Blazin' Saddles: Leopard glass scarf full

Fri, 07 Jan 13:05:00 2011

The moment we'd all been waiting for occurred this week: the Schleck brothers' new team Leopard-Trek was unveiled to the world amid much fanfare and sartorial speciousness.

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Of course, the first thing we all noticed were the identikit scarves adorning the shoulders of the whole squad, all of whom were wearing matching fitted black suits and frilly white shirts.

It was as if Team Lux had employed German football manager Joachim Loew as their principal fashion consultant.

The thing is, those black scarves with white polka dots made their owners look more like fashion victims than the intended debonair dandies. Talk about having a noose around their necks.

The less said about Fabian Cancellara's hair the better (he could have at least dried it before mounting the podium) - and don't even get Saddles started about Davide Vigano's crazy white Gucci glasses - anyone would have thought he had a job at the BBC... or The Guardian.

BS can comfortably pin most of the blame on to the polished pate of team manager Bryan Nygaard - a PR man with no previous team management experience - who took to the stage looking more and more like Bjarne Riis, the man in whose shadow Leopard-Trek will have to emerge if they want to write their own individual narrative.

"This is not Saxo Bank, it's something brand new," Spartacus tried to convince reporters who found themselves sitting in front of pretty much the entire Saxo Bank squad from last year, minus Richie Porte.

"It's based in Luxembourg. It's not Frank and Andy Schleck's team, it's a Luxembourg team and we're all team members. We'll do everything we can and we'll show that we are our own team and we have our own way, and that we don't have to copy Bjarne or HTC or Sky. Everybody has to do their own job and we'll set about doing that in the right way."

If the subsequent team presentation was anything to go by, then doing things their own way involves performing various gravity-defying stunts on the centre stage.

You see, the introduction of the riders sporting Leopard-Trek's new racing kit - (with those tiny sponsor logos, are they casting themselves as the Barcelona of cycling?) - was preceded by what can only be described as a Cirque du Soleil-style acrobat frolicking around with a huge ring.

Strangely, this man was sporting a zebra-print lycra suit (which, incidentally, really emphasised his, erm, musette, so to speak) as opposed to the leopard spots we could have (quite rightly) expected.

The choreographers clearly missed a trick: for those who follow Blazin' Saddles on twitter (@saddleblaze, btw) you'll know that there's no end of tight-fitting, high-end, snow leopard cat-suits out there on the internet. Man, they even have a range for dogs.

Back to those scarves. Saddles presumes that the white polka-dots on black was a nod to the animal which lends part of its name to the team's moniker, which was confirmed this week as Leopard-Trek (not to be confused with a Nepal-based adventure travel company of the same name).

So what, if anything, do snow leopards tell us about the aims, objectives and style of the team?

Well, the rare endangered animal inhabits rocky terrain and cold mountainous environments - which suggests the Schleck brothers' intent to do most of their damage in the Alps and Pyrenees.

Common snow leopard noises include hisses, chuffing, mews, growls and wailing - which begs the question, why did they not try and sign renowned babbler Bradley Wiggins over the summer?

Like other cats, snow leopards use scent marks to indicate their territory, often by scraping the ground before depositing urine or scat. Those calls of nature off the front of the peloton are going to take on a whole new dimension next year...

Seeing that snow leopards are crepuscular - most active at dawn and dusk - expect none of the riders to have any complaints about ASO's proposed nocturnal doping tests during the Tour.

Snow leopards are known for being extremely secretive and well camouflaged - and the slightly nondescript black, pale blue and white kit should make their riders melt into the peloton with ease.

Snow leopards are also carnivores that actively hunt their prey and prefer to ambush their victims from above. With this in mind, Andy Schleck will have to rethink his entire cycling philosophy - for it won't be enough to simply follow, kiss and cuddle his principal rivals.

Finally, it must be said that if any team should have taken the snow leopard as their mascot animal it should have been Astana: the rare cat features on several Kazakh banknotes and is the symbol of its two biggest cities.

In fact, Alexandre Vinokourov is even known as "the snow leopard" in his home nation - which raises the interesting prospect of Vino having to beat not only his rivals but himself this season.


DOG DAYS: 2006 de facto Tour winner Oscar Pereiro this week hit back at those people who suspected him of being involved in Operacion Puerto after he was cleared of being linked to Dr Eufemiano Fuentes through his dog, wrongly thought to be named "Urco".

"Ah! So I am not Urco after all? What a disappointment," Pereiro told Spanish media after it was made known that "Urco" was in fact the nickname of a Spanish middle-distance runner who had dealings with Fuentes.

For those in the know, Oscar's dog is actually called Zor (it was meant to be Thorpe, after the Australian swimmer, but the vet didn't understand the request).

"I decided to sue," said Pereiro. "I presented the dog's registration document with his real name on it. It showed an enormous lack of respect to my dog, whose name they changed."

As he said that, Zor barked in agreement - clearly upset with the notion of being labelled Urco, a mythological huge dog which rises from the sea to bring bad tidings according to Galician folklore.

Retired rider Pereiro is now attempting to make a career in football having signed with local part-time club Coruxo FC, who ply their trade in the lowly Segunda Division B, where he is said to assume a Didier Deschamps-style water carrier role in midfield. Much like his role at Astana last year, then.


QUOTES OF THE WEEK: "We'll almost certainly have a team of adventurers for the Tour, without a designated leader. That suits us best and gives me the best feeling," said Vacansoleil team manager Daan Luijkx before unveiling a squad boasting the likes of Bruce Parry, Bear Grylls, Ben Fogle, Marco Polo, Colombus and Mr Magoo.

"When they stopped me I was leader in the UCI world rankings and I will be so again. Once the first three or four months have passed [after the ban] I am sure that the best of Alejandro Valverde will be on show again." With one top Spanish rider still unsure about his future, another remains bullish about his return in January 2012.

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