We say au revoir to the Tour de France for another year. Is there any other time of year as perfect as July? Every day feels like Christmas with a new stage to unwrap and a new surprise inside. But all good things must come to an end, and end the Tour has for this time around. Fortunately, the world keeps turning.
We can not leave the Tour behind without relating one last story. What is bike racing without the stories and tall tales? This one takes place on the eve of the Alpe d'Huez stage. That night, Bjarne Riis called Carlos Sastre and Fränk Schleck, who was at that time the race leader, into his hotel room. Said Riis, "If you want to win the Tour, you must work together, and you must not have fear if the other attacks." One of you must sacrifice for the other. It was difficult to say to tell two ambitious riders that only one could win, acknowledged the Dane later. Then Riis said, "because Fränk has the Yellow Jersey, it must be Carlos who attacks first." An attack from the yellow jersey had little chance of success, as every rider with hopes for the classification would follow such a move. For the team to win, Carlos had to attack. As, of course, he did the next day.
Team tactics dictated that Fränk sit and watch the kilometers tick by, watch the jersey slip off his shoulders. As Sastre rode up the climb, he repeated to himself, "To become one of the greats, one must suffer." We know now how it ended. Carlos Sastre did the ride of his life to win the stage and take the race lead. Fränk Schleck dissolved in tears with his family, aware that he'd had no choice but to ride as he did, and aware also that he may never have another chance to wear yellow. Little wonder he had nothing left to defend his podium spot in the crono after so much drama. Here at the Gossip, we wish Fränk many more happy victories in the future. For certainly, to set aside his own ambitions was no easy thing. But who could stand in the way of a team mate who dreamed also of winning? Ah, but these, my friends, are the stories from which legends are made.
He is the one that cycling has been waiting for, said a French journalist of Andy Schleck. The younger Schleck has the podium in sight, perhaps as early as next year. He told the press he had not planned to ride for White, this year, but was happy all the same to have won it. The younger Schleck is calmly confident in his chances of wearing yellow in the future, saying that he has learned from his mistake on the Hautacam, where he bonked and dropped nine minutes, and believes he has the ability to win. After watching him twiddle his way up the Alpe d'Huez, covering every move with ease, we see no reason to disagree. And we do hope he got his hamburger and beer in Paris.
Got lawyers? Dekker does. Monday, the Dutch press lit up with the news that it was splitsville for Thomas Dekker and Team Rabobank. The reason? According to the news stories, the team received notice from the UCI that Dekker had recorded variable blood values in UCI doping controls. The press reports included confirmation from team management that they had received the warnings. The UCI letter came during May. Perhaps this explains Dekker's abrupt abandon from the Tour de Romandie and poor performance at the Tour de Suisse? We would not be surprised. In June, Team Rabobank removed Dekker from the Tour de France team at the last moment, and the national team recently declared that he would not ride the Olympic games. From the sounds of it, Dekker had landed in a heapload of trouble.
Not so fast, said the lawyers. In response to the stories, Dekker released a letter, signed by Dr. Marzoli of the UCI, that confirmed that his blood had not tested above UCI limits for hematocrit and hemoglobin. The Get Out of Jail Free card, an excellent choice. Team management at Team Rabobank backpedalled at a very high cadence: Yes, we received a notice from the UCI, but it was not conclusive, and Dekker can ride all the races he wants. All the races, except the ones Team Rabobank is actually riding. Like say, the Vuelta, where Robert Gesink and Oscar Freire will lead the team. Though Dekker has publicly denied he is leaving Rabobank, the transfer rumormill is also spinning at a very high cadence. Rumor connects Dekker with four teams: Team Garmin, Team Columbia, CSC-Saxo Bank, and Astana.
Though fired from Team Astana, Vladimir Gusev can still ride the Olympic Games. So says the UCI. Monday, Ann Gripper, head of anti-doping at the UCI, confirmed that the UCI had no grounds to prevent him from racing. Gusev remains eligible to represent Russia at the Olympics, but will need a new team to continue racing. Which team will hire him? We don't dare speculate.
Barloworld stays Barloworld. Barloworld, the sponsor, will continue to sponsor Barloworld, the team, until the end of this season. The bank announced during the Tour that it wanted to withdraw its sponsorship, but has now changed its mind, after receiving confrmation that the Moises Dueñas case did not result from team-wide doping practices. Apparently, Claudio Corti has lawyers, too.
Stuey O'Grady has renewed his contract with CSC-Saxo Bank for two years. He joins team mate Fabian Cancellara, who signed for three more years, in the CSC renewal club. Carlos Sastre has yet to renew, though Bjarne Riis has promised to open the budget wide for the new Tour winner.
In the meantime, Sastre has donated €10,000 to a childrens' cancer hospital in Ghent, Belgium. His Belgian fan club, "Amigos de Sastre," has for some time donated a portion of their membership dues to the hospital, and the Tour winner paid the hospital a visit this Monday. While in Belgium, Sastre celebrated his first post-Tour win, beating out Cavendish and Freire in a post-Tour criterium in Aalst. Who knew Sastre had a sprint like that? Oscar Freire got his revenge in Diksmuide, Belgium, where he beat Gert Steegmans and Bernhard Kohl. Curious business, these criteriums. Sastre will ride the Olympics for Spain, then prepare for La Vuelta à España, where he will meet last year's Tour winner Alberto Contador.
Transfer-o-rama! Ex-Italian national champion Enrico Gasparotto will ride for Team Lampre for the next two years, adding to the pink and blue team's classics team, currently led by Alessandro Ballan. Gaspo won a stage of the Three Days of Pain this year and a stage and the overall at the Ster Elektrotoer. Francesco Cicchi, meanwhile, has renewed with Liquigas, and Stéphane Goubert, last seen riding at the front on the Alpe d'Huez, will continue on with AG2R. The Trivia Department has informed us that Goubert is currently 38 years of age.
The Search. Roger Legeay will next week make the much-awaited announcement concerning the team's future. After ten years in the sport, Crédit Agricole is ending its engagement as sponsor to the team. Legeay reportedly sent out over 1000 letters in his effort to secure a new sponsor for the team. In Germany, meanwhile, Eric Holzcer has said that he expects to know the future of Team Gerolsteiner by the end of August. The delay may cost him dear, as riders look elsewhere for contracts. Already Davide Rebellin has signed with Team LPR. Does anyone think Bernhard Kohl will wait until August to sign a new contract?
On the subject of the Tour podium, Cadel Evans has a contract with Silence-Lotto until the end of 2009. But that contract reportedly allows him to leave the team if he receives a better — read: more euros — contract offer. Will Cadel Evans leave Silence-Lotto? Rumors connect him with team... Really, do we have to finish this sentence? No word whether Evans has yet hired a Russian tutor. The Australian currently prepares in Varese for the Olympics. Evans sustained a knee injury during his post-Tour festivities, but it will apparently not hinder his training. Sadly, we have been unable to uncover the details of the dance-floor mishap. The rumors of our omniscience are vastly over-stated.
The preparations of Olympic and World Champion Paolo Bettini proceed swimmingly. Sunday, he won a stage of the Tour de Wallonie in Belgium, one of the races he has chosen to hone his form for Beijing. The stage ended on a climb to the citadel of Namur, a finish used in the Giro two years ago, and Bettini beat out Greg Van Avermaet of Silence-Lotto and Alexandr Kolobnev of CSC-Saxo Bank. The world champion said he was "molto contento" with the win. "The team is on a fantastic level, and even Tom Boonen sacrificed for me," he said. Andrea Tonti strung out the bunch in "Indian file," then Boonen led out Bettini for the sprint. Bettini said his form was improving day by day, and his run-in to the Olympics is going according to plan.
Last seen embracing the pavement at the Tour de France, Damiano Cunego has returned to training. He says that his injuries from the Tour will not compromise his preparations for the Olympics where he will ride along side Bettini. Speculation abounds in Italy as to the cause of his disastrous ride at the Tour de France, with most concluding that something went badly wrong with his preparation. What exactly went wrong is a matter of some debate. Davide Cassani, for one, believes that he over-trained in the crono, gaining too much muscle mass, and lost his speed and agility for the climbs. Whatever the cause, Cunego must certainly want to forget this Tour as soon as possible. He will ride Classico San Sebastien, then head to Beijing, dreaming of brighter days.
And that's all she wrote!
'til next time,