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.
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.
1 Relegation. Newcastle, Middlesbrough and West Brom were in the last three places at the end of the Season. History suggests that all three will be back shortly.
2 Promotion Playoff. Football was wrong, Burnely will be joining Birmingham City and Wolves as the newly promoted EPL teams next year.
3 Europa League. Americans in Europe will include Aston Villa's Brad Friedel and Brad Guzan, Everton's Tim Howard and Fulham's Clint Dempsey. Over there, Over there the Yanks are coming!
4 Americans as Champions. Maurice Edu and Demarcus Beasley are Scottish Champions with Rangers and Oguchi Onyewu is a Belgian Champion with Standard Liege. In the words of a tearfully overjoyed Homer Simpson "Sweet Land of Liberty!".
5 Football took an official no gossip stance. Football will not break that stance over the offseason. As a result, posts will be fewer and shorter in the next few months. Football will not comment on the manager searches going on. Specifically Football will not comment on the manager search going on at his favorite club. However, Thank you for all that silverware Mr. Strachan!
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.
A bit of a sleepy penultimate weekend in the Prem.
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.
2 Downbound Train: Marmalard, Dead! Neidermeyer, Dead! West Brom...Ok not dead, but relegated. Who will join them? The relegation picture looks a little clearer today. Here is the Breakdown...M'boro need to win, win big and get a lot of help. Newcastle need to win, and Hull or Sunderland need to lose. They can stay up on Goal Differential with a draw if Hull lose. Hull will stay up if both Newcastle and M'boro lose or if Hull win. Sunderland stay up with their win or a loss or draw by Newcastle. If Sunderland lose and Newcastle win and Hull get a draw or a win, S'land will be relegate on Goal Difference. Confused? So is Football, it will all be clear on Sunday.
3 The Race for the 7th Spot. It is down to Fulham and Spurs. Therefore, there will be inaugural Europa League football in London next season. Fulham will get the spot with a win. Fulham get in with a draw, provided Spurs don't win by more than five goals at Liverpool. The Edge has to go to the Cottagers here. However a Fulham loss and and a win by Spurs will see the North Londoners gain that 7th spot. If they both lose Fulham will gain the 7th spot.
4 Cup Finals. Manchester United and Barcelona will square off on the 27th in Champions League Final. Chelsea and Everton will square off on the 30th in the FA Cup final at the New Wembley. Football predicts United to win the Champions League and Everton to win the FA cup. Championship Playoff pitts Burnley against Sheffield United. Football predicts that Sheffield United will return to the promised land that is the EPL.
5 World Cup 2018 and 2022. England deserve to host the World Cup Again. This will be well attended at top rate Stadiums, and there will be minimal trouble between rival fans because, well the British Police have had lots of practice and are very good at keeping crowds under control. Football expects FIFA to do the right thing and award this to England in 2018. In 2022 there is only one place that should host the World Cup, The United States.
1 Football wants to give Credit to Manchester United. Football thinks United won Ugly. Winning Ugly still puts 3 points on the board. The Red side of Manchester need only 1 point from their final two games. Home to Arsenal and away to struggling Hull, I like their chances.
2 Kia Joorabchian, the agent/owner of Carlos Tevez? All Gossip and Hearsay. Football will take the stand not to say anything about this issue, other than Tevez works his socks off on the pitch.
3 Europa League 7th Spot. Fulham took a big step toward that spot. A trip to fighting for their EPL Life Newcastle is the reward. You know what is said about an animal being most dangerous when cornered, so remember I said that FFC Supporters. Do not count out Spurs for this final spot, with their Europa League 6 pointer v the blue side of Manchester this weekend. Should be fun to watch with all other Europa and Champions League places determined.
4 Relegation. Newcastle got a huge win in the fight to avoid the drop by getting 3 points in a 6 pointer against Boro. Pompey, Sunderland and the Newcastle are hovering just above the drop, and are by no means safe yet. Good results can ensure their safety. Hull, Boro and West Brom need good results and help. Should be fun to watch, unless you are a supporter of a team that ends up relegated.
5 Transfer Gossip - Let's all step away. Football is against all the transfer Gossip hitting the press these days. It is all designed to sell ad space on Websites and in Newspapers. (Wait a minute does SOC have any Sponsors Football just Offended? Apologies, Football likes writing for SOC and doesn't want to lose the opportunity.) However, Football gossip is still gossip. So Football will take an anti-gossip stance. Manchester City can not sign everyone they are linked to even with all the oil in the Middle East. Football is publicly denouncing the gossip game. Hopefully there is a sponsor or ad machine that likes this idea.
Results: United win second leg over Arsenal 3-1. Advance on Aggregate 4-1. Barcelona and Chelsea Draw 1-1 in the second leg. Barcelona advance on away goals (AGG 1-1).
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.
2 Officiating 1 Red Cards. Football feels being an official is a thankless task. Football usually tries to defend officials. However, seemed to be a bit odd some of the decisions made by the two officials. Both Red Cards seemed highly suspect and the both refs seemed to be out of position to make those calls. Of course there is currently no way to appeal those decisions so, again UEFA is working through its ancient system to put the best product on the field.
3 Officiating 2 One sided Calls. Seemed to Football that every call went United's way in the first 60 minutes of the game in North London. Seemed to Football that the official in the game in West London didn't want to make a call that could determine the outcome of the game. As a result, the official determined the outcome of the game, and was the talking point of the post game. Perhaps UEFA should bring in CONMEBOL (South American) Officials for the Semi's and Final. They tend to be very good, and they have no issues of favoritism to their home nation.
4 Player Punishment. So much for the respect campaign. Drogba and Ballack should be served with some sort of punishment for their antics. Terry and Lamps should get some sort of punishment for theirs. Football suggests that in addition to bans they should be forced to officiate games in England at the youth level. These games should mean something. They should have to make tough decisions and face the players and the supporters. Football always suggests walking a mile in another man's shoes before you judge him. (Football has been player, coach and official - at very low levels), No Seriously, very low levels.
5 So the Final in Rome will pit the two best teams from Europe Against Each Other! It should be a great final.
In the meantime we have another Special 1 TV link. A strong Showing from Mario Rosenstock this week.
First Thing First - Two sound Champions League Matches
Nothing is decided in either semi-final. With Chelsea and Barca knotted at 0-0 and United getting a 1-0 win at home to Arsenal. You have to give a slight advantage to United and a slightly smaller advantage Chelski. John O'Shea would have been least likely to score if Football were a betting man. The Irishman is just not that guy, but he was against the Gunners, which has to be driving my Gooner friend up the wall. This is a guy who hates John O'Shea and loves the Gunners. If that goal holds up it may send my Gooner friend over the edge.
Second Weekend Prem - There were few surprises this weekend in the Prem. - Manchester United came from two behind to win 5-2 over Spurs. There was good reason to be upset with the penalty that kicked off United's scoring, but not good enough reason to take your eye off the ball and give up 4 more goals. West Brom did their best to get off the basement floor with a 3-0 tonking of Sleeping Sunderland, still too little too late. Pompey and The Magpies drew and Boro lost to Arsenal rounding out the bottom three report. Hull continues it's freefall by taking a whooping at the hands of Liverpool. (if Hull stay up can we send them down anyway ?) The Race for the 7th spot and Europa League is heating up after West Ham went down to Chelsea and Fulham beat Stoke at the Cottage. More to come this weekend in the show that Never Ends.
Third Ryan Giggs - PFA Player of the year. Who can say anything bad about Ryan Giggs? If anyone said they can they must have a different Ryan Giggs. OK Maybe this was a "lifetime" award, like when Scorsese won those stupid gold statues for "The Departed" but in both cases I am in the camp that supports these awards for these guys. At any rate those that complained in both cases were journos. Who wants to hear other people's stupid opinions? (except of course the opinions of SOC)
Fourth - Depending on the outcome of this final round of the Championship either Birmingham City of Sheffield United will be making a return to green pastures of the EPL.
Finally Special 1 TV - No reason to take life so seriously - or in this case football. Be Champions!
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
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
3 The Race for the Prem Title.
Liverpool and Arsenal fought each other in a12 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 offPompey
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.
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.