Joseba Beloki -- the never-ending story. Two years ago it was Angel Casero, last year Jan Ullrich, this year Joseba Beloki. Monday when I read the news stories on the web, it looked like Beloki was really going to sign with Stayer, that he had finally received the papers he was waiting for, with all the financial guarantees. Then Monday evening it turned into "Beloki and Olano are flying to Italy to see what the heck is going on." That sure sounds everything other than positive to me! Then the Tuesday morning stories explain it a little more -- when the talks with Stayer aren't satisfactory, then Beloki can just hop on over to Saeco and see if the Italian Mr. Coffee can brew him up a deal.....Oh well, by the time I get this online, no doubt the story will have changed again.
If he does end up signing with Stayer, I sure hope he knows what he is doing and that it works out. It is hard to figure out why he wanted to leave Manny Saiz even after knowing that the team had secured a new sponsor and would continue in 2004. No doubt it was the old "personality conflicts" problem, or perhaps the equally old "I needed a change of scenery".......But why does a rider who has the potential to do so well take such a gamble? Why not stick with a sure thing? Why risk everything on finding a new team, only to find that the chosen team seems to have problems scraping up the necessary money? What would he have done,
if Stayer hadn't come up with the necessary money to satisfy the UCI requirements? Are there other teams out there which are capable of supporting a potential TdF podium candidate who still have slots on their roster, who can afford his salary demands, and who could take on his entire entourage? Personally, I'm not a risk taker -- I could never have left it so late in the season.
There is one more thing about Beloki that we must remember, too -- his horrible crash in the Tour, which we can probably all still envision. He was seriously injured, with many bones broken. Can he come back to the same form he was in? Can all the physical damage be healed sufficiently to propel him back to the top? And is there not the possibility that there will always be that little voice in his head saying "Watch out! Slow down!" Will that little bit of fear remain with him and handicap him? No one knows at this point.
Of course, once Stayer has come up with the first bit of money and signed Beloki, it remains to be seen if they will be able to come up with the money every month. Stayer had problems -- to put it delicately -- with its sponsorship this year in the Formula One. And God knows we have all seen this year what can happen when a team can't meet its payroll. Why would anyone knowingly put themselves into the position of having that happen to them?
There is a little comic relief in the whole Beloki story, though. Jaques Hanegraaf, of Team Bianchi said that one of the options he is exploring is to sign Beloki as his new captain! Either the man has a great sense of humor or is getting lost in a fantasy world......
Speaking of Team Bianchi, at least they found a way back into the headlines. After the Bild newspaper reported that poor Jan hadn't been paid since August, Bianchi came back to say it was all his own fault. If he had been a good boy and stayed with dear sweet Bianchi, he would have gotten paid and all his teammates would have had jobs for next year and the team would have survived......of course, they're not saying where all this money would have come from! Sure, it's possible that if Ullrich had stayed with the team, they might have finally come up with a new sponsor, but, please, let's be realistic! (Something Team Bianchi seems to have trouble doing....)
I must admit, my main problem in writing the above two paragraphs lies in remembering to write each time BIANCHI and not COAST......
Still speaking of Bianchi -- some riders have found new teams and will keep on riding. At least one has found a new team, but won't keep on riding. Raphael Schweda, at the tender age of 27, has announced his retirement as a rider but will continue in the sport: as manager of the German GSIII Team Winfix-Techem. When I think of how many athletes concentrate solely on their sport and how long they can keep on "playing", I find it great that Schweda is willing to take this step and secure himself a life after sport. And it is all the more remarkable when one learns that he is just finishing up his college degree in Sports Management. Combining studying and working is one of the more difficult things to do. Sure his fans are sad that he will no longer be riding, but that is short-sighted. Raphael Schweda is to be congratulated for knowing what is important and acting on it, and Winfix-Techem is to be congratulated for giving him this chance. Since the team plans to turn GS II in 2005, this will only increase the possibilities for Schweda.
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