The Silly Season
There's a reason that the months professional cyclists negotiate their upcoming contracts is called the silly season. The reason is because during the Tour de France, rider's agents are seen sulking around teams floating offers or just generally trying to suss out how much their client is worth on the open market.
There's a reason that the months professional cyclists negotiate their upcoming contracts is called the silly season. The reason is because during the Tour de France, rider's agents are seen sulking around teams floating offers or just generally trying to suss out how much their client is worth on the open market. By the time the Tour pulls into Paris the deals are done, but due to a UCI rule, transfers cannot be officially announced until August 1st. However, people love to talk (thank God), and by the time riders have left "The City of Light" there's solid rumors of where riders are going to land for the next season. As usual, some are just crazy while others have some merit. But this season has had a unique twist that has had us scratching our heads and still wondering where several of the big players might be in 2012.
As I write this we're over halfway through September and into the World Championship in Denmark. And while numerous contracts have been nailed down a few are flapping in the wind. One transfer that keeps getting more interesting by the day is the ongoing takeover of the RadioShack squad by Leopard-Trek.
I'll spare you the gory details so far as chances are you're up to date, but in a nutshell - rich Luxembourg businessman Flavio Becca funds a ProTour caliber team with the understanding that a title sponsor would step and kick in Euros to keep the wheels on the road. That didn't happen and Leopard-Trek management is replaced. Becca announces that the RadioShack squad has folded and he's sucking up their sponsors, RadioShack and Nissan, and getting those names stitched onto the 2012 team scarfs.
This move startled riders initially, but soon things settled down. However, several Shack riders are still without confirmation. Although RadioShack's Johan Bruyneel stated that Chris Horner would be joining him in 2012 at the newly re-branded RadioShack - Nissan - Trek squad (now known unofficially by the acronym "RaNT"), Horner was still unsure of his status when asked at the recent Interbike show in Las Vegas.
I can understand Horner's confusion. This is not his first rodeo for this rider who turns 40-years old next month. He's seen contracts go pear-shaped during his Mercury days. Just because someone writes it on the internet, doesn't mean it's a binding contract. I'm guessing with the demise of Capital Sports and Entertainment, the owners of the 2011 RadioShack squad, Horner hasn't seen a 2012 contract from his new Luxembourg overlord. And by listening to Becca's comments that the team will be based in Luxembourg and further stating, " I can confirm that there is nothing American in this team, apart from the two sponsors," speaks volumes to what his true intentions are. Just a note to Becca - this is not a way to endear yourself to American fans. We're funny like that...
With teams capped at 30 riders and 23 Leopard-Trek riders making the jump with the new squad, that leaves room for seven RadioShackers. It's getting to sound like "Survivor" - who will be voted off the island? Or maybe it's more like the "Bachelor" and we're waiting to see who gets the rose.
While this new Luxembourg squad looks to be one of the major contenders of the 2012 season with riders who can win the Classics (Fabian Cancellara) to the Grand Tours (Andy Schleck) there's another well financed squad - BMC.
Team owner Andy Rihs has been throwing money at his team like a rap star at a strip bar. And with the amount of Euros being tossed around snagging some of the peloton's best talent, it looks like Rihs' party got moved to the VIP room.
As previously reported Philippe Gilbert is joining his Monaco "BFF" Thor Hushovd in the red and black kit of BMC. Those two, in addition to 2011 Tour de France winner Cadel Evans, will make for a squad with some serious winning potential. The key word is potential. While the squad looks solid during the Spring campaign, can Evans win another Tour? Honestly I'm not so sure of that. Before I get emails from any Cadel fans I'm not saying he lucked into his win - he showed that he was a deserving winner. That said, next year Saxo Bank's Alberto Contador will be at full strength. This year started with his positive for clenbuterol hanging over his head like the Sword of Damocles.
Initially, I swore up and down the Spaniard wouldn't be allowed to ride the 2011 Tour de France. I was wrong. I swore that Contador would be found guilty and stripped of his Tour titles. Yeah, I'm looking like I'm going to be wrong there as well. There's movement afoot to change the status of clenbuterol from a zero threshold drug to allowing a certain level to be in the body - which I'm sure the amount found in Contador would be below the new threshold. The reason for my suspicion? If Contador's victories are yanked away only two of the past 13 Tours de France leaders haven't been tainted by accusations of doping or suffered outright disqualification. You don't need to be a Harvard business school grad to know this is bad for business. I suspect Alberto Contador will be allowed to race next year, his positive for clenbuterol swept away like a bad memory and Tour victories kept intact. But I digress...
Contador will be at full strength, the Schlecks have been bolstered by new recruits and who did Cadel get to back him up in the mountains? I know, American Tejay Van Garderen signed on the dotted line for BMC, but otherwise it's just the Classics squad that got the upgrade. Cadel is definitely on the short list of winners for next July, I just don't see him stepping up onto the top podium again.
There are still a couple of marquee riders who haven't announced their 2012 intentions. Mark Cavendish's HTC-Highroad team is no more and the Manx man has been heavily linked to the British Sky team. It makes sense - he's British and the squad has shown that they have the deep enough coffers to acquire his signature. The only curious aspect to this rumor is here we are, deep into September, and no announcement. It was thought that at the conclusion of the Tour of Britain something would be announced from Team Cavendish. But not a peep so far from the sprinter. What's the hold up? Still wrangling for more sterling?
Another rider who has also been keeping a low profile is Levi Leipheimer. While his Tour was a disaster, his domestic campaign was strong with a second place in the Amgen Tour of California and wins in the Tour of Utah as well as the Pro Cycling Challenge (aka Tour of Colorado). And yes, I know he also won the Tour de Suisse as well. However, Leipheimer and his relationship with his current team director has been "strained" and there have been some small signs that Leipheimer and Lance Armstrong aren't exactly on good terms either. So it was no surprise that Leipheimer's contract didn't extend to the new Luxembourg squad which will now managed by Bruyneel. Don't be too concerned for Levi. The new Quick-Step team director Brian Holm let the cat out of the bag several weeks ago by stating that the Belgian squad had signed the climber for 2012. Although nothing official from the team has been stated and Leipheimer himself has continued to be coy on the subject, it looks like he's heading to Quick-Step - a team where Grand Tour dreams go to die.
By this time next week maybe we'll have more clarification on who is going where and for how much. But until then stay tuned to Roadcycling.com.