I've been contemplating the fallout from Alberto Contador's uneven performance in Paris-Nice and wondering if Astana isn't about to tear itself apart.
Predictions of pending internal strife were there early once the announcement of Lance Armstrong's comeback was made public.
We all wondered how a team loaded with so many quality riders could function effectively in a Grand Tour.
A team with at least four riders that could lay claim to a leadership position, Contador, Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Kloden.
Criticism of Armstrong's return were soon drowned out by the reality
distortion field that surrounds him but the criticisms remain, and if
anything, are getting louder.
Certainly, today's quotes in L'Equipe won't help change perceptions that something is amiss in the Astana camp, with Armstrong quoted as saying, "(Contador) can learn from me and from (Astana manager) Johan (Bruyneel). I know a lot of things about cycling...and the best thing to learn is
how to relax. That is why we have decided to race together in the Tour
of Castilla y Leon."
All this of a twenty-six year old guy with an already fat palmares that includes all three Grand Tours.
If cycling history has taught us anything it's that team harmony is paramount, and history not only repeats, it rhymes.
Now there has been some criticism of the media in this - claims that it is media fuelling the rumour mill.
But in reality it is history that has informed them.
The really successful teams in Grand Tours are those who show clear lines of command and control.
Historically, teams that are torn between multiple identities and purposes have difficulty winning races.
Think Silence-Lotto. A team that for a couple of years had a dual identity. Was it a sprinters team or one for the GC? Now Cadel Evans finally has a team moulded to his purpose.
Of course no team(s) exemplified single minded purpose than those supporting Armstrong to his seven tour wins.
was the man and it was clear that if you had leadership ambitions you
couldn't exercise them - outside of lead-up events like the Tirreno-Adriatico.
Looking back in the rear-view mirror for another example there was Banesto during the Indurain years of domination. More recently there was CSC Saxo Bank and it's impressive support of Carlos Sastre.
Then there was the 1986 Tour de France, where Bernard Hinault promised to ride in support of a young Greg Lemond, his teammate in the La Vie Claire team.
The old man got a sniff at a sixth TdF win and decided to throw team harmony and goals under a bus, betraying Lemond who had ridden his heart out for his team leader the previous year.
La Vie Claire still won the Tour but at what cost? The race became a
spectacle and is remembered as much for it's treachery as Lemond's glory.
that what Armstrong wants as a final racing memory? Undermining the
best Grand Tour rider since, well, Armstrong? Does any means to an
eighth Tour win justify the end?
The stakes are high for
Astana, they are clearly the dominant Pro Tour team, on the road and on
paper - the Tour de France is theirs to lose but right now they look like a team without clear purpose.