Whew! A day of rich drama and intrigue such as seldom graces the cycling world in February—and remarkably, most of it is due to racing.
It all started at the Tour of Oman, which was introduced to the peloton’s pre-season swing through the Persian Gulf presumably to counterbalance the relentless flatness of last week’s Tour of Qatar.
After two sprint finishes (Jimmy Casper and Daniele Bennati, if anyone’s curious) the third stage seemed to unfold no differently, with Team Sky controlling the race and delivering race leader Edvald Boasson-Hagen to a group sprint win.
But today’s stage would suggest that something else was going on, though pretty much everyone seems to be at a loss as to what. Here are the facts (along with parenthetical comments): A six-man break gained 7 minutes after an hour of racing (not uncommon). Team Sky then refused to chase (a little odd for a race-leading squad, but not unprecedented), and no one else bothered to work (fairly normal response).
Reportedly, this made Sky cranky and sources indicate (for some reason, no one has confirmed this) that they retaliated by attacking the feed zone (classic jerk move) and echeloned the field into the gutter when the crosswinds came up. In case you’re new/only watch in July, fighting for position in the echelons is not fun.
Returning to the hard facts, sometime after (or during) this nonsense, race leader EBH decides he needs to answer nature’s call at 50k to go, provoking many riders (apparently led by Cervelo TestTeam) to attack (it’s generally considered poor form to attack the race leader while he’s peeing or crashed).
Long story short, Boasson-Hagen and a whole lot of others missed the split, the stage was won (over still-impressive competition) by some 20-year-old whom VeloNews had just profiled, the race leadership fell to Daniele Bennati (link also contains Kurt-Asle flavor quote), and the resulting fistfuls of intrigue were gobbled up journalists, bloggers, and fans alike.
The whole affair also spun off ancillary drama in the Twittersphere when Roger Hammond made his first tweet in five months to call out Stephen Farrand for an earlier version of this story. No word on whether updates posted since then have allowed them to make up, but regardless of outcome, it brought tremendous glee to the always-ready Twitteratti.
And because that just wasn’t enough mayhem for one day, former-doper-turned-witness-turned-reformer-but-apparently-with-a-layover-at-dealer Joe Papp plead guilty to charges related to selling Chinese drugs for a fat $80,000.
Papp, likely heeding the advice of counsel, said little other than he plans to say more later, but the blowback has already begun. I’m holding off for now, but the issue appears to have already bisected the cycling community.
As far as l’Affaire Boasson Hagen goes, I’m willing to bet Team Sky wasn’t nearly as malicious in today’s stage as the peloton has made them out to be. I say this based not on any inside knowledge, but the intuition that if the war were truly on, and Boasson Hagen had to pee himself for the good of the team, you probably wouldn’t have needed to ask him twice.