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What's a Rooting Interest?

Here's a question I've been meaning to ask people, and maybe something to kick around on a slow "winter" day: how do you decide who to root for in Cycling?

My experience with the sport began in the LeMond/Hinault era, and was limited to following the sole American in the Tour or Paris-Roubaix. CBS was the only source of information apart from a few hard-to-find-at-the-drugstore magazines (anyone remember Winning?), and their pitch made it clear that til further notice, La Vie Claire was our home team. Simple enough for a mind conditioned by baseball, hockey and the NFL, all of which represent a clearly defined geographic area. In New England, that's mostly all there was; we didn't really even grapple with the slightly more complex allegiances of college sports.

The La Vie Claire hegemony lasted about two years, during which LeMond was repeatedly stabbed in the back by Tapie and Hinault, and 7-Eleven made their historic entree into the Tour. As early as 1987, with LeMond on bed rest and Andy Hampsten still ramping up, we were left to look over a handful of big names and pick sides. For me, that meant one stunning year of Stephen Roche, another of Hampsten (with Delgado emerging as the bad guy), followed by LeMond's return and the new Greg-centric era. Only in the Indurain years did we finally start getting something like adequate information and a sense that seeing the sport through the Americans wasn't gonna get it done.

Now, of course, you can follow the entire landscape of Cycling in English, and decide for yourself if a certain team or rider is worthy of your affections. Geography is one factor, and no doubt Postal/Discovery ranked first in the States among fans, but by no means exclusively. Outside of the Basque realm, Gerolstein, Germany or the Vendee region of France, cycling teams tend not to identify with a locale. Geography is really more about a team's nationality, though even that can be vague (Milram? CSC?). At most, people have a non-exclusive tendency to root for their countrymen and maybe the teams they ride for... along with whoever else they like.

Me? It might be quicker to say who I don't root for: Astana, anyone associated with Vinokourov (sorry, never liked the guy), CSC (except for Cancellara), most of the French teams (though I'm keeping an open mind), Simoni, 90% of people in an early breakaway (I'm kind of a jerk, really), Davide Rebellin, Paolo Bettini, most of the Russians, and of course Michael Rasmussen. I do find myself rooting for everyone on the U25 list, 80% of the Italian riders, plus about half the cobbled classics aces. In a sprint I like Freire, Boonen, Bennati, Napolitano and Eisel. And my favorite team at the moment is High Road.

It sounds like I root for half the peloton, but really I guess I just read through the half of the peloton I could root for and pick a couple guys each race. It's also a very fluid situation, subject to change at the first sign of bad behavior or newly-inspired form. I have no idea who I'll root for in the Tour or even the Giro... all I can say definitively is I'll like Ballan in Flanders. Or Cancellara or Hincapie. Though a Boonen win is always a sight to see. And Hoste would be a nice story.

And you?