Why Bother?

Why Bother?

The Amgen Tour of California has announced the teams for the 2015 edition of the race. As expected, a number of UCI ProTeams will contest the race, including BMC, Etixx-Quick-Step, Cannondale Garmin, Trek Factory, Tinkoff-Saxo, Team Giant-Alpecin and Team Sky. Two domestic Pro Continental Teams, UnitedHealthcare and Team Novo Nordisk, will be there and a number of domestic Continental teams, including Axeon, Hincapie, Jelly Belly p/b Maxxis, Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies, Jamis-Hagens Berman p/b Sutter Home, and Team SmartStop.

Not on the list of invitations was Chris Horner’s Airgas-Safeway team. To say the team’s omission was a shock would be making a subcompact from an SUV. Had Airgas-Safeway been chosen, The Amgen Tour of California would have assured fans of three things: the attraction of a still-popular rider, the presence of a bona fide grand tour winner and racing from the 2011 winner of the race.

Tour of California organizers don’t publish the criteria by which they choose teams; certainly, they aren’t obligated to. But in not choosing a team many cycling fans expected to receive an invite and by not communicating the criteria by which they made their decisions, the public is left with little recourse other than conjecture.

Horner is among the top-ranked U.S. riders. Without a history of performance to fall back on, Airgas-Safeways admission would have been based solely on Horner and he had already stated publicly that because he had been unable to either renew with Lampre-Merida or find a spot on another ProTour Team, he had decided to focus his season on the Tour of California, so at minimum, the organizers knew that in Horner, they had a capable rider gunning for victory.

So why not invite him? Well, in 2014, the rider (now 43 years old) didn’t win much. He only managed to notch an eighth overall at the Volta ao Algarve and second overall at the Tour of Utah, two finishes that—let’s be honest—many riders would be more than pleased with. Compared to Team Jelly Belly p/b Maxxis, which couldn’t manage a top-10 finish on a single stage at the Tour of California in 2014, Horner would at least have helped animate racing. A guy with that record, barring injury, would be capable of a good ride. Maybe it’s because George Hincapie implicated Horner in doping in his book, “Loyal Lieutenant.” That would be a capricious move on their part, though, as Horner isn’t even under investigation for doping. A stance like that would—if applied equally—see the organizers not invite a number of teams.

This wouldn’t be the first time that organizers didn’t invite a team to ride because one or more members had some amount of controversy splattering their name. That was true for both Rock Racing and Floyd Landis’ Ouch teams. Both teams needed the appearance at the Tour of California to help justify their existence and the lack of invites helped spell the death of both teams.

In Horner’s case, there is an unease about his Dorian Gray fitness, that he’s able to compete against riders young enough to be his kids. And while it’s fair, even necessary, to ask questions about why he is more fit at 43 than most of us could achieve in our 20s, his situation is far different than those of Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis. To our knowledge, Horner isn’t even being investigated for previous doping; except for his ongoing screening, he is in the clear, so there’s no good reason he shouldn’t be at the Tour of California. And before you say that his team is likely to be diced up like ham in an omelette, let’s remember that Horner is the master of making deals on the course. He’s famous for making sure that everyone in a breakaway gets something useful so that the break works together to reach the finish ahead of the pack. Even if his team is so toasted the fire alarm goes off, Horner can figure out how to work with other teams to stay in the general classification.

There is a larger problem, however, in the snub to Airgas-Safeway. It is one of a handful of teams in the U.S. whose major sponsors come from outside the sport. Safeway is one of the largest corporations to give cycling a try following the sponsor exodus that inevitably occurred in the wake of the melt-through of the Lance and Postal myths. Between its Safeway and Vons stores, it has more than 500 locations in California, and it controls some 22 brands. Airgas has roughly 100 outlets in California alone. Either company dwarfs the combined forces of Trek, Giant and Cannondale. Just think of all the TV advertising that could have been sold to Safeway during the Tour of California.

Safeway’s decision to enter cycling didn’t come without some challenging conversations. Even football (soccer) doesn’t have the capacity for self-embarrassment that cycling does. And it’s easy to imagine the conversation in which the sponsors were told, “Yeah, we just signed Chris Horner, a previous winner of the Tour of California. We’re a shoe-in for an invitation now.”

Imagine that follow-up call. “Yeah, you know how I said we’d be a shoe-in for the Tour of California? About that….”

The degree to which Trek, Giant, Cannondale and Specialized have stepped up to sponsor professional racing can’t be lauded sufficiently. They saved the sport. Without them, the implosion of team upon team would have left two few teams to run a proper grand tour. Honestly, who did you think was going to do the heavy lifting—Colnago? It takes a company selling everything from $10,000 fully-spec’d road bikes to $200 mountain bikes and even kid’s bikes to have the muscle necessary to take on a title sponsor role for a team with name-brand riders. Cervelo is a Pon brand because they spent themselves to the point of bankruptcy because they couldn’t sign non-endemic sponsors to help shoulder the Cervelo Test Team.

If that doesn’t make you scratch your head, this might: In a recent interview with Cyclingnews, Floyd Landis closed his comments with this observation about some of the sport’s current sponsors: “… it’s not surprising that virtually all legitimate sponsors have fled the sport. It is now financed primarily by bored wealthy men who need a reason to give their wives about why they spend so much time with young leg-shaving men in tight pants.”

Rich guys are known to be capricious with their diversions, so while Trek, Giant and Cannondale aren’t very likely to leave the sport to sponsor a bass fisherman, there will come a day when Oleg Tinkoff tires of cycling.

Which brings us back to Airgas-Safeway. Now that they know their investment won’t garner the TV exposure they thought would happen, do you think they’ll extend their contract? Anyone want to drive to Vegas for that bet? I’m willing. The smart money says they’ll flee the sport and never look back. What would you do? You don’t really have to spend all that much money to field a team of Cat. 1s to contest Redlands, Tour of the Gila, Joe Martin, etc. And without that invite to the Tour of California, all that Airgas-Safeway may have to show at the end of the season is Horner cleaning up at a bunch of races that are, frankly, beneath him.

The Tour of California organizers are under no obligation to reveal the criteria by which they made their decision. Indeed, there may be no criteria to reveal. But in not revealing objective criteria, we’re left not just to wonder, but to second-guess, to doubt. Having the sport’s fans doubt such a decision doesn’t help the search for sponsors. We need companies like Safeway to see cycling as a positive force—the idealized extension of a healthy lifestyle.

Without that, we might as well give up.

 

Image courtesy Team Airgas-Safeway

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53 comments

  1. Full Monte

    Last week, the race debacle in Austin. Today, the snub of a brand new and much needed sponsor. In the eternal words of Vince Lombardi, “What the hell is going on out here?”

  2. Clark

    While I agree that having non-endemic sponsors is very good for cycling in the short and long term, it’s reasonable to think that the amount of money they’re providing to the team is relatively small compared to how much Trek is putting into its road team (not to mention its MTB and CX sponsorships). It’s also reasonable to think that the main reason the team went after such sponsors was to be able to afford Horner. There are good reasons Horner couldn’t close a deal with a WorldTour team, and as you pointed out, it’s not like he lacks in negotiation skills. He’s not being “formally” investigated, but the general consensus is that his name is redacted in the USADA Reasoned Decision, and that’s going to come out soon as part of the CIRC report.

    While SmartStop may not have had a big result in California last year, they did have big results in Chattanooga by going 1-2 at road nationals with Marcotte and McCabe (who also took the NRC title in 2014). As a team, a case could be made that they are far more deserving than Airgas-Safeway with those results, and quick glance at their website’s sponsor list shows that their top two sponsors are non-endemic (SmartStop and Schneider Electric), as is #5 BMW. Sure, Horner is a past champion, but so is Floyd Landis. As mentioned in the latter’s case, there was already a precedent for not inviting back a former winner (and Landis was not suspended at the time, so an invitation was entirely at the discretion of the organizers).

    Surely, it wasn’t an easy decision, and the organizers knew there would be some backlash. This is speculation, but if it came down to selecting the team with the current US national and NRC champions, or the one with a rider who intersperses brilliance (perhaps to the point of suspicion) with a penchant for injury, which is the safer bet?


  3. Author
    Padraig

    Thanks for the comments; keep ’em coming.

    Clark: You make a number of great points. I agree it must have been a tough decision, but one they did render, and had they gone the other way, the backlash would likely have been minute. The more interesting observation you make is regarding the investment of a company like Trek vs. one like Safeway, but ultimately, I think it’s irrelevant. Trek is all-in for this game; as I observed, they aren’t going to sponsor fishermen. The problem is, we’re busy trying to woo companies like Safeway back to the party and this just doesn’t help. It adds to the narrative that cycling isn’t a good bet.

    1. Clark

      Very true that cycling would be better off with than without Safeway. It’s not all doom and gloom, however. Schneider Electric is one of the biggest companies that nobody has ever heard of. They’re publicly-traded, have hundreds of thousands of employees around the world, and there’s a decent chance a building you enter today is controlled by some of their electrical or building automation equipment. Their pockets are deep, but they lack visibility. Cycling has traditionally been a bargain in terms of potential name recognition and return on investment. You’re right; cycling definitely needs to woo more big companies into the sponsorship arena, but maybe the ones to target are the Schneider Electrics that have just as much to gain from the relationship as the teams and events that need their support.

  4. Neil Browne

    “That was true for both Rock Racing and Floyd Landis’ Ouch teams.” It was the Bahati Team that Floyd was a member of didn’t get the invite, not OUCH. While the title sponsor has changed (now UHC), the organization that runs the team remains the same. The Rock Racing team rode the ToC stages before the start every day, which got them a ton of attention. I was there and saw the shit show up close and personal. Also, Floyd wasn’t a part of the team that year. Rock Racing imploded for various other reasons but the ToC wasn’t really a factor. They didn’t have any significant outside sponsors they needed to placate. The owner of the team and of Rock & Republic jeans, Michael Ball, saw the team as a pet project. FYI: If you’re looking for R&R jeans try Kohls or Costco on sale for $80…

    Speaking to teams that have been given the flick from the ToC they have told me it comes down to “activating sponsorship” – meaning sponsor something at the race (a booth in the expo for example). I’m curious if Safeway had sponsored a “Lifestyle” booth or the Safeway KoM jersey, Horner’s team might be riding the ToC. Regardless, it’s ToC’s party and they can invite who they want. But yeah, I would have liked to have seen Horner race there.

    1. Flahute

      Ditto what Neil said … when Jamis got flicked from the “Big 3” in the US in 2012, it was because they weren’t activating sponsorship (or at least, not to the extent that the organizers of the races desired).

      Money talks, and the organizers need the smaller teams to help pick up the tab for the bigger teams.

  5. Matt K

    When I read about this the other night I was pretty blown away that they were not invited. Even if you take Horner out of the equation you still have a sponsor with hundreds of locations in the state. With him being on the team and a past winner and coming in second in Utah and his Vuelta win and his residency in the state and therefore a fan base willing to spend money in various towns to see him race, you have a perfect money making scenario. If they were invited they’d see the inevitable increase in sales from the race and maybe stick around long after Horner is retired. These sponsors don’t care about cycling, they care about seeing a return on their investment. But more outside sponsors with big money means more up and coming cyclists get to live their dream for a few years or turn it into a long career with a European team. The sad fact is that sponsors won’t bother when things like this happen.


  6. Author
    Padraig

    Neil: Good catch. I had forgotten about that move. Wasn’t Ouch a cosponsor? With regard to Rock Racing, I was talking not of Landis but of Hamilton, Leogrande etc. Certainly, the non-selection for Rock wasn’t the deciding factor, but I’ve heard from multiple sources that it was a nail in the coffin, perhaps one that ceased to be necessary once Ball started to be investigated. If “activating sponsorship” (a term I hear thrown around the way you hear “french fries” in a burger joint) is really the crux, then we have to ask why they aren’t more upfront about that.

    1. Neil Browne

      If OUCH was a co-sponsor it was tiny. I believe it was just to cover some salary expenses. OUCH was also a sponsor funded by a rich cycling fan. Which is how several teams stay alive – not actual sponsors, but fanboys who want to get on the other side of the velvet rope. I’m not sure that’s a good long term business plan but for some teams it is working for them.

      Honestly, I’ve never heard that Rock Racing non-selection to ToC was the final nail in the coffin. All the nails I was aware of was drug use within the team and poor management by a guy whose jean company was hemorrhaging money. Like you mentioned, Ball was being investigated and his type of glitter and bedazzzled infused jeans was falling out of fashion. The guy ran out of money to keep the show on the road.

      ToC isn’t more upfront about sponsorship activation because they want to say, “We pick the best teams – money doesn’t matter.” No one wants to watch a sporting event because the players were the ones who could afford to line up. Fans want the “best athletes/riders” not ones with the biggest checkbooks. However, we all know that is bullshit. It’s a pay to play if you are a smaller team and want to be considered for ToC. This is much like some product reviews in magazines/websites are tied to advertising – we scratch your back, you scratch ours. People need to realize that at the end of the day the ToC is a business and having Horner wasn’t a good ROI. On a sporting level I wish Horner was going to be there.

    2. Walter

      The reason they are not more upfront about it is that they do not want folks to know that it is really all about the Benjamins with them and that sporting considerations are not the dispositive factors with regard to gaining an entry..

  7. Chad

    Let’s have an honest look at Horner. While his racing is without question, he’s hardly been able to string two months of racing together in the past few years without accident or injury. So honestly there’s no guarantee he’d make the start anyway, and if he didn’t, what are we left with?
    Let’s say he did make the start, and he raced well, maybe even won. We’d be lets with a 40something year old, old guard, checkered past winner. Not exactly something any race wants on it resume.
    And to include Horner and his shallow-depth team, would mean excluding who? Hincapie, who had phenomenal rides with Carpenter and Rosskopf at Colorado (another medalist event) and 4th overall team on UCI Americas tour. Or Smartstop with the Current National Road Champion, current NRC overall champion, 3rd overall UCI Americas tour, and NUMBER 1 overall team UCI Americas tours. Or Jamis who seems to have a never ending stream of stage winner and GC contenders, and the addition of seba heido with some world tour experience almost sure to be in contention to stage wins. Or Optum, 2nd overall UCI Americas tour, with several former U.S. national champions, a handful of former Pro Tour riders. And eric young who won a stage of Colorado. Axeon has a reputation of putting 2-3 riders a year into the pro tour and coming out of nowhere to contest the overall. To me the “last place” domestic team is Jelly belly, but with serghei tvetcov’s podium at Colorado and 9th overall Americas tour ranking (compared to Airgas failing to earn one point to even make the list) it doesn’t seem like a hard decision.
    Let be more honest, airgas was hornets last choice. he signed in the 11th hour to make sure he was on a UCI team. He didn’t want to be there either. So I’m sorry Safeway didn’t get what they were hoping for, but had they truly committed to cycling and the team had time to build a respectable, proven around Horner we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I for one will applaud ToC for choosing the next generation of cyclist over the former.

    1. Flahute

      2.HC races can invite up to 25 teams of 8 riders, to meet the maximum entry of 200 riders per UCI regulations.

      The 3 big races in the United States routinely only invite 15-16 teams, some of which don’t even bother to field full squads of 8 riders. Looking at the start lists from the past few years, the only race where all the teams fielded full squads was the 2014 Tour of California, but 2012 and 2013 had 3-4 teams each which only had 6 or 7 riders on the roster, as have Utah and Colorado.

      The organizers of the Tour of California could very easily invite additional teams to bring the participation more inline with equivalently ranked races in Europe, but choose not to.

      It’s all about the money … in Europe, the organizers pay the teams to show up. In the United States, the teams pay the organizers for an invitation.

  8. Ron

    A very nice writeup here, with plenty to consider. I like this decision. Horner’s dirty, for sure. I can’t believe he hasn’t just packed up and gone home, hoping that it all flies over his head and doesn’t stick. Far too many odd numbers, beyond just his age. I think it sends a good message but then again…Hincapie’s team is there and it bugs me that he’s making a living off his cycling career and has his book out, which again lines his pockets.

    No way he was clean, not racing besides Lance.

    Anyway, the biggest problem with the ToC is that I’ll be watching the Giro instead. Secondly, the leader’s jerseys. Yikes, those are bad. I guess not as bad as CO, but still pretty ugly.

  9. Walter

    It is no secret that the TOC likes teams to provide money to the race. If the team sponsors a stage, a start city, or “activates” their entry (TOC’s word), they are more likely to gain an invitation. I have spoken with team personnel who have indicated that $$$$ were a big part of the discussion on whether the team gets to race or not.

    In short, money makes the entry monkey dance here. A shabby practice that sees worthy teams not invited. Mancebo’s teams (Competitve Cyclist/Real Cyclist) never got a invite even though he was the #1 rider in the US.

  10. Alan

    I do not believe Team SmartStop was invited to the Tour of California in 2014. And they certainly have earned a position in the race this year.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Yeah, that was an error in my editing. I meant to specify Jelly Belly p/b Maxxis. Didn’t mean to draw in SmartStop. They had a good season. Might have been a better choice than Jelly Belly.

  11. jza

    If Safeway-Airgas were invited to ToC, Horner would be the only person on the team that could finish the race. It is basically a club team with Horner as the over-the-hill, under-suspicion ringer.

    Leading sponsors to believe they would likely get a ToC start is just peddling bs. If that’s how the team operates then they don’t deserve sponsors.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      There’s nothing to suggest Airgas-Safeway management used Horner in an attempt to garner sponsors. The sponsors were announced two weeks before Horner was signed. You have to expect they called the sponsors the moment they signed him, though.

  12. Pat O'Brien

    I no longer care about professional cycling, in the U.S. or internationally. Until the sport truly become professional, divorces itself from the UCI, and affords the riders the protections we all take for granted in the U.S. as employees, it will not get a penny of my money.

    1. Ron

      Hey, I love WWE. I’m serious. It’s entertainment and they’re not lying about it. I no longer can stomach the NFL, NBA and never watched baseball. NFL is a way to hook people into giving up hours and hours of their week to be sold a new phone, a new car, or terrible beer. NBA is such a joke. No one is even trying, just collecting paychecks. It’s boring.

      Baseball has always been boring. Then again, I grew up playing lacrosse, just a tad bit faster…

  13. John Kopp

    I am surprised that Amgen would not welcome a Safeway sponsored team. After all, Safeway is a not insignificant retailer of their products. Horner would have at least made the race interesting as he did at the Tour of Utah last year. Too bad he missed the Vuelta. And if you want to bring drugs into it, remember that Amgen is the manufacturer of the stuff.

  14. Patrick Layne

    I gave up on pro cycling when Levi came out of the doping closet. “Say it ain’t so, Joe…er, Lance, Floyd, George, Jan, Levi…Chris?”

  15. Alan

    I only follow college football and basketball because I can relate more to the athletes, it’s nice to remind you of the “old college” days, and it gives you a valid reason for rivalry with your pals. Too bad it’s not easier to follow college cycling.

  16. Crash

    The omission of Horner’s team is inexcusable. As far as doping allegations are concerned isn’t it possible that Horner’s so-so results in the not too distant past and his current ability to climb with the top 5 climbers in the world now suggestive of a rider who eschewed doping? Now that the peloton is either clean, or is using homeopathic doping techniques capable of only providing placebo effects his true ability is clear for everyone to see. Horner may well be the Ned Overend of the road world. His failure to be signed by a World Tour team is a blatant example of age discrimination, hell, he finished the Tour ahead of Rui Costa after being seriously crunched by a car 7 weeks earlier. Horner’s love for the sport is obvious and he is one of the top 10 GC riders in the world and perhaps the best rider the U.S. has produced. Thank you for taking a stand on this.

    1. Chad

      You must either be joking or have a short term memory. Remember that time Horner couldn’t defend his veulta title because of failing the “Heath checks”? It was last September.
      These aren’t feel good, Heath checks. These are “all your hormone profiles better be inline with your historical values” Heath check, reminiscent of the pre-EPO test Heath check for a 50% hematocrit.
      In a sport almost complete fueled by 40-50 year olds living vicariously through spandex and carbon, Horner would be the perfect poster child. Unfortunately, every world to her team and their doctors know how to read a bio passport. And that alone is by corner doesn’t have a job

    2. John Kopp

      Chad: The reason Horner did not ride last years Vuelta was that he was fighting a bronchial infection, and the medication messed up his hormone balance. This is not a WADA violation, but some teams use it to sideline riders for political reasons. Froome had a similar problem earlier that was treated with a controversial TUE, and got by with it.

    3. chad

      Jon, you’re correct, it was due to his medication. His medication was oral cortisone, a substance know to enhance performance, the same drug in fact lance took in the 99 tour and had covered up with a topical cream. Because of the TUE he didn’t “fail” the test, because its permitted in certain circumstances (think JV and the wasp sting at the tour). but acute usage wont effect your hormone profiles the way prolonged use will, which is why the MPCC has values for cortisol. its to protect against a drug that has know performance enhancing properties and extremely valid medical uses. maybe chris had a lung infection, maybe his knee was hurting again and he really took an injection, maybe he was short on form and need to train extra hard. either way the substance was in his system and he knew it could be problematic.
      “Every ‘I’ and ‘T’ was crossed, with the UCI, with the team, every substance I took was legal, every substance I took was approved … I did know, and I was completely aware, that there could be a problem,”

  17. Rod

    From a sporting point of view, Horner is an asset and a liability. Sure, the guy would bring it and perform. Maybe even at the 2011 ATOC or 2013 Vuelta levels.

    Or, as a declining rider (if you feel he is on the right side of the Bell curve), he might get injured again. Or overtrain and be a wreck. And then you have… Lemus? I like the guy (I was born in Mexico), but that’s not a deep team – add the risks together and I bet their “activation fee” was significant.

  18. Paddy

    ..”People need to realize that at the end of the day the ToC is a business and having Horner wasn’t a good ROI. On a sporting level I wish Horner was going to be there.”

    Who would be investing in who in this business would be transaction? The question remains unanswered since the sporting level isint in question apparently. Horner would surely invest in a return to TOC. Knowing why may not be that interesting anymore with all this speculation but rather why can’t we know? So we can discect a little deeper into the current state of pro cycling.

  19. tj

    If I am not mistaken ( a big if, I grant you) one of the reasons the UCI and ASO butted heads a while back was this same issue ie the Tour’s reluctance to endorse or participate in the uci world tour. Sponsors/teams wanted guarantees that they would get Tour de france and other big race invitations if they backed a team. Unibet became the example ASO used to flex its muscle, though I believe they hid behind a no gambling law in france to flick them.
    While I get their disappointment, if they had coughed up enough cash to be pro-continental, Airgas safeway would have been impossible to ignore.


  20. Author
    Padraig

    Everyone: thanks for your comments.

    There’s a recurring theme here, and one I thought would emerge—that Horner is presumed to be dirty. Technically, he’s cleared to race, so he should race based on his resume. The problem is that if we simply use the gray areas of the system to marginalize him because we believe he’s doping, that’s no better than the way that Hein Verbruggen used the grayer areas of the UCI do help declare Armstrong clean. This is a big deal. What’s to prevent race organizers from using the same tactics to avoid inviting Cannondale-Garmin or BMC in order to avoid the possibility of an American winning “their” event? If we don’t take on the problem of Horner and other legacy riders head-on and either investigate them or clear them to the public’s satisfaction, how will we ever get back to a point that many of you made—that you have no faith in pro cycling?

    I especially liked Rod’s observation that “Horner is an asset and a liability.”

    TJ points out rather nicely that this smacks of the Unibet diss with the Tour a few years back. And that conflict wasn’t about riders doping or sponsorship dollars, but simply who controlled which teams were invited to the Tour—the ASO or the UCI. A turf battle, no more.

  21. Pingback: Tour of California – Sans Chris Horner | Steve Tilford

  22. Matt Cooke

    Why would you ever advocate a lifelong doper getting into a race? Of course there are others that did the same crimes racing at ToC but there are getting rid of one and that is progress.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Matt: First, thanks for stopping by. I’m glad to have you join the conversation. The problem is that technically, he’s not a doper. He’s not suspended for anything. That’s different from saying he’s clean, mind you. Imagine, just for a moment, the shit-show we’d have if every rider we suspected of being dirty had his team dissed by race organizers. We need an intelligent, logical system of rules by which riders either are or are not permitted to race. Imagine just how few teams would be racing if invites were based solely on the suspicion of whether or not the riders likely to make up a squad at a race were clean. That would also mean preemptively eliminating teams from race rosters even without knowing which riders team management might have sent. It would be anarchic. A great many clean riders would be caught in the crossfire. Without a clear set of criteria, they can eliminate any team for unspecified reasons. That includes erroneously concluding that a clean rider might be doping and nixing his team incorrectly. Look, I believe you rode clean during your career, but it’s fair to observe that Lance Armstrong protested his innocence no less than you did. Words aren’t really enough here. If what we desire is the elimination of all riders from the Armstrong era who we believe doped, we need to use an objective method, not just marginalize them through some shadowy process.

  23. olmowebb

    Some great comments here, and a good write up.

    My thinking is that the fault might fall on the team management itself (for team Airgas-Safeway). What did they sell to the sponsors and when? The sponsors might do some due diligence, but the team management will be selling them on the expected ROI. Was the conversion with the sponsors something like: “We’ll sign one or more big names, and we can guarantee a start in the major US races”. Who can make that claim? Past inclusion into races for UCI Continental teams is fickle at best, and teams generally need a few years to build some credibility before they can even think of making the list. If the team management thought they could buy a big rider and guarantee entry as a selling point to the sponsor, then the management is doing damage to the sports reputation with outside sponsors, not race organizers.

  24. Touriste-Routier

    As someone who has served on the management team on a few (lower ranked) UCI races, I can tell you the team selection process is difficult. No matter what decisions are made, you are going to disappoint people, as there are always more worthy applicants than slots available.

    Disclosing the selection criteria or rationale only sparks more debate, as those who don’t agree with you, will always find fault with your logic. And if you state something wrong, you open yourself up to libel or slander threats/suits.

    In the end, it is the organizer’s decision; it is their race’s reputation, and capital at risk. One might not like ATOC’s decision, but it is a safe assumption that it was thoroughly considered within their staff.

    And yes, it is quite possible that financial considerations have weight on par with sporting merit. It is a business after all, and it needs to be sustainable. But wealthy mules are typically not given priority over poor thoroughbreds.

    The real flaw here is that with so many World Tour teams participating (for whom the race really doesn’t mean all that much to, as compared to other European stage races), there are few slots available for Continental teams, for whom the race could be the highlight of their season.

  25. Michael S

    I for one breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that Airgas was not going to be included in this year’s ATOC. The thought that a team that has done nothing to prove their worth up to this point, should get into America’s biggest race simply because they signed one big name is ludicrous. Let alone that that particular name is thoroughly suspected of doping.
    Last year Smart Stop was denied entry into ATOC, despite having an entirely new roster aimed at NRC dominance. I could have told anyone that the riders they signed merited an entry into any US race, but the team had to prove itself. They went on to win or podium at just about every race they attended. Oh and they won US Pro. THAT is what earned them entry into Utah, Colorado, and eventually California this year.
    I went on a training ride with a Kenda 5 Hour rider last year the day after he found out they didn’t get invited to Cali. He was bummed, as it was a major goal for his season. He however didn’t bemoan that ‘injustice’ or try to detract from the teams that did earn an invite. Instead he adjusted his expectations, did his job and we rode for over 5 hours that day.
    We are lucky to have such a strong domestic peloton in America. Not every team can get into every race. I’ve learned that the hard way. The last thing any respectable athlete should do under those circumstances is try to make a cheap shot at another team. Because you singled out Jelly Belly, I will do the same. They are a team sponsored by a candy company, not a bike brand. That candy company has been TITLE sponsor of the team for the last 15 years. Their roster includes Freddy R. The only rider to have competed in each and every TOC. They have Lauchlan and Gus Morton, the former spent the last two years on Garmin. He is a former pro tour rider who can “animate” ATOC. He might even win it if he trains. As an added bonus, there are absolute no doping allegations/suspicions surrounding his career. Gavin M is also on the team. He was a staggiere for Garmin last season and a graduate of the Trek Livestrong program.
    Those are four riders who in my eyes are very deserving of racing in ATOC (althought admittedly I am on the fence about fast freddy). Yet you seem to suggest that their entire team should be excluded in favor of allowing one guy who is at the end of his career, race in the only American event that is ‘worthy of his participation’? Come on.
    I don’t usually, if ever comment on these things, but this article hit a nerve. Either way I’ll wrap it up with this. I would rather cycling continue to be an underfunded sport if the alternative is to have big budget teams hire suspected dopers as ringers. The outcome of that approach can only undermine and diminish fledgling careers of honest hardworking cyclists (me and my friends). If at the end of the day, you find yourself asking “why bother?”, you should probably hang up the bike, because you have entirely lost touch with why you ride.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Michael: Thanks for your considered response. I hope you can understand that the real thrust of the post isn’t Horner, but how this sort of thing can have an impact on non-endemic sponsorship. Jelly Belly has been a staunch supporter of cycling for a very long time and the sport has been lucky to have them, for sure, but Horner has every reason to be at the ToC. To say that Airgas-Safeway is big budget and hired Horner as a ringer is off-the-mark. Your remark about Horner being a suspected doper is a central theme in this conversation—that we should eliminate riders from racing just because we suspect they dope. That’s not a good enough reason. That sort of logic leads to suspecting anyone who wins anything of doping. And if you pull every rider suspected of doping and you suspect every rider who wins of doping, soon enough, there’s no one to race. The question “Why bother?” was rhetorical and points to the futility of non-endemic sponsors entering the sport if their team can’t race.

  26. Matt Cooke

    Just because someone has not been caught does not mean they are not or were not major dopers. There are many people/riders/directors still involved in the US peloton who should sanctioned. As no one was not there to photograph and tape record the interactions all that is left one persons word vs. another, but that doesn’t mean it did not happen. I suppose I could play the name rhyming game, that might keep me safe.
    But that wont make a difference as people believe what they want to believe.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Matt: This isn’t about whether or not riders doped. We can both name names of plenty of riders who (to use a conservative term), are strongly suspected. The issue is whether or not they’ve been sanctioned. Pulling riders from racing just because we “know” they doped is little better than running around burning witches. We have to respect the rule of law because if we don’t anyone could be called witch. And then what?

  27. Jeremy

    I have to agree with Michael S. Alleged doping aside, inviting a team with a “ringer” is not as solid a selection as choosing those with solid foundations, and results, in the states. Horner may be a champion, but that doesn’t mean he’s not in the twilight of his career. Just because he’s hanging on and has signed with some fledgling team doesn’t mean he gets automatic bid to AToC. In my opinion of course.

    Jeremy

  28. chad

    the requirements to medalist events have been pretty clear to those who are fighting for spots. #1 American National Road Champion will almost always get your team invited. #2 UCI Americas Tour team ranking found here http://www.uci.ch/road/ranking/ (see americas tour, 2014, team) #3 Previous performances in Medalist events, and a distant #4 local teams (used generally only as a tie break)

    2014 UCI team ranking overall
    1) smartstop- 532pts
    2)optum- 375pts
    4)hincapie- 337pts
    6)UHC- 239pts
    8)jamis- 187pts
    9)jellybelly- 184pts
    .
    .
    45) airgas- 4pts

    and ToC has every right to play “what if”. what if Horner doesn’t make the start? What if he crashes out? what if in a press conference some asks him about why he’s not pro tour? is he bitter? his past doping rumors? What if ToC doesn’t want that image at their event? again bravo to ToC for choosing the next generation of cyclists.

    1. tj

      But Charlie, You really do care. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t have been reading.
      I care too. I’d like to see world tour races have not just a few wild cards to invite teams they like, but also a wild card veto to bitchslap teams like astana , or maybe make invitations contingent upon teams not nominating riders with a two year vacation anywhere in their past. How about making any DS with a proven past being forced to pay their own hotel bill? Sure it would be symbolic, buts what wrong with race organizers trying to clean up the image of their own events. I am fed up with cycling rewarding those who made a “mistake”, which just happened to have made their career.

  29. MVA

    When the people that help police and keep omerta in place won’t touch him you _know_ the guy is damaged goods. Non endemic would be nice, but in this case I am faulting Safeway-airgas for lack of due diligence.

  30. MCH

    For me, the question is, why would Airgas-Safeway team management put their sponsorship at risk by hiring Horner? Yes, I know that Horner isn’t under investigation, and as he likes to say, he’s been tested many times and never tested positive (hmmm, haven’t we heard that before???). Yes, yes innocent until proven guilty yada, yada, yada.

    The problem is, is that this isn’t a court of law, it’s a court of public perception and opinion. And cycling is losing. Horner, while being a seemingly likeable guy and a damn good bike racer, is also anything but transparent. In this environment, why would anybody – team, sponsor, race promoter – take the chance?

  31. David

    I was looking forward to AIrgas-Safeway being on the list of invited teams. It was one of the first cycling sponsors I could very closely relate to. I spend a ton of money and way to much time shopping at Safeway. It was something I could tease the checkers about, as know that they would know next to nothing about cycling or the sponsorship. It may be the tipping point, when thinking about driving down to see a few stages from a couple of states away. I am at a loss as to the omission.

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  33. kurti_sc

    i wished i had a chance to reply earlier. i was travelling and out of touch for a bit. now at 50+ comments, the only thing i can say is that you have certainly resonated a tone here. good!
    I was excited to see Airgas come into the picture. As a process engineer, I use various gasses and was glad to see some overlap between my professional life and my reason for working. I’ve swayed towards the use of Arigas when practical for some of our welding processes and our inspection techniques. There you go. That might be the only marketing feedback they ever get. Good luck going forward team!!

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