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By Andrew Hood
Chris Horner won’t be starting the Tour de France after he was overlooked as part of the nine-man squad revealed Wednesday by Astana.
The veteran Horner crashed out of the Giro d’Italia in May and was hoping to be back in top shape to earn a Tour slot, but he was not awarded one of the nine spots on the loaded Astana team.
Another surprise name missing from roster was reliable Spanish workhorse Benjamin Noval, a veteran of Tour-winning campaigns of Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador.
The team revealed last week that six of the nine spots were already secured, with Armstrong and Contador being joined by Andreas Klöden, Levi Leipheimer, Haimar Zubeldia and Yaroslav Popovych.
That left six riders fighting for three remaining spots on the heavily favored Astana.
Filling out the final three spots are Sergio Paulinho, Gregory Rast and Kazakh rider Dmitriy Muravyev, three riders who will bear the brunt of the work on the flats and transition stages before the big guns take over.
Two other riders who were on Astana’s shortlist but didn’t make the cut were Jani Brajkovic and Tomas Vaitkus.
The rest of the team doesn’t need much of an introduction.
All eyes will be on a possible duel between Armstrong and Contador as the pair wrangles for control of the race and perhaps the team, though everyone insists that the squad will rally around the strongest rider in the race.
Armstrong, 37, is returning to the Tour for the first time since winning the last of his seven consecutive yellow jerseys in 2005.
Riding to a solid 12th at the Giro d’Italia in his first grand tour in nearly four years, Armstrong is expected to be a major factor in the race, but even he admits he’s not sure how far he will be able to go.
Contador is back at the Tour for the first time since winning in 2007. Astana was kept out of last year’s Tour, opening the door for the Spanish climber to win both the Giro and the Vuelta a España last year to complete cycling’s grand tour triple crown.
Just behind them will be Leipheimer and Kloden, two former podium finishers who be waiting in the wings if the top two leaders tumble and who will likely get their own chances in the time trials and perhaps a shot in the mountains to force other teams to chase.
Zubeldia and Popovych will play similar roles, with the expectation they will step up in the key mountain stages to help their leaders.
Astana for Tour de France
Lance Armstrong (USA)
Alberto Contador (Spa)
Levi Leipheimer (USA)
Andreas Kloden (Ger)
Haimar Zubeldia (Spa)
Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr)
Gregory Rast (Swi)
Sergio Paulinho (Por)
Dmitriy Muravyev (Kaz)