Everyone assumes that Astana is the natural fit, but this situation poses a huge quandary for Johan Bruyneel. Together their successful strategy has been to select the GC rider (Lance) and build a dedicated support team around him. When Lance left Johan had no one to fill the leader role. He hired Levi for it, but Contador beat him out. Now the team is built around Alberto. Were Lance to go back to Astana, he'd essentially be replacing AC. IMO, the team wouldn't like it and Johan would not do it. He's already said he believes that AC can be as dominating as LA was. He'd essentially be trading his future away for old times sake.
So Lance won't be riding for Astana. Who then?
LA won't give up the successful "all for one" strategy, so he'll either have to find a director who a) agrees, and b) has or can form the appropriate team. He'll want a team with a strong American connection, and one that has no hint of drug scandal.
1) SaxoBank - Sastre is gone, the team is incredibly strong, but would the Schlecks be happy in support this year? There's no American connection with CSC gone.
2) Garmin-Chipotle - will Vandevelde (or for that matter Millar) step aside for Lance? Maybe. But can LA and Vaughters get along? Maybe.
3) Columbia - George is there, I think Bob Stapleton would go for it, but is the team and the program strong enough? My sentimental favorite.
4) Form a new team - LA is used to owning the team he rides for now. If he can find a DS that will do what he wants, he might be tempted (could JB be enticed to leave Astana?). But where will he get the other riders? I'll bet Landis and Leipheimer could be had. If Floyd joins then Zabriskie might come along. With that lineup a whole bunch of riders would have to give it serious consideration. And what about the team infrastructure? IMO it's way too late to form a team for 2009, and the odds are against ASO inviting a 6-month old team anyway.
BTW, there's a potential fly in the ointment. When Discovery Channel agreed to sponsor Tailwind Sports (Lance's company), part of the deal was that LA execute a personal services contract. That type of contract has a life independent of team sponsorship arrangements. If it's still in force, then current DC management might have something to say about any comeback. (Which might be why LA is rumored to want to ride 'without salary or bonuses'.)
Any other candidates?