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Cycling News and Opinions
Unfair and Unbalanced
November, 2009

Back to news and opinion index page for links to archived stories

November 29: The most important race of the indoor season, the Gent 6-Day, is over and Bjarne Riis has to be smiling. The winners, Michael Mørkøv And Alex Rasmussen are Saxo Bank riders. I am such a pathetic hack that I'll just post the Saxo team press release. It'll keep me from screwing up the results:

Team Saxo Bank Danish World Champions on the track, Alex Rasmussen and Michael Mørkøv, took the overall victory of the six-day race in Ghent. With a narrow margin of just three points ahead of the Belgian/German couple, Keisse/Kluge, the Danes took the gold when they won back yesterday's lost lap by taking a bonus sprint:
"By winning a bonus sprint, we brought ourselves in a situation where we should didn't need to worry about struggling to gain a lap. We did a clever finale where the other couples were attacking one another. We could save our strength for the final. It is clearly the biggest victory we have won. It is incredibly difficult to win away and especially here in the strongest field of all, where the prestige is enormous. The victory means that we have shown the other riders that we have the stamina for all six days. It gives us a strong confidence which can be used in future races”, said a delighted Michael Mørkøv after the victory.
The Danish couple has previously won the six-day race in Grenoble twice.
1. Rasmussen/Mørkøv (Danmark) 450 points
2. Keisse (BELG)/Kluge (GER) 447 points
3. Risi/Marvulli (Swiss) 408 points
4. Stam (Holland)/Lampater (GER) 254 points
At 1 lap
5. De Ketele (Belg)/Schep (Holland) 235 points.

Christmas came a little early for Jonathan Vaughters. His Garmin-Slipstream team has signed up Transitions Optical, which makes photochromic (get darker as the light gets brighter) eyeglass lenses, as a sponsor. You can also say the lenses exhibit "phototropy", but that will just get anyone who knows what you are talking about thinking you are old. Like saying Brontosaurus instead of Apatosaurus. But...I digress. The big box of money Transitions Optical put under Vaughter's yule tree means the team is now Garmin-Transitions. That also means the riders will be sporting new eyewear in 2010.

Does anybody really say Apatosaurus?

Lampre, which to the best of my knowledge, still hasn't straightened things out with the UCI and is still without Pro Tour status for 2010, continues to add to its roster. Team boss Giuseppe Saronni said that he needs "An expert cyclist characterized by never-ending energies and generosity." Yeah, I'll bet. But that was Saronni's generous comment about the signing of Alessandro Spezialetti. The mindless sarcastic comment was mine.

Spezialetti was born in Lachen, Switzerland but is an Italian citizen. He turned pro in 1997 and has won just one race, the Atri stage of Giro d'Abruzzo 2001.

Team Lampre further notes that a rider's stature isn't necessarily a function of his results. It can arise, as in Specialetti's case, in the work done to support his captains in 9 Giri d'Italia, 2 Tours de France and 1 Vuelta a España.

Race is a sport contested by teams and won by individuals. Someone has to carry the spear and it looks like Spezialetti will spend a season in pink and fuschia doing just that for Damiano Cunego.

November 28: Be still, my little beating heart. It might be true. The 2-way race radios might actually be on their way out. The UCI has sent a letter to the national cycling federations telling them about the rule changes for the 2010 season regarding the radios that the race directors in their cars use to manage their teams on the road. They will not be allowed at the World Championships and they will also be excluded from elite races with a .2 or national ranking. They are already banned from amateur and U23 races. All that's left now are important races (.1, HC, Pro Tour and Grand Tour), but we have to crawl before we walk.

Bring back the fog of war. A little chaos, confusion and doubt will make for better racing. And that stuff the directors say about the radios making racing safer? There is a fine barnyard word for it but my mother might read this posting. There is a lot of evidence that the radios can make racing more dangerous. Get rid of them!

November 27: Former French road champion Florent Brard is retiring, immediately. The 33-year old rider had been trying to find a place on Astana, but that fell through. After being unable to find another team to take him, he's hanging up the chamois. Brard turned pro in 1999 and has ridden for a lot of teams: Festina, Credit Agricole, Marlux, Chocolade Jacques, Agritubel, Caisse d'Epargne and Cofidis. He became French champion in 2006. In 2002 he crashed in the Midi Libre and badly injured his back. He was given cortacoids to aid his recovery, but he failed to tell his team doctor about the therapy. The mass spectrometer found the banned drugs at the Tour de l'Ain and his team, Credit Agricole, fired him. He endured a 6-month racing suspension and rejoined the peloton.

Team Saxo Bank has made a few changes to its roster. Alexandr Kolobnev (second at the 2009 World's) is leaving for Katusha.

Saxo did sign 2 young riders. 22-year-old Jaroslaw Marycz has been riding for the Italian Team and has won the Polish U23 national time trial championships twice. This season he won the Italian one-day race, Coppa G. Romita, the third stage of Tour de Slovakia and he took silver at the European road championships for U23-riders.

In addition, Team Saxo Bank signed a contract with 26-year-old Sebastian Haedo - brother to Team Saxo Bank's Argentine, Juan Jose Haedo. Sebastian Haedo has been released from his contract with the U.S. team, Colavita-Sutter Home where he this season took two victories, the second stage of Tour de San Luis and the second stage of Nature Valley Grand Prix. He finished second in the NRC's individual rankings this season.

"We are pleased to announce that we have assured us these two great and interesting talents that will strengthen our team in the coming season. Jaroslaw is a complete rider with a special time trial potential and Sebastian Haedo has, besides being a complete rider, shown his obvious talent in the bunch sprints. We are looking forward to be working with both of them and to help developing their promising potential”, says team owner Bjarne Riis.

November 25: Things are looking up for Il Pistolero. The UCI registered the Astana squad for 2010, saying that it was confident that the newly required bank guarantees (see November 24 posting below), even though they had not arrived by Wednesday deadline, would be completed quickly. I guess that means Contador will ride for Astana next year. Unless the Kazakhs flub the bank guarantee. Then the soap continues.

2006 Tour winner Oscar Pereiro said he had signed with Astana for next year.

Lampre, for reasons that were not given, had its registration refused. Team manager Giuseppe Saronni said he was surprised by the development and said he is waiting for the UCI to tell him what aspects of the application need clarification.

Here are the 17 Pro Tour teams the UCI has approved for 2010:

AG2R - La Mondiale (France)
Astana (Kazakhstan)
Caisse d'Epargne (Spain)
Euskaltel-Euskadi (Spain)
Footon-Servetto (Spain) This is the old Fuji-Servetto
Française des Jeux (France)
Garmin-Slipstream (USA)
Liquigas-Doimo (ITA)
Omega Pharma-Lotto (Belgium) This is the old Silence-Lotto
Quick Step (Belgium)
Rabobank (Netherlands)
Saxo Bank (Denmark)
Team Columbia-HTC (USA)
Team Katusha (Russia)
Team Milram (Germany)
Team RadioShack (USA)
Team Sky (Great Britain)

November 24: Astana's ride for continuation as a Pro Tour team hit a giant bump in the road. The UCI is demanding that the team's entire budget be placed in a bank guarantee. The Kazakh Cycling Federation is protesting mightily, saying that it would be impossible to come up with that many S&H Green Stamps all at once. It's supposed to be done by Wednesday, the 25th. Even for a Kazakh oligarch, that's more than walking around money. The UCI seems to be sensitive to Astana's failure to properly fund the team last May, prompting the riders to erase the names of the sponsors from the jersey. The Government of Kazakhstan has promised to give the team $22 million.

If Astana doesn't come up with the bank guarantee, the the UCI will surely shred its Pro Tour license and then Alberto Contador (who agreed to ride for Astana only if it remains a Pro Tour Team) will able to leave the team and sign with another squad.

Lance Armstrong's Radio Shack team has finalized its roster for 2010. It looks scary strong. As team manager Johan Bruyneel noted, this squad of 26 riders is well-balanced will be able to race 1-day races and stage races. The team's major objective will be the Tour and major stage races. 12 of the riders, including Leipheimer, Armstrong, Kloden, Brajkovic and Paulinho had been recruited from the 2009 Astana team. If Armstrong doesn't win an eighth Tour, it won't be because he doesn't have a team with a lot of suds:

Lance Armstrong (USA)
Fumiyuki Beppu (Japan)
Sam Bewley (New Zealand)
Jani Brajkovic (Slo)
Matthew Busche (USA)
Ben Hermans (Belgium)
Chris Horner (USA)
Daryl Impey (South Africa)
Markel Irizar (Spain)
Andreas Klöden (Ger)
Levi Leipheimer (USA)
Geoffroy Lequatre (France)
Fuyu Li (China)
Tiago Machado (Portugal)
Jason McCartney (USA)
Dmitriy Muravyev (Kazakhstan)
Sergio Paulinho (Portugal)
Yaroslav Popovych (Ukraine)
Gregory Rast (Switzerland)
Sebastien Rosseler (Belgium)
Ivan Rovny (Russia)
José Luis Rubiera (Spain)
Bjorn Selander (USA)
Gert Steegmans (Belgium)
Tomas Vaitkus (Lithuania)
Haimar Zubeldia (Spain)

Team manager: Johan Bruyneel

Directors Sportif: Dirk Demol, Alain Gallopin, Viatcheslav Ekimov & José Azevedo

November 22 afternoon: British broadcaster BBC Sport has talked to Garmin-Slipstream boss about the potential transfer of Bradley Wiggins (see posts below). "He has let it be known to me that he'd like to be with Sky," Garmin manager Jonathan Vaughters told BBC Sport. "I haven't spoken to him recently, but I think he has a strong desire to be part of the first UK pro team. It's important to remember that he signed a contract with us for two years," added Vaughters. "I understand his desire to be part of the first UK pro-team, but I also have responsibilities to Garmin and the team's sponsors."

I can't see Vaughters letting a real Grand Tour contender ride off into the sunset. Racers who can compete for a Tour de France victory are rare. If you were to start counting them you would run out of riders before you run out of fingers on one hand. I think Sky will get Wiggins only from Vaughter's cold, dead hands.

I just checked and L'Equipe's web site and the original Wiggins transfer story is still up without any additions or changes.

November 22: Since I posted the note below that Team Sky had signed Bradley Wiggins and had my bowl of Count Chocula, Garmin-Slipstream has denied the L'Equipe report (just below) that Bradley Wiggins has signed with Team Sky. The British paper The Guardian (quoting Cycling Weekly) quoted Garmin-Slipstream team boss Jonathan Vaughters:

"Brad has a contract [with Garmin] for 2010," Vaughters told Cycling Weekly. "That is my statement. If [L'Equipe] has such a great source, they should reveal him/her." The French paper would not disclose where the story came from, saying only that it was a trusted and reliable source. Team Sky had no comment to make.

5 AM, November 22: Again, it turns out that the rumors were true. L'Equipe reports that Bradley Wiggins has negotiated his release from Garmin-Slipstream and has signed with the new British Sky team. The man who was fourth in the Tour de France this year and is a triple Olympic champion will give the new team a formidable Grand Tour competitor. Sky has already signed Edvald Boasson Hagen, who was red-hot this year and has also just put Nicolas Portal and Sylvain Calzati on the roster as well to bring the team up to 25 riders.

November 21: Fallout from Contador's staying with Astana continues. Contador signed a personal contract to ride Specialized in 2010 (see November 16 posting below). It is now widely assumed that Specialized will replace Trek as Astana's bike supplier. Suddenly Quick Step, which was supplied bikes from Specialized, seemed to grow uncomfortable with the new relationship with Contador/Astana and wanted to split the sheets with Specialized. This was done this week through mutual agreement. The Belgian website (and thanks to the Google translator because there is no way I can read Flemish) said that "Lefevre [Quick Step boss] acknowledges that the case of Contador has played a role on the break with Specialized, but it is certainly not the only reason."

Quick Step will now ride Eddy Merckx bikes. In 2008 Merckx sold the majority of his bicycle company to a company called Sobradis. He remains an advisor and minority stockholder of his namesake firm. Merckx said something interesting about equipping Quick Step. "Our bikes are top and can certainly stand alongside the other brands. But in cycling it is not like in Formula 1 where the car makes the difference."

This quote from the man who sought out master builders Masi, Kessels and Colnago to build his bikes when he raced? It seems strange. One time a group of Peugeot riders broke away in the mountains and Merckx's teammates wanted to give immediate chase up the hill. Merckx told them to wait until the descent. They would catch them on the downhill because the stock Peugeots the team was issued "rode like dogs". Merckx would have known because he rode for Peugeot early in his career.

Italian squad Liquigas-Doimo has settled its roster for 2010. By the way, new co-sponsor Doimo is an Italian furniture company. The riders retained from the 2009 season, in alphabetical order, are: Valerio Agnoli, Ivan Basso, Daniele Bennati, Maciej Bodnar, Francesco Chicchi, Jacopo Guarnieri, Roman Kreuziger, Aliaksandr Kuchynski, Vincenzo Nibali, Daniel Oss, Franco Pellizotti, Manuel Quinziato, Fabio Sabatini, Ivan Santaromita, Sylvester Szmyd, Alessandro Vanotti, Brian Bach Vandborg, Frederik Willems and Oliver Zaugg.

New signings: Francesco Bellotti (from Team Barloworld), Davide Cimolai (neo-professional), Tiziano Dall’Antonia and Mauro Finetto (from CSF Group-Navigare), Robert Kiserlovski (from Fuji-Servetto), Kristjan Koren (neo-professional), Maciej Paterski (neo-professional), Peter Sagan (neo-professional) and Elia Viviani (neoprofessional).

Kiserlovski and Viviani were the final riders Liquigas recruited to bring the team strength up to 28 racers. Solid 2009 Liquigas rider Gorazd Stangelj has moved to Astana.

Liquigas team management for 2009 will consist of team manager Roberto Amadio, directeurs sportif Stefano Zanatta, Dario Mariuzzo, Mario Scirea, Paolo Slongo and, for new season, Alberto Volpi and Biagio Conte. The first meeting of the team will be a training camp at Passo San Pelligrino in Val di Fassa, near Trent.

November 19: He stays. A couple of days ago (see November 16 posting below) La Gazzetta dello Sport's reporter Claudio Ghisalberti had written that Astana and Contador were close to an agreement. Ghisalberti got it all right. Contador has come to an agreement that will see him ride for Astana in 2010 providing Astana is successful in renewing its Pro Tour license, maintains an internal-antidoping program and observes a code of ethics (I assume that means no bank robbing, spitting on the deck or blood doping). It's said that Contador will get more money in return for sticking around another year than his original contract called for.

Astana 's owners are clearly serious, at least for now, about the team's future. But the choice of one of the director sportifs troubles me. They have signed up Giuseppe Martinelli who ran Mercatone Uno of Marco Pantani fame. He has directed riders to 4 Grand Tour wins. Admirable, perhaps. But if Martinelli was not aware of the rampant doping going on in Mercatone Uno in the late 1990s then he had no business running such an enterprise. Is this the man who will keep Astana, which was excluded from the 2008 Tour because of prior doping problems on the team, clean? How will the Tour management view the man who ran the team that created one of the greatest crises in Giro history, the disqualification of Pantani in 1999? They'll probably overlook it given the fabulous rivalry between Armstrong and Contador that will surely have every bike racing fan on the planet go nuts in July. Professional bike racing is a business above all.

Moreover, Astana has hired Yvon Sanquer, no stranger to cleaning out filthy stables (before you hit the "send" button on that email, I'm not saying Astana at this point is). He is the manager brought in to Festina after its 1998 scandal. So, perhaps, on balance things have been done reasonably well.

When Johan Bruyneel left Astana he took nearly all the good riders from the team with him to Radio Shack: Armstrong, Leipheimer, Kloden, Horner, Brajkovic and Paulinho, to name some of them. Astana has had to play catch-up to refill the roster. The have signed David de la Fuente, Paolo Tiralongo, Andriy Grivko and Enrico Gasparotto. They are all fine riders, but I don't see anything here to lead one to believe the new Astana will have the power to defend Contador from Armstrong and Bruyneel and the bastion they've built for Radio Shack. Contador may still end up racing the Tour without substantial team support. Oh, that's right, he did that this year.

November 18: Davide Rebellin, the Italian rider who has won so many single-day races is going to lose the silver medal he won at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics road race. At the time of the race the Olympic dope testers were not looking for the latest generation of EPO, EPO-CERA. When it turned out that this was the new drug of choice and had turned up all over the competitive road map, the Olympics retested their stored Beijing samples. Rebellin was one of 5 athletes to turn in a positive. To the best of my knowledge the results of re-testing of his "B" sample aren't due until next month but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is going ahead and awarding the silver medal to third-place finisher Fabian Cancellara and giving then-fourth place rider Alexander Kolobnev the bronze. Samuel Sanchez of Spain won the road race and will keep his gold medal. The IOC passed the decision on to the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI), which made the announcement that Rebellin had been disqualified. The UCI has now confirmed the medal rearrangement.

German rider Stefan Schumacher has already had his Beijing "A" and "B" samples confirmed for EPO-CERA. He also was found to have had EPO-CERA in his system during the 2008 Tour de France. As best I know Schumacher is still appealing his various positives. Good luck on that, buddy. Ask Tyler and Floyd how it all worked out.

November 16: Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit. The Italian sports newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport has a rather surprising story with lots of details I would never have predicted. Well, I can't predict anything anyway. When I was shown the first prototypes of Look clipless pedals, I thought they would never catch on. But that's another story.

First off. Earlier Specialized Bicycles has said it would be looking for another big-deal team to equip with its bikes for 2010. It appears that the speculation that the third team would end up being Astana is true. Specialized already has its bikes under Saxo and Quick Step and ISD. But the ISD deal ends this year, leaving Specialized budget bucks to equip the Kazakh squad. But here's where it gets interesting. Gazzetta writer Claudio Ghisalberti says that Alberto Contador has signed a personal 1-year agreement with options for renewal, to ride Specialized bikes in 2010. The man who has won 4 grand tours in 14 months will be paid 700,000 Euros (1,050,000 USD) to ride Specialized bikes.

Even though there is no regulation requiring a rider to use the same bikes as his team, I think it unlikely that Contador would be planning on riding a bike different from whatever his team was going to use. Astana has been riding Treks, but that deal ends this year (Trek will be supplying Armstrong's Radio Shack team) and Astana is talking to....Specialized to be their bike supplier.

Wait... there's more.

Ghisalberti writes that the earlier friction between Astana and Alberto Contador and his brother/manager Francisco has melted away and now they are best friends forever. The Contadors have had fruitful contacts and it seems unlikely that a deal between them will fail to happen.

And yes, there's still more.

Friday the UCI will give the go/no-go on Astana's Pro Tour status but the Contadors are already working on making Astana a stronger team in 2011. The Spaniards have said that Ivan Basso, whose contract with Liquigas runs through the 2010 season, is at the top of their wish list for future Astana signings.

November 12: For the last week the Contador rumor mill has been going full blast. Because Il Pistolero's 2010 team remains uncertain, speculation has filled in the gap. The most spectacular rumor was from a Belgian newspaper that said Contador's current team, Astana, was offering him 8 million Euros/year (with the US Dollar currently less desirable than Slobovian Rasputnickbucks, that would be about $12 million) if he would sign a firm contract for another 4 years. Contador's agent and brother shot that one down.

Then the Italian sports newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport reported that Quick Step's Patrick Lefevre was dangling 5 million Euros (7.5 mil USD) in front of Contador. Lefevre confirmed again that he badly wants Contador but that the 5 million Euro sum was well more than what was on the table.

Today Contador's brother Francisco said that Alberto's staying with Astana was looking ever more likely as the contract that has a year to run with Astana has no buy-out clause. I am mystified because the UCI has said Contador can leave Astana. If the UCI renews Astana's Pro Tour status at the end of the month then it looks like we'll see Contador in an Astana kit for 1 more (and Francisco insists only 1 more) year. But like everyone else, I'm just guessing.

November 7: It's the off-season and every cycling site webmaster is looking for news. Wait...what's this, a press release from Team Saxo Bank. Saved. It's about Chris Anker Sørensen. The release tells how Sørensen (note that I am using the "o" with the stroke through it to coinvince you that at Bikeracinfo we are very continental and very sophisticated) had wanted to win a race in 2009 but up until almost the very end he had nothing. Come the last big race of the season, the Japan Cup, he scored with a brilliant move near the end of the race and got his victory. Sørensen had been so visible all year long that I was surprised to see he had not yet been at the top of the podium. One thing that really grabbed me in the piece was that in the off-season he has to keep his body fat below 6%. In the off-season! Here's the link if you want to read the whole Saxo release.

I just got Jef Mallett's (creator of the comic strip "Frazz" and all-around good-guy) new book, "Trizophrenia - Inside the Minds of a Triathlete". I've just started it and it's pure Mallett. It's fantastically funny, brilliant, observant and entertaining, even if it is about triathlons. Plus, it's filled with lots of hilarious cartoons by one of the most talented and meticulous artists in cartooning today. That would be Jef as well. Get it. Here's the ISBN number: 978-1934030448.

November 1: By this afternoon it was a badly kept secret that Cadel Evans' new team after leaving Silence-Lotto was going to be BMC. Evans made it official today on his own web site:

"Sunday, 1 November 2009
Yes, it is true... BMC! I have chosen to ride with the BMC Racing Team for 2010 and beyond. A small but growing team of experienced staff and riders that I see has a lot of potential, and a mentality that fits nicely with my own, both on a sporting, technical and social level. I look forward to working with a new team, in a new environment, towards my same goals; honouring the Rainbow jersey at the highest level of the sport, and ultimately at the highest step of the Tour de France podium.
I would like to thank the Silence-Lotto team for the opportunities they have given me. The last five years have brought some great experiences whilst working alongside some great individuals. Thank you."

BMC says Evans has signed a 3-year contract. Evans, the current world road champion will join former world champ Alessandro Ballan and current US champion George Hincapie as well as Karsten Kroon and Marcus Burghardt.

Forgive me for being the skunk at the picnic. This looks like a very formidable classics team. But I thought Evans' complaint was that he didn't have a true Grand Tour squad to support him in the high mountains. Maybe there are more signings coming. But I don't see a team here that can handle Fortress Radio Shack and if Evans want to move from second place to first place in the Tour de France that's just what he will need.

BMC is a Continental Professional team, and therefore does not have an automatic entry into the Pro Tour races. BMC team co-owner is sure that the team's roster will give it the wild-card invitations it needs to compete at the highest level.