Johan Bruyneel has made it clear that he wants Lance Armstrong for his Astana team when the American stages his comeback in 2009.
Speaking on Spanish television on Wednesday evening, Bruyneel said ?He?s going to race for free so I can?t see him having any real problems signing for any squad?.
Bruyneel immediately qualified that statement by saying: ?But at the same time, our relationship is so good I wouldn?t let him race for any other team that wasn?t mine.
At a sporting level, he?s got nothing left to prove. But he?s determined to use this comeback as part of his campaign against cancer.?
Bruyneel admitted that it would be difficult for him to know what level Armstrong would really be at when he returned to road-racing, but that he was impressed by his discussions with the American about the comeback.
?I spoke to him yesterday [Tuesday] evening and he explained the reasons to me.
He knows that a lot of people don?t believe it, and that?s partly what?s driving him.?
Referring to Armstrong?s previously threatened comeback, Bruyneel revealed the Texan at that point ?was messing around with the French press. This time, it?s serious?.
He admitted that a lot of training would have to be done and they had no idea what it would be like for Armstrong when he really hits professional road-racing for the first time.
The former Discovery Channel and US Postal directeur sportif added that he had discussed the question of Armstrong?s comeback with Astana?s Tour of Spain team. ?We?ve talked about it here on the race, and I?ve told them that above all the key thing is it doesn?t put us off our focus in the Tour of Spain.?
Astana leader Alberto Contador concurred that ?I?m here on the Tour of Spain and I don?t want all of this to put me off my racing?. But he added, ?if I take part in the Tour de France next year, I?ll be going there to win it?.
?Alberto is currently the best stage racer in the world. Armstrong used to be. Now Lance has got to prove he?s up to the challenge,? Bruyneel pointed out.
?Look at what happened here in the Vuelta. We started the race with three leaders, Contador, Andreas Klöden and Levi Leipheimer.
“Klöden crashed and lost four minutes. So that?s one ?problem? resolved. Now it?s down to Contador and Leipheimer. Basically it?s what happens in the racing which decides who is the leader?.
The phrase; ‘it?s the racing which decides’ is a time honoured get-out clause for team managers to wash their hands of any internal power struggles and simply congratulate the winner.
On this occasion, assuming Astana sign Armstrong, Contador?s presence on the team may partly be what spurs the American on to greater efforts, and vice versa. In other words, for the squad, it would be a win-win scenario.
The Wednesday Comment: Armstrong Edition
Bruyneel talks up Armstrong’s chances
Contador: “Armstrong could win an eighth Tour”
Lance confirms comeback for 2009
Armstrong: no smoke without fire?