Saddles takes a look at the main movers and shakers in the peloton ahead of the 2011 season.
TEAM LUXEMBOURG: Still yet to be named, the Brothers Schleck project is shaping up nicely, with fellow Saxo Bankers Jakob Fuglsang, Jens Voigt and Stuart O'Grady temped to join with promises of relaxed late-night drinking rules and a decent pension programme.
Resisting the temptation of setting up his own Kirk Douglas-sponsored Team Spartacus, Fabian Cancellara is set to sign on the dotted line as well.
The new outfit should clean up those seventh, eighth and ninth places in the major sprints with the additions of Daniele Bennati, Brice Feillu and Wouter Weylandt. Throw into the mix HTC's Maxime Monfort and Milram pair Linus Gerdemann and Fabian Wegmann, and there hasn't been as much buzz around Luxembourg since the latest EU business efficiency figures were released.
Rumour has it the team may be called Leopard and could well use Charlie Chaplin's old house near Montreux as a base. Either way, the Schlecks' baby will look to fast become the Great Dictator of the peloton.
ASTANA: Having secured Tour de France triumphs over the past two years through Alberto Contador, it's probably safe to say a major victory will elude the Kazakh outfit this time round. With Contador gone along with a troupe of his Spanish lieutenants, hopes will be placed on new boy Roman Kreuziger, the great Czech talent. Unfortunately, he's only been joined by Remi Di Gregorio, who last did something of merit back in 2006.
BMC: Capturing Cancellara would have been a real coup seeing that the team has already secured the services of the Swiss's natural ITT successor, Taylor Phinney. Still, Greg Van Avermaet should beef up their classics squad - although none of Amael Moinard, Manuel Quinziato and Johann Tschopp are likely to prove the able lieutenant Cadel Evans needs should he wish to win that elusive Grand Tour.
GARMIN-CERVELO: Competition will be fierce for places on the Tour with the arrivals of world champion Thor Hushovd, Roger Hammond, Heinrich Haussler, Andreas Klier, Brett Lancaster, Christophe Le Mevel and Daniel Lloyd. If Jonathan Vaughters can keep everyone happy, he'll have options galore next season - and the classics could prove a real goldmine.
GEOX: Footon-Servetto's new incarnation will have not one but two former GC contenders in the ageing forms of Carlos Sastre and Denis Menchov. The pair could create an intriguing good-cop-bad-cop double act in the mountains - and they'll have support from David de la Fuente, who joins after his Astana sabbatical.
LAMPRE: Things look decidedly shaky for the Italian team. Besides the capture of four Ukrainians whose surnames begin with the letter K, Michele Scarponi is the only major arrival of any note - although Damiano 'Good in 2004' Cunego has extended.
LIQUIGAS: All quiet on the arrivals front, with only Eros Capecchi and Paolo Longo Borghini joining the mix. It looks like Vincenzo Nibali will focus on the Giro and Vuelta, while Ivan Basso will go for the Tour (but finish a disappointing 5th).
MOVISTAR: Apart from Xavier Tondo, the only really major change for Caisse d'Epargne will be their new sponsor - and a big Luis Leon Sanchez-shaped hole.
OMEGA PHARMA-LOTTO: Expect Andre Greipel to star for his new team in the Tour Down Under before fizzling out when finally given the chance to race against the big boys in the Tour. Still, the Gorilla should get his fair share of "s*** wins" thanks to the arrival of his former HTC-Columbia lead-out man Adam Hansen.
QUICK STEP: Tired of underachieving as Milram's main sprinter, Gerard Ciolek will settle for being Tom Boonen's lead-out man in 2011. Niki Terpstra will look to fill the Carlos Barredo void in the breakaways, while Francisco Chicci arrives too. But the best news will be the contract extension of French fighter Sylvain Chavanel following his best season yet.
RABOBANK: As mentioned above, Barredo will swap blue for orange while Luis Leon Sanchez will hope to step into Denis Menchov's Sidi cycling shoes as the team's GC hope. Matti Breschel brings good looks, Theo Bos dirty tactics. There's also a neo-pro called Tom Dumoulin on board - although this chap's Dutch and no relation to little Sammy.
TEAM SKY: Rigoberto "Yo No Soy Espanol" Uran should provide great support in the mountains for Brad Wiggins, although there's always the fear that the Colombian climber will leave his British team-mate lagging behind. Michael Rogers's arrival should add extra ITT zing should Dave Brailsford install in the Sky bus a hot-tub time machine to project the team back to 2005. Alex Dowsett and Jeremy Hunt tick the 'British?' box.
HTC-COLUMBIA: Given his name, Danny Pate should prove to be an Ardennes specialist - all though he may find the terrine, sorry terrain, a bit coarse. Alex Rasmussen should excel now he's said his Saxo Thanks.
KATUSHA: Not much to report here, although Leif Hoste will become a strong branch - if only in name - for the greatly diminished Russian squad.
RADIOSHACK: With Gert Steegmans seemingly still auditioning for the role as Whirlwind in the latest X-Men sequel, Manuel Cardoso will provide some sprinting nous. Irishman Philip Deignan will target getting his career back on track after a duff year at Cervelo.
SUNGUARD-SAXO BANK: Should Contador find himself sidelined, it's anyone's guess what Riis will do with former Astana trio Jesus Hernandez, Daniel Navarro and Benjamin Noval. It's hard seeing Nick Nuyens leading them up the Alps although hematocrit high Volodymir Gustov returns to the nest after year of nothingness at Cervelo.
VACANSOLEIL: Starch stars Riccardo Ricco and Ezequiel Mosquera should have loads to talk about if they share a room, while Stijn Devolder will hope to regain his past form in the classics. Once he's stopped dancing in Denmark, Michael Rasmussen may well be on the phone fishing for a move.
FRENCH ROUND-UP: To be quite frank, Saddles always finds that the French teams become one during the close season. Having been bailed out by new sponsor Europcar, Bbox Bouygues managed to hold on to most of their riders except Pierrick Fedrigo, who sniffed out a move to Francaise des Jeux, and Cofidis-bound Nicolas Vogondy. FdJ have also snared William Bonnet from Ag2R and Remi Pauriol from Cofidis. They like to keep it in the family, the French.
AND THE OTHERS: Life with the Pegasus Sports Team will be fun with the arrival of Twitter-tastic prankster Robbie Hunter. The new team has also snared the ageing force that was Robbie McEwen, Trent Lowe from Garmin, Daryl Impey of RadioShack, and a medley of Milram riders including Thomas Rohregger, Luke Roberts and the orthodox legs of Christian Knees.
Danilo Napolitano will be cleaning himself with soap and water alone at Acqua & Sapone, Stefan Schumacher will be doing his best to mimic a mushroom at Miche, while the Mario Cipollini-endorsed Farnese Vini outfit have done its PR team no favours with the impending arrivals of Danilo Di Luca and Patrik Sinkewitz.
Blazin' Saddles apologises for any exclusions and oversights. Feel free to throw more names into the hat below. Or chastise our cycling blogger on Twitter: @saddleblaze.
- Alberto Contador
- Fabian Cancellara