Blazin' Saddles

Life after the Tour

Blazin' Saddles

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It's been a couple of weeks since Saddles brought you its Tour de France 2011
Awards - but now it's time to turn a page, because life does go on.

But not for long, if you are part of Bob Stapleton's HTC-Highroad. It
was announced last week that the American-based team will fold at the end of
the season
after a deal with a potential new partner - not thought to be the
singer Meat Loaf - collapsed.

Yes, there is still the Vuelta a Espana for HTC to contend, but with Mark
Cavendish
racing in preparation for the Worlds, and habitual sprint
understudy Andre Greipel now thumping his chest and eating bananas at Omega
Pharma-Lotto, Spain may not prove quite as prolific as in previous years.

It's a sad and sudden demise for the number one-ranked team in the world. On
the face of things, it seems pretty ridiculous that the team that has delivered
the most stage wins over the past few seasons cannot find a suitable backer.

Given its well-oiled lead-out train, you'd think an American rail company would
sign them up in a flash.

That said, a hefty chunk of the team's total 484 wins have come from Cavendish,
who said he was "heartbroken" about the news of HTC's folding
. In
reality, however, it was Cav's not-so-top-secret forthcoming switch to big
bucks Team Sky that probably hammered the final nail into the coffin.

Cavendish's
likely move to Sky has been on the cards for quite some time now - and the
gradual movement of the best of British talent towards David Brailsford's squad
will probably be replicated with an Australian theme Down Under with the
emergence of the new national GreenEDGE team, which announced this week
the "capture" of Stuart O'Grady from Leopard-Trek.

The
Aussie veteran - who won Paris-Roubaix in 2007 before notching the best result
of his career in 2010 after finishing second in the Tour Down Under - said it
was "the hardest decision" of his career "to ride for an
Australian team [that] has been a dream of mine since turning pro way back in
1995".

With
O'Grady leaving the Schleck brothers, the average age of Leopard-Trek now drops
to 33 - and should Jens Voigt hang up his Sidi cycling shoes, that average will
drop further to 24.

GreenEDGE
plan to show they mean business by backing up the signing of 38-year-old
O'Grady with his former Saxo Bank team-mate Baden Cooke, who won the
GreenJERSEY in the 2003 Tour.

A
deal to draft in 46-year-old Robbie McEwen as the team's principal
sprinter has yet to be confirmed, although there are talks that Phil
Anderson
will come out of retirement to head up the team's GC hopes, much
to the dismay of Michael Rogers who has inexplicably yet to be contacted
after a couple of stellar seasons at Sky.

Another
rider more likely to join from Sky is, perhaps, 31-year-old Simon Gerrans,
who last weekend won the Tour of Denmark. The six-day Danish Tour is one of a
cluster of post-Tour stage races which have been taking place throughout Europe,
the most notable of which was the Tour of Poland, covered exclusively on
British Eurosport and Eurosport HD.

The
winner of the race was Slovak youngster Peter Sagan, who pipped Garmin's
defending champion Dan Martin on the final day
- although the star of
the race was Skil-Shimano's Marcel Kittel (Saddles neither) who
picked up four stage wins on the race, including an unprecedented hat-trick
over the opening three days.

Sagan,
21, has made the cut for Liquigas's Vuelta squad - and with last year's overall
winner Vincenzo Nibali going for the GC, Sagan will be given carte
blanche to go for trademark punchy uphill sprint stage wins on his debut Grand
Tour.

It
has to be said, a Nibali-Sagan partnership sounds infinitely more explosive
than the dull Basso-Szmyd combo we were subjected to during the Tour, the
highlight of which came when the pair of riders were dropped on the Tour's
first climb, up the flattish Pont de Saint Nazaire in Brittany.

Talking
of Ivan Basso, the Italian veteran came out with this humdinger of a
quote this week about himself and team-mate Nibali: "We're the Schlecks of
Italy. The only difference is that we're not brothers." And who said Ivan
was just a pretty face?

It's
bad enough having to qualify his not being related to Nibali by blood, but
actually wanting to be compared to a Schleck in the first place is mind-bogglingly
curious.

Clearly Basso is still suffering from that spring training crash on
Mount Etna, which the Italian veteran this week claimed left him with weakened
vision, vertebrae problems, loss of feeling in his wrists and a small
dependency on antibiotics.

"I'm
not looking for excuses and it's not an alibi," he told the Italian press,
trying to excuse his eighth-place finish in the Tour.