Now that we know Manolo Saiz is on a fast track to indictment, now that Liberty Seguros is no longer a cycling team, there is one HUUUGE question to be answered, and soon:
Who will hire Vino?
[editor's note, by chris] Moved to the flip... with the caveat that current reports are that Liberty will keep riding for now. And with the warnings that Vino might not be an innocent victim here.
Poor Alexander Vinokourov, sitting on his lawn with a "Will win Tour de France for Food" sign. Actually, the truth is more like, within 24 hours, he won't be able to leave his house due to the scrum of media and directeur sportifs pressing forward.
Assuming Liberty doesn't try to carry on through July (which is completely unclear), there are two alternate possibilities: the Coast-Bianchi quickie reincarnation, or the jump to another squad. I'm not aware of any sponsor who can step in and run a team, although it's not like they email me this kind of information... but the big negative factor is that Saiz built the team, so unlike Coast where they just needed a title sponsor, the ex-Liberties would need a whole new management. Hell, half the team could be in jail by July, for all we know.
So Vinokourov could go to anyone who's ready to hire, right? We'll see, but if he is you can eliminate the burned bridge (T-Mobile); the teams who don't need a Tour leader (CSC, Phonak, Gerolsteiner, Caisse d'Epargne, Davitamon); and the teams who don't hire non-Basques (Euskaltel). I would also rate low the likelihood of him landing with anyone who has mixed leadership for the Tour -- namely, Discovery -- after Vino's experience at T-Mobile. And none of the Italian teams are at all serious about the Tour.
- Quick Step! They hired Garate and Rujano for the grand tours, but these guys look more like lieutenants in July -- exactly what Vino needs! They also have seemingly unlimited funds, and there's no team time trial to consider. The only downside for Vino would be their focus on helping Boonen win the Green Jersey... but the truth is, Boonen needs no more than one or two riders to help him, if that.
- Any of several French teams. The feel-good story, where a French team actually has something to do in the Tour de France. Also, the Kazakh riders (and many of the eastern bloc guys) tend to have a special connection to France through some development program they all started in in St. Germain. Last summer's hot rumor was Credit Agricole, and they're undoubtedly still hiring. Not sure anyone can offer him money or support though.
- Saunier Duval. Intriguing... they grab guys on the fly somehow. And with David Millar, Koldo Gil, Jose Gomez Marchante, etc., they have a squad of guys who don't quite have a realistic shot at winning but could make a great supporting cast. My wild card.
- Rabobank. A very long shot... if they really think Menchov can compete, then they're off the list along with the other teams who think they're all set. Also, they're Rabo, so doing something to strengthen their hand seems impossible. But if Menchov felt like working for a fellow ex-Soviet, and the Chicken jumped in to help as well (while nabbing his KOM points)... like I said, it's too sensible to happen, but it could work.