Ten (plus one) transactions that shook the world... of cycling... in 2009... which hasn't happened yet. In order of importance to their teams. Dissent will not be tolerated.
1. Ivan Basso to Liquigas
Sorry to start with the blatantly obvious, but when we last saw him, he was a more polished, mature version of Contador, and rumor has it that he hasn't changed much. As far as the Leakies are concerned, having a clear captain in the grand tours should be a welcomed change. Relying on Franco Pellizotti was a decent plan B, and Save Ferris might get a shot at a Giro d'italia win, once Basso tucks away another Giro win and reverts back to his Tour de France focus in 2010 (maybe). Meanwhile, Roman Kreuziger and Vincenzo Nibali can develop comfortably, and someday we can all enjoy a four-way civil war for team supremacy.
2. Philippe Gilbert to Silence
Something of a feel-good transfer, a Belgian puncheur and classics star joins a team that could use some help in the home races. Greg Van Avermaet is busting out, mostly in stage race sprints but is growing up on the cobbles. Leif Hoste is the long-running movie with a few good scenes. Gilbert gives them a third threat, more versatile and aggressive than Hoste and more polished than Van Avermaet. And having the top Wallonian star in the fold has to help in their endless war with Quick Step for the hearts and minds of Belgian fans.
3. Gerald Ciolek to Milram
Smart move by both sides. Milram have an uphill climb in luring German fans back to the sport, so nabbing a guy who might be the next Zabel (should I even say that?), all of 22 years old, is a great addition to their suddenly youthful, dynamic team. As for Ciolek, getting away from Cavendish was a no-brainer, whether he was having fun at Columbia or not. This is no time for him to be working on his lead-outs.
4. Lance Armstrong to Astana
Not gonna flog this one too much. Will Astana even notice another grand tour winner? Well, yes, because if they want to throw all their top resources at the Tour, they'd have to withhold most of them from the Giro... until now. Lance probably won't beat Basso, but if he does, Astana could go for the grand tour clean sweep
5. Filippo Pozzato to Katyusha
I'm not sure exactly what Katyusha's mojo is, but I'm guessing their real impact will be on the classics, particularly with Pozzato in the fold. It certainly won't be the Italian calendar, having jettisoned their entire non-Russian team and brought in only one Italian who happens to fit better in Belgium. Pozzato's return home didn't seem to work very well, with a solid 2007 and a less impressive 2008. Not bad, he didn't need to flee Liquigas, but as the Lime Express train their thoughts on stage racing, Pippo should slot in better at Katyusha.
6. Enrico Gasparotto to Lampre
My favorite move. Gasparotto is yet another Italian with a Flemish heart. Three of his four wins in '08 were in Flanders, while his best performances were at Tirreno-Adriatico and Dreidaagse de Panne. Meanwhile, Lampre's cobbles captain Alessandro Ballan has bec ome a little more conspicuous, what with the rainbows and all. Which means, Lampre's captain needs all the help he can get, and Gasparotto is as perfect a fit as the Italian squad could have found. Ballan has teammates who can help protect him for a while, but Gasparotto is something more: a threat to win, a guy you can't allow to go up the road.
7. Maxime Monfort to Columbia
Blogged on this before. He's a project still, only 25, but Columbia's long-term outlook could well include filling that one hole on the resume marked "GC winner". Just as they built a sprint- and stage-winning juggernaut, rather quickly, by stockpiling young talent, so too are they racking up the kids with more versatile talents (Boasson Hagen, Lovkvist). Don't expect too much in 2009, but it will be very interesting to see how they use him.
update: 7.5 Linus Gerdemann to Milram. See comments.
8. Stef Clement to Rabobank
Maybe I'm overrating this one a bit, since Clement so far in his young career has excelled exclusively in time trials. But Rabobank are harvesting a bumper crop of young Dutch talent, and adding Clement to Langeveld, Gesink and Mollema give them a talented local kid for every discipline. Granted, that plan looked positively golden when Thomas Dekker was part of the equation. Ah well... still, the Netherlands is usually just outside the elite class of Cycling nations, but they're gearing up to make the case for inclusion.
9. Carlos Sastre to Cervelo
Not much to say, other than the obvious: hiring the reigning yellow jersey is a great way to get your new team noticed. Of course, Sastre's chance of repeating is close to nil, unless his Cervelo Test Team mates can come close to CSC's tactical greatness. Not bloody likely. But he and they could animate the Giro.
10t. Thomas Dekker to Silence
Very weird situation, but if he gets back on the bike and isn't the subject of rumors (or worse), he could give Cadel Evans the dynamic protege/helper/alternative he's needed so badly. Silence in general have gone from rather thinly staffing every discipline to becoming genuinely interesting in a couple places.
10t. Giovanni Visconti to ISD
A blistering fall campaign helped the 25-year-old Italian champion make the leap to the big time. His extended tutelage under Paolo Bettini's watchful eye was no accident: Visconti is a climber who can sprint, with some nice sprint wins on his resume, along with a fourth place in Lombardia last month. Joining a somewhat Italian team (don't see them focusing on races in Ukraine) gives him freedom to chase the glory, as captain of a young squad. Pretty cool... but don't be shocked if it takes a year or two to gel.
Honorable mentions: Sylvester Szmyd to Liquigas; Ivan Dominguez to Rock Racing. Szmyd is one of those glue guys, helping Leakygas transform into a grand tour juggernaut just in time to crush the competition at the centennial Giro. As for Dominguez, the guy can still sprint, giving Rock a troika of Fast Freddie, Rahsaan Bahati and the Cuban Missile to bag domestic glory.