Stick a Fork in 'Im, He's Done: multiple road champ of Italy. 2-time winner of the venerable Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Former Olympic gold medalist (woo-hoo, Samu!). One of the most beloved--and rightfully so--riders in the peloton. More Grand Tour stages than anyone can count, and world road champ the last two years running. And now Bettini's such a decrepit over-the-hill yesterday's-news money-sucking drain that Patrick "30 YEARS OF DOPING" Lefevere has tossed his tiny !@# out in the street in favor of the (very fine, but much cheaper) Schumi so late in the damn season there's barely any place for a boy with his wholly justifiable price tag to go? I call bull!@#$ Lefevere! So he suffered under the Curse of the Rainbow Jersey the first half of the year? Big deal, you baby! After all, it's not like you couldn't find money in the budget for Tom Boonen's Ferrari-and-blow habit when--even aside from snorting his way out of the Tour de France like an idiot--he's been getting his butt kicked all season by Mark Cavendish, so WTF Quick Step? Needless to say, the Bettini tifosi contingent over at gazzetta dello sport is going absolutely wingnut over the vicious diss to their hero, encouraging Paolo to take the anger he openly claims and channel it into crushing the Belgians in Varese, and while we're at it, Alejandro Valverde is a cheating skank (no, it's not relevant to the discussion; but what's a discussion about cycling without insulting the Spaniards?). Hire back Bettini Lefevere, and pay that boy what's he's worth you low-rent cheapskate!
A Fine French Whine: meantime, the reaction to the Armstrong comeback continues to roll in, with the French--having thought they were done being roundly humiliated by foreigners at the Tour only to have an American (yeah, you heard me) and two Spaniards take it the next 3 years in a row--predictably ratcheting into full crybaby mode with the at least polite exception of a surprised but gentlemanly Bernard Hinault. Yes, as Marc Madiot mentioned, Lance'll totally jack his own legacy if he loses the 2009 Tour--and the French would object to his embarrassment why exactly? Embrace your fears, France--it's not like one of your boys is gonna be in the maillot jaune in Paris anytime soon anyway!
A Knee In the She-Nuts: speaking of tiresome publicity-ho whatsisface, his return has led to speculation about who else may be on the way back, with Michael Boogerd pondering, Jan Ullrich denying, and, toughest of all, we-love-and-sorely-miss-and-so-what-if-he-was-on-Liberty-Seguros-you-soulless-miserable-cynics Joseba Beloki still deeply lamenting his absence from his beloved peloton training faithfully and wishing fruitlessly for even a domestique-level comeback at a halfway passable squad. You *suck*, Saiz, you slime-dwelling career-tanking Heras-pimping weasel!
Arf!: yep, as the peloton enjoys the last few hours of its rest day before its near-vertical hike up the terrible Angliru, one fact stands out: Alejandro Valverde, for some cause surely completely unrelated to the post-'06 lack of access to drug-stuffed blood bags with his dog's name plastered on 'em for no reason, is gonna blow his Next Great Grand Tour Winner hype for about the fifth year running. Sure, Astana and Euskaltel (look who's in the maillot d'oro--right on Euskaltel!) were more'n happy to pile on the hurt when you gave 'em the chance Thursday, but you couldn't've sent some Caisse d'Epargne minion back for your freakin' raincoat instead?--what the tactical !@#$, Valverde, you're not some stupid kid! Which still won't give you the legs you need on Saturday if tactics ain't your only problem...
Update: I stand corrected and duly chastened on Valverde, who rode bravely and exceedingly well today. You still ain't gonna take the Vuelta, but you *are* a great one-day rider, Alejandro, however any of us may think you get there--take your place with peace in your heart already!
Sink or Swim: I see that testosterone poz/rat-fink Patrik Sinkewitz, off easy on his own drug bust for tattling on his T-Mobile teammates for systemic university-clinic blood-doping during the '06 Tour de France--not that those allegations actually kept any of 'em out of the peloton the last 2 years, so a hell of a lot of good that did--is ready to return to his rightful place in the still-filthy field, reportedly in talks with a couple of ProContinental and even a ProTour squad. I don't know Patrik--it's gettin' on in the season and Liquigas has already snagged ludicrous anti-doping poster boy Ivan Basso, St. David Millar's found himself a secure nest, god knows Rock Racing can't fit any more dopers'n it already has, you've also got Bjorn "Love Machine" Leukemans coming off his ban and looking for work..you better start kissing babies for charity, pronto!
Basta Already!: finally, in a sign of just how far the grossly underpaid women's peloton has come in meeting the disgustingly low standards of its male counterpart, the antidoping narcs are recommending a two-year ban for reigning (if about to be ex-) world road champ Marta Bastianelli, nailed for taking banned weight-loss drugs though not, she claims, in an effort to enhance her performance. Right, because it's far more important to a cyclist to look hot in her bikini than to get down to a fighting weight to improve her chances of winning...will this gross farce of a sport *never* clean up its act?