Today was an example of precisely why the Tour de France is the greatest annual sporting event on the planet. We had a real bike race. While we couldn’t seem to have a day go without at least one significant crash (Andreas Klöden), the real thrust of the day was the racing not some tangential drama.
The biggest surprise of the day was being reminded that this was Samuel Sanchez’ first Tour stage win. He’s a rider of such colossal talent that a Tour stage missing from his palmares felt a bit like an oversight. Yet his ride was hardly the best of the day.
I’ve secretly had my money on Frank Schleck for this year’s race. I think he has the maturity his brother lacks and this year his form seems at least equal to his brothers, maybe even better. To watch him ride up the road and see the weak response reminded me of the sort of glee I feel when the bad guy gets killed in a horror movie, not that I think Cadel Evans or any of the other GC favorites are bad guys, mind you.
Which naturally brings me to Alberto Contador. It is my sincere hope that his performance today wasn’t hampered by his knee. I respect that a rider beaten is a rider beaten, but my personal belief is that whoever wins the Tour—should it turn out not to be him—deserves to know he beat him straight up.
I’ve suspected that Ivan Basso’s near-anonymous performance up until now was the result of him saving himself. Today’s late-race surge supports that. Seeing him work with Evans to try to pull back time on Schleck with Contador struggling to maintain contact and Schleck the younger dutifully playing the scavenger and just sitting on Contador’s wheel was, pardon me, a thrilling bit of racing.
Nearly as great a surprise as today’s win being Sanchez’ first Tour stage was how little time Thomas Voeckler gave up to Schleck and Evans. It was a stunning piece of racing and gave rise to my favorite performance of the day:
Long after every other team’s last domestique had Roman Candled their legs earlier on the mountain, Rolland not only stuck by his charge, but helped pace him back into the lead group following accelerations that were more than Voeckler could handle. It doesn’t hurt, either, that his service was such that the casual viewer of the Tour wouldn’t appreciate the work he put in, the difficulty of the task he accomplished. The finish line hug between the two was one of those private moments between teammates, not meant for our eyes, even if it did happen on the world stage.
As for the mighty RadioShack, they have two riders in the top 20 on GC. It’s not the sort of performance anyone expected from Johan Bruyneel’s team and probably not the sort of performance that would cause RadioShack to renew their contract at the end of this year.
And what would a day at the Tour without a little more love for Johnny Hoogerland? That he took off on the unknown Horquette d’Ancizan (a climb whose difficulty I can attest to) and attempted to build a gap to gain more points in the king of the mountains competition was the best. I don’t mind that he lost the jersey today; that was inevitable. However, I am bummed he didn’t manage to pick up a single point. I’d have loved the statement that would have made. His attempt was more than enough, though.
When Monty Python and the Holy Grail is finally re-made, Hoogerland will play the knight who says, “It’s only a flesh wound.”
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
By the time 60 Minutes aired Sunday night, I had digested every element of the show I could in advance. I’d parsed quote upon quote and laughed at Lance Armstrong’s attempts to discredit the single most storied broadcast news magazine on the planet.
As the fader brought up the iconic sound of the stopwatch ticking, I leaned forward in my chair and waited. While I knew what I would see in broad strokes, I hoped for two things. First, I wanted to see Tyler Hamilton’s demeanor. Was he contrite? Was he conflicted? Was he vengeful? Second, I wondered if I might hear anything that would surprise me.
Different people saw different things as they watched Hamilton unfold the events of his past. What I saw was a guy who was uncomfortable in front of the camera, uncomfortable telling what he knew. And while I perceived remorse, I saw a man in depression, a man in pain over all he had lost.
I was uncomfortable watching him.
Part of my discomfort stemmed from old anger. Hamilton had represented the best cycling had to offer. He was educated, decent and—we all thought—clean. When he went down he took a number of people with him. People placed faith in him and had all but mortgaged the farm to help him succeed and track that success. He was the anti-Lance and in 2003 we thought we had found in him a story of extraordinary courage and determination. His was a story to rival Lance’s, in part, because he was so polite, so self-effacing.
Most of my discomfort stemmed from wondering just how much punishment is enough. He’s lost everything he built in his career, but he wasn’t doped for the whole of his career. Is that just? And the interview barely glanced at his career-ending positive test for DHEA. I have to ask, Do we really know the full story about him taking DHEA? How could he be so stupid as to take a banned substance as his sole recourse to depression? I struggle with that explanation, but that’s a minor point. The larger question is how much punishment is enough? After stripping a rider of success, should he also be stripped of a future?
Back to that interview: I’ve heard people assess it as a tired re-hash of the accusations we’ve heard against Armstrong for years. It wasn’t. Hamilton made two surprising statements. His first was that he actually saw Armstrong use performance-enhancing drugs. No one has made that claim previously. He second was that his team management worked with the UCI to cover up a positive drug test at the 2001 Tour de Suisse. Armstrong made “donations” to the UCI and the cycling public never heard a word.
For those of you who doubt Hamilton’s ability to tell the truth—any truth—remember, this nugget has been corroborated by the anonymous source 60 Minutes spoke with for the story. The source revealed that the FBI took a sworn deposition from the director of the lab that tested Armstrong’s sample. The lab director said he met with Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel and was informed by the UCI the positive result was to be reported nowhere.
These weren’t garden-variety accusations.
Forgiving riders who doped has nothing to do with justifying their behavior and everything to do with finding out what they took, what they know, the methods they used. We must learn the best doping techniques out there if we are to defeat them in the future. And if unemployment is guaranteed, a rider, coach or whoever has zero incentive to reveal what they know. We shouldn’t tolerate repeated infractions (Riccardo Ricco, anyone?) but the silence of the offenders does us no good.
I used to think of doped riders as broken people, whether the deficit is narcissism, insecurity or sociopathy, they were people who need help. After watching one doping case after another unfold, I have come to believe that most of the athletes who turn to performance enhancing drugs do so out of a sense of coercion. Even though they may be incorrect, they believe the rest of the peloton is on the stuff, so they enter the practice.
My personal life has been punctuated with relationships too torn to rescue. Forgiveness has, at times, been an act of kindness too great for me to summon. But I struggle with that. I know that every religion on the planet and nearly every constitution regards forgiveness and redemption as a central tenet. Hell, half of the reality shows are built around people recovering their humanity after some fall from grace. We obviously love to forgive people.
It’s easy to condemn Hamilton. Too easy. Let’s listen to him. And let’s not abandon him; down that road lay the fallen. Their graves bear names like Pantani, Jimenez.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Great movement is afoot. The tides of change rise with the moon and deposit treasures of all sorts on the shore of our cycling beach. Holy Moses! That’s a horrible metaphor.
Anyway, so far we’ve seen: Contador to Sungard – SaxoBank, Greipel to Omega Pharma-Lotto, Fränk and Ändy Schleck to Luxembourg – TBD, Jurgen Van de Walle to Omega Pharma – Lotto, and many more strong support riders shifting allegiances and lining up behind new leaders.
The one that sticks out for me is Team Radio Shack. This is a sponsor that got into the sport based on the ability of Lance Armstrong to draw eyeballs to their brand at the world’s biggest sporting event, the Tour de France. Now that Armstrong has ridden his last Tour (not to mention the questionable attention he’s attracting while under federal investigation), the Shack has a very large hole to fill.
Wanted: Tour de France winner not named Contador.
Johan Bruyneel and his seemingly deep-pocketed backers have to do something big, and they need to do it now. Star of the future Taylor Phinney is not going to win the 2011 Tour de France. We could talk about when the young American star WILL be ready to vie for the French podium, but we know it’s not going to be next year, so that leaves the transfer market.
With Contador estranged from Bruyneel, the next, obvious choice is Ändy Schleck, who looks like the only rider with a shot at besting the Spaniard. Schleck has left Bjarne Riis’ Saxo Bank team, but the Luxembourg-based squad he’s rumored to be leading has yet to coalesce. Though the overwhelming odds are that that team will in fact form, is there the outside possibility that Schleck could be coming to America?
The shadow player here could be Trek. With Armstrong’s exit, the American bicycle maker is losing its best representative in the pro ranks. Of course, Contador and Schleck both rode Specialized bicycles to Paris this year, and that can’t sit well with the big wigs at Trek. They too have a stake in placing a big winner at the Shack, if only to peg back Specialized who seem to have taken over as the top US brand.
As unlikely as it seems, a case could be made that Radio Shack and Trek need to make a hard run at Schleck or suffer the financial consequences. It’s no secret that the young Luxembourger has maintained an almost obsequious attitude toward Armstrong over the past year. Is that simple respect or business savvy?
If this odd scenario doesn’t play out, who will lead the Shack next year? Will they really bet their season on the aging legs of Leipheimer and Kloeden? Or is there another possible answer that we’re just not seeing? Does Janesz Brackovic become the new kid on the block? How salable is he as a marketing asset?
What do you think?
Photo: Jake Schoellkopf/ASSOCIATED PRESS
So Alberto Contador won the Tour de France by a margin slimmer than many said was possible, a margin equal to what he clawed out with the aid of Dennis Menchov and Sammy Sanchez on stage 15. We can argue about all the places each rider gained or lost time, but really, the race comes down to two fateful events: Schleck’s mis-shift on 15 and his later 39-second gap in the final time trial. The symmetry of the two events is more difficult to ignore than the economy.
And just to be ultra-clear about this, yes, I’m saying that without help from both Menchov and Sanchez, Contador wouldn’t have won the Tour.
I should also point out that even though he twice went for stage wins for himself, Alexander Vinokourov proved to be both valuable and loyal to Contador in the mountain stages. Vinokourov sat on Schleck on stage 15 and never rode for himself by taking a pull at the front of the group. He’ll always be an unpredictable element in my mind, but he demonstrated his value to the Astana team repeatedly. He deserves to be recognized.
But individual performances aside, if we back up and look at the 2010 Tour de France as an elaborate chess game involving 22 players, some interesting questions emerge.
First, what the hell has Johan Bruyneel been thinking? He fielded the most experienced team in the Tour de France, sure, but it was also the oldest team by an Egyptian pharaoh. The most youthful element of the team was the management company’s formation documents. Even if we accept the possibility that the fight went out of Armstrong following his daily crashes so that by the time the time trial came around, he really wasn’t trying—which is why we didn’t see the form necessary to win the race overall anywhere in the same time zone as him—we should still ask the question: Why did no one else other than Chris Horner ride like his career was at stake?
Speaking of recognition, let’s hope that Horner feels some satisfaction and vindication at his stellar ride. It’s one of the best performances by a rider over the age of 35 ever at the Tour, and is his single best performance there. It was his misfortune to sign for a French team when he first went to Europe and his worse fortune to have his career coincide with Armstrong’s. Had he hit Europe five years earlier than he did, he could have led Motorola in its quest to do something significant in a Grand Tour. Or not. There have long been reports that Jim Ochowicz (director of Motorola and now one of the powers that be at BMC) had issues with the formerly feisty San Diegan.
Back to Bruyneel. His reputation as a kingmaker able to deliver a worthy rider to a Grand Tour victory has suffered its first setback. Even with the triple-barrel shotgun of Armstrong, Andreas Kloden and Levi Leipheimer he was unable to deliver any one of them to the top 10. Horner’s performance was the sort of showing that the French teams generally hope to luck into but can plan no better than a chimp considering retirement.
With that much talent and so little to show for it, the brass at The Shack might be understandably perturbed.
This time last year many of us were beginning to rethink what might be possible age-wise in a Grand Tour. Now, the near complete waterlogging of Radio Shack has most cycling fans thinking that, yes, age really does slow you down. Too much to deliver a win on the world’s biggest stage.
And cast in the light of failure, Armstrong seems less ambitious, less hungry, less focused on highlighting the cause of cancer than just gluttonous, a corpulent ego.
But that’s how we play it isn’t it? When our heroes fall, we pounce.
But even if the Radio Shack board is less than thrilled, imagine what’s going on in the boardroom at Sky. Isn’t the question there whose head rolls first?
Seemingly a world away, Bjarne Riis has proven that he knows how to bring the race to anyone he wants. He’s delivered Tyler Hamilton, Carlos Sastre, Ivan Basso and Andy Schleck all to podium finishes at Grand Tours, though his record of wins (just two) is rather slim despite the obvious strength of his team.
Yvon Sanquer, a name you may not be very familiar with even after his team’s success, is the director of Team Astana and has kept a profile nearly as high as that of newly mown grass. His previous best result as a team director was after being brought in to rescue Team Festina (not unlike what he was asked to do with Astana) and his riders (mostly Marcel Wüst) were able to take a stage of the Tour de France along with four stages of the Vuelta plus some stages at lesser stage races. Before 2010, his riders’ closest association to the winner of a Grand Tour was if they had chatted with him.
And yet, somehow Sanquer brought together what seemed to be an underpowered team and saw to it that Contador was rarely without help in the mountains.
Despite the Astana team performing as if it were still run by Johan Bruyneel—admit it, it was an impressive performance that very few thought could truly deliver the goods as a cohesive unit this past January—I am surprised by the number of people I hear from who just plain don’t like Alberto Contador. To the degree that maybe many cycling fans were less than enthusiastic about him, it seems that even if his counter attack on stage 15 didn’t rile people, the fact that he lied about not knowing what was going on with Andy Schleck seems to have sent some fans around the bend. I’ve not been a fan of some of his tactics, and have thought some of his interviews with the Spanish media were whiny and meant to play the pity card, which strikes me as unseemly—like the Super Bowl winning team sniffling about playing hurt, but it struck me as insulting to fans everywhere for him to claim he couldn’t tell there was anything wrong with Schleck.
Which brings me to Jonathan Vaughters. Of the teams bidding for Contador’s services last year, Vaughters’ Garmin-Transitions formation was one of the teams in the running to sign the diminutive Spaniard. There are reports that after all of his efforts to leave Astana he is now considering a new contract and staying.
Contador would do well to leave, so long as he left for Vaughters. Of the many team directors at the Tour de France, Vaughters is the one that seems to have an uncanny ability to help riders achieve greatness in the GC that he never could reach on his own. In three years of competing in the Tour de France Vaughters has delivered three different riders to top-10 finishes, first with Christian Vande Velde’s fourth place, then Bradley Wiggins fourth and now Ryder Hesjedal’s seventh place. In each case the riders were uniformly believed to be talented, but no one—other than Vaughters—considered them real GC vehicles on which to pin a team’s hopes.
Sanquer’s success with Contador suggests competence, nothing more. After all, if you can’t guide a previous Tour de France winning to yet another victory, what kind of team director are you?
Bjarne Riis has consistently put together one of the strongest, most cohesive teams on the planet. That he hasn’t won more may be a question of formula more than anything else. The question seems to be, ‘Why didn’t he win?’ rather than, ‘What’s it going to take to secure another win?’
Bruyneel is the great curiosity this year. He’s ripe for criticism. How should he deflect the charge that he went with Armstrong less for career than paycheck? If he didn’t go to Radio Shack for the paycheck, then why? It’s hard for Bruyneel to charge that Vinokourov is a more tarnished rider than some he has worked with. Contador clearly has a greater future than Armstrong does. Maybe the question is just how loyal a guy is Bruyneel. Some folks are loyal to a fault. Could it be so with him?
Even if he didn’t go to Radio Shack just for a bigger paycheck that is virtually guaranteed not to dry up mid-way through the season, where does he rank his ambitions as a director? Twelve of the team’s 26 riders have had their 30th birthday. Six of them are older than 32. The only rider on the team who is showing talent and is early in his career is Janez Brajkovič. Taylor Phinney doesn’t count because he’s only a staigiaire.
How else do you wind up with that many riders in need of a retirement party than by selecting a crew that can be depended on being utterly devoted to Armstrong? Now, there’s nothing wrong with being committed to supporting your team leader, but it is fair to ask how smart it is to construct a team for a single year’s performance. Even if Leipheimer, Klöden, Horner and Rubiera plan to ride Grand Tours next year, how capable will any of them be? Horner is the only guy I’d bet on as a good support rider for the simple reason that he is obviously still proving his value and talent long after most guys have quit.
You want to make the 2011 Tour de France really interesting? Get Vaughters to sign Horner.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. When Lance Armstrong announced he was coming out of retirement in September of 2008, many presumed he would take up his career where he left off—winning the Tour de France.
Popular speculation was that Johan Bruyneel’s protege, Alberto Contador, by dint of his young age could conceivably rack up a longer streak of wins at the Tour de France than Armstrong. And if there’s anyone who hates to be beaten, it’s Mellow Johnny.
Some took a more cynical view. At the point of Armstrong’s retirement, Team Tailwinds, the company behind the US Postal and Discovery Channel Team was facing a fair amount of investigation related to doping. Dissolving the formation took the heat off all involved. And with the investigations into the various scandals sufficiently exhausted, Armstrong returned to the sport with a seemingly fresh start.
But 2009 wasn’t 2005. Armstrong was accustomed to being boss, getting his way—and was willing to use whatever tricks it took such as intimidation or outright firing to get his way. The peloton has more than a few riders who got crossed up with Armstrong and saw their careers suffer for it. Anyone remember Chad Gerlach?
But Alberto Contador didn’t step aside. With three Grand Tour victories under his belt, it’s not surprising. By any reasonable standard, Contador had come of age and was within his right to believe that Armstrong had had his time and should stay retired.
History is full of examples of wars in which one side fought by conventional means while the other battled back by guerilla tactics. It’s what the American colonists did during the Revolutionary War, what the Vietnamese did during the Vietnam War and what the insurgents are doing in Irag and Afghanistan. Guerilla tactics are the object lesson of the story of David and Goliath.
Armstrong always liked to portray himself as David in his matchups against Jan Ullrich, but with Alberto Contador, he was the proverbial Goliath: slow to adapt and inadequately defended. While Armstrong appreciated Contador’s physical strength, he underestimated the Spaniard’s force of will. Contador is certainly not the first rider to go rogue within a team in a bid to win the Tour, but he is arguably the rider who had to fight the hardest to do so and succeed.
Of course, Armstrong fans reacted to his third place with a “not bad” and waited for the 2010 Tour like a bunch of fanboys waiting for the next Spiderman film. The Lance would be back and he would whoop some ‘Murkin-style ass.
What he didn’t count on was that his return to the pro peloton would coincide with Floyd Landis’ snub by same. The crazy math going on inside of Landis’ brain believes light speed travel is totally doable and that the U.S. government was behind the fall of Troy. Most of us learned long ago not to mess with crazy. What Armstrong didn’t know was that Landis was at the breaking point. How could he? And while he didn’t go looking to lock horns with Landis, his return to the ProTour seems to have been read by Landis as insult to injury. It’s fair to wonder if Landis’ e-mail screed would have taken place if Big Tex was still banging one of the Olsen twins and surfing with Matthew McConaughey; after all, what else could have squarely placed a bullseye on Armstrong than his resumption of the very thing Landis wanted most and was being denied.
And while Landis may seem to be crazier than Amy Winehouse, bat-shit crazy doesn’t preclude what he says from being true.
Running high is media speculation that Armstrong’s crash-filled spring and summer is as a result of distracted riding. Conventional wisdom is that he’s so preoccupied with Landis’ allegations and defending himself that his mind just isn’t in the game. No matter what the cause, at this Tour de France, we seem to have seen an old Armstrong, not the old Armstrong.
The latest twist in this unfolding saga is Armstrong’s retention of Brian D. Daly as his defense attorney. Daly, a former federal prosecutor is an ideal choice for a vigorous defense. He is intimately familiar with the techniques and strategies used by prosecutors, and while that is certainly useful, the long list of ex-teammates who have been subpoenaed and are alleged to have agreed to cooperate with the investigation could be … well, let’s just say that throwing one very good attorney at this problem could be like trying to hold back flood waters with a stop sign.
Complicating matters is Greg LeMond, who seems eager to step from the wings. What LeMond can contribute to these proceedings beyond a he said/he said mudslinging with Armstrong is unknown at best and even somewhat doubtful at worst. But it is LeMond’s participation that has brought about what is one of the ugliest statements Armstrong has made.
He told France 2, “We will have the opportunity to tell the truth to the authorities, and Greg LeMond will tell the truth about 1989 I hope.”
So far as I can find, this is the closest Lance Armstrong has ever come to calling another rider out as a doper. For a guy who has been notoriously mum on the activities of other riders, even those convicted of doping, it seems oddly incongruous that he would suggest that LeMond has a hidden doping past.
The moment we choose to believe a rider is clean we make a leap of faith. However, unlike the irrational leap necessary to believe in God, the demise of Greg LeMond’s career coincides neatly with the rise of EPO.
LeMond’s attitude toward doping has always seemed so Boy Scout, in part because his career has been marked by betrayals perpetrated due to his naivete, that considering whether or not he doped smacks of thinking Pete Townshend took up guitar just to get chicks.
LeMond’s victory in the 1989 Tour de France was very likely the next-to-last Tour de France won by a clean athlete.
It’s ironic that the one cyclist Armstrong would seem to suggest doped is one who could easily be accepted as clean.
Stranger still is the fact that Armstrong’s comeback may ultimately do more to damage his legacy than strengthen it.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Well this is one time the FGR won’t be settled immediately. We’ve got nearly two weeks to see how this will shake out, but they are, after all, two weeks we’ve been waiting for since last August.
Interestingly, in your comments, There’s really only consensus on two classifications. With two exceptions each, everyone thinks that Thor Hushovd will take the green jersey, just as he did last year, and Andy Schleck will double up on the white jersey as well.
Alberto Contador was the only rider to come up with more than one vote for the yellow jersey, so it seems we must acknowledge that he remains the favorite. Interestingly, Andy Schleck was the only rider to get votes in three classifications: overall, mountains and best young rider. An inobservant reader might believe that to be an indication of his completeness as a rider, but it really doesn’t back us into a larger belief that he has the potential to wear yellow in Paris.
Eight stages in, a new question is worth asking: With Lance Armstrong’s GC hopes dashed, Christian Vande Velde out of the race, Bradley Wiggins unable to deliver as he did last year in the blue, white and orange of Garmin, if we assume that Contador, Evans and Schleck are the likely podium, who do you think will round out the top five or six?
Armstrong’s demise also spells out a very surprising development: Levi Leipheimer is finally the GC leader for a Johan Bruyneel-led team at the Tour de France. I don’t think anyone ever thought those three details would line up. It’s as if a one-armed bandit came up Bar-Bar-Bar for Santa Rosa’s favorite athlete. Go figure.
And as a corollary to my previous question, do you think Ryder Hesjedal can pull off what Wiggins did last year? Sky doesn’t seem to have figured out Wiggo the way Vaughters and White did. Rather an interesting development, given the way he badmouthed Garmin on his way out.
A little over a week ago I wondered aloud in a Tweet if the Amaury Sport Organization might make a preemptive move against Radio Shack and withdraw the team’s invitation to the Tour de France. It would be an incredible blow to the team, but in the wake of Floyd Landis’ accusations against Lance Armstrong, Johan Bruyneel, Levi Leipheimer and others, were the organizers to take Landis’ accusations as credible, history suggests they might just take such action.
Responses all ran the vein of ‘dead wrong.’ And yet now we have Team Radio Shack being denied a spot in the Vuelta a Espana. Like Garmin-Transitions, Radio Shack joined the ProTour since the 2008 agreement forged between the UCI and the organizers of the Grand Tours in which the UCI and the ProTour teams acknowledged the autonomy of the organizers to select only those teams they see fit.
Selections are not made in a vacuum. To help the organizers gauge a team’s potential competitive power, each team is asked to submit a roster of riders likely to ride the event. After all, if you’re Unipublic and you learn a team will send the same nine riders who rode both the Giro and Tour (not that that has ever happened), you’d be within your rights to conclude that team would be too tired to be truly competitive. Bruyneel’s short list of riders he submitted was an all-star squad: Levi Leipheimer, Andreas Kloden, Chris Horner and Janez Brajkovic. Radio Shack also skipped the Giro d’Italia this year with an eye toward riding the Tour of California and just two Grand Tours.
Bruyneel says he was “speechless” when he learned of the exclusion. Representatives for Unipublic, the organizers of the Vuelta said they left Radio Shack because the team would not be competitive.
It’s true that Radio Shack has been criticized for not being more competitive this year, but let’s take a moment to measure them against the six teams that were invited to the Vuelta by wildcard and their ranking in the world according to the UCI:
Team Katusha: second
Cervelo Test Team: ninth
Sky Professional Cycling Team: 17th
Xacobeo Galicia: unranked
Radio Shack, following Brajkovic’s victory at the Criterium du Dauphiné, is ranked eighth in the world. Prior to that they were ranked 14th.
In his The History of the Tour de France, Volume I, Bill McGann writes that one of the key features that makes the Tour a better race than the other two Grand Tours is that its organizers have largely avoided petty, nationalistic spats that have hurt the other races.
I’d have to say that’s at work once again. In 2006, the ASO refused to allow nine riders to start the race due to their alleged involvement in Operacion Puerto. Because five of those riders were members of the Astana-Wurth team it fell below the minimum number to start the race, so some thirteen riders didn’t start the Tour.
It’s no secret that since the 2009 Tour Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel have been portrayed in the media as public enemy nos. 1 and 2. Whether most Spanish cycling fans feel that way is harder to say, but Marca and As have done much to foster the conflict between Contador and Bruyneel/Armstrong.
It’s impossible to say what Unipublic’s motivations are for the exclusion. No one would be surprised if the snub were as a result of the Landis allegations. It seems that most of Europe will concede both that he’s crazy and telling the truth about his drug use and the drugs he alleges Lance Armstrong took as well. However, Unipublic took a different approach saying that Radio Shack wouldn’t be competitive. I’m sorry, but you could send Chris Horner to almost any race in Europe aboard a Schwinn Varsity and he would still be competitive.
Of the six teams invited by wild card, only Team Katusha was more highly ranked in the world standings. We can objectively refute the organizer’s claims that Radio Shack would not be competitive. Put another way, as good a year as Garmin-Transitions seems to be having (Tyler Farrar is having a truly breakout season), in winning both the Tour of the Basque Country and the Criterium du Dauphiné (not to mention third at the Amgen Tour of California), Radio Shack is having a better season; at least, that’s what the UCI’s numbers say.
Had Unipublic declared that they believe Floyd Landis and harbor too many suspicions about Armstrong, Bruyneel and the rest to allow their race to be besmirched by the presence of a team under such strong suspicion, some racers, officials and many fans would have cried foul. However, such a decision is not without precedent—think 2007 Astana—and given the number of inquiries opened up into the pasts of so many former US Postal riders, many people wouldn’t have flinched at the announcement. More importantly, the decision, while presumptuous, wouldn’t have smacked of the irrational.
But Unipublic didn’t do that. They claimed that Radio Shack wasn’t competitive enough. That’s like saying Los Angeles doesn’t have enough roads. Everyone knows that’s crazy talk, and unfortunately the damage it does is three-fold. Radio Shack loses an opportunity to try to win a second Grand Tour in a season. Racing fans lose an opportunity to see racing influenced by what would be almost surely a dominant team, and Unipublic loses some of the respect we reserve for events whose integrity we believe helps to elevate sport beyond mere entertainment.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
What a difference four years makes. Had Floyd Landis woken up on July 28, 2006, and called a press conference to announce to the world all the things he detailed in his e-mail to USA Cycling’s Steve Johnson, we might have hailed him as a sort of fallen hero.
An Icarus of the pedals.
As fate would have it, Landis’ non-negative result for was synthetic testosterone, essentially the one drug he claims, now, not to have taken in 2006. So he believed what almost anyone else would have believed—that he could beat the rap.
He didn’t count on a few details. First, he didn’t count on the Machiavellian nature of USADA, which pursued the case with a ‘win at all cost’ mentality. As I wrote in my BKW post “At All Cost,” had this case been tried in the American judicial system, Landis would have won the case because the lab performing the work did such a lousy job. However, USADA’s zero-tolerance policy toward doping also happens to be a zero-loss policy as well, and clearly Landis didn’t understand that actual innocence didn’t matter.
He also didn’t count on the details of a phone conversation he had with Greg LeMond would become public. LeMond’s recounting of the conversation will seem entirely more believable for anyone who previously doubted his testimony. Four years hence, one wonders if Landis comes up with a different answer to the rhetorical question he put to LeMond when urged to confess. He asked, “What would it matter?”
While we don’t know the exact details of what Landis confessed to Johnson and the UCI, we have the substance in broad strokes.
1) He did drugs, lots of them, beginning in 2002.
2) Lance Armstrong did more drugs and told him who to work with.
3) George Hincapie did all the same drugs.
4) Former roommate David Zabriskie did drugs.
5) Levi Leipheimer did drugs.
6) He has no proof.
7) Those closest to him didn’t know what he was up to.
8) He confessed to his mom.
We should note that Landis has only implicated American riders. One wonders why he has implicated only Americans. Could his full and complete confession be leaving something out?
After four years of his strenuous denial and seven-figure defense that was, in part, paid for by fans who believed his innocent plea, for him to come out now and say, ‘Okay, now I’m telling the truth,’ credulity strains. UCI President Pat McQuaid said Landis’ statements were “scandalous and mischievous.”
Even if we believe everything his says lock-stock-and-barrel, in this case, his truth-telling comes a little late. As a means to restore respect and reputation, his confession is a failure. Still, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen. On this point, McQuaid has it wrong.
“These guys coming out now with things like this from the past is only damaging the sport,” McQuaid told The Associated Press. “If they’ve any love for the sport they wouldn’t do it.”
Come again? We don’t want dopers to confess? Please tell us you’re kidding.
I’ve heard from several sources that Landis has been drinking heavily, heavily enough to affect his fitness and relationships. It’s a tragic turn of events given what he has already experienced. It’s easy to connect the drinking with the events he says he is now confessing, the truth he needs to get off his chest. In 12-Step programs, you are directed to confess your wrongs, but there follows quickly one caveat: except when to do so would hurt others.
Which brings us to the meat of his confession. Most of what he has confessed involves others. To clear his conscience, he need only to confess his own deeds. Whatever motivation he has to tell what he says Armstrong, Hincapie, Leipheimer and Zabriskie have done, it isn’t his conscience; it sounds more like retribution—‘If my ship is going down, I’m taking yours with me.’
Backing this up is the fact that Landis pointed out the eight-year statute of limitations, which is due to run out on some of the alleged acts, as a motivating factor to come forward.
“Now we’ve come to the point where the statute of limitations on the things I know is going to run out or start to run out next month,” Landis said. “If I don’t say something now, then it’s pointless to ever say it.”
He wants cases opened into the acts of Armstrong, Hincapie, Leipheimer and Zabriskie while there’s still time, which means his confession is less about his acts than the acts of others. He wants to see others punished.
But he says he has no proof. Naturally, Armstrong, Hincapie, Leipheimer and Zabriskie will have to defend themselves and because Landis detailed them in e-mails, meaning they were written, not spoken, they rise from slander to libel. Because these are public figures, the odds are against any of them meeting with success in a court room following a civil suit.
Landis may have a tougher time defending himself than they do.
Federal investigator Jeff Novitzky, the man who headed the investigation into Victory Conte and the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) is one of the investigators involved in checking out Landis’ claims.
One of the first questions Novitzky and other investigators will have for Lanids will be who his sources were. Where did he buy his stuff? His suppliers may have sales records. If they have sales records that can substantiate his claim that he was a customer, then it is also possible they would have sales records detailing their relationship with other clients, and it’s a safe bet that if it is true Landis was taking his cues from others, then he was probably shopping at the same market, so-to-speak.
Armstrong has pulled out of the Tour of California following what sounds like a minor crash. Cynics will probably surmise that it was a strategic decision to avoid media scrutiny.
And what of Landis’ actual confession? That is, what of what he claims he did? These would be new infractions worthy of their own case. While I have advocated a truth and reconciliation commission to encourage athletes to come forward and tell what they know, this case is ugly and really perverts the way you hope justice will work.
Should Landis get a slap on the wrist in exchange for his cooperation? Or should he get the proverbial book thrown at him yet again? It may be that he has already come to the conclusion that his return to the pro ranks won’t be what he had hoped and that he is ready to depart.
If that’s the case, then his confession is 200-proof revenge.
This case may well make it to a grand jury, which will be much more likely to result in actual justice than any action USADA takes. Getting at the real truth should be the goal, rather than just handing out punishment.
But what of Landis’ original case? He was within his right to defend himself and we should never forget that. However, his defense built a sham identity that wasn’t enough to escape conviction. Hopefully, that will be a sobering thought to the new generation of dopers, a la Bernard Kohl and Riccardo Ricco. However, Landis’ defense turned into the most costly prosecution ever for USADA. In mounting such an expansive defense he cheated not just those who contributed to the Floyd Fairness Fund, but all those of us who follow cycling and depend on the anti-doping authorities to uncover and prosecute doping. One wonders who escaped prosecution because USADA was mired in a more than year-long case with Landis.
I have often thought that there will come a day where we look back on the EPO era with different eyes. We should never condone doping, but there may come a point when we understand that during the time when EPO use was rampant, there were no heroes and very, very few villains, that these men were flawed, like all of us, and a product of their time.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
The 2009 Tour de France is still being contested in Alberto Contador’s head. At least, if you follow the Spanish newspaper Marca, or most any other news outlet in Spain, it would seem that while Contador won the war, there is yet a PR battle to fight. Not a week has gone by without the paper running some story on the turmoil within Astana as reported by Contador or a teammate.
Lately, Contador’s target has been as much Bruyneel as Armstrong. He’s been quick to talk about the team’s politics and what he saw as Bruyneel’s attempts to isolate him within the team. It’s hard to say what the truth is and gossip has the value of sand at the beach, but one previous skirmish recently resurfaced that makes the situation a bit more curious.
At the end of the tour, everyone was abuzz about Contador having to catch a ride with his brother because all the team cars were shuttling Armstrong’s cadre. The first occasion was from atop Mont Ventoux, the second on the way to the final time trial. Bruyneel and Armstrong said Contador’s claims were completely false; we’ll never know.
What didn’t get the same level of attention was Contador’s claim that he didn’t get top quality equipment. The claim has been translated a few different ways, but the insinuation was that Armstrong had better equipment than Contador did. Until this week, there was really no way to know just what he meant.
As he said/he saids go, this gets a bit confusing. It begins with Contador statement he didn’t get top quality wheels and had to go buy wheels for the prologue in Monaco. Armstrong shot back and said Contador had exactly the same wheels as his teammates. This week, in a blog entry on Marca, writer Josu Garai wrote that Contador told him and members of Contador’s entourage “confirmed” that Contador purchased a set of Lightweight wheels. Yes, the ungodly expensive, handmade carbon fiber wheels that hail from the land of der Jan.
Well purchase them he may have, but race them he never did. I’ve gone back through the archives of John Pierce, Yuzuru Sunada and Roberto Bettini and viewed profile shots of Contador in each of the mountain stages and the time trials. In each of the shots you can see Bontrager logos on the wheels.
Now disc wheels are all pretty similar, right? So Contador could have been running a Lightweight disc in the rear and a deep-profile-rim wheel in the front, both with Bontrager decals, right? Not so fast. The Lightweight disc has a transparent finish to it, so that you can see the carbon fiber internal spoke pattern. It looks nothing like anyone else’s disc. Similarly, the Bontrager-branded, HED-designed H3 front wheel and Jet disc rear wheel look nothing like any Lightweight. Neither the H3 nor the Jet disc are offered at retail by Bontrager, but because Bontrager licenses HED technology, the re-branded wheels are done with both companies’ full knowledge and consent.
So that leaves the wheels that Contador used on the climbing stages. The high-flange appearance of the Lightweights really can’t be confused with the utter flanglessness of the Bontrager Race XXX Lite tubulars. The white spokes, the beveled rim profile, it’s a distinct look.
A quick e-mail to a source at Trek also confirmed what is standard practice with sponsors: Each Astana rider at the Tour had exactly the same equipment, right down to the slowest of the domestiques.
Is it possible that Bruyneel told the mechanics to withhold wheels from Contador? In theory, maybe, but again a quick check of the photos shows he’s on the same wheels as Armstrong and the rest, so that variety of crazy didn’t take place. It’s true that Armstrong’s bikes and wheels had unique decaling, but unique equipment wasn’t limited to Armstrong as evidenced by the all-white Madone Contador rode for most of the Tour and the personalized black and yellow bike he rode on stage 21 into Paris.
It’s not hard to understand the Spanish media’s dislike of Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel. Alberto Contador is a national hero and the media has largely portrayed the conflict between Contador and Armstrong as a Hatfield/McCoy blood feud.
That Contador is happy to be free of Armstrong should go without saying, but until Armstrong’s return to the sport, it seemed that Contador and Bruyneel had a good relationship. Since parting ways, Contador has been spare in his praise of his former director and Bruyneel has spoken openly of how he believed success went to the Tour champion’s head, making him harder to work with.
And what of Trek? Insiders there are mum on the point, but having the Tour de France champion claim he was shortchanged on equipment must smart.
No matter whether you take a side or not or whose side you take if you do, the claim by Contador that he didn’t get the same equipment as his teammates and had to go buy his own is absurd. It begs the question why he would say such a thing. Seemingly, being wronged by teammates, staff and sponsor make him an even greater champion in the eyes of his countrymen. But with the truth being as weird as it was, one can wonder why that story isn’t enough.
Images: John Pierce, Photosport International
In one of the bigger surprises of the week, the UCI announced that it had approved the extension of Astana’s ProTour license. The announcement puts to rest any speculation about whether Alberto Contador would remain with the Kazakh-registered formation for 2010.
On the heels of the announcement, 2006 Tour de France winner Oscar Pereiro revealed that he will finish his career riding in support of Alberto Contador. He signed a one-year contract contingent upon Astana being approved for the ProTour.
But the news doesn’t end there. Haimar Zubeldia pulled the ripcord and announced he will join Johan Bruyneel at Radio Shack. As one of the pivotal riders caught in the Armstrong/Contador pachinko, Zubeldia sidestepped the controversy when he spoke to l’Equipe.
“When I moved from Euskaltel to Astana, I signed for the team of Johan Bruyneel. Now everyone in this group has joined a new team; that’s why Radio Shack has been my priority.”
Of his choice to follow Bruyneel he said the choice was an entirely personal one based on his needs as a rider. “After a year of working with him, I can confirm the image I had of him. He is a great leader with such a very good view of the race…. I had to choose the best for me.”
The loss of Zubeldia and the gain of Pereiro essentially sums zero. Contador needed to bolster his Tour team by keeping Zubeldia and adding someone of Pereiro’s talent—or better. The only other recent signee the team has announced recently is Mirko Selvaggi.
Astana management complained that the UCI had given the team more stringent requirements than other ProTour teams when it required additional bank guarantees. And while requested bank guarantee was unusual, it was made it response to the team’s financial woes this spring. Interestingly, despite Astana’s complaints, it seems the team has received special treatment. The team still has only 21 riders and shouldn’t, technically, be eligible for the ProTour.
It will be especially difficult for the team to recruit riders in December, and there is a cutoff date for transfers that is rapidly approaching. If they enter the season with only 21 riders, each rider will have to race more frequently to fulfill the squad requirements for ProTour events and this will increase fatigue and the possibility of injury as the Tour approaches. For the sake of fireworks at le Grand Boucle, let’s hope they find some more strong riders.
The Astana Roster to date:
David De la Fuente
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International