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Alberto Contador and his Team Astana mates will be riding Specialized bicycles as he strives to win a third Tour de France in 2010.

“It is very important to have the best if you want to win the Tour de France. This is why I made it a requirement to have Specialized as the team bike for my return to Astana,” said Contador during a video conference with the company’s founder and president, Mike Sinyard.

Chief brand officer Ben Capron said Specialized was “totally committed to supporting Alberto and the rest of the team in their pursuit of another Tour victory.”

“Winning the Tour has been a dream of ours for many years, but even more important is the opportunity to work with riders like Contador and (Alexander) Vinokourov to help us create the best bikes possible and bring them to riders everywhere.”

The company has already worked with Astana’s general manager, Yvon Sanquer, when he was with Team Festina during 1999-2001.

“I could see the professional attitude that animated the company; they never stopped developing and improving the material they supplied to the riders,” he said at the team’s training camp in Pisa, Italy. “Since then, Specialized has continued its progression to become the reference point in road bikes.”

Alberto Contador waits patiently for proceedings to kick off in Surhuisterveen.

Tour-winning team notes Spaniard’s contractual obligations

Following rumors circulating that Alberto Contador may change teams for 2010, his current Astana team reconfirmed that the two-time Tour de France winner would stay on its roster for next season.

“Prior to the 2008 season, Contador signed a three-year contract with Team Astana, ensuring that the rider will represent the Kazakh sponsored team for the years 2008, 2009 and 2010,” read a statement from Team Astana.

Lance’s Team Split
By Joe Lindsey,
Amid sponsorship turmoil and just days before the Tour de France, Alberto Contador had a deal to leave Astana and race against Lance.

With the news last week that its Kazakh sponsors had finally made good on their financial obligations after months of non-payment, it seemed like the Astana team could face its biggest goal of the season, the Tour de France, without distraction. But the team that takes the start in Monaco could be a badly fractured squad, riven with trust issues and power struggles that, under the pressure of the Tour, could explode.

A source within the team told Bicycling that when Astana looked like it would default on its obligations, a new structure had been set up to supercede it. Two different sources close to the team confirmed, also anonymously, that the team name was going to be Livestrong-Nike. Seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong raced last Sunday’s Nevada City Classic on an all-black Trek Madone wearing Livestrong kit; his teammates, Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner, rode in Astana team clothing.

“About three weeks ago, we learned that there could be a new sponsor, and that it was Livestrong-Nike,” said one of the outside sources, while the other said that they first heard the possibility of the new team structure about two days before the team switched to its “faded” Astana logo outfits at the Giro d’Italia.

The source within the team said that 2007 Tour de France winner Alberto Contador assured manager Johan Bruyneel of his desire to stay with Livestrong-Nike, but was at the same time also quietly talking with Garmin-Slipstream about switching teams should Astana default on his contract. Garmin manager Jonathan Vaughters could not immediately be reached for comment. Sources have also confirmed that Contador was in discussions with Caisse d’Epargne.

Significantly, the Astana team source said, Garmin was said to be not only signing Contador, but also his Astana teammates Benjamin Noval, Sergio Paulinho, and bringing aboard Contador’s preferred mechanic and soigneur from Astana. Herbalife, which sells weight loss and nutritional supplements via multi-level marketing, was said to be willing to contribute $2 million as a co-sponsor to sign the riders and staff for the remainder of 2009.

That deal was initially set to be announced last Saturday (and, according to the team source, Felt bikes were already on the way to Contador), and the Livestrong-Nike deal, said two of Bicycling’s sources, was also alive until just before the weekend.

But unexpectedly, Astana’s Kazakh sponsors derailed all those plans. In conjunction with the federal government and, according to some reports, an unnamed American corporation with business interests in the region, Astana managed on Thursday to make good on the $6 million bank guarantee that the UCI required.

What this makes clear is that the team’s uncertain sponsorship was not its biggest potential problem. 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.

Paulinho and Noval are among seven riders who are competing for three remaining spots on the team’s Tour squad. If Paulinho and Noval make the Tour roster, it could mean that the team could develop an even sharper split in allegiances, with riders such as Leipheimer and Chris Horner backing Armstrong, and others backing Contador. If Bruyneel leaves Paulinho and Noval off the Tour team (for that reason or others), then it could mean Contador would be isolated, vying for a second Tour win against his own team.

There has also been discussion of Contador forming alternate alliances, with Caisse d’Epargne leader Alejandro Valverde saying he would help Contador where possible – provided Valverde, who is banned from racing in Italy, even starts. The race’s 16th stage crosses briefly into Italy.

It also seems clear that Contador will switch teams when his contract is up after 2009. And Astana’s problems are far from past as well. The UCI announced in a brief statement today that its License Commission was provisionally suspending its procedure to withdraw Astana’s ProTour license. But the UCI said that the suspension was for an “unspecified length of time” and could be reactivated if necessary. In May, Armstrong mentioned he wanted to launch his own team in 2010.

With just 12 days to go before the start in Monaco, the only thing that seems clear at this point is that, for all its strength, Astana’s biggest opponent at the Tour may be Astana. Whether Armstrong, Contador or some other challenger will emerge victorious, only the race will tell.

Article Courtesy of

Yaroslav Popovych, a top ten Tour de France and Giro d’Italia finisher, has signed a two-year agreement with the Astana Cycling Team. Starting in January 2009, the Ukrainian cyclist will join Johan Bruyneel’s team, which already includes top Grand Tour riders Lance Armstrong, Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer, and Andreas Klöden. Popovych, a professional since 2002, has spent his career racing for Landbouwkrediet (2002-2004), Discovery Channel (2005-2007) and most recently, Silence-Lotto (2008). During this time, the Ukrainian rider has established himself as one of the most consistent riders in the Grand Tours and stage races. In his first year at Discovery Channel, Popovych secured the Tour de France’s Best Young Rider jersey, while successfully assisting Armstrong’s quest for a record-setting seventh Tour title. His Tour de France success continued with a stage win in 2006 and a personal best eighth place overall finish in 2007, while also helping teammate Alberto Contador secure the top honor. Other notable results include two top ten overall finishes in the Giro d’Italia (3rd in 2003, 5th in 2004) and a 1st place finish in the Tour of Catalunya (2005). Prior to turning professional, Popovych captured the U23 Paris-Roubaix title and the World Road Championship in 2001.General Manager Johan Bruyneel is quite pleased to have finalized the 2009 roster with another strong rider. “Over the past few months, we have worked hard to assemble a roster that will build upon the success of the 2008 season. When I heard that Yaroslav was free, I was immediately interested. He is another cyclist that has proven himself not only as a reliable teammate, but also as a rider that can achieve his personal ambitions. Though we will discuss his season’s race schedule next month at training camp, we will most likely count on him to support our leaders in the Giro and the Tour.”Popovych, who recently finished his season at the Six Days of Milan, is looking to 2009 with renewed passion. “It may have surprised people that I would go to a team that has a number of leaders, however Johan’s organization is the perfect fit for me. He is one of the few people I know that has successfully been able to manage both individual and team goals. There may be a couple more months till 2009, but I am already looking forward to putting on the Astana Team jersey and racing.

The members of the 2009 squad:
Lance Armstrong, Assan Bazayev, Jani Brajkovic, Alberto Contador, Valeriy Dmitriyev, Aleksandr Dyachenko, Jesús Hernández, Chris Horner, Maxim Iglinskiy, Roman Kireyev, Andreas Klöden, Berik Kupeshov, Levi Leipheimer, Steve Morabito, Dmitriy Muravyev, Daniel Navarro, Benjamín Noval, Sérgio Paulinho, Yaroslav Popovych, Bolat Raimbekov, Gregory Rast, Sergey Renev, José Luis Rubiera, Michael Schär, Tomas Vaitkus, Andrey Zeits, Haimar Zubeldia.