Wicked busy day, no time for the real content you can find by scrolling down, but I did see two items that I couldn't pass by without comment. Exhibit A:
Ballan told La Gazzetta dello Sport that, "If this offer had come before [the world championships], I would have gone there, but now I see that it's not right for the world champion to play servant to Tom Boonen."
"In 2009, I would like to race less before the start of the Tour in Monaco and not start racing before the end of March in order to, at least one time, base my season on the Tour only. I am convinced that, if I am lucky, I can climb on the podium and, who knows, even win the Tour. I am ready to sacrifice all the other races in order to reach that goal, at least to try it one year."
Since nobody elected me grand imperial dictator of Cycling (yet), I will express a modicum of respect for the choices individual championship-level riders make concerning their program. But that doesn't prevent me from at least asking, WTF?
Ballan would have considered joining Quick Step? A month ago he did think it was right to play servant to Tom Boonen? I can't think of a worse possible team for him, setting aside the increase in salary. Where would he get his shot? At Paris-Roubaix? Somehow I doubt Tom Boonen's little dalliance with blow has sunk his stature so low that Lefevre would put an Italian in charge at the Queen of the Classics without fearing for his (Lefevre's) life. At Flanders? Over Stijn Devolder, who automatically qualified for Belgian royal status by winning de Ronde in the Belgian Champion's jersey? At Milano-Sanremo?? Maybe the latter, if he's lucky, but trading in the Cobbles for a complete crapshoot at MSR seems like a bad bet, when he can ride for Lampre or someone else and have authority at all three -- and not headman a completely irrelevant team the rest of the year. The only way Ballan's own statement makes sense is if someone told him Devolder was leaving Quick Step. And even then, it would be Cycling's loss to see Cobbles stars joining forces rather than joining battle next April.
As for Valverde, his devotion to the Tour is pure ego. Valverde wins prolificly in the classics, Spanish regional tours, and even a few other big prizes like the Dauphine. He also pads his CQ points lead with high finishes and some stage results in the grand tours. I respect all of that as part of his claim to being the world's #1 rider. But his obsession with the Tour is looking sillier every year. In his two completed Tours, he's finished seven minutes behind Carlos Sastre and 11.37 behind Alberto Contador. In each case, he disappeared from serious contention fairly quickly, getting blown out in some combination of time trials and the Pyrenees. [Oddly enough, he's performed well in the Alps, which may be driving his thinking.]
I'm not without sympathy for his choice, he's won most other events and might just be one of those people who gets bored by repetition. But the biggest hole in his argument, IMHO, is his belief that he's ready to win the Tour when he can't even win the Vuelta. Even if he's not willing to indulge me in my fantasy of a five-year running duel with Damiano Cunego in all the hilly classics, he could at least prove himself in his home tour, like Cunego has, before claiming a legitimate shot at the TdF. He's arguably the rightful winner of the 2006 Vuelta, as the top finisher not to have swapped blood with anyone, but he was a non-factor in his "faceoff" with Alberto Contador this year. I don't know much about this new person Javier Guillén who is taking over the reins at the Vuelta (from retiring Victor Cordero), but it's not unreasonable to think maybe he'll design a Vuelta that pits the current generation of Spanish mega-stars -- Contador, Valverde, Sanchez, and Sastre -- against each other on a course that balances the stages among their collective skills. Like, say, the 2007 Giro course, where the Classics-style stages were just as decisive as the high mountains or time trials. Let Valverde prove, then, that he can beat Contador on any sort of course, and maybe I'll buy into the fantasy of Valverde beating Contador at the latter's strengths. Until then, no sale.
Adding... there seems to be a lot of comments on Valverde's ambitions in about four other posts.