This Monday, when I saw that Italian climber Ivan Santaromita had signed for Orica-GreenEDGE, my first thought was, why would one of Cadel Evans's most relied upon domestiques leave his side?
Along with Steve Morabito and AmaÃ«l Moinard, it was Santaromita who was there for Evans at the 2011 Tour de France when the going got vertical. Surprisingly, he was overlooked for the 2012 Grande Boucle and again in 2013, but the 29-year-old scalatore from Varese was one of Evans's mountain men at this year's Giro, where the 36-year-old finished a career-high third overall in Brescia, thus becoming the first Australian to finish on the podium in all three Grand Tours, and reaffirming he is Australia's most successful stage racer ever.
Is it because BMC Racing Team management, or perhaps Evans himself, after another disappointing Tour, has reconsidered his tenure at the Santa Rosa, California-based team?
"It's not the first race I've lost in my career," he told SBS with a laugh (which is about all you can do when you have an absolute shocker, by his standards) in Annecy-Semnoz, after the penultimate stage of this year's Tour, where he eventually finished 39th overall, one-and-a-half hours down on winner Chris Froome.
"Of course, you have to learn from it. First of all, I have to see what direction the team want to continue in, and sit down and set out a pathway for next year and beyond next year, and plan around that."
The next morning in Versailles, he said: "Certainly, in my heart, I don't want to leave the Tour with a result like this, not being competitive, not being at the front. But that also depends on what the team want to do," he reiterated. "Remember, it is an American team; Tejay (van Garderen) is American."
Clearly, Cadel, who just two years ago, was the man of the moment, no longer dictates what he does and doesn't do at BMC.
For an outfit that promised much but delivered nothing in July, could it be that team owner Andy Rihs and general manager Jim Ochowicz are so exasperated, they may be considering cutting the 2011 Tour champ loose, despite having one more year left on his contract? (After all, less than twenty-four hours after the light-filled evening spectacular on the Champs-Ãâ°lysÃ©es, BMC severed head sporting director John Lelangue's contract, effective immediately Ã¢â¬â drooling out the usual "leaving for personal reasons" line, of course.)
Moneyed to the hilt the team may be, Rihs and Ochowicz would only let him go if there was a buyer, in the same vein that saw Bradley Wiggins leave Garmin a year early at the close of the 2009 season, when he was bought out by Sky Procycling (notwithstanding some heavy-handed legal argy-bargy), or, how Evans himself left Davitamon-Lotto prematurely that same year, despite being contracted to ride another season.
Orica-GreenEDGE was, and probably still is, interested in Cadel.
In May 2011, OGE primary benefactor Gerry Ryan and general manager Shayne Bannan tried in vain to lure him, armed with the tantalising offer of leading Australia's first WorldTour team. The team still a concept, albeit one likely to come to fruition, though the ghosts of Pegasus past appeared to roam the corridors at the team's base in Varese, Italy. "I'm still under contract to BMC for next year," he told the pair in person, politely declining. "Team owner Andy Rihs has invested a lot of time and money in me, and we will continue to work together and build on what we've already established."
Nonetheless, and importantly in the context of this discussion, OGE was willing to buy Evans out of his current contract. Wisely so in hindsight, he decided to stick with his incumbent, and, after an historic Tour victory that July, signed a new three-year deal with BMC Racing worth $3.5 million per year, based on my sources.
As much as they would like to, could Orica-GreenEDGE (read: Gerry Ryan) afford to wear such a penalty to secure Australian cycling's most recognisable figure?
Turns out, I discovered this week, the answer is no. "I can confirm that we have not had discussion with Cadel for 2014," Bannan told me by email.
Having also missed out on successfully courting Richie Porte, rightly considered Evans's heir apparent, but who has decided to stick with Sky until at least 2015, I asked OGE's GM where that leaves the team, in terms of prosecuting a Grand Tour objective in the not too distant future, and their need to recruit said type of rider. "We are looking at developing younger riders for the moment in 2014, (then) looking at improving our GC prospects in 2015," he said.
Dang. It would have been such a good fit, wouldn't it? Such invaluable experienceÃ¢â¬¦ The likes of Cameron Meyer, Luke Durbridge et al, learning the tricks of the Grand Tour trade, learning from someone who's been there, done that, and, most importantly, won that.
Oh well, there's always 2015, then.
On 14 February next year, Evans will celebrate his 37th birthday. Had he won this year's Tour he would have been the oldest bar none, besting 1922 title-holder Firmin Lambot, who was 36 years and four months young at the time. Safe to say, then, that victory in cycling's Great Race is now beyond him but not so the Giro or Vuelta; there, he's still got a bona-fide shot, should he plan and prepare for them. Same goes for the Ardennes Classics and weeklong races like Paris-Nice, California and CritÃ©rium du DauphinÃ©, the latter trio he's yet to win.
"I'm pretty rational about this: If I can't win (the Tour) or be on the podium... I'd rather be sitting at home, watching it on the TV with my family, actually," he said at the conclusion of this year's Tour.
"For now, at least I've had a season of two Grand Tours, which it what I was missing for a few years and gives me a really good base of racing for next year. I have to do a few health checks and so on to see if everything is okay there... First, (I'll) look to try and do a good end of season, but of course, while we're doing that, plan for next year."
Tell me what you reckon Cadel should do. Still good enough to deserve Grand Tour leadership, or does he need to eat a slice of humble pie?