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The Alps and Pyrenees now await the peloton but, every year, as the Tour de France progresses, the transfer rumour mill begins to pick up speed. In the hotels around Grenoble, during tomorrow's rest day, and in Pau, on the second rest day, there will be many rendezvous, some conducted discreetly and some quite openly.
In contrast with professional football, in which skulduggery in transfer dealings appears to be commonplace, professional cycling is far more open. On the Tour, word moves quickly. Riders openly advertise their availability and meetings take place in hotel lobbies, in start villages and even during the quieter moments in the peloton.
But this year's most wanted list begins with a rider not actually racing in the 2005 Tour. Alessandro Petacchi, winner, of course, of four Tour stages in 2003, is said to be deep in negotiations with two Italian teams, Lampre-Caffita and Domina Vacanze, both of whom claim to be in the running for the Milan-San Remo winner's signature.
According to some sources, Domina directeur Gianluigi Stanga is "99.9%" confident of signing Petacchi, while other sources say that Lampre are far closer (99.9999 recurring maybe..?) of landing the Italian fast man.
However Stanga's sticking point is said to be Petacchi's insistence on taking four lead-out men to Domina, rather than two, with Stanga reputed to be willing to take only Matteo Tosatto and Marco Velo.
Another Fassa Bortolo rider, breakaway specialist Juan Antonio Flecha, is said to be in negotiations with Rabobank. Flecha, who the Dutch team maintain has yet to be made an offer, is meeting with Rabobank manager Theo de Rooy later this week in the hope of hammering out a deal.
While Fassa's stars seek out new pastures, Quick Step boss Patrick Lefvre is already active in the marketplace. Both Kevin van Impe, the vice-champion of Belgium, and Steven de Jongh, are thought to be moving to Quick Step. Lefvre is seeking out reinforcements following the almost certain departures of both Patrik Sinkewitz and Michael Rogers to T-Mobile.
Meanwhile, the atmosphere on the Quick Step team bus between Lefvre and the departing Sinkewitz and Rogers appears to be getting worse. "They are pseudo-champions," said Lefevere sternly. "I was expecting something from them in the Vosges. They still have to prove themselves."
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