Tuesday’s block-buster news that Alberto Contador is set to join Bjarne Riis and the Schleck brothers bound to a new Luxembourg-backed squad has set the stage for one of the biggest cycling rivalries for the coming years.
With headliners in place, it will be interesting to see who goes where to back each star rider. More announcements will be likely in the coming days, but the new-look Saxo Bank-Sungard team could look very much like Astana in 2010.
Part of Contador’s “package” includes several riders of confidence, including longtime friends and training partners Dani Navarro, Jesus Hernandez and Benjamin Noval. Other riders who stepped up nicely during the Tour who could expect to follow Contador to Riis include Paolo Tiralongo and David de la Fuente.
Contador is also expected to bring his favored mechanic, soigneur and trainer with him along with Jacinto Vidarte, his personal press attaché.
So far, the Schleck project has remained wrapped in mystery. The two brothers have publicly confirmed they will be leaving Riis and that ex-Riis staffers such as sport director Kim Andersen and press officer and team manager Brian Nygaard will join them.
The name of the sponsor and the length of the deal are still unknown, though an announcement should be coming soon.
Several current Riis riders are expected to follow the Schlecks to the new team. During the Tour, riders such as Jakob Fuglsang and Stuart O’Grady dropped hints that they will leave Saxo Bank. Others who could leave include popular veteran Jens Voigt and Luxembourg rider Laurent Didier.
The Schlecks will have a wide open riders’ market to pick up some top talent. Several teams have an uncertain sponsorship future, including Caisse d’Epargne and Milram, with such riders as Luis León Sánchez and David Arroyo both likely to leave the Spanish outfit. At Milram, riders such as Linus Gerdemann and Fabian Wegmann are shopping around and could be enticing for the Schlecks.
Several key riders will stay with Riis and join the new Contador project, including Classics ace Fabian Cancellara, Nicki Sørensen and Chris Anker Sørensen (not related) and Erik Gustav Larsson. Richie Porte, this year’s revelation during the Giro d’Italia, is said to be entertaining offers from several teams, but told VeloNews he will remain with Riis.
One interesting name making headlines back in Denmark is Michael Rasmussen, the rider who was kicked out of the 2007 Tour to open the door for Contador’s first of three Tour victories.
Riis told Danish television Tuesday that Rasmussen “deserves a chance to come back” and said he would consider signing the 36-year-old climber.