Ukrainian rider Yaroslav Popovych has signed for the Astana team, and will be reunited in 2009 with his former leader Lance Armstrong and manager Johan Bruyneel.

Bruyneel has beefed up the already-strong Astana team in the expectation that Armstrong and Alberto Contador will be aiming to win the Tour de France.

Popovych rode with the Discovery Channel team managed by Bruyneel from 2005 to 2007, but never quite matched the early promise he showed as a young rider. At the age of 23, he came third in the Giro d’Italia, but struggled at Discovery. He managed eighth in the 2007 Tour de France, and a stage win the previous year, but wilted under the expectation that he could replace Armstrong.

The Ukrainian was hired by Silence-Lotto in 2008 as a mountains domestique for Cadel Evans. But the two were at loggerheads at Paris-Nice, where Evans left Popovych on the Ventoux to win the stage, while Popovych was aiming for the overall win. And Popovych was disappointing at the Tour, where he was a distant 24th overall, and was little help to Evans’ bid for the yellow jersey.

Popovych will not be expected to bear the burden of leadership at Astana.

“When I heard that Yaroslav was free, I was immediately interested,” said Bruyneel.

“We will most likely count on him to support our leaders in the Giro and Tour.”

Astana’s team line-up for 2009 is now complete, although there are rumours Alexandre Vinokourov will return from his doping ban to ride for the team. The Grand Tour squad looks formidable, with former Tour winners Armstrong and Alberto Contador backed by former runners-up Andreas Kloden and Levi Leipheimer. Haimar Zubeldia and Popovych have also both finished in the top 10 of the Tour.

ASTANA TEAM, 2009
Lance Armstrong
Assan Bazayev
Jani Brajkovic
Alberto Contador
Valeriy Dmitriyev
Aleksandr Dyachenko
Jesus Hernandez
Chris Horner
Maxim Iglinskiy
Roman Kireyev
Andreas Kloden
Berik Kupeshov
Levi Leipheimer
Steve Morabito
Dmitriy Muravyev
Daniel Navarro
Benjamin Noval
Sergio Paulinho
Yaroslav Popovych
Bolat Raimbekov
Gregory Rast
Sergey Renev
Jose Luis Rubiera
Michael Schar
Tomas Vaitkus
Andrey Zeits
Haimar Zubeldia