Lance Armstrong’s return to cycling in 2009 seemed very strange at the time. Sure, he probably couldn’t stay away from the sport and a few other clichés but at 37 he surely couldn’t achieve what he had in the past. Was he going to be happy playing a support role for Alberto Contador in their Astana team?
After enjoying taking part in the Tour Down Under and the Giro d’Italia, getting massive appearance fees along the way, the question of whether Armstrong was a team player or not would be answered within days of Astana’s main objective of the year starting.
With only 32km of the stage to La Grande-Motte left the peloton encountered some unexpected crosswinds. HTC-Columbia with 8 riders at the front immediately realised what the scenario meant and started drilling it in order to distance Mark Cavendish from his sprint rivals. There was quickly a split in the pack with only 28 men in the first group. As well as the 8 HTC riders Lance Armstrong was there along with 2 of his Astana team mates. Alberto Contador wasn’t in that number. While everyone was expecting the Astana men to allow themselves to get pulled along and hope that Contador’s group would catch up with 20km to go Armstrong ordered Yaroslav Popovych and Haimar Zubeldia to the front. This was a direct challenge to Contador at best but it could also be called a mutiny. The one thing you can say in the Texans defence was that there were no GC men in the front group so he wasn’t aiding any other dangermen. But this is typical Lance, he does everything for himself. He was also needlessly burning out two Astana riders with a Team Time Trial coming up the next day and introduced an atmosphere of mistrust to the team.
In the end HTC-Columbia got their reward for their superb team play as Mark Cavendish won the stage with his famous mobile phone celebration.