Astana Team Manager Johan Bruyneel believes seven-time Tour de France champion, Lance Armstrong will be up for the fight when he returns to racing. The duo will confront their first Grand Tour together in nearly four years at the Giro d'Italia, May 9 to 31.
"A great rider can win any stage race. From what I know, the route of the next Giro seems good. There are steep climbs, but also enough time trial kilometres," the Belgian explained to La Gazzetta dello Sport.
Race organiser RCS Sport will announce the 2009 Giro d'Italia parcours on December 13. Details leaked already include a start in Venice and the finale is expected to be in Rome. Armstrong announced in October he will race the event for the first time next.
The 37-year-old American will face a host of strong rivals at the Giro, but Bruyneel has guaranteed his support after securing two previous Giro victories – Paolo Savoldelli in 2005 and Alberto Contador in 2008.
"Ivan Basso, who is returning from a suspension, will be the hardest rival to beat. Damiano Cunego? The Italians will all be ready, but Basso was the only one capable to battle Armstrong in two Tours."
Armstrong will start his season at the Tour Down Under and build towards the Giro d'Italia with the Tour of California, the Critérium International and Ronde van Vlaanderen. Bruyneel refuted Armstrong's earlier statement that he would ride all the Spring Classics.
"No Amstel [Gold], Flèche [Wallonne] and Liège [-Bastogne-Liège]. We will do some mountain stages, to study the key stage of the Giro d'Italia. Leading [to the Giro] we will go to [Tour de] Romandie and the Giro del Trentino."
Bruyneel confirmed that the Tour de France is still up for consideration. The two asked for a meeting with the race's organiser, Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), to discuss the idea.