And a Few Other Rumors for Your Tuesday Entertainment
Warning: Rumorage Ahead. Proceed with Caution.
Paolo Bettini, current World Champion, has yet to sign a new contract for next year. Speculation abounds that he does not wish to remain with his Belgian team, QuickStep, and may look elsewhere for the coming season. The question is where. What team could afford the two-time World Champion? And, where might he enjoy a free hand to ride his favorite races? If Bettini wins in Varese, he will become the first rider in the history of the sport to win Worlds three times in succession. Not even Merckx accomplished that feat.
More than once, Bettini has said that he will retire at the end of the season. He may yet do so. Lefevere at QuickStep has also said that Bettini can continue with the team, if he wishes. But no one seems to know what the Tuscan will choose to do with his career.
In the meantime, the transfer market is shifting and whirling in its chaotic way. We have already heard a great deal about Tinkoff version 2.0. Certainly, they can afford a World Champion or several. But while Oleg has trumpeted his ambitions far and wide, declaring that he wants to sign this rider and that, he has never mentioned Bettini. Sastre is the most recent addition to the Tinkoff wish list. With Pozzato already on the roster, Bettini probably doesn't fit. Not that such considerations always matter.
Bettini's protegé, Giovanni Visconti, is reportedly leaving QuickStep. According to the Italian press, Visconti will likely join a new Italian-Ukrainian team, ISD-Danieli. The new team, sponsored by two industrial corporations in Ukraine (ISD) and Italy (Danieli), will carry a roster of 24 riders, of whom 14 will come from Ukraine. Inquiring minds wonder if perhaps Yaroslav Popovych is among them, though his name has not yet emerged in connection with the team. Visconti and Andriy Grivko are the only two names mentioned so far. The team is aiming to be competitive internationally from their first year, and hope to reach the top ten in the international rankings. Press releases are so optimistic. In any case, the sponsors have committed to a three year contract. Marco Floreani will be the sporting director in Italy, while Myrza Nikolay holds the same role for the Ukrainian side of the team. Perhaps in a bit of role reversal, Bettini follows Visconti? Certainly, that would be one way to raise the profile of the new team.
ISD-Danieli is not the only new team on the block. We have already heard about the new Swiss-registered team headlined by Cervélo. Despite the rumors that link the team with Carlos Sastre among others, the early indications from Cervélo are that they plan a more modest team to showcase and test their products. Not likely the place for either a Tour winner or a World Champion.
But rumor also suggests that yet another new team may come together before this transfer season is up. And this team would likely be fit for the Spanish Tour winner, if not the Italian World Champion. This team reportedly has a major Spanish sponsor, but I have yet to see it named. Sastre is apparently on as team leader, while for the classics they may have hired Rebellin, who is also connected with LPR and Liquigas. No one seems to know who will direct the new team with the unknown sponsor, but rumor suggests that a member of the technical staff at CSC will follow Sastre and two from Gerolsteiner will join Rebellin. A very tidy little rumor, when it comes right down to it. A Spanish sponsor brings the Spanish Tour winner home. Not half bad, really. Still, it feels like vaporware in the absence of such useful details as the sponsor's name. And if Rebellin is truly on board, we have not yet solved the problem of Bettini.
Which returns us to Italia. LPR loses Paolo Savoldelli at the end of the season, and gains his contract money. LPR is reportedly interested in David Rebellin. Rebellin, Bettini, it's all the same, right? Except in the small matter of salary, I suspect. Lampre has reinforced their classics squadra by picking up Enrico Gasparotto. Rumor reports that Lampre is also negotiating with Pietro Caucchioli, late of Crédit Agricole, and Leonardo Bertagnolli, currently winning every race he can find. Bettini has called Cunego, who after this season desperately needs some bubble wrap, his successor. Going out on a limb, no Lampre for Bettini. Of the Italian teams only Liquigas makes much sense, assuming they have any euros left after picking up Ivan Basso. So far, however, no rumorage has surfaced linking Bettini to Liquigas.
Quite the man of mystery, this Bettini. Together with Carlos Sastre, his story remains one of the more suspenseful of this transfer season. Of course, both stories could very well end in anticlimax, with both riders renewing with their present teams. I would not be entirely surprised to see them do so, as both are older riders, late in their careers, who are looking for a free hand for their particular races. No easy search, that.
In the meantime, more fun with rumors for us.