Freeman Cebu Sports

Drama at ASTANA

ALLEZ - Jose Vicente Araneta -

If there is a storyline that is potentially more riveting than the Tour de France itself, it’s the powder keg of a relationship between two proud champions riding for the same team but fighting for one crown. Lance Armstrong, 37yo, 7-time winner and last won the Tour in 2005 and who then retired; and Alberto Contador, 27yo, the 2007 champion, and at the prime of his career. Both are riding for ASTANA, a team with a troubled history but with the best director sportif in the business in Johann Bruyneel.

When Armstrong un-retired last year, he made himself available to Bruyneel and ASTANA for free. It was a logical partnership because it was Bruyneel who guided Armstrong in all of his TdF wins. Besides, ASTANA had the experience and the manpower already in place to support him.

There was only one problem, though, Alberto Contador. Contador had just started his starry ascent to the cycling throne. He won 2 Grand Tours in 2008, the Giro d’Italia preparation with minimum preparation and the Vuelta a Espana. He didn’t do the TdF that year because his team was DQ’d for doping related sins but he won the other races he wanted to win with ease. 

Last May, the partnership could have been dissolved, with both parties parting ways, when the sponsors of ASTANA failed to pay up their financial obligations worth 6 million euros. Contador was rumored to be close to signing with CAISSE D’EPARGNE if the deal fell through, but it didn’t, as the sponsors gave a partial payment.

A few weeks ago, there were indications that ASTANA would forfeit its payment again, and rumors were strife that NIKE was taking over ASTANA and Contador was free to leave and sign up with ASTANA’s rival, GARMIN. But the sponsors coughed up in the nick of time and so Armstrong and Contador will be teammates and rivals in the same sentence.

But cracks are starting to show in the Bruyneel-Armstrong relationship. Bruyneel is saying that Contador is the leader but Armstrong says that there was never an agreement as to who the leader would be. He said, “I’ve asked Johan to explain that to me, because if there’s going to be a leader, then everybody should know it.” So who is “it?”

We could have a redux of the 1986 Tour when the 5-time champion Bernard Hinault, at that time on the tail-end of a magnificent career, tried to undermine a young Greg Lemond after promising the American that he’d help him win the Tour that year after Lemond helped the Frenchman the Tour in 1985.

But Armstrong never said that he’d help Contador no matter what. He was unequivocal in saying that he would be honored to help Contador or Levi Leipheimmer or Andreas Kloden or any of his teammate if they prove the strongest. In the end, the French still loved Hinault like they dislike Armstrong and that really is the main difference between 1986 and 2009.

Very scintillating stuff over the next 3 weeks indeed.

Finally, I’d like to thank two guys today, ORDENT owner Imran Hanif for the warm reception I got last weekend at the lecture he organized at the RICHMONDE Hotel in Makati and Dr. Bjorn Ludwig, a German professor at the University of Hamburg who came over from Germany to speak for us. I was very impressed with the German orthodontist who unselfishly shared his thoughts about the profession and his philosophy over dinner at the Podium. Dr. Ludwig, who is a researcher, lecturer and a practitioner, is as humble as he is talented. It’s not everyday that I get to pick one of the bright minds of the profession and the industry. – THE FREEMAN

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