The cycling world has been a-twitter (literally) since last Thursday when Lance Armstrong announced the formation of Team Radio Shack.
And while per UCI regulations riders and teams are not allowed discuss contract negotiations and signings before September 1st, it’s never too early to speculate. Rumors are flying!
Apparently, the usual Astana suspects are in for Team Radio Shack including Levi, Kloden, Horner, Rast, Zubeldia, Brajkovic, and Popovych. Rumors swirl around Andy Schleck too. It’s said that Armstrong wants him on the team, but without his brother Frank. (Lance thinks Frank will limit Andy’s progression.) Andy and Frank’s manager (their dad) has pointed-out there’s still a year left on his riders’ contracts and adding that he hasn’t been contacted by Johan Bruyneel. Can you read between the lines on this one?
As for the rest of the team, it’s a great opportunity to have some fun playing everyone’s favorite game: What Should Lance Armstrong Do?
Today’s topic for WSLAD?: Which riders should Lance sign for Team Radio Shack?
Let’s begin with the obvious:
1. Ivan Basso – Even before the Radio Shack announcement, Ivan Basso was sucking-up to Big Tex. Before he was outed by Operaçion Puerto, Basso was already riding for Bruyneel at Discovery. With Radio Shack, Basso will get to play his own hand at the Giro while serving as a super-domestique in the Tour. And as for Liquigas trying to keep him, would you pay good money to keep an aging Basso at the risk of losing Vincenzo Nibali and/or Roman Kreuziger? I wouldn’t. For an early clue as to which way Basso’s heading, look to see the interplay between him and any future teammates at this fall’s Vuelta. Will he take an especially aggressive approach to Vinokourov? Will he and Levi or Kloden be seen working in cahoots at any point? These could all be early indicators of Basso’s 2010 allegiances.
But while Basso’s signing would cause a stir in Italy, he’s still just another GC rider. For a truly well-rounded team, he’ll need a sprinter, someone like…
2. Mark Cavendish – What better way is there to cause a splash than by signing the world’s most electrifying and polarizing rider since Lance? Cavendish would give the team some easy wins both home and abroad; even an average season for Cavendish means 12-15 wins. He’s sponsored by Nike, is an English-speaker, and comes from one of Lance’s rivals, all traits working in his favor. Yes, he’s under contract and will certainly be expensive to obtain, but Lance has the capital to afford such a move. That said, signing Cavendish would probably be contingent upon Radio Shack signing…
3. Mark Renshaw – Anyone watching this year’s Tour saw the importance of Renshaw to Cavendish’s success. On the Champs Elysée, Renshaw could have taken the win himself had Cavendish decided to give it to him. If I were Bill Stapleton, I’d give a Renshaw a big raise now, forcing Cavendish to choose between leaving him behind or paying a significant chunk of his own 2010 salary to get him to Radio Shack.
The next rider in this week’s addition of WSLAD? is an old favorite:
4. George Hincapie – This signing would give Radio Shack instant credibility with fans possessing a soft-spot for George—a group of fans who also might have a bit of a hardened attitude toward Lance. Coupled with Cavendish and Renshaw, Team Radio Shack would now have the most powerful sprint in the world. Coupled with someone to be mentioned in a moment, Lance would have a team solid enough to contend for the Paris-Roubaix victory George so deserves. Can you imagine Lance’s legacy if he’s able to say he built the team that brought Hincapie a Roubaix title? Surely that’s an honor Lance wouldn’t be able to pass-up.
But to win Roubaix, Hincapie needs a teammate able to ride with him well into the race’s final stages, someone almost capable of winning the race himself. Someone like…
5. Stijn Devolder – Yes, yes, I know. Now this team’s roster is approaching only the New York Yankees in terms of talent and payroll. But if I were Lance, I would want a team that can dominate on several fronts, not just in Grand Tours and week-long stage races. Signing Devolder gives Radio Shack a proven winner for the Classics. Working together, he and Hincapie could easily pull a Flanders-Roubaix double. But he rides for Quick Step, right? Not so fast, my friends.
I see a rift developing in Quick Step. For two years in a row, Devolder’s won the Tour of Flanders at the expense of Tom Boonen. Both times Boonen went-on to win Roubaix the following week, thus dampening any potential flame-out between the two Belgian’s. But behind the scenes, I sense the henhouse is getting to be a bit too small for two roosters. And while it’s tempting to say Patrick Lefevre’s grown tired of Boonen’s antics, I don’t think he can deny that Boonen’s simply the bigger, more talented rider (when he’s not snorting cocaine). Thus, Devolder might have an opportunity to find work elsewhere. And let’s not forget, Devolder has ridden for Lance and Bruyneel before, as has our penultimate candidate…
6. Jurgen Van Den Broeck – VDB2’s a rider who showed this year he has the ability necessary for success at the sport’s highest level. Some of Lance’s most trusted domestiques are getting old; he’ll need to develop some supporting talent soon to ensure the depth of the team in years to come.
And our final rider?
7. Johan Vansummeren – Okay, maybe I’m getting carried-away. I just think he’s terrific. In the classics and the Tour he showed incredible class and power. If I were Lance, I’d sign him straight-away, put him on my classics and Tour roster, and watch the wins come-in.
Okay, so now the roster’s more or less full, but two issues remain:
First of all, there’s the Taylor Phinney question. US fans are expecting Taylor to be riding side-by-side with Lance next year. The best thing for Phinney though is another year of road-specific U23 competition, followed-by a September call-up as a stagiare. Then they can set him loose—gently—in 2011.
And finally, is signing Andy Schleck really a good idea? I wager it isn’t. Andy’s blossomed under Bjarne Riis at CSC and Saxo Bank. Pulling him away from his comfort zone—and his brother—might prove detrimental. Yes, he’s talented, but he does not seem to possess the TT skills necessary to win Grand Tours like the Tour de France. Were I Lance, I’d go after Vincenzo Nibali, a more complete rider in my opinion, and more suited to winning the Tour. Give him a year to ride for Lance, then turn the team over to him in the 2011 Tour, with Lance driving the car.
That’s it for this edition of WSLAD?. It’s fun building a roster when it’s someone else’s budget, isn’t it?
What about you? What do you think Lance should do with Team Radio Shack? Share your comments below.