Vacansoleil seem to have put out a firm statement of intent with the recruitment of convicted dopers Ricardo Ricco and Ezequiel Mosquera. Indeed, by promoting Ricco, or 'the Cobra' to give him his self appointed nickname, to team leader Vacansoleil have well and truly nailed their colours to the mast. Quite what impression this gives to the younger or harder-working members of Daan Luijk's squad is open to interpretation. Do the younger rider, such as Wout Poels, Pim Lithgart, or Martijn Keizer now pick up the message that it's ok to cheat? And what about the slightly older, hard working riders who've stayed clean throughout their careers? Riders such as Johnny Hoogerland, Stijn Devolder, and Matteo Carrara may now feel that they have somehow 'missed a trick' by not fuelling themselves up with a Floyd Landis special. It's one thing to offer a second chance to someone who has strayed, such as in the case of David Millar, who has repented his once questionable ethics and now works actively to try and clean the sport of cycling up. On the other hand though, to bestow the team leadership on such and unrepentant (not to mention arrogant and odious) wretch as Ricco? We find that hard to stomach.
Speaking of Johnny Hoogerland, he is a rider whom we hope to see much more of over the coming season. He falls into something of a niche category, along with riders such as Philippe Gilbert, Dan Martin, and Vincenzo Niballi, as rider who are hungry and attack-minded - ultimately a joy to watch! Las years Tour was, at times, almost nauseating due to the Contador-Schleck love story. In fact, there were times when the tactical bike-chess and blatant homo-eroticism looked as though it'd end up in a John and Yoko-esque bed-in.
Schleck is a rider who is infuriating for his obvious natural abililty, but complete lack of ruthlessness. After the infamous (and now tedious) chaingate affair Schleck promised us that he was angry and that he'd have his revenge, and we, like so many other deluded fools out there, expected him to come out fighting. In fact, he did quite the opposite and, despite a surprisingly good effort in his final time-trial, he seemed to gift the tour to Contador by not attacking. Ever. Andy Schleck may have won over a lot of new fans with the somewhat dignified way in which he took the moral high-ground over the chaingate affair (see Avram Grant at Chelsea/West Ham for a footballing equivalent), but we're sure he also lost a few fans too, with his passive response on the bike.
With the Tour Down Under kicking off a brand new season in the cycling world we find ourselves bouyant and excitedly optomistic (like a 16 year old whose girlfriend is coming over to stay whilst his parents are on holiday) as to what the coming year will bring. We pray (to the God of Thunder) that the sport that we love so much isn't let down by dour, negative racing and damning doping scandals.
For now, though, it's time to roll....