Here at the Gossip World Headquarters, we have two unbending rules. Always wear black bibs. Always keep the jersey zipped. The billowing unzipped jersey, so untidy, so uncouth. What a strange article of clothing bib shorts are. Much better to keep them covered.
But all rules are meant to be broken, aren't they? No, we have not taken to wearing white bibs. The horror! But the jersey zipper, it has crept all the way down, down to the bottom, the ends set loose to flap along in the breeze.
California in the Fall is a strange planet. A visitor might be excused for failing to notice any season at all. For a few days, the onshores blow, the fog rolls in. We reach for our flannels, brew up a pot of coffee, dig out our base layers and full-fingered gloves. But always the desert has her say. And before too long, the fog melts away, the sea breeze evaporates, the sun beats down on the blanched and browning hills. There's fire in the air, and the desert reaches out, greedy and grasping, all the way to the sea. To ride up into the hills is to descend deep into the belly of a hair dryer. Unzip! Yield to temptation, and feel the desert's hot breath caress your skin.
Forgive us, for we have sinned.
We begin today in Sweden with Mr. Indecisive. Contrary to reports in this space last week, Gustav Larsson has still not signed a new contract. In an interview with his local paper in Sweden, he said he will decide his future in the next week. Both Caisse d'Épargne and CSC-Saxo Bank are vying for the signature of the Swedish crono ace. He was reportedly all set to sign with Caisse, when Riis came through with a counter-offer. It's just like, you know, so hard to decide. Thanks to Jens and The Figurehead for their assistance with this story.
On the subject of indecision, Lance Armstrong has not decided whether he will ride next year's Tour de France. Astana DS Johann Bruyneel told the press that Armstrong is 50-50. Commenting on next year's course, Armstrong called it "innovative and very interesting." Notably missing from his previous career's palmarès is a win on Mount Ventoux, where he made a controversial decision to "gift" the stage win to Marco Pantani when last he arrived there in contention. The Giant of Provence returns to the race this year after a seven year absence. Armstrong admitted that there had been "tensions" in the past with the Tour organizers, but hoped to engage the new leadership in dialogue about the possibility of his participation. In particular, he looks forward to "making the biggest bike race in the world the gem that it deserves to be."
Moving right along, the 22 year old Irish National Champion Dan Martin will ride his first grand tour next year. He's not yet certain whether he will race in Italy or France, but is looking forward to the experience all the same. In a brief comment to cyclismag.com, Martin said, "At the Giro, I would have less pressure and the race takes place during a period when I am always on form, but every rider wants to ride the Tour." If he rode the Tour, the Irish climber could provide support for Christian Vandevelde, who last year placed fourth (adjusted). This year, Martin celebrated his first professional victory at the Route du Sud.
In other Garmin news, Hans Dekkers of the Netherlands will ride for the American team next season. The 27 year old Dekkers recently out-sprinted Tom Boonen to win the Nationale Sluitingsprijs in Kapellen, Belgium. In 2007, he won a stage of the Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen and in 2006, a stage of the Tour de l'Avenir.
Staying. Both Alberto Contador and Samuel Sanchez will be remaining with their current teams next season. Rumor suggested that the return of Lance Armstrong to Astana meant transfer time for Contador. But Bruyneel has managed to steer his ship through the treacherous transfer waters and retain his grand tour-winning star. Contador has two years remaining on his current contract. An Olympic medal made Sanchez a very hot commodity on the transfer market, but he is happy with his current situation at Euskadi-Euskatel. His current contract runs until the end of 2010.
More Cervélo signings. At risk of being over-exuberant, we are happy to report four new signing at Team Cervélo. The team has confirmed contracts with Marcel Wyss, a Swiss neo-pro, Ignatas Konovalovas, a Lithuanian from Crédit Agricole, Joaquin Novoa Mendez, a neo-pro from Spain, and Martin Reimer, the U23 German national champion. Konovalovas rode his first season as a pro this year, winning the Tour of Luxembourg and the Lithuanian national championship. Wyss, a talented climber, won the U23 race, Flèche du Sud, won the U23 Swiss national crono, and finished 4th in Varese in the U23 crono. Novoa, currently 25 years old, is also a neo-pro and a training partner of Carlos Sastre. Reimer won the German U23 national championship and placed 3rd in the U23 national crono. The 21 year old also finished 3rd overall in the U23 stage race Thüringen-Rundfahrt. Team Cervélo has also confirmed the previously rumored signings of Simon Gerrans, of Crédit Agricole and a stage winner in the 2008 Tour de France, Spanish climber Iñigo Questa of CSC-Saxo Bank, Xavier Florencio of Bweeg!, and the Norweigen Gabriel Rasch of Team Krone. For a full accounting of the team's signings, have a look-see at the Cervélo Test Team website.
In other Cervélo news, Carlos Sastre is looking forward to the 2009 Giro d'Italia. He hopes to ride a "good Giro," then take the start of the Tour. Though rumors abound about the likely course, the official presentation of the centenary Giro d'Italia will take place on 13 December at La Fenice in Venezia. We eagerly await this highpoint of the Fashion Season.
The Associated of Italian Cyclists (ACCPI, for the acronym-o-philes) has written to UCI President Pat McQuaid calling for the institution of lifetime bans for doping offenses. The letter signed by Amedeo Colombo and Gianni Bugno called the situation in cycling "grave," and argued that only "extreme remedies held the hope of recovering the credibility of the our beloved sport and our beloved riders." The authors also called for sanctions against the team management and trainers of riders found positive. Cedric Vasseur, who leads the international riders association, called the measure too extreme: "the reaction to the first offense is the ghillotine." Though he supports life-time bans for a second offense, he believes that 2 years is sufficient for a first positive. "Already, a four year ban for an athlete is close to a life-time ban," he said in a press statement, in reference to the 2009 WADA code which raises the penalty from two to four years.
On the subject of suspensions, CONI has handed down a two year suspension for Paolo Bossoni. The 32 year old rider tested positive for EPO on 29 June at the Italian National Championship held in Bergamo. His most recent victory came in 2006 at the Trofeo Città di Castelfidardo. Bossoni was the third of three doping cases at Lampre-Fondital this season.
Meanwhile in Italy, Ivan Basso has officially finished his doping ban for cavorting with Dr. Fuentes, and he will start the Japan Cup this coming Sunday. Basso has unveiled a new website, color-coordinated with his new Team Liquigas kit. The new branding: Ivan Basso, Wholesome Family Man With Cute Kids. Though many photos of his family are prominently displayed, we looked in vain for a snap of the family dog, Birillo. In collaboration with the Mapei Sport Center, Basso will post all of his training information and blood levels online. In a message on the new website devoted to Basso, Aldo Sassi expressed cautious optimism about Basso's future as a clean rider. He explained that the Mapei Center decided in February 2008 to begin working with the Varesino. "Cycling is in a huge state of emergency," writes Sassi, and "simply deleting from cycling the names of the cheaters" will not solve the problem. What matters to Sassi is Basso's stated commitment to return clean, and he hopes, as do we, that it will not all end in disappointment. Once bitten, twice shy. To follow Basso's training progress, visit the Mapei website and register.
Philippe Gilbert may not ride the Tour de France next season, confided Silence-Lotto DS Marc Sargeant to cyclismag.com. Gilbert will follow a different program next season, in particular racing less in the early season and peaking for the Ardennes. "Our strength is to have leaders in every domain, Hoste and Roelandts for the races in Flanders, Evans for the Tour de France, and Gilbert for the Ardennes," he said. For the moment Gilbert's main races will be: Het Volk, Paris-Nice, Milano-San Remo, Flèche Wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, La Vuelta, and the Worlds road race in Mendrisio.
Paolo Bettini thinks Gilbert can win the Ardennes classics, if he abandons the cobbles. In a recent interview given to the Belgian press, Bettini compared Gilbert to Danilo Diluca. Ardennes Fans take note. Bettini also said that he did not want to continue his career anywhere other than QuickStep. When it proved impossible to come to terms, he decided to retire rather than sign on elsewhere. Though at the time, Bettini and Lefevere had nothing nice to say to one another in the press, Bettini has since mellowed. He said that he understood the economic realities that dictated Lefevere's decision. Though QuickStep offered him a position in the car, Bettini is done with the demands of constant travel involved in racing. He will instead devote his time to his family and to cyclotourism in his home region of Toscana. Cyclotouring in Toscana. Where do we sign up? Currently, Bettin is contesting the Six Days race in Amsterdam, where after four days he sits in sixth with partner Juan Llaneras.
Last, but certainly, not least, just when you thought the battling among the sport's alphabet suits had come to an end, the UCI and the AFLD have picked a fight over the doping controls at next year's Tour de France. Until 2007, the UCI directed the doping controls at the Tour. Then, the ALFD, the French anti-doping authorities took over. Pierre Bordry, president of the AFLD, is especially concerned about the riders who passed the UCI's biological passport program, but failed doping controls at the Tour de France. How could the UCI have missed these obvious signs? The AFLD is demanding "guarantees of transparency" from the UCI, and has asserted an unwillingness to return to the arrangements of the past in which the UCI determined the overall anti-doping strategy, in particular who was targetted for testing, and the AFLD provided the analysis. No doubt this particular battle will consume much of the off-season months. We will strive to give it our attention, though we admit to becoming easily distracted from such things.
And with that, we sign off from this edition of the Gossip. Until next time, my friends. And keep those jerseys zipped!