So much big news swirling now -- is there something about late September that's the new "let's release news!" deadline? -- and it doesn't get any bigger than this.
Kittel to Etixx - Quick Step (?) (!)
Yep, Marcel Kittel, the World's Best Sprinter since Mark Cavendish became a dad, is moving into Cav's old spot at Club Lefev', according to Het Nieuwsblad. The inner workings are ably reported by CyclingNews, but it has to do with new sponsorship and serious contract wangling. Nobody will confirm anything, but there's quite a lot of smoke.
Kittel was coming off a tremendously successful pair of campaigns from 2013-14 for Giant-Alpecin, one of the sport's most vibrant teams, but after winning the People's Choice Classic the Arnstadt native contracted the Tasmanian Flu and missed all but 33 race days in 2015, with only a sprint win in Poland for his troubles.
The move makes sense, in part because... because... ah hell...
Lidl to Sponsor Club Lefev'
... because Etixx just got a ton of money from a German grocery store chain. If you're not excited about this, click here and look at the adorable photo. If that's not winning, then nothing is. Lef says it's the biggest single sponsor payout in the sport, which is great (for them), and maybe a sign that it's safe for (a) anyone to pour gobs of money into the sport and (b) Germans to go all-in for cycling. I'm sure the increased investment will be used solely for good, not evil. I mean, the National Football League is richer than Roosevelt now and look how awesome that is!
Anyway, the Quick Step project rolls merrily along, and not in a fantasy-sports-like "let's buy the big names" so much as "let's use our money to put together a very coherent, balanced roster of our choosing." Kittel may be getting very expensive, but he's also only 26, and his only down year coincides with some sort of gross disease. It's reasonable to expect that he'll come back in 2016 still possessing the sport's best haircut and fastest sprint, which he can deploy for at least three more years before worrying about the next big thing. Cav, old and cranky now, slunks off to ... wait for it; but anyway Club Lefev' gets younger. Getting more German makes sense too, since Tony Martin is one of the easier guys to root for, so they've already built up some fanhood in their neighboring country. Nothing bad ever happens when Belgians and Germans work together.
Back at Giant, the loss of Kittel can be absorbed easily enough by deploying existing weapons in John Degenkolb and Luka Mezgec. Probably not going to win as many Tour stages that way, but it's reasonable to think Captain Degs can handle a good number of the tricky sprints, if not the simple, flat ones (assuming Kittel is in his way). Plus the money saved on Kittel can be used to buy about half a dozen major young talents -- the team's Prime Directive -- and to wit they've already signed up Danish stud Soren Kragh Andersen, last seen outkicking Mathieu van der Poel for a stage win in the Tour de l'Avenir. Win all around.
Major Transformation Underway at MTN-Qhubeka
I guess you already know about Cav to MTN. You probably also already know about MTN the phone service sponsor going away. Now we know they will be replaced by Dimension Data, a South African-founded IT services company now owned by Japanese mega-behemoth NTT. Anyway, they'll still race to promote the Qhubeka charity (providing bicycle transport to people in need), and accounting giant Deloitte will take on a secondary role in sponsorship. All of this is a pretty impressive development for a team that didn't seem too prominent just two years ago, and is a good indication of how major corporate sponsors behave -- regardless of their motivations, they like to rally around a cause.
That has given the team the impetus to add Cavendish and Mark Renshaw to the sprint team, along with road captain type Bernie Eisel and Nathan Haas. Also Omar Fraile won himself a contract with his Vuelta KOM success and will join the uphill squad. Matt Goss and Gerald Ciolek are apparently moving on, leaving Tyler Farrar from the original sprint squad... except Farrar's role seems likely to change, possibly for the much, much better. Farrar's days of winning bunch sprints are close to done (he'll grab a few on his way out, I'm sure), but last weekend we saw that he is still a strong rider. My hunch is that he goes all in on the classics, and while nobody's tipping him to win, he's worth having around for a team that isn't stockpiling cobbles assets.
Oh, and (interim) DS Brian Smith says Cav will have some freedom to attack as well. This could be fun.