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.