Thursday, September 28, 2006

Contract Sports

Well, the final post-Lance bloodletting tally at Discovery seems to be in, so let's review a few changes: Out: Azevedo, Michael Barry, Triki, Leif Hoste, Benoit Joachim, van Heeswijk, and several more worth having. In: Sergio Paulinho, Phonak's Uros Murn, Tomas Vaitkus. Homecomer Levi Leipheimer gets to captain the '07 Tour, and I'd just like to point out that despite all the press wanking and management write-off classics-trouncer Hincapie really bore the impossible weight of recent history pretty darn well considering, and I hope the maillot jaune/stage winner/new US champ has a good Tour in his own right next year. Allez George! Meantime, is anyone else in mourning over the utter decimation of Discovery's perfect team time-trialing? Always reminded me of Fasso Bortolo's blue train leadout in the sprints--flawless. At the moment, I think, only CSC's coming close, and still not quite.

Where in the world is Axel Merckx? Why, to T-Mobile, along with CSC's dissed Brian Vandenborg. Again, another good move by T-Mobile to be fair, though I still doen't think either they or fine new recruit Barry can save them, and given their presumptive performance next season I dearly hope Axel's going out with at least the consolation of buckets of cash. So T-Mobile's 'team of the future' (cause it sure as hell ain't gonna be the team of the present) now has Barry, genuine boy wonder Ciolek, Bernhard Eisel, Bert Grabsch, Axel Merckx, Jakob Piil, Aussie Michael Rogers for the Grand Tour captaincies, Linus Gerdemann, time trial-smoker Sergeui Gonchar, Kirchen and Sinkewitz. Some excellent talents to be sure--but seems to be oddly a lot of support in place for a team without a serious GT contender, an egregious split between youth and experience with no one at the top of their game in the middle which heralds a few rough years ahead I think, and of course their relentless stupidity with regard to monster talents Kloden and Kessler. Oh well, there's always the occasional stage win through 2009 or so T-Mobile!

Meantime, a really sportsmanlike #$%%^-slap to prior Tour contender Francisco Mancebo by his own team no less, particularly when it appears that everybody ought to be happy that the boy isn't going to be facing any doping sanctions (congrats to the Tour for wrecking yet another career on apparently speculative evidence, by the way--it takes a lot of work to unjustly [or, if really justly, still incompetently] bulldoze that many people for no objectively verifiable reason), when AG2R manager Lavenu joyously praised the news thanked Mancebo for all his stellar team results and welcomed him back with an enthusiastic "I will probably be obliged to respect the remaining two years on his contract" and "If he were to leave the team, the team could sign at least 2 others to take his place." Now, if that's not the sort of embrace that'll motivate you next year, Mancebo, what the heck is?!

Watch and Learn: And, over at CSC, Riis' waffling on the beleageured studmuffin Ivan Basso is paying off with Basso presumptively off the team despite his likely exoneration on dog-defaming blood-labeling charges, and the team continues its other changes--more cautious and less self-destructive than T-Mobile for sure, as the far-smarter Bjarne has a current tally I believe of Andrea Peron, Giovanni Lombardi and of course Great Dane Piil out, but Dutch comers Anders Lund and Chris Anker Sorenson, sprinter JJ Haedo and Spaniard Luis Perez in, and of course the stellar existing bank of classics, grand tour and stage contenders who are ready willing and able right now that T-Mobile's dopus management utterly lacks. I wonder how they're gonna use Haedo and O'Grady together, or will they simply split them up til they see if Haedo can hack the GTs as well as Stewie?

Actual Race News: yep, it's not over yet, as king of the world Bettini heads to Zuri Metzgete and the Giro di Lombardia, and instends to race at least through 2008 to defend his spiffy gold Olympic lid; women's world champ Marianne Vos celebrates her 20th birthday with a huge party in her Dutch hometown; Phonak says goodbye at Paris-Bourges and Paris-Tours with Disco-bound Uros Murn plus Aurelien Clerk at the helm; 2x Giro god/Basso-battler Gilberto Simoni plays hooky from the road and takes third in an Italian mountain bike marathon near Trentino, mercifully not busting anything Saunier Duval'll need next season; an understandably knackered Valverde's skipping Paris Tours but may do Giro di Lombardia in October; bus-boxing Petacchi's mortifyingly done for the season as his hand has failed to heal compeltely yet; and the antidoping clowns continue their ignominious record of testing defeats and preemptive career destruction as 2 of the Austrian U-23s kicked out of the Worlds for initially skipping doping controls were exonerated after secondary testing failed to confirm initial positive results. Nice work boys! Finally, Tyler Hamilton, cleared to race in the US at the moment pending further action just in time to watch the Worlds (he's still banned in Europe) from his Barcalounger, will be riding in a pro relay race in Nevada, but don't try anything Tyler because the race organizers already cautioned there'll be doping controls at this race too. Allez Tyler!

Not So Fast: the UCI ProTour bans for team doping infractions won't be immediate it turns out, even if they occur during a ProTour race, but will instead start on the first day of the next ProTour race (except for the 3 grand tours)--that's quite an out, there, guys! Nothing like holding management's feet to the fire, even though it's only a matchstick. And, over in Belgium, the same senator Tom Boonen is considering suing is now up to 20 folks on his doping hit list, this time including soigneurs as well as just "top cyclists"--of course, better to slander by speculation than to actually release the names. I love politics!

Finally, get well soon to poor Floyd Landis, who's about to get his rotten hip replaced at last after a valiant, if perhaps mildly clouded at the moment, season of racing on the painful thing. While he's at it, he might think about getting his legal team replaced as well--hell, he can always blame it on the post-surgery narcotics!

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