And now it’s time once again for our favorite soap opera … “As the Wheel Turns”. In tonight’s episode: Will Lance be able to stage a comeback? Will any team hire an aging, former Tour de France winner, who’s been away from the bike and out of competition for several years? And will his former teammate Floyd Landis find employment on the team currently known as Health Net-Maxxis? (Momentum Sports is probably glad not to have to worry about the team being affected by this scandal after they secure a new title sponsor. Then again, perhaps the reason Health Net will be dropping their sponsorship is because they have to pay a $25 million fine for improperly dropping subscribers’ coverage.)
Certainly, there’s been a lot of speculation about which team Floyd Landis will join once his suspension is up at the end of January, just over four months from now. Whether or not you think he did the crime, he’s done his time. Having served his time in the wilderness (literally, at times, with the ultraendurance mountain bike races he’s competed in), Landis will be able to compete as a professional cyclist come January 30th, 2009. Just in time to start the Tour of California, should his new team be invited to the race. If so, the first-time winner of the ToC may find himself facing a formidable opponent in Sir Lancelot the Austinian, winner of multiple Tours de France and general nemesis of L’Equipe reporter Damien Ressiot, among others.
The question is who will each racer be racing for? When it comes to Armstrong, the smart money is on the Astana cycling team, headed up by Lance’s old directeur sportif, Johan Bruyneel. Current speculation about Landis is that he will be on the soon-to-be former Health Net team. And speculation is that the new title sponsor will be Smith and Nephew, the makers of Landis’ artificial hip. If so, that would be a good way for the makers of the Birmingham Hip replacement to garner quite a bit of visibility, and it would certainly play into a marketing campaign aimed at younger people who might be in need of a hip replacement.
Of course, it’s all speculation at this point. Sure, Health Net team director Mike Tamayo has confirmed that negotiations are occurring, but it’s a long way from the negotiating table to a signed contract. Anything can happen before the papers are drawn up and the signatures are dry. One rather confused copy editor seems to be thinking that Landis and Armstrong might wind up on the same team. Maybe, however my gut feeling says not bloodly likely. But never say never.
No confirmation from the Landis camp on if or when a contract with Health Net-Maxxis will be signed, how long it might go for, and whether the new incarnation of the team will be purely a US domestic squad, or whether the team will compete in Europe, too. Pez seems to think that the contract is for two years. If so, that would jive with the amount of time that ProTour teams are supposed to avoid hiring him (due to their code of ethics, such as it is). Of course, certain developments earlier this year suggest that the ProTour may be a dead concept, or at least on life support. That being the case, are the remaining teams still bound to avoid hiring a rider convicted of doping violations for two years after his suspension ends?
Lots of speculation going on. Not much in the way of hard facts. Lance Armstrong says he will announce the details of his comeback sometime after September 24th. No word yet on when Floyd Landis will be announcing the details of his comeback. With both riders set to return to action in 2009 — assuming there are teams who will hire Lance and Floyd — the professional cycling scene will be quite interesting to watch.
Somewhere across the pond, there’s a grand tour happening right about now. Egoi Martinez is keeping the Vuelta’s golden fleece warm for whoever the eventual winner might be (Contador, perhaps? Valverde’s hopes seem to have faded from what I’ve read.) And down in my home state, there’s the Tour of Missouri, where Garmin-Chipotle’s Christian Vande Velde holds an 18 second lead over Michael Rogers of Team Columbia. Also across the water, in the other place I call home, there’s a small race called the Tour of Britain going on.
Check back again soon for the next installment of … “As the Wheel Turns.” And be sure to point your browser to ParalympicSport.TV to catch Canadian Jeff Adams as he competes in the 1500-meter wheelchair races on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Will he win the gold? Or will one of his competitors edge Adams out? Tune in to find out. For more information on times, see the previous post.