Yaroslav Popovych (Astana)Yaroslav Popovych (Astana)

Yaroslav Popovych has a rich history riding for Johan Bruyneel, General Manager of the Astana Cycling Team. In Popovych's first year at Discovery Channel, the Ukranian won the Tour de France's white jersey, honoring the Best Young Rider, while helping Lance Armstrong win a record setting seventh Tour title. His Tour de France success continued with a stage win in 2006 and a personal best eighth place overall finish in 2007, while helping teammate Alberto Contador win the leader's yellow jersey.

"I was with Discovery for three years," stated Popovych, "and then went to Lotto for one year….and now I am with Astana. I do not feel there is any difference between Discovery and Astana. I stayed here for three years, three very good years, where we won the Tour. Now I'm coming back and Lance (Armstrong) is back. It's great."

"There was a huge change from Discovery to Lotto for me," continued Popovych. "Lotto's main focus was Classics and Discovery's focus was stage races. Both were big teams with different emphasis. It was very different riding for Lance and riding for Cadel (Evans). Their approaches and style were completely different."

Popovych secured the third overall position at the 2008 Paris-Nice. "The first two months with Lotto was very good." Popovych signed with Lotto to provide support to Evans at the Tour de France.

"After Paris-Nice I kept getting sick. I didn't understand why I kept feeling bad. I went to the doctor to try to figure out what was wrong. I just kept feeling bad, bad, bad. Even in the Tour….I was feeling bad. I was not at 100%. The team was feeling pressure and I was expected to give Cadel support but I could not. The team was not happy and I was not happy. I tried my best in the mountains for Cadel and my team. 2005, 2006, 2007 were very good years…..2008 was bad….and I am looking forward to a very good 2009."

"Coming back to Astana is like coming home for me. At the training camp I felt very comfortable right away. I knew the riders and the staff. For me it has been a relief to be back. I feel like I am back to normal. I will ride the Giro and I will help Lance or Alberto in the Tour. I know that I can help Lance, Alberto, and Levi. I know my role on this team. It's a nice fit for me. I can handle the work pressure on this team. Johan's organization is the perfect fit for me. He is one of the few people I know who has successfully been able to manage both individual and team goals."

Before Popovych rides the Tour, he will ride for Leipheimer and Armstrong at the Giro d'Italia in May. "The Giro is crazy, tough….plus Lance wants to ride the Giro. It will be amazing this year. I know the stages finishes well. The Giro is very important for me since I Iive in Italy. My wife and my baby will be there to see me."

Popovych finished third in the 2003 Giro and fifth in 2004, spending three days wearing the overall leader's pink jersey. Prior to turning professional, Popovych captured the U23 Paris-Roubaix title and the World Road Championship in 2001.

Photo courtesy of www.lynelamoureux.com