They say you should keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. When seven-times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong makes his official comeback to top-level professional racing at the Tour Down Under in January, he will have to face former loyal aide George Hincapie.

Organisers of the South Australian race have announced that Hincapie (pictured) will be lining up for the Columbia squad and for the first time in his long career will be a direct competitor to his former boss Armstrong.

Hincapie was Armstrong’s lieutenant in the US Postal/Discovery Channel team, and could often be seen leading the Texan up mountains and helping to control the peloton on his behalf. There’s no doubt Hincapie was a key player in Armstrong’s seven Tour wins, but now that Armstrong has re-emerged and signed with Astana, Hincapie will have to square up to him as a rival.

However, it’s unlikely that Hincapie will be out to win the race based on the roads around Adelaide – he’ll be there to help team-mate and 2008 TDU winner Andre Greipel defend his title. But perhaps the two Americans will be checking out each other’s form for the season ahead – particularly as Armstrong has expressed an interest in riding the Spring Classics, which is firmly Hincapie territory.

The six-stage Tour Down Under takes place from January 18-25 in Adelaide, South Australia, and is the first event in the Union Cycliste Internationale’s 2009 ProTour calendar.

Team Columbia’s 2009 Tour Down Under squad

Directeur Sportif: Alan Peiper (Aus)

Andre Greipel (Ger)

George Hincapie (USA)

Michael Rogers (Aus)

Bernhard Eisel (Aut)

Mark Renshaw (Aus)

Greg Henderson (NZ)

Adam Hansen (Aus)

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