he will join Johan Bruyneel at Radio Shack. As one of the pivotal riders caught in the Armstrong/Contador pachinko, Zubeldia sidestepped the controversy when he spoke to l’Equipe.

“When I moved from Euskaltel to Astana, I signed for the team of Johan Bruyneel. Now everyone in this group has joined a new team; that’s why Radio Shack has been my priority.”

Of his choice to follow Bruyneel he said the choice was an entirely personal one based on his needs as a rider. “After a year of working with him, I can confirm the image I had of him. He is a great leader with such a very good view of the race…. I had to choose the best for me.”

The loss of Zubeldia and the gain of Pereiro essentially sums zero. Contador needed to bolster his Tour team by keeping Zubeldia and adding someone of Pereiro’s talent—or better. The only other recent signee the team has announced recently is Mirko Selvaggi.

Astana management complained that the UCI had given the team more stringent requirements than other ProTour teams when it required additional bank guarantees. And while requested bank guarantee was unusual, it was made it response to the team’s financial woes this spring. Interestingly, despite Astana’s complaints, it seems the team has received special treatment. The team still has only 21 riders and shouldn’t, technically, be eligible for the ProTour.

It will be especially difficult for the team to recruit riders in December, and there is a cutoff date for transfers that is rapidly approaching. If they enter the season with only 21 riders, each rider will have to race more frequently to fulfill the squad requirements for ProTour events and this will increase fatigue and the possibility of injury as the Tour approaches. For the sake of fireworks at le Grand Boucle, let’s hope they find some more strong riders.

The Astana Roster to date:

Assan Bazayev

Alberto Contador

David De la Fuente

Valeriy Dmitriyev

Alexsandre Diachenko

Enrico Gasparotto

Andriy Grivko

Jesus Hernandez

Maxim Iglinskiy

Roman Kireyev

Berik Kupeshov

Daniel Navarro

Benjamin Noval

Oscar Pereiro

Bolat Raimbekov

Sergey Renev

Mirko Selvaggi

Gorazd Stangelj

Paolo Tiralongo

Alexandre Vinokourov

Andrey Zeits

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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5 comments

  1. CK

    As of right now they have 23 riders…You omitted Valentin Iglinskiy and Dmitri Fofonov, the former Credit Agricole rider. They are also in talks with Patxi Vila, Xavier Tondo, Allan Davis, and David Herrero.

    If they get a few guys that can roll on the flats they should be fine for the Tour. They have the climbers that can help Contador in Pereiro, Tiralongo, and Navarro.

  2. lachlan

    It is of course far from without precedent that a strong rider wins the tour without a great team around him. But with saxo and potentially shack both so well drilled and deep in strength, Alberto must be confident in the Astana line up in some measure – unless he is simply chasing money, which I kinda doubt.

    All said and done on this, its a weird feeling to be somewhat un-happy that a major sponsor stays in your sport!! Lets hope the new management and renewed commitment sponsorside(??) make 2010 a different year for them…

  3. Dano

    and I just cannot wrap my mind around Vino playing second fiddle at the prom…when he started this team, its a Kazakh state team; yet they are going to ‘fully’ support Contador? It will be interesting to watch yet another drama unfold.

  4. Alex Torres

    If Contador found his 2009 Astana team unsupportive, he should be even more worried IMHO. With the added problems of a not-nearly-as-strong squad this time, and a DS that´s not even a shaddow of Bruyneel… He might suffer the Cadel-Lotto syndrome, despite being much stronger than Evans. If things go wrong this time, he´s in for a potentialy troubled season. Still, I hope Astana can build a nice team and be competitive, for that would mean more excitement for us all!!!

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