May 31, 2012

It looks like Vincenzo Nibali's duties have expired at Liquigas. Surely talented,  the Italian needs a strong July to keep his value at the $1.5 + million mark. Photo: Bettini

Che peccato! The Giro d'Italia is over for 2012, and now we must wait for the 96th edition, slated to start Saturday May 4th in Naples! RBA's Racy Language will surely be there to see if Garmin-Barrcuda's Ryder Hesjedal is there to defend his Maglia Rosa and get up close and personal with that most Neopolitan of Italian Taste Treats: Pizza Napoletana! (invented in Naples by pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito in 1889 in honor of Queen Margherita).

Meanwhile the voci de corridori (rumor mill) has been grinding away and Racy Language can now talk about a few whispers heard in the bowels of the sala stamps (press room) during the Giro d'Italia. It seems certain that Liquigas-Cannondale's Vincenzo Nibali will ride for Astana in 2013. La Gazzetta dell Sport confirmed his reported deal as a two-year, $3.5 million per year contract that will also bring over Liquigas riders Vanotti, Agnoli and team coach Paolo Slongo. Astana has also re-inked Amstel Gold winner Enrico Gasparotto for a two year deal that is a big raise for the Italian classics rider.

No worries cash-wise for Astana, as the squad is backed by Kazakstan's sovereign wealth fund Samruk-Kazyna, which owns Kazakstan's national rail and postal service, the state oil and gas company KazMunayGas, the state uranium company Kazatomprom, Air Astana, and numerous financial groups. Alexandre Vinokourov is pulling the strings at Astana and besides Nibali, he has his sights on the Schleck Brothers. Although the two Luxemburgers still have two years to go on their contract with Radio Shack, a financial accommodation could be found with team owner Flavio Becca to let the Schlecks scamper, who clearly don't get along with Shack manager Johan Bruyneel. The question is: if the Scheck's split, who will be team leader for the Grand Tours?

As for Alberto Contador, most reports have him headed back to Bjarne Riis and Saxo Bank for the remainder of 2012, but all bets are off for 2013 and beyond. Omega Pharma-Quick Step is still interested in Berto, but imagine if Andy and Franck exit stage left for a pile of case at Astana and Johan brings in Contador stage right? Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction; remember the surprise move when Berto beat feet from Astana in 2010 to ride for Saxo Bank? And don't forget the behind the scenes struggle between Specialized and Trek; having invested heavily, the Big Red S no doubt wants to keep the Spaniard on their bikes.

If Contador goes to Johan & Co, it's Trek all the way, baby. What about Liquigas-Cannondale without Nibali? Although the squad is likely to continue through 2013 and include Peter "Super" Sagan, Ivan Basso is not the rider he once was so Liquigas is looking for a replacement. How about Ryder Hesjedal, who has one more year with Garmin?

Props to the team at RAISport-TV, led by Giro d'Italia executive producer Auro Bulbarelli (shown right, with RAISport color commentator Davide Cassani left) for their great Giro d'Italia TV coverage, shown in the US by Universal Sports TV. RAISport's Giro d'Italia had record breaking audiences this year with their innovative Fan Stage (with Giro race organizers RCS) pulling an audience pulling 5 million viewers in Italy. "We had an audience share of 14.6%, which is really something", said Bulbarelli. "It shows how strong our broadcasts were, and what a great team we have at RAISport Ciclismo."

Racy Language ran into two Canadians on the morning of the queen stage of the 95th Giro d'Italia, and surprisingly, there was no discussion of the Stanley Cup (maybe because there are no Canadian teams in the Stanley Cup this year). Canadian champ Svein Tuft and Garmin-Barrcuda's Giro revelation Ryder Hesjedal are both from British Columbia gave us a shot of their North of the Border version of bromance. Svein told us later in Milano that he was thrilled to see a fellow Canadian perform so well in the Giro, while the always laid back Hesjedal was clearly ready for the challenge to come. The question is now whether Hesjedal will take his incredible form into the Tour de France as Garmin-Barrcuda team leader? Only Jonathan Vaughters knows for sure!

In his rookie Giro d'Italia as sport director, former Pro rider Charly Wegelius (left) added his knowledge and experience to the Garmin-Barrcuda squad. Together with the teams other new sport director Alan Peiper, fresh from HTC-Highroad, Wegelius had the winning rider and winning team. Quite an accomplishment for the British rider who is now based in Finland. Post-race, Wegelius blogged on the UK's Cycling Weekly site "Personally, I think that a big part of the final 16-second (winning margin of Hesjedal) can be found somewhere else. It is in the people. I strongly believe that good people in the right jobs are what make the difference."

One of Garmin-Barrcuda's key people is head mechanic Geoff Brown (right) who was very pleased to see fellow Canadian Hesjedal win the Giro d'Italia. Brown is no stranger to Grand Tour wins, as he was at U.S. Postal & Discovery Channel for all of Lance Armstrong's Tour de France wins. (here is a profile of Brown from 2001; He told Racy Language "Ryder's win is really something special for me. To see a fellow Canadian win a Grand Tour is really great!"

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