In early 2007 Johan Bruyneel had hoped Ivan Basso would be contesting the Giro d'Italia as part of the Discovery Channel squad. Almost two years later, both the Belgian and the Italian find themlseves in different corners under very different circumstances.
The former Discovery Channel boss is looking at Italy's former premier stage racer as the main rival for his Astana riders in the first Grand Tour of 2009. According to the Bloomberg news agency, Bruyneel believes that despite time on the sidelines for admitting an involvement with Dr Eufemiano Fuentes, Ivan Basso will be the biggest threat to Lance Armstrong's chances of victory – for the first time – in the Giro.
"It's going to be Basso's main goal of the season," began Bruyneel. "He's been busy with his comeback from the moment he was suspended." His seven-time Tour de France winning American star, who retired in 2005, will also be making a well-publicised comeback and thus the two biggest rivals of the 2004 Tour will be reunited in competition once more.
The Texan has been hastily preparing his body and equipment for the rigours of competition next season, and Bruyneel knows that his charge will be ready to take on Basso come next May. "I know Lance is going to be good, he's a competitor."
In addition to the comeback of Armstrong, speculation was rife recently that Alexander Vinokourov, Astana's former captain, was due to make a return to competition for Astana next season. It's now unlikely that this will be the case as the UCI plans to challenge his one-year ban for blood doping as being too lenient.
Bruyneel said that, "When he's done his suspension, I don't see any reason why he shouldn't be able to ride for Astana."
Even without the Kazakh star, Astana's roster reads glowingly and surely enters 2009 as the odds-on favourite to win every Grand Tour of the year. A budget of between 15-20 million euros means that Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Kloeden continue in blue, with Ukranian Yaroslav Popovych signed to help Chris Horner with domestique duties.
Vino looking for offers
Alexander Vinokourov has begun his 'charm offensive' in the search for a team to join. According to sportwereld.be, the Kazakh veteran is looking to cover his bases in case an appeal by the UCI for his suspension to be extended is not successful.
Cycling's governing body has applied for an extension to Vinkourov's one-year ban with the CAS, suggesting that his misdemeanour constituted an offence punishable by a two-year suspension. As mentioned above, Astana boss Johan Bruyneel has explained that he won't sign the rider until the matter is sorted, knowing that the CAS is likely to see the UCI's reasoning and extend the punishment.
Meanwhile, Vino has joined Katusha manager Andrei Tchmil on a ride around Lake Garda in an attempt to sure up his future. The 45-year-old former pro is reportedly not inclined to take Kazakhstan's best-known cycling figure in the team; the reason being that while Katusha may be financed with Russian money, its license comes from the Swiss federation.