Archive | June, 2006

The Puerto Purge Continues

30 Jun

Though events have progressed somewhat from this morning, my Violation of Liberty Sense is still raging over this latest round of revelations in Operation Puerto. My earlier assertion, that the ASO had blocked accused riders from competing, was incorrect; their teams suspended them after a meeting (I’m guessing closed-door) of the directeurs sportif of all the teams at this year’s Tour. That is the only mistake I will concede in my earlier assessment of this affair.

Neither I, nor anyone else in the media, it seems, has seen this mystery document, EGB n°116, that has convinced everyone it’s ok to just up and stop riders from racing over mere suspicion. Some of you might add “oh, but there’s evidence, too”; would that “evidence” be nicknames like “Hijo Rudico” and “Birillo” jotted down in the margins of some Spanish dope doctor’s notebook? The same “evidence” that the highest court in sport flatly rejected 24 hours ago?

You can cry until the cows come home about secret decoders and the image of the sport, but what cycling needs to focus on in dealing with a scandal this huge is integrity. Anti-doping crusaders need to respect the rights of accused riders the same way the anti-dopers wish riders would respect the rules of the sport; just stringing up the (detailed, even-handed article, eh?) scapegoats (yeah, remember Botero? His name hasn’t come back up again yet. Ah, well. Sucks for him) isn’t going to cut it.

Above all, the governing bodies need to stop releasing (and the media needs to stop repeating) these b-llsh-t “charges-before-evidence” reports; it goes “loot, warrant, crook”, in that order. Haven’t they ever played Carmen Sandiego? Stop blasting out wild figures (First, it’s 200 riders, now it’s just 58 (or 56), or 31, perhaps just 22, though only 9 have been stopped thus far) and back it up with a scanned PDF of the document that accuses them. If you can’t produce evidence of that caliber, maybe you shouldn’t be printing the story.

Finally, what can you, the lowly fan, do to help out? Well, you could try getting down off that 66cm frame of yours, and perhaps stop villianizing dopers. Write a letter or an email to the ASO, UCI or even some of the major team sponsors, and let them know that it’s not ok to punish people based on innuedeno and public opinion; otherwise, this might be the only way you’ll see your favorites in the Tour de France.

While You Were Sleeping

30 Jun

So, remember yesterday, when I pointed my finger at the CAS as something of a loose cannon, weilding unchecked power? Yeah…turns out I really wanted book ASO on that charge. Today, or last night (depends on where you live), they booted Jan Ullrich and some other people, then later put the sword to pretty much everyone else. Though I do feel better about some things, like my Valverde pick (and I guess also predicting this mess 11 months ago), I feel significantly less good because THE REIGN OF TERROR IS ON, BITCHES! SURRENDER YOUR WIFE AND CHILDREN TO THE ASO AND REPORT IMMEDIATELY TO THE VILLAGE DEPART FOR RE-EDUCATION! Seriously. They’re pulling people from the biggest race in the world based on unsubstantiated news coverage? Why can’t they show CAS, or the media, or freakin’ ANYONE (besides T-Mobile, in the first link on this page) the magical “documents” that justified booting these riders? Where is the oversight? The due process? The freedom of the press? The liberte, egalite and fraternite? Good luck watching le Tour this year, suckers; my guess is there isn’t going to be one. And remember, Jean-Marie is Watching You.

"Irony" is a French word afterall, CAS finds for Astana, Great Scott! That's not a Wilier!

29 Jun

I find it ironic that French hate Bush so much. And no, that’s not some bawdy dig inspired by the stereotypical French inattention to hygiene. Take a look at the ASO’s stance in this recent doping affair: according to their own rules, they can kick out anyone so much as suspected of being a doper. Now, you’d never find a clause like that in the Deutschland Tour bylaws; the Germans learned their lesson with such bureaucratic fudge factors back in 1933. But Americans, running now some 225 years on the same set of constitutional documents, have no memory to teach them any better. So if Bush thinks someone’s a terrorist, away they go. The similarity is striking, isn’t it?

Moreover, it doesn’t seem to trouble ASO that some riders implicated might still be clean, as it’s the image of cleanliness they’re concerned with. Remarkably, Bush is similarly unbothered that only some of the detainees might be terrorists. And just like the ASO, he doesn’t see anything wrong with that. Now, the foresight of Founding Fathers has provided us Americans with a Supreme Court to try and reign in the Executive Branch just a bit (and, occasionally, vice versa). In the case of cycling, however, all we’ve got is the CAS, which (unlike the Supreme Court) is pretty much unchecked, meaning that it’s decisions could fall wherever. Fortunately for Astana-Wurth, Ivan Basso, and (in my opinion) the fans, the CAS Magic 8-Ball came up with “reply hazy, try again later.”

Were I on the CAS (and, rest assured, the world is a worse place because I am not), I would have rejected the claim based not only on a lack of evidence, but also on the fact that the TdF has no clean image left to tarnish. Of course, the ASO may have overlooked that – as this article shows, the French version of history can be some distance from everyone else’s. Kind of like the UCI’s version of anti-doping or Wilier’s version of advertising. Don’t get that last one? Well, the wheelset alone (seatpost and bar tape is off, too) proves that’s not the right bike, but the real kicker is that the genuine article wasn’t even a Wilier – it was a Scott!

Kirsipuu Ouut, Ciclismo Espanol eres "L-S-T-O" (significo "L-I-S-T-O")

28 Jun

It’s a sad day for cycling. And this time, it’s not because of the drugs. Jaan Kirsipuu‘s astounding streak of 13 consecutive Tour de France DNFs will be coming to an end this July (I put that one in DeepQuote to point out Eurosport’s outrageous copy error). What’s even more infuriating is that Kirsipuu’s likely replacement, Julian Dean, admits that in “earning” his Tour spot, he employed a good deal of motopacing. Jaan Kirsipuu would never motopace, mostly because at 180lbs, he’s larger than the majority of European cars. The bitter icing on this half-baked pastry is that Credit Agricole will most likely justify this blunder by saying they’re trying to “defend” the points title Thor Hushovd won last year; never mind that the Norwegian failed to win a single stage, and only took the maillot vert to Paris because Tom Boonen abandoned and headbutting is illegal.

In another one of those “how is it that you keep your job, again?” stories, the head of Spain’s cycling federation has gone on record as saying he’s had long-standing “suspicions” about the characters caught up in the “Operation Puerto” scandal. “Suspicions”? You had “suspicions”? Would that be because Jesus Manzano told you what was going on two years ago? Would that be because Vincente Belda, one of the people named by Manzano, is still active in cycling? Would that be because Manolo Saiz, who ran ONCE during the Festina Affair, is the same guy who managed Isidro Nozal during his sudden leap in ability and later high crit test? Or is it because that same Manolo Saiz also managed Roberto Heras during his ’05 Vuelta “win” and subsequent EPO positive, and has had a series of riders come up with other drug-related issues? Were these the things that gave you suspicions? Man, somebody call up Interpol and get this super-sleuth a desk.

The Operation Puerto Space Opera

27 Jun

A lot of you are wondering why I haven’t posted in a while. There are a few reasons for this. The first is that I’ve been in something of a feud with Google over the (previous) contents of this page. Then there was a brief technical issue with TextDrive, my hosting company, that, though quickly resolved, took down the page for a bit. But primarily, what’s kept me quiet is the fact that there really isn’t anything worth posting about going on in the cycling world. No, seriously. The last bit of cycling news that gave me any pleasure was Oscar Freire bunny-hopping a median and busting away to win a stage at the Tour de Suisse (see it on Cycling.TV‘s Premium service). Since then, it’s been all Operation Puerto, all the time.

So, as the case has now reached truly epic proportions, let’s recap all the fun, yeah? Manolo Saiz and some other cycling notables get arrested with a doc named Fuentes and a whole lot of dope and stored blood. Cycling “journalists” then report 200 riders are implicated in Fuentes’ records, and, just to make sure you’re paying attention, they mention Ivan Basso; somewhere, Rupert Murdock sprays his pants. Meanwhile, some Spanish cycling officials realize all this scandal might hurt their pocketbooks, but for some reason, they can’t seem to translate that word correctly; they keep coming up with “sport”, or occassionally “cycling”. Phonak, on the other hand, realizing that they now have high-profile dope positives Nos. 5 and 6 from the past two years, say “Oh F—” and “bench” (“Botero and Gutierrez are neither dismissed nor suspended”) two riders; I say “I told you so“.

As things develop further, the French get indignant because all their riders suck (though this “peloton at two speeds” thing is beginning to hold significantly more water), and, because scandal needs scapegoats, they boot Team CV from the Tour. Then, just to remind the UCI who runs the biggest race in the world, they wait for the sport’s governing body to approve the team formerly known as Liberty Seguros before showing them the door as well. The ASO is just pure class, isn’t it? Furthermore, in a rather Robspierrian twist of justice, the French sports minister demanded the media release all the names involved with the scandal, because the Tour may only take place with riders “who cannot be suspected of having benefited from these transfusions”. (the italics are mine, not his). Zeus shows his anger by guiding a Spanish team to victory in the hunt for the maillot tricolor.

That brings us roughly up to two days ago, a week before Tour de France, when El Pais puts forth a semi-unreleased list of 58 riders (down from 200, and apparently with no Basso). It possibly includes Jan Ullrich, and (according to TuttoBici) definitely includes Tyler Hamilton. And, of course, the riders react in the most moronic ways possible. T-Ham claims not to know what they’re talking about and adds that he’s a member of the Imperial Senate on a diplomatic mission to Alderaan. Vino’ feigns confusion at the whole business, but, as he still thinks he’ll be starting the Tour next month, might actually just be confused. Oh, and riders at the Spanish Road Championships decide not to race to protest the “orchestrated harassment” associated with the case. Now, as far as I can tell, this isn’t the ’98 Tour and no one’s getting raided at 4am the day before 200k in the Alps. Sure, they’ve had to deal with people asking if they’re on drugs, but as pro cyclists, they should be used to that by now.

So, at time of publication, it looks like the issue of whether Astana-Wurth will race the Tour is to be settled by a CAS decision sometime in the next 4 days. Given the hasty preparation time I can only imagine it be poorly-run and definitively settle nothing (kind of like the latest decision in the Hamilton case, in which the American was allowed to keep his gold medal, just in time for detailed records of his alleged doping to emerge and likely force a retrial). While some have criticized the UCI for remaining so inactive in the disciplining of this affair, I disagree; after all, their reason for “delaying” action has been to respect the integrity of their own rules and regulations. I just wish they didn’t seem so reticent about going by the book. And, also, it might be nice if they dropped their pretences of incorruptibility when they’ve raised plenty of eyebrows in the past.

Finally, just because enough is never enough, several little subplots have been hovering like horseflies over this dungwad of a story. Simplest is the ongoing saga of Danilo Hondo (he got un-re-banned again earlier this month – simple, right?). More complex is the latest Armstrong “she-said, he-said”, courtesy of l’Equipe. And you know every time there’s an “Armstrong dopes” story, you-know-who‘s just gotta sound off on it (though I give the guy credit (after) for losing weight (before)). And, like anything dope related, this is all rich fodder for my boy Dick Pound, who recently rejected (without really saying why) the independent report clearing Armstrong of the previous allegations against him. Big Tex, for his part, has tried to make lemons into lemonade by suggesting that it was Pound who leaked the documents for this latest story to l’Equipe, thus forming further reason for the Canadian to be ousted from WADA.

So, did you follow all that? Now you know why I don’t want to. Especially when this whole sh!tstorm could have been avoided if the morons who run this sport had paid more attention to this guy two years ago.

Being Jan Ullrich

15 Jun

Jan Ullrich is a riddle inside a mystery wrapped (9 months out of the year) in thick coating of Rostockian lard. The man has superhuman talent that manifested itself at a very early age. A lot of people think this has lead him into some sort of Michael Jackson /Macauley Culkin early-fame flame out thing. But that’s BS. Certainly the picture Udo Bolts paints for a young Ullrich is that of a well-adjusted, enthusiastic rider. I might let Jan play the “Behind the Music” excuse on his seriously overweight days as “El Gordo”, and possibly even on the legal problems that surrounded him in 2002.

But the guy is now 32 years old; the youthful mistakes/transition from Communism/too much pressure wah-wah train has long since left the station, and Ullrich still starts his season late (mid-April) and out of shape (though no longer shamefully so). What other cyclist’s fans would rejoice at word their hero was “only” three Kilos overweight less than a month before the Tour? At times, it seems impossible that Ullrich is anything but a man content to glide on his talent, profit from his fame, and generally disrespect the sport that provides his living.

And then he rides like he did today. Granted, the not-especially steep, steady, open and untwisting ascent of the Albulapass looked almost tailor-made for der Kaiser, but it wasn’t so much his performance that impressed me as the manner in which he carried it out. He was bent way forward, gushing sweat and practically gagging on his own tongue, mashing his huge gear, shattering the group around him and dropping all but one of the riders who dared to try and follow. It was an inspiring show; an attempt to atone for his laziness with a newly-forged determination, that paradoxically makes his prior neglect of talent all the more disgraceful.

I want to root for him. Really, I do. As strongly as I would have rooted for Raymond Poulidor or Joop Zoetemelk. But I’ve seen seen Jan work through this pattern way too many times before. In 2004, after nearly beating a sick and overworked Armstrong at the previous year’s TdF, Ullrich came into yet another season like a man determined not to win. As the months wore on, he trained himself into something resembling good condition, and after some solid results, proclaimed to the world that he was good to go. He then proceeded to get flattened by Armstrong at le Tour. One can say pretty much the same thing about any of the German’s other post-’97 Tour appearances.

It’s not like I can’t sympathize with the guy’s position. Battling to match your previous accomplishments, knowing that failure is, at some point, inevitable, can be an overwhelming thing. But after seeing him repeat the same sorry, self-defeating cycle of fatness, frenzied training, false hope and failure every year, I’ve just stopped caring. After today’s Suisse stage, Jan seems to be going good enough to have a legitimate shot at winning the Tour de France; however, if he does pull it off, it will not be because he deserved it.

The Strange State of Americans in Cycling

13 Jun

Ok, so I know I haven’t posted in a week, and I shouldn’t have the chutzpah to criticize anyone, but come on – asking Tom Boonen “Are you the next George Hincapie?” I realize that’s not a direct quote, but the idiocy of sentiment remains. How can Boonen “follow in the footsteps” (that is a quote) of a guy who has always been and will continue to be miles behind him? Baby-face Tom made this perfectly clear on a fateful afternoon in 2002, and drove the point home with authority three years later. Hincapie’s tried to win Tour sprints, tried to snag a day in the maillot jaune, tried to win Flanders, and tried to win Roubaix. He has failed on every occasion. In only two years, Boonen’s triumphs in all but one of these areas have been manifold – and I wouldn’t bet against his chances of completing the set next month. Until last July, there simply was no comparison to be made between these two riders.

Of course now, the buzz is all over that Hincapie’s gonna be the next big Grand Tour rider on the Discovery Channel squad. I think, for a guy whose GC resume consists of wholly of winning a Tour stage (from a breakaway well after the GC race was decided), and hanging marginally closer to the front than normal during some one-week stage races, Hincapie has claimed and been given way too much respect as a legitimate overall contender. But let’s pretend for the moment that Gorgeous George’s recent change of focus will turn out better than Brad McGee’s or Danilo DiLuca’s (search “fluke”); You still don’t ask someone who’s consistently and soundly beaten the crap out of everyone over the past two years whether he’s gonna model his career after one of his victims. It’d be like asking Lance Armstrong if he planned to “follow in the footsteps” of Alex Zulle, or quizzing Michael Jordan on whether he was the next Patrick Ewing.

I dunno, maybe it’s some deep, self-infatuated corner of the American psyche that moves us to such impertinent things; from sophomoric questions, to Grand Tour pretensions, to snipey weblogs. Or to racing a seven-day stage race at the highest level of an international sport, throwing down in the time trial, then making a slow, chatty plod to the top of one of the most revered mountains in the world the next day, without so much as breaking a sweat. I’m just glad the leader’s jersey was on less pretentious shoulders. Sure, Lance was single-minded about the Tour, and may have played possum once or twice, but he also went balls out for the classics, and snagged a few Dauphine wins to boot. I can’t think of a single occasion where Big Tex rolled in as limp-wristedly as Floyd did last week. Levi Leipheimer might be the worse for it come Tour time, but he scored some serious points with me by being the only American at the Dauphine (rider or journalist) to do his job, and do it well.

Americans in the Afternoon – Dauphine Stage 3

8 Jun

Only minutes left to post on today’s news! Don’t worry; not much to report. Item #1 – Dauphine Stage 3. Name four American ex-Posties, each riding for a different team now (though one still rides for Tailwind). Now list them in reverse alphabetical order. Now swap names two and three. There’s your top 4. Click here if that’s too complicated for you. Zabriskie reinforces his claim on most areodynamic, but will it be good enough to put him on the CSC Tour Squad? Apparently, VeloNews knows, because they’ve already put out their 2006 Tour de France Guide. Little premature, huh guys?

Anyway, other junk – Landis had the Praying Landis out, but couldn’t seem to work it to full effect, sliding about on the saddle and looking uncomfortable (well, more so than usual). Vinokourov (and, in fact, his whole team, apparently) rocked elliptical rings (apparently, they’re back in vogue – damn things are worse than bellbottoms). It didn’t help, though, as the Kazakh barely cracked the Top 20, just behind race leader Phillipe Gilbert, who did the jersey proud by only losing two and a half minutes (and I say this with a straight face). Of course, Tour favorites have been known to play possum during the Dauphine before. I, however, attribute his sub-par performance to a distinct lack of “venga venga venga!“.

Gilbert Wins Dauphine Stage as Apocalypse Draws Near

6 Jun

The fear of the End Times was palpable in the Dauphine Libere peloton today, though not inspired so much by the date (6/6/06, in case you have been on Mars for the last month, in a cave, with your eyes shut and your fingers in your ears) as by the apocalyptic visions of 21 switchbacks following hot on the heels of tomorrow’s not so flat time trial. At 44k in, Phillipe Gilbert and Sebastien Joly of FdJ, along with Cedric Vassuer of Quick-Step, teamed up to play wheat to the peleton’s chaff, braving much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the day’s only break. Vasseur was Left Behind some distance from the final ascent, and Joly was most certainly not (it’s a play on his last name – tee-hee!) to be condemned on the last trial of its 4th category slope. Despite attempts by several individuals to beef up the pace, Gilbert continued to extend his advantage until he commenced his victory salutes at roughly 5k to go.

Jean Marie LeBlanc, who, despite stepping down last year, is apparently still “director” of the Tour de France, was also on hand at the Dauphine today, to throw the fear of his God-like powers into certain demons in the sport, namely Manolo Saiz. LeBlanc stated that Saiz had been on the “naughty” list since 1999, though the Frenchman did not elaborate as to why; what he did intimate with decided force, however, was that the entire Astana-Wurth squad would be racing on the Cipo’ plan if the words “venga venga venga” are so much as whispered at the ’06 Tour. Yeah, and if you think cycling without “venga!” is a sign of the apocalypse, just check these out: a plague of snakes (though sadly, none of them are on a plane) and Gilberto Simoni admitting he’s a loudmouthed blowhard. Too bad there were no “sporting lawyers” atop the Morizine in 2003 to get him to recant his statements about the Tour having no climbers.

The Dauphine, Its Results, and Riis' Open Secret

5 Jun

It’s June, that magical time of year where a one-week stage race comes to the fore in cycling, not because its victor will be showered in prestige and paychecks, but because it’s seen as an important warm-up for the Tour de France. And yet somehow, this event, where a win rates mere side-show status, maintains a position in the highest tier of road cycling events, while other races, which many of the world’s best cyclists fight tooth and nail to win, are excluded. I won’t state here whether I think this more reflective of the TdF’s influence or the UCI’s idiocy – just that if Pat McQuaid wants to loosen the Grand Tours’ grip on professional cycling, he might consider downgrading some of their tune-up races.

But on to results, vis a vis Stages Prologue and One of this year’s Dauphine. Dave Zabriskie, under the auspices of the CSC Team Leader’s dossard, TT’d to victory during the prologue, while another American potentially ascendant to the role of Grand Tour GC threat, Disco’s George Hincapie, rolled in two seconds back. In Stage One, it was a sprint battle of perennial opportunists Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues) and Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner) out of a four-man, late race break, instigated somewhat inexplicably on the final climb by Ag2r’s Paco Mancebo. The German took the win and the overall lead, leaving Frenchman to console himself with yet another spotty jersey pro temps .

Loss of the GC lead not withstanding, some have made jovial and rather suggestive note of CSC’s recent run of luck. After all, who can forget CSC director Bjarne Riis’ sudden ascendency (WikiSkeptics should be silenced by a quick check of those citations) in a swirl of allegations against his Gewiss team and personal trainer Luigi Cecchini. And with this latest dope scandal, a few connections have been drawn between Dr. Fuentes and Riis’ latest protege, Ivan Basso – with the latter not being especially direct in his refutation. Is this wording simply Basso’s attempt to maintain the dignity expected of a Grand Tour champion? Or a Clintonian turn of phrase, engineered with flexibility lacking in a complete denial? And, most importantly of all, will time ever reveal to us the answer to this questions? In a bitter twist of irony, we can only wait and see.