If Lance Armstrong returns to pro racing with team Astana – an announcement is expected in the coming weeks, at the latest on September 24 – Euskaltel's Haimar Zubeldia will be one of the American's team-mates and a possible helper for him at the Tour de France. The Basque climber participated in his last race for the orange-clad squad at the Hamburg Cyclassics last Sunday. Next year, he will adhere to the team managed by Johan Bruyneel, where he will join such stage race specialists as Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer, Andreas Klöden as well as possibly the seven-times Tour de France winner Armstrong.
Zubeldia said that he was ready to team up with the American, whom he rivaled at the Tour four times (2001, 2002, 2003 – when he finished fifth – and 2005). In 2006, Zubeldia achieved an eighth placing, and last year, he finished fifth again. The Basque climber noted that he would have signed with Astana anyway, even if the news of Armstrong's return would have come earlier.
"My decision to sign with Astana would have been the same," he said. "The news is very surprising, but everybody is free to do what he wants. We have to respect his decision, as he surely thought it over a lot."
Zubeldia added that he had no doubts the American would "return at the highest level."
'Chechu' Rubiera, a long-time teammate of Armstrong at US Postal and Discovery Channel, is currently at the end of his contract with team Astana and actually thought about retiring. But now that his former team leader may be back, Rubiera might change his mind.
"I had convinced myself that I was finished with cycling, but now there’s an offer on the table for me to stay with the team one more year," he said. "I enjoyed the best years of my career with Armstrong and if he’s coming back, I might want to be around to see that."
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