Columnist Patrick O’Grady is on the case of the missing Trek, along with a gazillion Twitter wags.

“Realizing the importance of the case, my men are rounding up twice the usual number of suspects.” —Inspector Renault, “Casablanca”

By Patrick O’Grady

The usual suspects.

The usual suspects.

Photo: Shannon O’Grady

“Realizing the importance of the case, my men are rounding up twice the usual number of suspects.” —Inspector Renault, “Casablanca”

A person or persons unknown nicked Lance Armstrong’s custom 1274/27.5 TTX time trial bike and three road bikes from the Astana team bus last night.

Team liaison Ben Coates of Trek said Armstrong’s bike “is the only one of its kind and can be easily spotted,” speckled as it is with the slobber of doe-eyed fanboys with man-crushes.

The others, belonging to Janez Brajkovic, Steve Morabito and Yaroslav Popovych, are indistinguishable from the jillions of other Madone 6.9 Pros ridden to mid-pack finishes in industrial-park crits worldwide by potbellied masters racers.

Facebook and Twitter users were instantly on the case, among them the famous victim, who tweeted thusly via Blackberry: “Whoa! They just came to my room and said our truck was broken into and someone stole my time trial bike! WTF? APB out to the Twitterati.”

This gang not exactly being Sherlock Holmes’ Baker Street Irregulars, gags reminiscent of the newsrooms of old began proliferating like yellow bracelets. One tweeted: “TT Bike for sale. 1 previous owner. Girlfriend seeing it in the garage forces sale.”

Suspects abounded. Paul Kimmage? David Walsh? Pat McQuaid? Calling all cars, calling all cars. Be on the lookout for a trio of bog-trotters riding hot bikes on the wrong side of the road. That is all.

Nobody was doing any actual journalism, including me.

But if they were, and happened to ring up the Sacramento coppers for a statement, they probably would learn that the tifosi are not the only folks with a fascination for expensive, shiny objects, especially ones haphazardly secured. Crackheads, meth-heads and other chemically motivated types will liberate anything even remotely salable, from copper tubing to their mommas’ gold tooth. And in this economy, in pricey California, you don’t even have to dig that far down in the social strata to unearth a suspect or two.

Which reminded me. An old college buddy following the Amgen Tour of California with another mutual pal is one of the many newspaper types currently without gainful employment in these trying times. Like me, he is an Irish-American and thus fully capable of stealing the pennies off his dead granny’s eyes, so I dropped him a quick note on Facebook.

“’Fess up, Bub,” I wrote. “Did you and Merrill nick LA’s TT bike from the team bus? Only one of you chamois-sniffers can ride it at a time, and since you live on opposite sides of the country, sharing will prove difficult.”

The reply was not long in coming. “Yeah, we got the bike. Instead of sharing, we decided to strip it, sell the parts and buy a small country with the proceeds. Maybe Kazakhstan.”

Sometimes it is about the bike.