Tom Danielson. Heinrich Haussler. Thomas Dekker. What do these men have in common? Besides being professional cyclists, and having all been featured in Procycling's Fab Four series – our annual showcase of the most promising talent on the international scene?
Stumped? Okay, here it is: in the past 48 hours, Danielson, Haussler and Dekker have all been cordially informed by their respective teams that their services will not be required at this year's Tour de France.
In Dekker's case, there is some mitigation. He caught a cold at the Tour of Switzerland, abandoned early, and, say his managers at Team Rabobank, won't recover in time for the Grand Depart in Brest on July 5.
But Danielson and Haussler are different. The former, in particular, has hinted that a combination of illness and an unhelpful race programme didn't help his quest, but the unvarnished truth is that Tommy D. expected to be picked. As did Haussler. And now that they're not, these former prodigies are contemplating not the next rung on the ladder to greatness, but where their careers go from here.
Winning stage 17 of the 2006 Tour of Spain
Danielson's struggle to assert himself at the very top is particularly poignant. Now 30, he has still yet to compete in the Tour de France. This year, his climbing and time-trialling skills looked certain to ink him into the Garmin-Chipotle (formerly Slipstream) Tour nine, but that near-certainty dissolved somewhere on the slopes of the Pyrenees at the Route du Sud last week. There, as team-mate and eventual race winner Dan Martin soared towards Super Bagneres, it was easy to forget that it was once Danielson who'd wowed the cycling world with a similar, virtuoso display. That was en route to the Genting Highlands in the 2003 Tour of Langkawi. And it's starting to seem like a very long time ago indeed.
Danielson (L) receiving some Tour energy from Captain Lance in training camp, 2006
I don't know Danielson well. He writes a column for our magazine, but that's about as far as our contact goes. All I would say is that I hope he still believes in himself – and I mean really believes in himself – because it would be a grave shame if those unfair and now increasingly rare comparisons with Lance Armstrong had bequeathed him a fear of failure which Armstrong never had.
Danielson will know what he needs to do: regroup, refocus and steer his destiny back on course. Do that and in a year's time many will be wishing him a very prosperous first Tour de France.
Bon courage, Tom.