Friday, June 30, 2006
TOUR EVE CATASTROPHE
Ivan Basso is out.
Francisco Mancebo is out.
Joseba Beloki is out.
Though he is personally innocent, Alexandre Vinokourov's team is out.
Before the day is over, Tour de France organizers expect 15-22 riders to be out of the race one day before it starts.
All are implicated in a sophisticated stealth doping regimen prescribed by Spanish physician Eufemiano Fuentes. The evidence in the Spanish police investigation "Operacion Puerta" is just now available to cycling team leaders. Allegations that have been reported in the press and via rumors is now confirmed. And teams are dutifully suspending implicated riders.
The scandal is unprecedented and incredibly damaging. It is tragic. It is sad. It is disgusting. It is unnerving. Ullrich's ex-trainer Peter Becker calls it correctly: "It is a catastrophe."
Suspending riders on strong evidence of doping is necessary. Giving them a fair hearing and letting justice be done is also necessary. Claims and written statements of innocence must be met with unequivocal evidence of wrong-doing. Words and deeds must be verified...now more than ever.
Monday, June 26, 2006
CYCLING'S A LITTLE NUTS RIGHT NOW
- A Spanish inquisition (Operacion Puerta) into alleged use of banned performance-enhancing drugs is currently underway. Apparently, 58 professional cyclists are named in the inquiry. Those named (though not convicted) will likely not be permitted to ride in the Tour de France.
- Lance Armstrong, recently cleared of allegations of taking EPO in his first Tour de France win and fresh off winning a multi-million dollar lawsuit that further exonerates him, launches a campaign to oust World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA) director Dick Pound.
- Simultaneously, leaked court testimony from that same lawsuit indicates that Armstrong's former teammate Frankie Andreu and his wife alleged Armstrong admitted to using banned substances prior to his chemotherapy for cancer. Armstrong's doctor denies any such responses from him.
- And, on another front, three-time winner Greg Lemond alleges that Armstrong personally threatened him, trying to get him to shut up about whatever he knew or thought he knew about the use of banned substances.
And that's just cycling news within the past seven days!
Okay, so the professional cycling world is a little nuts right now...
Part of this is exploitative French media hype leading up to the Tour de France. Part of this is a legitimate attempt to cleanse the sport of cheating. And part of this is inexcusable and destructive personal vindictiveness. Collectively, it is disastrous for the sport.
No professional sport can survive this kind of turmoil for very long. And professional cycling, just gaining a foothold in the minds and hearts of an increasing number of Americans, is at risk of disappearing entirely from the radar screen of legitimate competitive sport.
Americans, in particular, won't endure scandal in sport for very long. They seem to have a short fuse, especially, for French tabloid journalism and European honchos who take selective and low aim at American competitors. Those who continue to cheat or rake muck are putting much at risk. It's time to stop the game.
Sunday, June 25, 2006
2006 TdF COUNTDOWN
Answer #1: Not soon enough!
Answer #2: What?!
Answer #3: Saturday, July 1st...just a few days from now.
UNADULTERATED ENTHUSIASM. Excuse me if I get a bit weird over the next few weeks. July is the one month out of the year that I express unadulterated enthusiasm, caring less about who scoffs, rolls their eyes, criticizes, dismisses, or makes fun of me. I go in for the Tour de France like some folks go in for the World Cup or NASCAR or the World Series. This 2,000+ mile race from July 1 to July 23 grabs my heart and I follow it ever so closely.
POST-ARMSTRONG FREE-FOR-ALL. Even without the phenomenal American cancer survivor Lance Armstrong riding the TdF, I am anticipating the thrill of this year's spectacular race, one stage (day) at a time. Every Tour develops different dynamics and race leadership can change dramatically. Without one dominant rider now, there are about ten world-class cyclists--including three Americans--who can take the lead or stand atop the podium in France. It could be a free-for-all.
FOR THE REST OF US. Contrary to what you read elsewhere, understanding and following the Tour de France is not difficult. My Tour de France updates and commentary are intended to spare readers of insider cycling verbiage, that's why I call it "The Tour de France for the Rest of Us." Feel free to check here daily for easy-to-understand Tour information and updates, links and comments, reviews and projections.
FAVORITES AMONG MANY CONTENDERS. There are many contenders who could win this year's Tour de France. A contender is one who has a record of recent wins or high placements, a strong team, and a balance of abilities in time trialing, mountain climbing, and aggressiveness. My favorite to win? Ivan Basso. This Italian finished second to Armstrong in last year's Tour. He was the only rider to consistently stay with Armstrong last year. He has proven himself strong in spring racing, winning the Giro d'Italia going away. He is supported by a solid team. Basso is a mountain climbing specialist, but he is just above average in time trials. A total of 116 kilometers of individual time trials may be too much for him against the power of Ullrich.
Other possible winners:
- Jan Ullrich, the only previous Tour winner in this year's race; Jan is reported to be in great shape, highly motivated, and is riding with a great T-Mobile team. He is an individual time trial monster.
- Alexandre Vinokourov, the ever-aggressive Khazak (if his team is permitted to start the race).
- Floyd Landis, the former Armstrong teammate and American waiting in the wings.
- Levi Leipheimer, the Montanan who will bide his time on the flats and make his moves in the mountains.
- Cadel Evans, the Aussies' great hope.
- And, as a long shot, big George Hincapie, the ever-faithful and always capable Armstrong lieutenant; question: who will lead the multi-talented Discovery Channel team? Hincapie? Paolo Salvodelli? Yaroslav Popovich? Tom Danielson?
Friday, June 02, 2006
SENSATIONAL ACCUSATIONS REFUTED. Armstrong was implicated in using performance enhancing EPO by French newspaper L'Equipe shortly after he won his seventh Tour de France championship last July. The newspaper claimed to have matched Armstrong's rider identification number to tests performed retroactively on blood samples he gave during the 1999 TdF and frozen since 1999. Today's 132-page report condemns the lab that did the faulty tests, the anti-coping body WADA that commissioned them, and those who conspired to attempt to discredit Armstrong.
LUSTER RESTORED? The report, commissioned by the UCI, effectively clears Armstrong and restores the luster to his unprecedented feat. After L'Equipe made its sensationalized accusations last summer, the head of the Tour de France, Jean Marie LeBlanc, bought into the newspaper's analysis and publicly cast a shadow of doubt on Armstrong's contributions to the Tour. Whether or not LeBlanc and the French press who tried to discredit Armstrong will recant remains to be seen--don't count on it. I am sure they will insist the report sidestepped issues.
PERSONAL RESPONSE. Me? I am relieved. I hope the cycling community and cancer community will be reassured by this report that Lance is the real deal, not a drug-enhanced cheater. It is good to know, also, that resolution can--and has--come to this issue that has lingered for nearly a year. Not sure the cycling community will see this as a done deal, but it is a step in the direction of closure.