It's not about the bike - Or is it?
Just when you thought the Mark Cavendish transfer rumors were all said and done, another possibility has been added.
As I mentioned last week, the road season is nearly over. However, that doesn't mean that the action and rumors have stopped. The one transfer story that doesn't die is the Mark Cavendish drama. For weeks everyone has been stating as virtual fact that the Manx man was headed to Sky. Now, out of left field a report from Gazet van Antwerpen states that he could be headed to Omega Pharma-Quick Step? For those keeping track, the Belgian squad has scooped up some talented riders from HTC including German Tony Martin. There is only one problem to that story - the team has already reached its rider cap of 30. Or have they?
It was just announced that thirty-four year old Dutch rider Addy Engels contract wasn't renewed with Omega Pharma for 2012, so it looks like perhaps there is room for one more rider on the squad. But that's not the end of it. The excellent blog "inrng" pointed out that Specialized issued a press release on the company's web site and then removed it stating that the California bike company was in fact sponsoring the Belgian team in 2012. Cast your mind back to the days when Tom Boonen was actually winning races in a consistent manner - that was with Specialized. I'm not saying Boonen's banner 2007 season was due to riding a Specialized bike - but with Contador possibly benched for a doping violation the Morgan Hill boys want a big time rider winning races that gets front page coverage. Does Specialized have the power/cash to bump out Ridley bikes and Lazer helmets, both of whom had been announced to be suppliers to the squad in 2012?
Yes. As you are probably well aware, Specialized not only manufactures racing bikes but a complete line of models for the consumer - children's bikes, mountain, townie and of course road. In addition they have robust soft goods and hard goods lines. When people use the phrase, "The Big Three" in the cycling industry there's a reason Specialized is part of that holy bike trinity (Trek and Giant being the Son and the Holy Spirit).
Now there's rumor that Cav wants to bring his Specialized bikes with him next season. If that's true, Sky has a deal with Pinarello which makes it kinda awkward to bring Specialized into the squad. Back in the day, professional riders could get their preferred bike painted to match the team's issued machine and no one would be the wiser (News flash - the 7-Eleven cycling team wasn't racing on Huffys but actually Serottas). That isn't the case anymore. Each bike company puts their unique design into the construction of their frame. From the I-beam look of the BMC to the curvy lines of the Pinarello Dogma, there is no way to just re-paint and re-badge your favorite rig and pass it off as team issue.
Now to fuel even more speculation current Sky rider Bradley Wiggins tweeted that he bought his Pinarello. Why would he do that? As one of their star riders he receives several (training, racing, spare) bikes. Could it be that in 2012 he's switching to Specialized and this is his passive aggressive way to let people know he's not happy about it. In the press Wiggo hasn't gone out of his way to be welcoming regarding the idea of Cavendish joining the Team Sky fold. Things are going to get a bit tense on the Sky bus come July.
While all of this gives pundits like myself plenty to write about (for which I am eternally grateful) but the whole "where is Cavendish going in 2012" drama is getting a bit old. For those who follow basketball it reminds me of the LeBron James, "I'm taking my talents to Miami" saga. In the end, when the Heat lost the championships people weren't so much rooting for the Miami team to lose as they were James. I'm hoping that all this "will he, won't he" b.s. doesn't take the shine off his world championship bands and we start rooting for whomever he's sprinting against. But here's my two-cents on what's going to happen.
- Omega Pharma - QuickStep is going to race on Specialized bikes and helmets next year. Like I mentioned, the Big S needs to grab back some spring time publicity from Trek (Fabian Cancellara), BMC (Philippe Gilbert), and Cervélo (Johan Van Summeren). Boonen is a solid bet during that time of year and perhaps his crappy 2011 season will motivate him to step it up in 2012. New addition Levi Leipheimer has a strong relationship with Specialized and according to Velonews, the fact that he was going to be back on a Specialized rig was a factor for joining the squad. Also Martin is familiar with the bike from his HTC days and can be depended on to rack up a few summer time victories as well. You can look for the team Venges (or is the plural Vengi?) to be kitted out with SRAM Red as well. I emailed SRAM last week to ask if Leipheimer was part of the deal for SRAM becoming an equipment supplier for the team. The response I have received so far was, "Great questions" followed by, "Let me reach out to someone else that can assist." That was over a week ago ... By just using my educated guesses I'm going to say that SRAM and by default Zipp (owned by SRAM) will be part of the Omega Pharma - Quick-Step package.
- Team Sky will continue to ride Italian bike company Pinarello. Also, Mark Cavendish will make an announcement later this month making it official. Yeah I'm sure he has a deep love for his Specialized, but I think if there are enough zeros in his contract he'll forget all about his previous rig. Let's remember, dating a model isn't cheap. Just ask Charlie Sheen...
My good buddy on Twitter, @UCI_Overlord still strongly disagrees with my educated guesses, but I feel good about this.
Postscript - After I wrote this piece Roadcycling.com reported that in fact Omega Pharma - Quick-Step is going to be riding Specialized bikes and helmets for 2012 - Ridley bikes and Lazer helmets are out. When I contacted Specialized directly they said that they can't comment on something that isn't posted on the company web site. I'm guessing that while it is probably true that the Belgian squad will be aboard Shivs and Venges they are waiting for a better time to make the announcement. No word if Mark Cavendish will be joining the squad as well.
Ridley bikes and Lazer helmets are in fact supplying the Belgian team Lotto for eight years. Specialized and Quick Step still have not officially announced their partnership, but several riders have let the cat out of the bag. Secrets are so hard to keep in the cycling world. The UCI is finding that out right now regarding the Tour of Beijing (story to come next week)