’27 Yankees meet the ’09 Team Astana

image from fingerfood.typepad.com So last night I was up living the life and decompressing after the trip home from Atlanta that took me through Charlotte to Baltimore before finding my car intact at the BWI Marriott, and just skipping through the channels on ol’ tee-vee. That’s what I do late at night when everyone else is in bed and I’m knee-deep in baseball hours and too tired to read or write.

Anyway, the Versus channel had a show on called, Lance Armstrong: The Look Back, but when glanced at quickly on the scroll all it said was, “The Look.” That alone made it sound like a pretty good show. After all, Lance was known for flashing that Look in the peloton during his seven victories in the Tour de France, and the lead-in to the program showed that moment when he was riding toward his sixth victory when he turned all the way around in the saddle, stared right into the face of Jan Ullrich to challenge him before he rode off.

Actually, Lance did a little more than simply challenge Ullrich in the race. He just might have challenged his manhood, too.

Either way, it’s pretty clear what Versus is banking its coverage of the 2009 Tour de France on. Lance, indeed, is back and the cycling fans watching in the U.S. will get all of the details.

There’s certainly no surprise there. After three years away from the race – three of the worst years ever at the TdF (and they can only blame themselves) – the grand champ is back. Since his last victory he ran three marathons, hung out with Matthew McConaughey and one of the Olsen Twins, became a father again, had his shoulder put back together with more screws found in a three-bedroom apartment and got back into shape for the three grueling weeks of the most famous bike race on earth.

In a sense Lance retired from his retirement because it was way too busy. Why not just race a bike a couple thousand miles through the French Alps?

Nevertheless, there are reports that Lance is, indeed, the most intimidating and formidable rider in the ’09 race. No argument here. There’s The Look, the seven titles, the ability to endure ridiculous levels of pain, plus the dude is fit. Even at 37 Lance reportedly has been turning in the same type of workouts he did during the apex of his title run. In fact, he could be one of the best riders in the race…

That is if he didn’t ride for Astana.

Armstrong opened the 2009 Tour de France with a time trial in Monte Carlo that put him in fourth place… on Team Astana.

That sounds about right, too. Astana is loaded like the ’27 Yankees or an All-Star team. One stage in and the team already has four riders in the Top 10 and likely will move all four of those riders up even higher in the overall standings. A Top 4 sweep wouldn’t be far-fetched.

But for as strong as Astana is with Armstrong and American Levi Leipheimer and German Andreas Kloden, they are all just there to carve a path for Alberto Contador.

It’s Contador’s race and everyone else is just riding in it.

Contador finished second in the first time trial and that discipline isn’t even his top strength. The 26-year-old Spaniard is a climber with one TdF title under his belt from 2007 when Michael Rasmussen was booted out just days away from winning. Regardless, if Contador doesn’t win then something extraordinary must have gone wrong.

If Contador doesn’t win, Levi Leipheimer will instead.

Back to the Versus show…

The episode of The Look I caught was the epic Stage 17 of the 2004 Tour de France. That was the one where Floyd Landis and Lance Armstrong took on the world and won. It was where Lance stared down Ullrich, Floyd earned the nickname “Mofo of the Mountains,” and was famously had an in-race dialogue to go like this:

Lance: How bad do you want to win a stage in the Tour de France?

Floyd: Real bad.

Lance: How fast can you go downhill?

Floyd: I go downhill real fast. Can I do it?

Lance: Sure you can do it … ride like you stole something, Floyd.

In the end, Floyd couldn’t fend off the best riders in the world until Lance showed up with a mad sprint to the line to win the stage.

Take a look:

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