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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

What Is Disco To Do?

[photo caption] Embattled and embittered former T-Mobile star Jan Ullrich. (photo courtesy of EuroSport.Com)


In many sports there's an "America's Team".

In baseball, it's been the Yankees -- like it or not -- ever since the Ruth era. In football, it's traditionally been the Cowboys.

In cycling, it began as 7-Eleven -- the first U.S.-based team to participate in the Tour de France. Then, in the early 1990s, 7-Eleven sponsorship departed in favor of Motorola. Towards the end of the last decade, Motorola morphed into the U.S. Postal team. Finally, in 2005, U.S. Postal gave way to Discovery Channel.

Why is Discovery Channel America's team? First, seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong surely played a big role; I'm guessing you've heard of him. Second, Discovery Channel's UCI license lists a "home" nation. For Discovery and Discovery alone in the professional cycling peloton, the answer to this question is "U.S.A."

This reality can lead to some perplexing situations, however. For instance, two teams had more Americans participating than Discovery in this year's Tour: Team CSC had 3 (Julich, Vande Velde, Zabriskie) and Davitamon-Lotto had 2 (Horner, Rodriguez). Discovery, of course, had only Georgie Hincapie.

Worse for Discovery in the eyes of their American fan base was their dismal performance. Sure, Yaroslav Popovych won a stage, but Popovych, Hincapie, and Paolo Savoldelli were all supposed to contend for the overall GC. Instead, the highest Disco GC finish was by longtime Armstong domestique Jose Azevedo in 19th. Popovych rolled across the line in 25th and Hincapie finished in 32nd place. Savoldelli did not finish the race.

Rightfully so, Team Discovery and Directeur Sportif Johan Bruyneel went into full panic mode following the Tour.

Realizing this, I made the following prediction on a cycling message board last Friday:
"I've been saying this all week, and some say I'm crazy..., but if [Jan] Ullrich doesn't retire I'd be surprised if Discovery doesn't take a run at him.

Well, guess what? Headlines today in VeloNews, EuroSport and others all reported the same thing: "Discovery Courts Ullrich".

This news came one day after Disco signed former Gerolsteiner team leader Levi Leipheimer. Leipheimer was the first casualty in what appears to be a reshuffling of Gerolsteiner around young sensation Marcus Fothen.

"Slow down!", you're saying. "Don't they already have George, Popo, Tom Danielson and now Levi? Why would they want Ullrich?"

Because Bruyneel is cutting this "rebuilding stage" short. He, along with team co-owner Armstrong, have surveyed the future of Team Discovery. And they, along with anyone who watched the Tour, don't like what they see.

Therefore, why not go out and try to sign the rider considered by many to still be the most talented rider on the planet in Ullrich? What do they have to lose?

Heck, if Ullrich signs with Disco and wins the Tour next year, not only will it have been a success all-around, but Bruyneel and Armstrong will surely get accolades for being the ones finally able to get the perennially-underachieving Ullrich back to the top step of the podium.

Thus, Hincapie, Leipheimer, Savoldelli, Popovych, Danielson, Azevedo and the rest of this year's disappointing Discovery squad will not vie for team leadership. Instead, if all return for the 2007 season, they will simply comprise a daunting gaggle of domestiques that will look to serve a new, stronger team leader.

And this, of course, is where Ullrich, or someone like him, comes in.

3 Comments:

Blogger Wiki said...

You make some good points to which I'd like to add. I don't think GH will stick around too long. Just check out his interview on velonews.com

He'll either retire or jump ship. Sure hope he doesn't go to Phonak with the latest coming from their camp. And we thought the drama was over.

Still a Cat. 5

Thu Jul 27, 11:23:00 AM 2006

 
Blogger Smithers said...

Worse for Discovery in the eyes of their American fan base was their dismal performance.

If Disco really cares about an American fan base they are total morons. You don't sponsor a Pro Tour Cycling team to appeal to an American audience. Disco is trying to sell their product in Europe. It does not matter who they sign, they just need to win the big races. They have not been doing so in 2006 and this needs to change for next year to make Disco’s investment in the team worthwhile.

Thu Jul 27, 02:40:00 PM 2006

 
Blogger AdamB said...

So much for the "race to replace"!

Fri Jul 28, 07:03:00 AM 2006

 

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