A Review of the Protour Teams – Sort Of

A friend of mine passed this rundown of the Protour teams along to me (thanks, Steph!) and I have to admit – at first, I was reading it and thinking, “No, that’s not true! That’s wrong!” And then I realized it was supposed to be. Yeah, I was a little slow on the uptake for a minute there, but I eventually figured it out.

At any rate, it is very long, but well worth reading the whole thing. There are gems throughout. And really, anyone that describes Robbie McEwen as a “fast moving, parasitic feral weasel/boy” has got to be okay by me. Some of my favorites include:

One-hit wonder Salvodeli won the Giro about a hundred years ago, is a great descender, and is nicknamed “il Falco,” which is the name he used when recording his only musical hit, “Rock Me, Amadeus.”

(I then had that song running through my head as I read the rest of the post, although I have a very hard time picturing Paolo himself singing it.)

The name Française Des Jeux, which means “French Pleasuring,” signifies the team’s primary sponsor, an enormous brothel on the outskirts of Marseille which is typically frequented by sailors, lonely shepherds, and degenerate Hollywood actors on their way to do some poverty gawking in Africa following the Cannes film festival. … Like Predictor-Lotto, the name sponsor does not provide cash but offers payment-in-kind to the team. Consequently, although most of the riders are homeless, starving, and suffering from syphilis, theirs is one of the happiest teams on the ProTour.

The [Liquigas] sponsor is a manufacturer of sanitary pads for men, and consumers of Mexican food, for those occasions when one’s trust and belief that an impending fart will be dry, gaseous, and not containing any solids or liquids, has been sadly misplaced.

Michael Rasmussen is included because he is a concentration camp survivor, and if you don’t believe this, google his name until you find a picture of him with his shirt off. He is a walking testimony to man’s inhumanity to himself.

Milram typically rolls into the final 10 kilometers of any race in an impressive eight man long leadout train. As if a single unit, they push the speed to unthinkable levels, dragging their protected sprinter (Allie Jet) to within 200 meters of the line, shedding riders out the back of the peloton like a meth freak shedding teeth. They grind the other teams down, and in a perfectly timed maneuver, the Milram leadout men peel off to the side one at a time, totally blown out, but satisfied in having done a perfect job of controlling the pack, pushing the pace, and delivering their star sprinter to the moment of truth. At that point, Robbie McEwen typically pops out from behind Petacchi and sprints to the line for the win. That too, is the God’s honest truth. Sad, but there it is.

Okay, let me get this straight. Lotto is a gambling house. Francais des Jeaux is sponsored by the French national lottery. Astana is owned by Kazakhstanis. Rabobank and Credit Agricole are investment banks among other things, and Bouyges Telecom and T-Mobile are telecom monopolists. Fifty riders are believed to be implicated heavily in Eufemiano’s little doping operation, and the French lab charged with testing riders for dope appears to be more crooked than your average machine politician. But the Pro Tour has a problem with Unibet because its primary line of business involves gambling, and that would give cycling an unsavory image? Mmmmmkay…

Really, the whole thing is brilliant. You’ll need to set aside some time to read the whole thing, but it’s highly recommended. Just don’t take it too seriously and you’ll be fine.

Pound lashes out at Landis. Again.

Image result for Dick Pound,Apparently there’s not much to write about in January with regard to cycling unless the word “doping” is involved. And oh, how I love that…

Dick Pound, the controversial head of WADA, has added to the public record of his thoughts on Floyd Landis:

“He was 11 minutes behind or something, and all of the sudden there’s this Herculean effort, where he’s going up mountains like he’s on a goddamn Harley,” Pound told journalist Michael Sokolove. “It’s a great story. Wonderful. But if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

“I mean, it was 11 to 1!” he continued, referring to the reported testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio in Landis’ positive sample. “You’d think he’d be violating every virgin within 100 miles. How does he even get on his bicycle?”

Whatever you might think about the whole Landis affair, one would hope that the guy in charge of policing the riders would show a wee bit of professionalism around the whole thing. I’ve mentioned before (elsewhere) that in order for doping to be eliminated in any sport where it’s not welcome, those making sure the rules are followed – and dealing with anyone who violates the rules – have got to be pristine in their cleanliness. No test can be flubbed, no tester can be questionable, no lab can be perceived of bias. Everything has to be perfect leading up to a positive sample. Will that ever happen? Probably not. So long as there are humans involved at any point in the process, there will be human error. And yet having someone like Pound lash out like he did not only keeps us from progressing in the right direction on the issue, it actually moves us backwards.

Nicely done, Dick.

Portland Pub Caters to Cyclists

Just in time for the nice riding weather, there’s news of a new pub in Portland (I know, I know – like we need more pubs in this city). But wait, this one’s different – and that difference is why it merits a spot on the Cycling Logue. This one caters to cyclists.
Hopworks Urban Brewery will apparently be sponsoring local bike teams, “providing pressurized air, and selling tubes and energy bars” along with the usual beer, and they’ll also be serving up a Radler. Anyone who’s been to Bavaria knows what that means, but for those who don’t – it’s a half lager, half lemon/lime soda concoction that’s a particularly good summertime drink (especially when it’s consumed by the bathtub-ful, as it is over there), although it is – as you might guess – generally considered one for the girls. That must be why I liked it so much.
At any rate, Hopworks Urban Brewery (otherwise known as HUB) is supposed to open sometime this summer. So if you’re in Portland, you know where to go. If you’re not in Portland, you’ve got another reason to visit.

The End of Disco Brings the Start of Slipstream

With another professional cycling season in the books, it’s time to admit that I’m finally growing weary of all the scandals. I’m still a Pollyanna, but it’s getting more and more exhausting to have any kind of affinity for this sport I love. No, I take that back – it’s easy to love the sport, it’s just getting harder to love the athletes who participate in it at the elite level.

Case in point – I’ve had an enormous amount of respect for Johan Bruyneel since the 1999 Tour de France. He’s clearly one of the best Directeur Sportifs out there. So when I read stuff about him being thisclose to signing a deal with Astana, a team plagued by scandals in the last couple of seasons, I have to raise an eyebrow. And not only is Bruyneel about to become head of the Kazakh team, he’s reportedly about to bring Alberto Contador and Levi Leipheimer – this year’s 1st and 3rd place in the Tour – with him.

Another case in point, which goes back further than just this past season – the list of riders who I admired and adored until they were proven to be dopers is too long, and the whole thing makes me sad. Yes, I’m one of those people with an Ivan Basso jacket hanging in my closet, which will have to gather dust for the next two years until he’s allowed to race again. (At which point I’ll see about giving him another chance.) And of course there’s Tyler Hamilton, a rider I found simply charming and completely down-to-earth, who’s been implicated more times than I can even recall right now.

But is there a light at the end of the tunnel? I think there is.

Team Slipstream has been around for a few seasons, but this next year will be the outfit’s biggest yet. They’ve signed some big, big names in the last several months, and with the clever and classy Jonathan Vaughters at the helm and a strict no-doping policy, this little squad could go places. Will they be the next Team Discovery Channel? No, certainly not overnight. But they just might give American fans something to cheer for in the dark days following the folding of this country’s premier cycling team and the stripping of the last US Tour de France victory.

Now, is that a Pollyanna talking? You bet your ass it is. Just gimme a few months and this girl will be right back on the bandwagon come time for the Spring Classics.

Who Should Make These Anti-Doping Decisions?

Everyone involved in professional cycling publicly protests the doping abuses that have inflicted so much damage on the sport. Perhaps some of the official organizations harbor private reservations, but publicly they are united in principle.

There can be no question that doping still takes place because some of those who tested positively have not denied their guilt. Meanwhile, others claim they have done nothing wrong in spite of their “non-negative” results. The two highest profile examples that come immediately to mind are Floyd Landis and Alexandre Vinokourouv.

Landis’ book decrying his innocence has made the New York Times Best Sellers List. (The fact that any book about cycling makes the Best Sellers list should be big cycling news in the USA.) The Kazakh Cycling Federation has publicly defended Vinokourouv, decrying his innocence, while Team Astana has dismissed him and his name no longer appears on their team roster. All this while the UCI and ASO are haggling over which of them should be in charge of these decisions.

Science is not perfect. Neither are laboratories. There certainly is going to be some room for someone to exercise some reasoned discretion each time a rider is accused of cheating; or at least each time a rider produces a non-negative test. So the question remains, whom should “we” trust to make those decisions?

Here’s a novel approach: Why don’t we trust the forces of the free market and voluntary associations to make these decisions for us?
Obviously the market is no longer willing to tolerate a tainted sport. Many clean riders probably have had to clench their teeth for decades, refraining from expressing their concerns that they were losing to artificially enhanced competitors. Now that the consumers and the press have caught up to the clean riders, let’s not make the problem worse by creating a new bureaucracy to “fix” the problem.

The fans – the people who purchase the promoters’ and advertisers’ products – want clean races. They are not going to continue to support dirty races or dirty racers. And the people who have a financial stake in the races and the racers now understand that. The market will not support it, so that generates the pressure to clean up the sport.

How, one might ask, does the dynamic of voluntary association come into play? Easy! In any environment where no one person has the power to tell another what he must do, people who depend on the voluntary cooperation of others to reach their common goals are required to reach agreements that facilitate their cooperation. They all agree to play by a set of rules, but they can cooperate only so far as their express agreement allows them to do so. Then they all either succeed or fail, but they do so both individually and collectively.

Will all teams and all race organizers agree on all the rules or on whom should be selected to administer and enforce those rules? Probably not. But each event is a distinct contractual entity so each race would be at liberty to demand higher standards than have been adopted by the larger group as a whole. Additionally, each event could select the third-party arbiter of its own choosing. Individual teams or riders who do not want to meet that event’s higher set of standards can elect not to participate in that event.

How well would a system like this work? I do not know, but I do think it worked pretty effectively in this year’s Tour de France where the teams dismissed the riders whose cheating had been evidenced sufficiently to threaten the integrity of the outcome of the event. I think Astana and Rabobank should be thanked for doing what they did.

Rasmussen’s case is above reproach. His team dismissed him for lying to them. He does not have to be guilty of doping or conspiracy to dope. He lied. Case closed.

Landis’ and Vinokourouv’s cases are different. They have questioned the validity of the testing process or of the testing laboratory. Those are legitimate questions and they will be addressed in the appropriate forum. But if the UCI, the teams and the race organizers are not using the very best labs available to perform these tests, then they are the ones who will reap the financial whirlwind.

Now would be a very good time for those entities to look into the mirror and answer those questions. If they wait too long, the fans might not be here when they do finally decide to fix this problem properly. That is the purest and simplest application of the forces of voluntary association and the free market.

Then again, that all is just one fan’s opinion.

George Hincapie Wins Stage Two In Missouri

The Discovery Channel Team rider was in a twelve man break that entered the two, two-mile circuits through the streets of Springfield about 12-14 minutes ahead of the Peloton. Saunier Duval’s David Canada was the other major player in the break.

The last four miles were very exciting to watch, as Hincapie covered every attack that was made. Even Canada made a nice attack that looked like it might succede because George was back at about fourth place in the pack.

The final results have not been posted, but George also too the maximum points at the first intermediate sprint so he almost certainly will wear the leader’s jersey tomorrow. Hincapie’s teammate Levi Leipheimer had an easy ride today so he might win tomorrow’s time trial, but there is no way he can make up the huge gap he lost today.

It will be exciting to see whether any of the other rider’s in today’s break will be able to take the jersey from George tomorrow. As a fan of both George and of Team Disco, I would love to see him wearing yellow on the final podium of this great American team.

Ride the winter blues away – all the way to Australia

It’s January, so the items in the cycling press are either about doping or races taking place in the Southern Hemisphere. And I’m so tired of reading and talking about drugs that all I gotta say is, “Hallelujah for Australia.”

  • First up are the Australian Open Road Championships. Aussie Robbie McEwen is hoping to take part at Buninyong near Ballarat, Victoria this coming Sunday, saying, “The course is a bit selective and is always hard in January.” I’d guess it’d be a harder course if it were in, say, Minnesota in January. But maybe that’s just me.
  • Next is the 2007 edition of the Tour Down Under, which runs from 16-21 January. Last year, Simon Gerrans became the first rider in the race’s eight-year history to wear the leader’s jersey from the first stage right through to the last. Who will make history this year?

If you needed another excuse to visit Australia, these races might just fit the bill. And with cheap international plane tickets on offer and an Australia Travel Guide to help you figure out what to do when you’re not watching a bike race, what more could you ask for?

Pollyanna and Proud of It

Anyone who’s been following cycling for more than just a millisecond will know that the sport has been plagued by scandal in recent years. From the 1998 Festina doping scandal to the ongoing allegations of Lance Armstrong doping his way to his Tour de France victories to the Operacion Puerto affair and Floyd Landis’ tainted Tour win just last year. And despite the evidence in each of those cases, I’m very much a Pollyanna type – I want to believe in the people who say they’re innocent, and am heartbroken when it’s proven to be otherwise.

I’d like to believe, for instance, that Lance overcame a death sentence to win one of the world’s toughest sporting events a record seven times. One of the reasons is that I was there in 1999 when he won the first one – it’s just sad to think that magic I saw firsthand was in any way false. One of my favorite travel memories to this day is standing on the Col du Galibier in a mountainside restaurant after watching the peloton go by, huddled around a television watching the coverage of the race as it made its way to the summit. There were only a couple other Americans there besides ourselves, and we got to talking with an Aussie who asked, “So, who do you folks think is going to win the day?” The three boys – the real cycling fans in our group – all responded quickly with names of European riders who were known cimbers. Then the Aussie looked at me. I tried to beg off the question, saying I didn’t know what I was talking about, but he was having none of it. Finally, I coyly said, “Well, I’d like for Lance to win…”

Lance had just taken the yellow jersey the day before – his second of that Tour – and he was in a break off the front of the peloton along with a few other riders, including the French housewives’ favorite and noted climber, Richard Virenque. We had watched them all ride by, cheering wildly and waving our American flags; and even though I knew it was naive, I was being truthful – I really did want Lance to win! Lance, however, was not known for his climbing prowess – pre-cancer, he’d been just heavier enough to be a power rider, but not a climber at all. Not many people thought that had changed.

Well, the Aussie stifled a smile (I’m sure he was thinking, “That’s cute, but the silly American girl doesn’t know what she’s talking about…”) and I think even my travel companions were thinking I was nuts. So when Lance rode up to Virenque and then right past him to claim his first mountain stage victory at Sestrieres, all of the boys turned to look at me. I was just as shocked as they were.

Several years ago I became a fan of Ivan Basso, and even went so far a couple years ago as to say, “If Ivan is ever embroiled by a doping scandal, I’ll lose faith in this sport forever!” Obviously, since I’m writing this post-Operacion Puerto, I haven’t kept my word. And even though (at the moment) it appears that the charges against Ivan aren’t going anywhere, it’s still sobering. I do believe that there’s hope for cycling, that it will survive the latest scandals, and it’ll be stronger for it. So, even though I know some people have made up their minds about Lance and Ivan – not to mention all the others mired in controversy over the past few years – I’d like to maintain my Pollyanna sense of things. I know that where there’s smoke there’s probably at least a little fire, and that I’ll be disappointed in riders now and again (David Millar comes to mind, although I give him credit for eventually admitting his error and paying his price)… And yet I love being charmed by the what I still consider the magic of the sport. I don’t want that to end. Ever.