LE CHABLE, Switzerland — Since the Tour of Italy in May, the rumor of Lance Armstrong establishing a team of all American riders with a goal to compete in the 2010 Tour de France on an American-sponsored team has steadily built credibility.
The most prevailing theory is that later today during the second and last Tour de France rest day, Armstrong, his long-time friend and team director Johan Bruyneel, and an assorted cast of Nike and Livestrong representatives will announce the new squad.
The timing of the announcement, whether today or after the Tour de France, isn't important.
What's important is that the new squad will no longer be associated with Astana.
With six stages left in this year's race, three of the team's riders, Alberto Contador or Spain, Armstrong and Andreas Kloden of Germany are first, second and fourth in the overall standings.
The squad, financed by a group of Kazakhstan businessmen in conjunction with the country's government, has been little but trouble.
The most recent struggle occurred just prior to this year's Tour de France. About a week prior to the race, it still wasn't certain if the team's riders had been paid. Had an 11th-hour agreement not been reached and riders' salaries guaranteed, the race's strongest team and its likely winner would have been relegated to watching the event on television or competing else in July.
And with all due respect other pro cyclists now competing in secondary events around the world, is there really any other pro cycling race in July worth following besides the Tour de France?
The detachment from Astana is the best thing Armstrong and his followers can do.
It looks bad when a few months prior to the Tour de France, Bruyneel is pleading for sponsorships via his Twitter account.
It looks bad when former Astana rider Alexander Vinokourov throws down an ultimatum that either he or Bruyneel goes when the embattled, tough-as-nails Kazakhstan cyclist returns at the end of July following a drug suspension.
It looks bad when Armstrong and other American riders like Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner compete for a team whose money vendors they'd never heard of until they were invited the country months ago to meet who was signing their paychecks.
(Armstrong doesn't get paid by Astana but does accept appearance fees for the Livestrong Foundation.)
And it looks bad when riders are ripping off sponsors insignias from their jerseys during race, like occurred durin the Tour of Italy, when they haven't gotten paid from a company they'e promoting.
So, whenever the announcement is made, it will be all good.
Armstrong has enough clout to associate himself with American sponsors. Apparently, there are legal difficulties for profit business (Nike) and a non-profit business (Livestrong) to mesh in a title sponsorship. Fine. That seems like legal semantics that could be worked out.
If not, call the team Papa Murphy's Pizza or Peet's Coffee or Apple or Mellow Johnny's, the name of the bike shop Armstrong owns in Austin, Texas, that bears his nickname.
Just make it credible and say good riddance to a foreign government, its load mouth former team leader and business practices that seem shaky at best.
James Raia is reporting live from the Tour de France for everymantri.com. James, a journalist since 1976, is co-author of Tour de France For Dummies. He owns several websites, contributes to many print and online publications. A long-distance runner for nearly 30 years, Raia also rides his bike -- to nearby coffeehouses.
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