“I’m sure I’ve been beaten by cheats before, I know I have, and I’m sure I’ll be beaten by cheats in the future.”
As true as that quote may be to the the realities of cycling and the workmanlike attitude of its author, it is now—at long last and at least until Cadel Evans starts another bike race—false.
You can make a knock on the Aussie for occasionally head-butting photographers or getting difficult during poor neutral service changes. But in a race dominated recently by national superteams stacked with one-day specialists, to see a luckless Grand Tour rider—the first multi-day specialist champ since Abraham Olano in 1995—from savvy-but-outgunned Australia stick the audacious solo move in the closing kilometers was quite satisfying.
Far less satisfying was the poor, almost atypically poor, performance of my countrymen in the very same event. Those of you who entered the Cannondale t-shirt contest anticipated an average placement of 17th; the best American this past Sunday (Craig Lewis) finished a dismal 59th, roughly three-and-a-half standard deviations outside the average guess.
The winning entry was from Brayton Osgood, whose guess of 48th place narrowly avoided a tie-breaker (which he would have lost) with the second-place pick of Christophe Black (47th). While Lewis could have narrowly met these poor expectations by winning his group, and was a good distance out of DNF, it’s clear that USA Cycling’s cannon-foddering of the Men’s Elite RR has still not become the point of shame that it should be among American fans.
And there’s more at stake here than national pride. The US risks the good graces of the UCI by stealing starting places from nations that might actually add something to the quality of the World Road Race. The consequences could be anything from revamped Worlds selection criteria, to a devaluation of points from American UCI events.
Given the Cold War between the UCI and the Grand Tours at the moment, and the recent repositioning of the Tour of California against the Giro, I think USA Cycling should not be going out of its way not to make enemies where it doesn’t have to.