Longer-Term Investments

Aug 17 2010

I’m wondering who’s more surprised about Ricco’s move to Vacansoleil—fans, journalists, or the rider himself. Ricco seemed pretty sure about going to Quick.Step only a few short days ago, but as press agents anywhere can tell you, the great advantage to leaking information rather than making an above-board announcement is plausible deniability.

That said, the not-so-recently-returned Italian’s marriage to either team hardly represents particularly deep planning. Quick.Step is where GC riders have repeatedly gone to die; while plenty of fans and many in the peloton seem to think that wouldn’t be so bad, I’m doubting Ricco is particularly excited about the prospect. Vacansoleil and Ricco do each have an interest in getting invited to higher-profile races, but I just don’t see how an ostracized ex-doper make a second-tier squad with a history of being snubbed improve each others’ appeal.

But then again, maybe I’m not giving the value of a big-name signing the weight it truly deserves. Despite a lackluster season and advancing age, Carlos Sastre still makes a newsworthy title signing for a new team sponsor. Robbie McEwen, 38 years young and barely managing a footnote of a win this year, claims to have at least interest from other teams.

Vino waiting for the dope control at the 2007 Tour de FranceI hesitate to mention Vino’s recently-announced re-signing; unlike Sastre and McEwen, he’s had a fantastic season, and I think most fans were aware the Vino-4-Ever jersey wasn’t merely a statement of Astana’s faith in their homegrown talent, but also the official terms of his contract.

But as a larger trend, it seems that retirement has been going out of style as of late. One wonders if the popularity of Comeback 2.0 didn’t play something of a role in that; Armstrong’s performance at the 2009 Tour certainly may have emboldened a few riders to try and compete at a higher level than they’d otherwise planned, and he certainly didn’t hold back in exploring new technologies to achieve that end.

Lance’s small-door exit at this year’s TdF may have attracted additional interest as well; after years of suffering at the Texan’s hands in head-to-head competition, a generation of riders may find a measure of revenge in being able to carry on with high-level performances at an age where Armstrong was forced to unceremoniously throw in the towel.

Regardless of the motivations of riders and teams, though, one thing seems certain: a second post-Lance recession is unlikely. Fourteen applicants are competing for the remaining eight ProTour spots—a number that does not include Cervelo TestTeam, who will continue their thus-far successful strategy of circumventing the expense and frustration of the UCI’s red tape by focusing on producing results instead of bank guarantees.

Given the runty performance and unsteady funding delivered by the ProTour structure thus far, it’s a model the UCI might want to consider encouraging in the future.

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