The second half of the Tour de France is a key marketplace for riders and teams looking ahead to next season, and none more so than two-time champion Alberto Contador. The Spaniard and his brother/manager Francisco are engaged in a complicated series of negotiations intended to guarantee that the yellow jersey can be retained in 2010. The question everyone wants answered - Contador more than anyone - is which team is most capable of providing him with the back-up required to enable him to deal with what is likely to be a much stiffer challenge next year.
The one team that could ensure Contador will be in the right place to defend his title is also the one team we know he definitely won't be joining. Even before last week's announcement of the impending launch of the RadioShack team, relations were frosty between Contador and old pals Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel. Since the Tour, they've turned glacial.
On Monday, Contador, normally the most uncontroversial of interviewees, declared he had no respect for Armstrong, who countered on his Twitter page that the Spaniard still had a lot to learn. This all makes for a gripping rivalry, but only if the Spaniard can pull together a group of riders able to compete with RadioShack's already impressive-looking roster, which is likely to include Astana's Yaroslav Popovych, Haimar Zubeldia, Andreas Klöden, Levi Leipheimer, Gregory Rast and Chris Horner.
So what are Contador's options? Will the Spanish Tour champion remain with Astana, join compatriot Alejandro Valverde at Caisse d'Epargne, confirm the rumours surrounding a bid from American ProTour squad Garmin-Slipstream, perhaps sign on the dotted line with Spanish F1 champion Fernando Alonso's new team, or are other ProTour teams opening up their checkbooks for the Spaniard?