By Kirsten Robbins
The Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO) announced the 20 teams that will participate in the Tour de France set to begin on July 4th in Monaco. Unlike last year, Astana is back on that list with possibly the strongest team on paper. According to Johan Bruyneel, his squad will field five solid overall contenders, but acknowledged the possibility of another team intercepting Astana's quest for yellow.
"Our first goal is to try to win the Tour de France with the team," said Bruyneel, who led Lance Armstrong into seven Tour titles with the US Postal and Discovery Channel teams. "Other teams are strong and they are always stronger than you think. We want to feel strong and confident when we go to the race but in the end the difference between the first and second is very, very small."
According to Bruyneel, Astana will start five riders who have placed in the top five overall Tour de France in previous years. Riding alongside Armstrong will be Spain's 2007 Tour winner Alberto Contador, USA's Levi Leipheimer (third in 2007), Germany's Andreas Klöden, (second in 2004 and 2006) and Spain's Haimar Zubeldia (fifth in 2003 and 2007).
"We have to use our strengths with our individuals to our advantage and try to win the race," Bruyneel said. "Having a lot of GC riders gives us extra pressure but at the same time it also gives us a secure feeling that if we do everything right and we ride together then we have a big chance of winning." Bruyneel didn't want to favour anyone within Astana. "It's going to be the strongest rider."
Talks of how Astana will appease all of their GC riders's stage race aspirations is Bruyneel first priority. "It's true we have a very strong team and I'm getting a lot of questions on how we are going to manage all the individuals," Bruyneel said.
"First, they are not always racing together. At the Tour de France we will put together the strongest team. There will be a lot of pressure on the riders going into that. In the last Tours we were the favourites and everyone expected us to win. The only difference this year is that we have more than one sole leader. I think that will only make us stronger – this is a good problem to have."
There will be 20 teams in total for the French Grand Tour including 17 of the 18 ProTour teams: Milram, Quick Step, Silence-Lotto, Saxo Bank, Caisse d'Epargne, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Garmin-Slipstream, Columbia-Highroad, AG2R La Mondiale, Bbox Bouygues Telecom, Cofidis, Française des Jeux, Lampre-NGC, Liquigas, Astana, Rabobank and Katusha. There will also be three Professional Continental teams with the Cervélo TestTeam, Skil-Shimano and Agritubel.
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