A long midseason break in sports is usually known as the silly season wherein, and as a result of the absence of real sporting news, the media works itself into a frenzy reporting on rumours and speculation about who will do what next season . Well this year, in cycling and F1, it's been the insanity season.
First off, F1.
BMW says Auf Wedersehen: Wednesday this week was a doozy. First off I found BMW had up and quit the sport. It was only slightly less shocking because Honda had done the same thing some 8 months earlier. However, I was still surprised because Honda's decision has proven to be, how shall we put this... retarded. Jenson Button is now leading the championship with a car designed and funded by Honda, but with no Honda branding. Heck, they're still running off of Honda's severance funding. They basically built a championship winning car and then made sure they got no credit for it.
12 months ago BMW looked like a strong bet for the 2009 season, such was their ascendancy in the F1 food chain. However, one lackluster season in the midst or a vicious recession has proven too much for BMW's board to withstand. If there is anything we can learn from Honda's case, its that things can change very quickly, and only those with smart minds and strong stomachs will succeed.
The Kaiser from Kerpen Returns: Then, immediately after reading about BMW's exit, I saw that one Michael Schumacher had decided 'duty called' and he must drive for the Prancing Horse in their time of need after Massa's horrific accident. Very dramatic stuff, but if there's anything the last 8 months of following cycling has taught me, its that there's nothing wrong with a 7 time champ coming back to school the new kids on the block. I'm personally stoked to see how the Schumi can do in the new world of F1. Cars have changed a lot since his retirement, but you don't win WDCs on big chins alone so I'm sure the German legend will figure things out. Furthermore, if Schumacher can bring Ferrari a win after their dismal start to 2009, it will only further his legend.
Perhaps most tantalizing however, is the prospect of some proper Lewis Hamilton vs. Michael Schumcher battles. We've never seen it before and with both teams seemingly returning to the front things should heat up between the old legend and the new prodigy.
And now to cycling.
Cutting to the chase, everything relies on Contador. The ultra talented Spaniard may have shot himself in the foot by refusing to play the game with Bruyneel and Amstrong this year, robbing himself of of the best support team and staff anyone could ask for when shooting for the Grand Tours. I was really disappointing that Alberto couldn't keep his ego in check enough to realize what he had. Sure, Lance is a huge celebrity who tends to have a black hole effect on everything and everyone around him, but that could be a boost for the Spaniard as he tries to focus on preparing for another yellow jersey. If Alberto Contador knows he can beat anyone in the world, why not keep the power of Lance on his side? Something about friends close and enemies closer.
As it turns out Conta has limited options:
Caisse D'Epargne - The Spanish team is already loaded with some serious talent, so it's going to take some new sponsorship to pay AC's tab. Santander is most often mentioned in relation to Contador, but I can hardly see a dual bank sponsorship working very well so the money isn't coming from there if he goes to Caisse. However, this is probably Spain's strongest team, so if he wants to stay local this may be the way to go. Not a bad team of support riders either, if they can get LL Sanchez, Pereiro, and Valverde all on the same page in the same playbook.
Fernando Alonso / Santander - A long shot, both because it seems to me Fernando Alonso has more important things (getting his hands on a Ferrari seat) to do than run a bike team, and because finding a legitimate tour caliber team of riders is no small task at the moment.
Katusha - This, in my mind, may make the most sense. The team is loaded monetarily, and they're still searching out their superstar. Last year the rumor mill suggested that the Russians were making a big money play for Carlos Sastre, so why wouldn't they go for Contador this year? They've even got a super strong team to help at the Tour with the likes of Pozzatto, Steegmans, and Vlad Karpets. Will Contador go for the slightly aloof Russian management though? He may have had enough of sketchy Eastern European backers after this year.
Astana - Contador has got one more year on his contract with Astana, but expect him to bug out of there as quickly as possible. RadioShack is going to suck most of the talent out of the team, leaving a shell of its former self. Add to that Alexandre Vinokourov's return and you've got a weaker team that probably won't get invited to the Tour at all.
Garmin - As much as I'd like to see Vaughters continue on his path of grooming VandeVelde and Wiggins (and perhaps Dan Martin?) into Tour contenders, Contador has to look appealing to the Boulder based team. Two seasons ago Slipstream was positioned to be the American team. Everything looked as if they'd take the mantle from Discovery and run with it, but since then we've seen the emergence of Columbia as an American team that wins almost every weekend. I can't even count the number of times Columbia has rained on Garmin's parade, either through Cavendish's unbeatable sprinting, or the Giro TTT this May. Add to that the formation of Lance Armstrong's RadioShack team, which is certain to suck as much publicity and attention as is possible, and you can see how Garmin may need some big announcements.
I'd be the first person to wish Wiggo and VdV all the luck in the world at the Tour, and no one would be happier than me if they succeeded, but from Vaughter's perspective (needing to beat Lance freaking Armstrong at the Tour) Contador is the safest bet. Conversely, Garmin should present a great choice for Contador. They've got a support staff that is the equal of any team out there, and if they can get the rest of the team on board with El Pistolero's show, we could see an unbeatable combination next year of VdV, Wiggo, D Millar, and Dave Z all helping Contodor in the mountains. This is perhaps the most serious threat to RadioShack that exists, and I imagine Contador's desires to beat them are only matched by Slipstream's.
Where will the money come from? Speculation was rife during the Giro that Herbalife was poised to jump on board if Contador left Astana, so hopefully they've kept that on ice. Either way, Contador is becoming one of the strongest brands in cycling, so if any sponsor is going to kick down, it'll be for the man who's won the last four Grand Tours he's entered.
Watch this space.
Contador is currently clobbering the Tour de France. There's really just no other way to put it. He's one of the most talented climbers we've ever seen, and he now seems to have improved his time trialing to be a world beater there too. The last Tour winner who combined such a high level in both disciplines is his 37 year old team mate from Texas. And since cycling is nothing if not tainted by the spector of doping, Contador's domination has ineveitably led to accusations that he's riding with help. I'm inclined to trust the system of innocent till proven guilty, so here's my take on how Contador dominated yesterday's TT.
First off, he's just plain good at them now. Alberto has never been terrible at TTs in the way Sastre or other pure climbers are, so he's already shown he has the ability to ride fast against the clock. No one ever bats an eye when Levi Leipheimer (another slightly built 'climber') kills a TT, so why the surprise over Contador? Also, thus far this year, he's won a prologue in Paris-Nice, the Spanish National Championships, and he was second in Monaco. Also, rumour has it he spent the month leading up to the Tour working almost entirely on the TT bike.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, is the effect three weeks of racing has had on everyone. Before the stage in Annecy Fabian Cancellara said third week tts are always special because there are so many factors going into it. Its not just the TT iteself, but how tired you are overall. In his opinion, a few of the big hitters would suffer more than you'd expect because of the efforts put out the day before chasing Contador and the Schlecks over the mountains. And voila, most of the GC boys who were clinging on by their fingernails on the Colombiere (Lance, Wiggo, Kloden) put in sub par TT times. Those who were riding within themselves, (Contador, Andy Schleck, and guys in the grupetto like Fabian) all had more in the tank for the solo effort.
After getting a flat in the yellow jersey during stage 7 of this year's Tour de France, Fabian Cancellara was faced with a daunting task of chasing down the peleton on this fast decent. If you're short of time I suggest skipping to about 3:25 where things get really interesting.
Football Suggest you all read the cycling posts, after all there is not much football left.
This year's Giro D'Italia seems set to remain a thriller from start to finish simply because the course is such an enigma. Grand Tours usually tend to follow a certain formula; a week of flats, some mountains, a recovery, some more mountains, and more often than not, a TT right before a processional finish around a beautiful European city. This year's Tour of Italy is totally different, and it's only as we approach its halfway mark am I beggining to understand it.
Danilo DiLuca and Denis Menchov, however, seem to have figured it out long ago. This year's Giro is all about aggresive riding day in and day out, and DiLuca's run in the pink jersey is a reflection of that. Denis' Menchov crushed the Cinque Terra TT today, but his big lead over many of the other favorites is because he's been grabbing time here and there all week. His stage win in the mountains got him a 20 second time bonus. DiLuca has almost a minute of his GC classification time due to time bonuses, because he's been grabbing wins and podiums every chance he gets.
And that's the key really. Since the race really lacks the huge selective mountain stages where climbers can put 3-4 minutes on rivals over 15k of climbing you have to play things differently.
Don't even begin to think that this thing is settled though. Coming up we've got four more mountain top finishes in the less well known southern Italian mountains. None of them look set to be high alpine style climbs though, but are instead explosive leg killers, the kind of thing DiLuca lives for, as long as he's got anything left after his flamboyant riding through the first half of the race.
Two of the climbs stand out; the Blockhaus stage, a crazy short 83km day that climbs from start to finish, and the summit finish atop Mt. Vesuvius outside of Naples. But while both of these climbs promise some serious fireworks, its going to take something very special for the likes of Sastre or Basso to overcome their current defecit to the leaders. Menchov and Leipheimer are no slouches on the climbs, and no matter how well the mountain goats do going up, there is one last TT between a rider and winning the Giro D'Italia.
The final day in Rome is one for the specialists. I'd put money on Levi to at least get a stage win out of it, and depending on how he reacts to the attacks on the previous week's vicious mountains he may be able to ride into a pink jersey.
Predictions? I think Basso is out. He hasn't shown that special punch on the climbs, and he can't hold a candle to Levi in the TT. The way Liquigas has been riding on the front you'd think they've almost convinced themselves they're leading, but I don't think they look set to make it happen this year. I think Di Luca has a real shot, even after losing the jersey today. If he can maintain his form for the duration then the upcoming summit finishes look tailor-made for him. However, I still think the race win will go to Levi or Menchov. They're both too strong and too smart to let DiLuca blow them apart in the next week, and you know they're both going to crush him on the fast TT in Rome. Whoever wins, with a course that only the Italians could come up with, It should be exciting all the way to the end.
1 Hail to the Champions. Glory Glory, Man United! This was indeed a great "squad" effort. All credit to Manchester United, the players, the manager and the backroom staff. Take a hint Mr. Benitez! While Football is a big fan of Rafa Benitez and thinks his "wavos" in taking on Sir Alex Ferguson in psychological warfare should be commended, someone needs to wake Rafa up and remind him that United are indeed Champions. He should do the honorable thing and congratulate United and Fergie. Football feels that if the tables are turned next year, which is looking like a distinct possibility Fergie will be a little more gracious in defeat.
1 Football says, Hey Platini! Let's play Extra time and then go to Away Goals as a tie breaker. Wouldn't 30 more minutes of football and the ad revenue that comes with those extra 30 minutes of Football have been better for the game than the way Barcelona advanced? In the land of Football's birth, there is an expression, "a tie is like kissing your sister." Seems sometimes the UEFA crew encourages this type of thing too often. Play Extra time, then go to tiebreakers.
First Thing First - Two sound Champions League Matches
5 Things Football Edition 4-23
Apologies to our Loyal Readers but Football has been busy trying to find a day job.
Just an Aside – Since our last post there was a somber Memorial for the 96 Liverpool Supporters crushed to death at Hillsborough Stadium during the FA Cup Semi-Final 20 years ago. Since then many have taken up the effort and have successfully made Football matches safer in the UK and much has been accomplished in the names of the 96. No matter what colors you wear, that which unites us is greater than that which divides us, and Everton Supporters set aside old rivalries to show support to the Neighbors in Red in an outpouring that makes Football proud to be a fan of this game.
Clearly mistakes were made and if there was ever an apology that seems long past due is that of the establishment to those who lost loved ones on that April Day. For the 96, Justice.
1 Champions League – And then there were 4. Chelsea outlast Liverpool in one for the ages and get rewarded with Barcelona, who made Bayern Munich look like an U-17 squad. Manchester United go through courtesy of a howitzer from CR7 and a sound defensive effort. Arsenal send Villareal out of the Tourney thanks a to a 3-0 effort at the Emirates.
2 FA Cup – And then there were 2. Chelsea sent Arsenal back down the road with a loss after a tough match. Everton took care of Fergie’s Fledglings in PK’s. Recently there was a banner at and Everton Match that said “Superman wears Tim Cahill Pajamas.” After the Penalty Shootout, they should change the sign to read “Superman wears Tim Howard Pajamas.” God Bless America. In the Prem Chelsea and Everton played to a double Guus- Egg draw at Stamford Bridge. Even if the FA Cup final is a goalless draw, if Chelsea and Everton play with that much effort then those 90k plus at Wembley will get what they paid for.
3 The Race for the Prem Title. Liverpool and Arsenal fought each other in a 12 round slugfest that would give the Arturo Gatti and Mickey Ward fights a run for their money. Arse Shaven scores 4 at Anfield and dents Liverpool’s title hopes in the process. If not for an Isreali and El Nino, Liverpool would have no shot of winning this year’s prem title. Manchester United Saw off Pompey and gave themselves a 3 point lead with a game in hand, but those pesky Reds from Merseyside are there should United Slip up.
4 The Race Against the Drop. No more commentary. No discussion of the run in or effort to predict points. Football can’t predict who is going to the Championship this week, but Football will print the bottom half of the table so you can see it for yourself.
Place Club Points
13 Bolton 3 37
14 Portsmouth 37
15 Sunderland 35
16 Hull 34
17 Blackburn 34
18 Middlesbrough 31
19 Newcastle 30
20 West Brom 25
5 Championship Update
Wolves will be in the EPL next year. Thus at least for the start of the Season so will Mick McCarthy.
Which two squads will be joining them is still to be decided.
However, Roy Keane is back in the Game. He will definitely be in the Championship next year. Keano’s dogs may miss the attention but Ipswich Town are Lucky to have him!
Finally this will go down as the depression post as we started with the paying of the respects to the 96 and close with the paying of respects to Southampton. Saints are in financial trouble, they may be relegated to League 1 and face a 10 point deduction at the start of next season. Tip a 40 to the Saints and their supporters, who deserve better.