Thursday, September 28, 2006

Contract Sports

Well, the final post-Lance bloodletting tally at Discovery seems to be in, so let's review a few changes: Out: Azevedo, Michael Barry, Triki, Leif Hoste, Benoit Joachim, van Heeswijk, and several more worth having. In: Sergio Paulinho, Phonak's Uros Murn, Tomas Vaitkus. Homecomer Levi Leipheimer gets to captain the '07 Tour, and I'd just like to point out that despite all the press wanking and management write-off classics-trouncer Hincapie really bore the impossible weight of recent history pretty darn well considering, and I hope the maillot jaune/stage winner/new US champ has a good Tour in his own right next year. Allez George! Meantime, is anyone else in mourning over the utter decimation of Discovery's perfect team time-trialing? Always reminded me of Fasso Bortolo's blue train leadout in the sprints--flawless. At the moment, I think, only CSC's coming close, and still not quite.

Where in the world is Axel Merckx? Why, to T-Mobile, along with CSC's dissed Brian Vandenborg. Again, another good move by T-Mobile to be fair, though I still doen't think either they or fine new recruit Barry can save them, and given their presumptive performance next season I dearly hope Axel's going out with at least the consolation of buckets of cash. So T-Mobile's 'team of the future' (cause it sure as hell ain't gonna be the team of the present) now has Barry, genuine boy wonder Ciolek, Bernhard Eisel, Bert Grabsch, Axel Merckx, Jakob Piil, Aussie Michael Rogers for the Grand Tour captaincies, Linus Gerdemann, time trial-smoker Sergeui Gonchar, Kirchen and Sinkewitz. Some excellent talents to be sure--but seems to be oddly a lot of support in place for a team without a serious GT contender, an egregious split between youth and experience with no one at the top of their game in the middle which heralds a few rough years ahead I think, and of course their relentless stupidity with regard to monster talents Kloden and Kessler. Oh well, there's always the occasional stage win through 2009 or so T-Mobile!

Meantime, a really sportsmanlike #$%%^-slap to prior Tour contender Francisco Mancebo by his own team no less, particularly when it appears that everybody ought to be happy that the boy isn't going to be facing any doping sanctions (congrats to the Tour for wrecking yet another career on apparently speculative evidence, by the way--it takes a lot of work to unjustly [or, if really justly, still incompetently] bulldoze that many people for no objectively verifiable reason), when AG2R manager Lavenu joyously praised the news thanked Mancebo for all his stellar team results and welcomed him back with an enthusiastic "I will probably be obliged to respect the remaining two years on his contract" and "If he were to leave the team, the team could sign at least 2 others to take his place." Now, if that's not the sort of embrace that'll motivate you next year, Mancebo, what the heck is?!

Watch and Learn: And, over at CSC, Riis' waffling on the beleageured studmuffin Ivan Basso is paying off with Basso presumptively off the team despite his likely exoneration on dog-defaming blood-labeling charges, and the team continues its other changes--more cautious and less self-destructive than T-Mobile for sure, as the far-smarter Bjarne has a current tally I believe of Andrea Peron, Giovanni Lombardi and of course Great Dane Piil out, but Dutch comers Anders Lund and Chris Anker Sorenson, sprinter JJ Haedo and Spaniard Luis Perez in, and of course the stellar existing bank of classics, grand tour and stage contenders who are ready willing and able right now that T-Mobile's dopus management utterly lacks. I wonder how they're gonna use Haedo and O'Grady together, or will they simply split them up til they see if Haedo can hack the GTs as well as Stewie?

Actual Race News: yep, it's not over yet, as king of the world Bettini heads to Zuri Metzgete and the Giro di Lombardia, and instends to race at least through 2008 to defend his spiffy gold Olympic lid; women's world champ Marianne Vos celebrates her 20th birthday with a huge party in her Dutch hometown; Phonak says goodbye at Paris-Bourges and Paris-Tours with Disco-bound Uros Murn plus Aurelien Clerk at the helm; 2x Giro god/Basso-battler Gilberto Simoni plays hooky from the road and takes third in an Italian mountain bike marathon near Trentino, mercifully not busting anything Saunier Duval'll need next season; an understandably knackered Valverde's skipping Paris Tours but may do Giro di Lombardia in October; bus-boxing Petacchi's mortifyingly done for the season as his hand has failed to heal compeltely yet; and the antidoping clowns continue their ignominious record of testing defeats and preemptive career destruction as 2 of the Austrian U-23s kicked out of the Worlds for initially skipping doping controls were exonerated after secondary testing failed to confirm initial positive results. Nice work boys! Finally, Tyler Hamilton, cleared to race in the US at the moment pending further action just in time to watch the Worlds (he's still banned in Europe) from his Barcalounger, will be riding in a pro relay race in Nevada, but don't try anything Tyler because the race organizers already cautioned there'll be doping controls at this race too. Allez Tyler!

Not So Fast: the UCI ProTour bans for team doping infractions won't be immediate it turns out, even if they occur during a ProTour race, but will instead start on the first day of the next ProTour race (except for the 3 grand tours)--that's quite an out, there, guys! Nothing like holding management's feet to the fire, even though it's only a matchstick. And, over in Belgium, the same senator Tom Boonen is considering suing is now up to 20 folks on his doping hit list, this time including soigneurs as well as just "top cyclists"--of course, better to slander by speculation than to actually release the names. I love politics!

Finally, get well soon to poor Floyd Landis, who's about to get his rotten hip replaced at last after a valiant, if perhaps mildly clouded at the moment, season of racing on the painful thing. While he's at it, he might think about getting his legal team replaced as well--hell, he can always blame it on the post-surgery narcotics!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Law Is a Many Splendored Thing

But First, a Worlds Wrap-Up: Women's Time Trial: Quite the nailbiter and an apple-pie patriot's dream of a two-fer as US queen Kristin Armstrong takes the win over Swiss Ironwoman Karen Thurig despite an ordinarily devastating chain pop on the final climb, while 37-year-old rheumatologist Christine Thorburn grabs the bronze. Holy crap, can you imagine if guys like Bettini had to race while holding down a real job? Get those riders some rippin' podium babes and buckets more cash for what they have to do! Women's Road Title: out of a break of 15, Dutch teen Marianne Vos in a surprise takes the sprint with time to spare over German Trixi Worrack and Great Britain champ Nicole Cooke. What is it about the women in GB that they're completely kicking @## relative to the men? Top US finisher: Amber Neben, at a highly respectable 12th. Meanwhile, over at the U-23 road race, boy-genius 2005 German national champ Gerald Ciolek (unencumbered by 3 Austrians, busted for dope or for missing the morning's surprise quiz) takes the race, a nice trophy along with his 2-year contract with T-Mobile (possibly the only sensible move they've made in ages.) Finally, over at the big boys' road race, massive accolades to top US finisher Freddy Rodriguez, who still managed to finish 15th despite a bum knee, a tough enough accomplishment when you're in one piece. Poor Bernhard Kohl, though, seemed not unreasonably exasperated at tanking after 7 laps when his team was forced to chase to down the 14-minute breakaway (nice to see US domestic pro Tyler Farrar in the group) to no ultimate national benefit; Boonen bonked from thrist and still pulled off 9th with kind words for Quick Step teammate Paolo; and, in one of the few times I've ever been glad to see the perennial Erik Zabel lose a race, he was apparently one wheel away from retiring had he taken the worldss over Bettini, but now will stick it out through 2008. Whew--losing Eki was quite enough for one season,I think! And, on a side note, I see the Devil was out with trident and cape careening besides the riders (at the women's race too), along with his spiffy new van--for some reason, always a heartening vision in too-much-information tight red satin.

Bureaucracy is Beautiful: Now, while it's sadly true that my foreign language skills range somewhere due south of pig Latin--frankly, I could never even master that--it seems to me that the Italian sports press is reporting that, in high contrast to the simpering-lap-dog-of-management approach of WADA's Dick Pound, the ProTour has actually approved doping sanctions for the teams: as of Jan 1, a team gets suspended for 8 days for two doping positives or two anomalous readings in the last 12 months; 4 weeks if 3 doping cases in 2 years; and 4 violations gets your ProTour license revoked. If I'm even halfway reading that right (again, I caution, a dubious prospect), well, finally! Though I can't imagine why they'd do such a thing really, given Dick's totally plausible theory that teams are never remotely responsible for the actions of their riders...

Speaking of tools, no class from Kelme whistleblower/perpetual whiner Jesus Manzano, who in addition to snarking about some anonymous drug-scarfing footballer playing with Fuentes also took the pointless (and completely spineless) opportunity to slag the perforce defenseless and still much-missed great, if tragically flawed, Marco Pantani. Given the endless tributes to Pantani by loyal tifosi along the roads of even this year's Giro, I hope for Manzano's sake (sort of) that he's not planning to visit Italy anytime soon, as I imagine his welcome would be less than warm. Skank! In a similar mode, I see Brad Wiggins was crying about how Landis totally destroyed his love of the sport and the Tour, and it's all a big farce anyway so he only cares about the Olympic record from here on out. Am I on crack here, or is Floyd Landis not the first guy to ever bring the Tour--or the Olympics for that matter, you hypocrite--into disrepute? If that's all it takes kill your love of the timeless roads that Coppi and Indurain and Hinault once rode, unclip and let one of the million unpaid unheralded amateur cyclists who'd kill for the opportunity you're complaining about take your bike you ungrateful jerk!

Oops: An Italian federation official says there's no concrete evidence against Basso, and he can't see him getting prosecuted on the colossally insufficent evidence of the mere mention of his name in some phone call. McQuaid, of course, is quite ticked, and no matter what outrageous nonsense the Italians are spouting UCI is still gonna decide if there's enough to go the Court of Arbitration of Sport and, I imagine, they are ego-bound to do so whether there's anything above the miniscule on Basso or not. Christ, Saiz still hasn't been completely untangled from Astana after being caught with a briefcase full o' vials and cash, and you clowns kicked Ivan out of the Tour preemptively for that twink evidence? Whether he actually did anything or not (and I take no position on that), what the hell are you thinking? Ah, the sweet smell of impending litigation!

And, in more legal hijinks, UCI is considering demanding DNA samples and other performance benchmark tests from the riders; Swiss cycling authorities and UCI are busy productively wanking over the proper notarization of documents instead of analyzing them; and a German prosecutor is investigating whether Ullrich lied under oath in connection with his injunction against tiresome gadfly Dr. Werner Franke. Jan's career is already in the tank, give it a rest already (and I say "tank" notwithstanding Discovery's purported interest in Ullrich--because hiring Lance's bridesmaid, however brilliant and frankly more versatile he is, still isn't gonna make him into the bride.)

Contract Season: finally, Michael Barry says goodbye to Discovery to head over to (gulp) lucky T-Mobile; US domestic cycling takes a blow but Bjarne Riis continues his winning streak as sprinter JJ Haedo leaves Toyota United for CSC; and potential ProTour squad Unibet has their eyes on a purportedly unhappy Thomas Dekker at Rabobank. All of which stil begs the question, where in the world is Axel Merckx? Allez Axel!

Sunday, September 24, 2006


Che stupendo, Paolo! After scaring the hell out of me by starting his attacks seemingly too early many and fast in the last lap to go, it's apparently simply a case of brilliantly strong overeager legs as Bettini jumps ahead at 500 meters to go with Zabel Valverde and Sammy Sanchez, Valverde hops too soon, neverending class act Zabel goes for the wheel but Bettini punches forward and takes it with time to raise his arms at the line--fantastic! A huge bacio for the camera, a leg-wrapping pounce on his big soigneur, a great hug for his wife, a quick sit-down for his interview with the near-hysterical Italian commentator--which is swiftly cut off by you suck WCSN which can't be bothered to stick around for interview, the podium presentation, or even confirmation of the final standings, presumably in favor of world championship shuffleboard or similar nonsense. Right on Paolo!

And though it wasn't a pure sprinters' finish, with guys like Paolini Cancellara Vino and Boogerd smacking around the field with a few km to go, most of em (not Hushovd--dammit!) made it up there nonetheless, so major congratulations not only to the amazing Erik Zabel of course but also to big Tom Boonen, who had to haul his unfortuante carcass up the same sharp stretches of climb 26 times and still managed to come in comfortably in the top 10--a noble if failed defense on a course that reasonably could have seen him much farther back. Hooray for Stewie O'Grady as well (and to be fair for once, some admiration for McEwen too), as the former's versatility has really made him an asset and a surprise this year in some unexpected places.

Well, I can't imagine what else Bettini could have wanted out of this season--from classics to Grand Tours to mountains to rolling terrain to a pure sprint in the Vuelta to this, he's really been not only astonishing, but incredibly consistent from the start of the season to the finish. Vai Paolo!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Worlds, Natch

You Monstrously Suck, WCSN!: In three, count 'em three, weeks of watching streaming web video of the Vuelta every day on another site, despite the occasional technical glitch and utter lack of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, I *never* had to read the damn stage results *before* I watched the stage in the evening I had waited so patiently for all day instead of following my true desire, to screw around at work and watch it there live instead. Today, by contrast, not only was I rewarded by both distracting and irrelevant badminton coverage, which to me is a sport along the lines of Olympic 4-square, but just above the on-demand click which I must apparently use to access the video was helpfully splattered the winner of the TT in large letters. Bite me you clowns, what the hell am I paying you for? I can get perfectly dandy written coverage on any number of other sites for free for &#$%'s sake!

Right, the Rest of the Worlds: having concluded my thoughtful media critique, and being too pissed to discuss the time trial except to note that we love Dave Zabriskie was an excellent if heartbreaking second and the excellent Fabian Cancellara completely obliterated the rest of the downcast field by 90 seconds even over Dave, I say let's take a look at the men's road race field, and who to watch or not, before it's utterly moot. It's 265.2 km of rolling badassness, and we'll see whose legs are likely to hold up:

Aussies: Cadel Evans, McEwen, Simon Gerrans, Stewie O'Grady. Among the teammates, Cadel's eh late season and O'Grady's versatility could still hold up in the hills over flat-loving McEwen. Notable Absence: Allan "charge him or exonerate him already you career-tanking mudslingers!" Puerto casualty Davis.

Austria: not the U-23 team, as one scalawag was already busted for EPO and 2 others tried to sneak out of the tests, that's for sure! Among the big boys: Haselbacher, Bernhards Kohl and Eisel, Georg Totschnig. Notable Absence: they're in pretty good shape really, dontcha think?

Belgium: Big Tom Boonen, Stijn Devolder (tired from the tt), Nick Nuyens. Again, not Boonen's sort of layout, but he's been well on the mend from his midseason. Notable Absence: poor Marc Wauters ended his fine career with a lousy crash and busted collarbone. Get well soon!

Canada: Ryder Hesjedal.

Denmark: Lars Bak, Jakob Piil, Nicki Sorenson who I really admired in the Vuelta.

France: Sylvain Chavenel, Thomas Voeckler, Sylvain Calzati, Tour shocker Cyril Dessel.

Germany: we love Erik Zabel, Robert Forster, Gerolsteiner 2-year-k signatory Stefan Schumacher, Fabian Wegmann, Sinkewitz, Kloden. Notable Absences: can they have a team this strong and still be missing anybody? Yep: yet-another-reason-T-Mobile-blew-next-season Matthias Kessler, sacked-out Jens Voigt, and that guy who won the Tour a ways back. I really wouldn't count out Schumacher.

Italy: the other powerhouse on my top 2 list: Davide Rebellin, Matteo Tossato, Filippo (yep, it's Liquigas next year!) Pozzato, Danilo DiLuca, Bruseghin, Luca (say hi to the cops! that was really crappy of the authorities to make him schlep home then back to Austria for his home invasion on the eve of the Worlds) Paolini, presumptive podium finisher/canny strategist Paolo Bettini. Notable Absences: late-blooming boxer Petacchi, oh Ivan!

Kazakhstan: everyone who scared the hell out of the rest of the peloton all season. Notable Absences: right, it was everyone else from Liberty Seguros who got busted!

Netherlands: Boogerd, Brams Tankink and de Groot, Karsten Kroon, I already know van Heeswijk's result in the TT--thanks again CSN!

Norway: we love Thor Hushovd but it's not his terrain, Kurt-Asle Arvesen from we love CSC.

Russia: Ivanov, Petrov, poor Denis Menchov, who despite his 2005 Vuelta jersey cruelly ripped off Roberto Heras' clearly deserving if EPO-soaked back has had such a crappy Tour and Vuelta I genuinely hope does well.

Spain: Inigo Cuesta, Vuelta fighter Jose Gomez Marchante, Valverde of course who I'm liking for top 3, Ventoso, Triki, Sastre (I thought he was out?), Flecha. Notable Absences: Beloki and every other rider on Liberty Seguros, oft-injured intermittent genius Oscar Freire, Pereiro, oh Iban!

Switzerland: Stefan Wesemann, Martin Elmiger, Aurelien Clerc, Zberg. Notable Absence: Cancellara, from my pre-tt predictions, because I was #%^&&% out of them. Dammit!

US: attack fiend Chris Horner, who I would love to see take it after his hard if thwarted work in the Vuelta and stellar late-career renaissance, Fast Freddy, Christian VandeVelde, Trenti. Notable Absence: you-know-who, Levi, big George Hincapie. Go Horner!

Likely winner: what the hell do I know? The Herminator's predicting a bunch sprint and if not any idiot could pick my likelies above. And this time I'm catching it live, gosh darn it!

All the News That's Unfit to Print

La Vuelta, El Fin: While Alejandro Valverde was certainly gentlemanly in defeat, Iles Balears was ticked that the infighting between the UCI and the Vuelta organizers precluded him from getting publicly awarded the ProTour leader's jersey, on which he has such a fine stranglehold--no jersey, no photo op, no kisses from the babes. Speaking of which, after 2 years of catfighting, Grand Tour organizers officially want out of the ProTour, or at least want more leeway to slip in continental teams--I'd say given Relax/Gam's valiant if futile breakaways, and Comunidad Valenciana's ignominious tank, give em a break already. Meantime, back to the Vuelta, Oscar Pereiro wasn't selected for the Spanish world's team due to his middling Vuelta form, though I assume he was trying to get around that with his part in the seven-odd man break in the runup to Madrid before a mechanical apparently took him out entirely after the lot of them got swallowed up. Man, there's no mercy in cycling--didn't he do okay in some other race fairly recently? Floyd Landis, maintaining his innocence and for once having the sense to keep it brief, was in Madrid as well, hitting the nightclubs and saying goodbye to his pals at Phonak, who I imagine may have had a few fond words to say about the utter destruction of their livelihoods on his behalf, given that at least a few of them wasted no time in b(*&^-slapping him to the press before the ink had dried on his dope-sample label.

Naturalmente, Las Drogas: While we're on that (and when aren't we, like it or not?) WADA okays high-altitude tents for now, even if it really, really thinks they're sneaky; the cops have disavowed earlier reports that they took a DNA sample from Jan Ullrich, given that he sensibly wasn't around to be swabbed; defending world champ pinup Tom Boonen is considering legal action agaist a Belgian senator for saying 3 top Belgian cyclists (no names) received doping in Italy in February, and despite the surfeit of stellar Belgian bikers his name might reasonably come to mind; CSC, still unaccountably if perhaps gingerly clinging to the mudslung Ivan "e cute, no?" Basso, is instituting new doping controls, though they seem to be the least of the pack to need 'em; Basso has his day in front of the Italian Olympic Committee on the 29th; and the endlessly scrappy Manolo "Briefcase" Saiz is now whining that a director of Spain's Superior Council of Sports sent unvalidated docs to Spanish cycling without a judge's OK--not that the docs aren't accurate, but that they're unvalidated. Weasel! That, though, doesn't seem to have impressed the UCI ProTour council, which finally booted Saiz and replaced him with a manager from Credit Agricole. Does it seem excruciatingly lame to anyone else that this seems to be the most effective action UCI--and I don't count their constant self-makeout in the press--has taken in this whole affair?

Goldmember: Over at emasculated ex-powerhouse T-Mobile, incoming general manager Bob Stapleton says T-Mobile will be an "international team of character" that will no longer concentrate on the Tour. Sweet! Why waste energy, after all? I'm sure that losing their constant stage wins and perpetual podium slots in the highest-profile race in the world was a carefully calibrated move to impress the sponsors, improve morale, and raise their stature anyway.

Contract Season: Finally, Quick Step DS Lefevre says recent stage stunner Filippo Pozzato's likely off the team after Quick Step already blew the bank on Boonen Bettini Steegmans and Van Petegem, certainly worthy choices all including youngster Steegmans, but leaving the poor DS (and even poorer Pozzato) without enough bucks left to meet Pozzato's (not presumptively unreasonable, given his season results) demands. Still and all, there's reportedly interest from Liquigas, T-Mobile (don't do it, Filippo!) and Astana, so sounds like he'll land on his pedals just fine. Speaking of Astana, Rene Haselbacher's headed over after a stint at Gerolsteiner; and, in "where in the world is Iban Mayo" news, Haimar Zubeldia, who does damn well deserve it, signed a 2 year contract extension with Euskaltel Euskadi. Come on Iban! And speaking of Gerolsteiner, which sure as hell has more sense than T-Mobile, relative jailbait Giro-due-stage-winner maglia rosa-wearer Stefan Schumacher is back with the German waterworks til 2009. Nice job Gerolsteiner!

Next Up: a slightly belated Worlds Preview. Vai Paolo!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Vuelta Wrap-Up

Having been informed that I was an ungracious ass (not unfair, but I'm at peace with it) for not wanting to see the podium presentations after three solid weeks of watching the Vuelta, I sucked it up nonetheless and watched. It's nothing personal against Vinokorouv really--though I still think he was a backstabbing wank to Ullrich when they were on T-Mobile together for the Tour, he was completely jacked out of the Tour and team leadership in his own right this year through no fault of his own, and this must have been a really satisfying smack to UCI to take his first grand tour, even if it's clearly not the one he wanted. I'm still just crushed about Sastre, whose wishful third would have been out of Vino's purview anyway, and not being a journalist I am fortunately under no obligation whatsover to be fair, so I'm sticking to my foul mood just or not. But, what can you do? Vino earned it. He is bar none the best attacker in the business; no one can touch him. And, I must say he was an exceedingly good sport in not challenging Tommy Danielson for the sprint in the stage that clinched Vino's win, nor Kascheckin's after his smashing hard work as superhelpmate, both of whom richly deserved their victories. Anyhow, on the podium, Vinokorouv was gracious in victory; Valverde was gracious in defeat (as much as it's a defeat to come in second after a grueling stage race); and Kaschechkin, whose attacks can nearly rival Vino's and whose powers of recovery are amazing, was up there fair and square. Next year, Carlos--you took two grand tour near-podiums this season, I believe!

All in all though, an uncommonly thrilling Vuelta! The indomitable we love Erik Zabel took the lead out after a fantastic sprint, with his Milram teammate raising his arms in victory right behind him; stage winner Thor Hushovd took the sprint jersey; Sastre wore yellow, CSC had it's stage, Valverde rode beautifully in the mountains, Chris Horner took the Spanish teams' intrigue in stride and still managed to attack in Madrid and keep 20th overall; Danielson redeemed himself, Euskaltel's mountain gods (if not Mayo) took two stages, we love Triki but you suck Discovery for letting him go kept neatly in the top 10, and finally, anyone who criticizes Carlos Sastre anytime anywhere ever can bite me. On to the Worlds!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Mayo d'Oro

Well, not really of course, but we love Iban anyway for finally making a heated if brief attack on the final mountain stage, even if it's not going to be enough to get Euskaltel to cough up more dough or satisfy heartbroken yet still stalwart tifosi. Just wait til next year! Meanwhile, dear little Sastre was cruelly knocked off the podium after a huge climb where he was mostly able to fend off Kaschechkin's attacks for third, until Vino as always popped like a champagne cork off the front, Kaschechkin beautifully bridged the gap, they could work together there on out and it was completely over for Sastre. Dammit! Well, he busted himself for Basso in the Giro, and handled the pressure of impromptu team leadership in the Tour extremely handsomely, so who can be too sorry over what will still be (particularly under the circumstances) an excellent result in the Vuelta? Viva Carlos!

Back in the world of slutty intrigue, as to the botched EPO tests of foot-racer Marion Jones and the testosterone test of Floyd Landis, Dick Pound remains convinced that "in the long run, the system works." Cold comfort I'm sure, on the off chance that Landis really is innocent, to the highly talented but at the moment dime-a-dozen Phonak riders still desperate for new contracts, and the soigneurs, masseuses, mechanics, doctors, and support staff that're also out of jobs at Phonak as a result.

Over at Discovery, in addition to the righteous slams by Armstrong we can all spout in our sleep, Discovery is considering "all legal options" aginst Frankie Andreu. As Lance points out, "we've never had an athlete test positive. I think that's a strong statement." Yep, it's a strong statement all right--a statement that the riders are good at cheating and that the testing efficacy is crap. Andreu never tested poz; neither did his fellow 1999 Tour team Mystery Man, who notes that there was indeed an unwritten (Dr. Fuentes: pay attention! Un-written!) rule on the team that you were expected to. Neither did Tyler Heras Landis, or, outside the Team of Sainthood, Ullrich or Basso. Well, I'm sold, Lance!

Of course, Discovery (which in its current form anyway has no pony in this race anyway)'s whining that WADA and UCI ought to investigate and crush Andreu now, which'd surely encourage those sincerely intent on confessing their sins and baptizing the repentant sport anew to come forward. And, in more pointless flogging, UCI contacted USA Cycling and requested that it open disciplinary proceedings against Tyler, again, this time over his (or his wife Haven Parchinski's) dope-addled contact with Fuentes years ago. What's the point, already? El Pais gacked up these allegations over the summer. Tyler's been out for two years already. He's not gonna get up to speed to take his grand tour win before his advancing age precludes it anyway. Why even bother? The good example's been set. Or should he have fessed up like David Millar on much crappier evidence and we'd all be waxing rhapsodic over what a sterling example he is to malleable trike-riding Hinaults-of-the-future everywhere? Y'know, when the egomaniacal grandstanding prosecutors make you more sick that the cheating crooks they're hunting, it's time to rethink the system. Speaking of which, I see the German authorities took a sample of Jan Ullrich's DNA on his honeymoon home raid, and if there's anything more squicky than the spectre of some latex-glove-clad perv rooting through one's linens looking for a stray hair or glomming on to one's toothbrush, I'm hard pressed to think of what it is.

On to the time trial!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

In Vino Veritas

Explosive: just when I thought the stages couldn't get any more exciting, they do--and on a mere roller, no less. Sastre's CSC boys, in a rare miscalculation, chose to blow apart the field on the bottom of the last climb, safely enough shepherding Sastre along but despite leaving Valverde unprotected and Vino with Kaschechkin well up the road in a deteriorating break still couldn't shake them at all, keeping the GC status quo and in fact endangering Sastre substantially as Valverde showed no signs of stress whatsoever. But then--Vinokorouv! He blasts out of the tiring podium trio leaving the other two completely unable to respond, bridges the gap to helpmate Kashechkin, screams down the descent at 80km an hour, makes it up to Tommy Danielson, and lets the hardworking all-day breaker Tommy take his first Grand Tour stage at the line, his own maillot d'oro, in an incredible time make up of over 1:50, on his back. I swear this boy is bar none the best attacker in the business. Meanwhile, Valverde takes off in pursuit and actually rides quite smashingly down the descent (with a couple of wheel-sitters clearly making him insane by refusing to help til too late), which leaves Sastre far behind and scrambling desperately to catch up even enough to keep his podium spot--which he somehow does at the last possible minute, crossing the line with Valverde (no thanks to the TV coverage for not showing us how)--after I finished hyperventilating, I had time to sit back and take it all in. Fantastic!

La Ley: The cops raided Jan Ullrich's home (enjoying that honeymoon Jan?) as well as manager Wolfgang Strohband and good pal Rudy Pevenage, plus several others, in connection with contract fraud for cheating the sponsors by doping--holy crap, they take breach of contract seriously in Germany! And "cheating" the sponsors? Let's face it--only getting caught "cheats" the sponsors, not the doping itself. And even that can be ameliorated to a significant extent by a press package full of earnest/shocked/saddened/repelled good-corporate-citizen condemnation, headshaking, and pledges of prompt and righteous housecleaning. Every undeserved dope-fueled breakaway, every leechlike lock on a leader's wheel, every sprint to the line, every time trial vicotry and every riser shot with the podium babes in a garish neon spandex team kit is money in the bank for these sponsors. And no offense, but the way T-Mobile's contract negotiations are going at the moment, there's not going to be a hell of a lot of reasons for the tifosi to be looking for their shiny pink logo-plastered uniforms next year anyway.

Meantime, two ex US national junior men's team riders have, after a judge rejected the defendants' motion to dismiss, settled their claim that they were unknowingly injected with steroids up to 3x/day in 1990 when their team coaches told em it was simply vitamins and cortisone, which shots allegedly caused serious enough health problems (lung infections, etc.) to end their nascent elite cycling careers. Of course, despite the judge's determination that there was enough to go forward on at least some of the suit, these allegations couldn't possibly be true, because as WADA's Dick "Dick" Pound can tell you, management is never responsible for doping because it can always be blamed instead on the inevitable aberrant renegade cheating amoral drug freak acting in total isolation from any other influence from anyone anywhere anytime ever and completely against the sincere wishes of the sponsors, the management, the doctors, and the teammates whose jobs and profits all depend on it. Why anyone would ever believe a rider on that issue is beyond me!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Adventures in Doping, Part Endless

Giving Lance the Lance: so the New York Times reported today that Frankie Andreu and another ex-teammate who sensibly wants to remain anonymous, the former of course having testified that he and his wife Betsy personally heard Lance Armstrong admitting doping to his doctors while being treated for cancer, have now admitted that they used EPO in 1999 to help Lance in that year's Tour de France. Not that that's surprising--but the admission certainly is. Let's leave aside for the moment the question of whether Lance himself actually doped (if only because his lawyers immediately go for the jugular of anyone who suggests it.) What would be more surprising, frankly, is if control-freak Lance, who was given such massive unquestioned unilateral control over his teams once he began winning the Tour, didn't know about it. Even the noble admissions are in doubt, though, as a presumably chastised (if not subpoenaed) Andreu promptly issued a statement saying he never told the Times he doped in 1999, only that he did dope, but he still wasn't gonna say when he doped, which is a heck of retraction all right.

I must say as an aside that I'm really quite caught on this issue. On the one hand, it only took a week at a European grand tour this year to strip me of my American apple-pie naivete and convince me, in accordance with what seems to be the prevailing view of the perhaps less sentimental European fans, that these spectacular feats of athleticism and yes, showmanship simply aren't possible on a diet of carbs and Red Bull and that something extra is indeed common, even necessary, to compete at the most elite level. Then there's the question of the inherent unfairness or at least seemingly random bad luck of who actually gets caught vs. who doesn't--are we truly bent on punishing the guilty here, or merely the unfortunate and those of limited budgets? If the latter, that seems not only wasteful and ridiculous, but borderline offensive. And to natter on about the evils of illegal doping, but to advertise products like "EP-NO" after every ten seconds of Vuelta coverage, seems an incongruous message at best. On the other hand, I wear my "Doper's Suck" paraphernalia (if hypocritically modified to excuse riders I particularly favor) with pride, and despise the endless trajectory of ever-more-sophisticated cheating that has brought this mind-bogglingly gorgeous sport into such disrepute, especially among cycling-ignorant Short-Attention-Span-Theatered Americans. And need we even discuss the unknown future health threats these pregnancy-hormone-popping boys are facing after they retire, and there's no longer a cash reward for those long-ago runs to the line, much less the calculated rip-off to those (even if they are only a few) who really do ride clean? Perhaps what I really am though is less genuinely accepting than just plain resigned. What is a cynic after all but a hearbroken idealist?

On a less pretentious philosophical note, Floyd Landis' legal team has formally filed its appeal on the grounds that the urine sample was grossly mishandled, the testing protocols failed to meet WADA's standards, the B sample's identifying number did not match the A sample's, and the results are therefore crap. Good luck Floyd!

Yes, Virginia, There is a Vuelta a Espana: In our happy return to the mountains today (happy in the sens that I don't actually have to climb them), a Euskaltel rider (not Iban Mayo, dammit--can he please not crack for *one* day in the high passes?--we still think you can do it Iban even if it's only 'cause I'm a helpless martyr sap for underdogs!) finally took a stage; Danielson held on for a late resurgence and recovered a bit of his post-hype dignity; DiLuca continued to ride the Vuelta he was powerless to pull off in the Giro; and, in an utter nailbiter, Sastre attacked then cracked then just clawed back on again, decimating a hell of a fine larger grupetto in his fruitless attempt to break the incredibly calm and easy Valverde while Vino slugged it out with them both in an immovable trio, leaving Sastre to bonk just in the final kilometer to the tune of luckily only 5 seconds back, while poor Kaschechkin's off the virtual podium and Vino's tied with the quite-suffering Sastre (though he always looks worried, poor thing)at still over a minute back. I don't think anyone can take out Valverde at this point, he looks so cool and strong, but then, Vinokorouv not only clings to a wheel like a tick but really can power out of nowhere once he decides he's had enough of that, but if you can't crush Valverde or get rid of Vino, I'm still pulling for you on the podium Sastre! Plus, we love Triki Beltran moved up to 6th. Right on Triki!

Monday, September 11, 2006

St. Millar, and More

Vuelta News, Of Course: Redeemed and repentant ex-dope-fiend David Millar just snatched Saturday's key individual time trial over CSC's we love Fabian Cancellara, and nicely smoked the rest of the field as well, upon which Millar promptly delivered a near-tearful Miss-Americaesque speech praising the virtues and just rewards of clean living as the press fair spasmed in admiration and delight. You really did ride beautifully. But please, I beg you, shut the hell up already! First, if you're testing clean, you're only testing as clean as the rest of the peloton, and we all know from recent events how perfectly the current doping control system is working. And second, if you're testing clean, and you're testing as clean as the rest of the perfectly clean peloton, then you're only doing what you're already supposed to be doing, so just shut your yap and do your job without making such a self-massaging fuss about it. Man! In other time trial news, Vinokorouv didn't take half the chunk out of Valverde's time gap that he and pretty much everyone else was expecting, and absolutely apropos of nothing I completely and utterly swear I note that Valverde joins Roberto Heras and Ivan Basso in a long fine line of riders whose time trialing has suddenly exploded exponentially. Speaking of whom, the great Miguel Indurain, who ought to know, has pegged Vino as Valverde's only real remaining serious threat, and basically given we love Carlos Sastre the kiss-off (and even I, though not conceding defeat by any means, do think that unless Valverde cracks, and I don't think he will, Sastre, brilliant as he is, will have a hell of a time shaking Valverde in the mountains, if only because Iles Balears will not let him go whether Valverde's personally up to sticking on his wheel or not). Venga Sastre anyway!

Oops! Yesterday's flat-to-downhill sprint stage ended dramatically when, after yet another Relax-pleasing breakaway by one of their boys in red, it became clear that Milram was setting up its lead-out not for Erik Zabel, but for a finally-resurgent Petacchi, though neither they nor Thor Hushovd's Credit Agricole nor Bettini's Quick Step boys could outdo Giro-ulimate-stage-winner Robert Forster of Gerolsteiner in his powerful and canny run to the line. Where's the drama, besides the ordinary liveliness of a bunch sprint? Why, it's in the tender bone-bashed hand of poor Alessandro Petacchi, who, after Rainbow Brite-clad Danilo Napolitano apparently cut him off in the sprint, thereby destroying the chance for a season-salvaging win for which he'd worked so long and valiantly after his pre-Tour crash-out, went off to the Lampre bus in search of said boy for an amiable chat, and, failing to find him, promptly (if not incomprehensibly) punched the team bus quite firmly, breaking his hand and taking it and the rest of him right out of the Vuelta. Smooth? No, but given that any sprint without Petacchi on form is always something of a what-if letdown, and that he was so cruelly robbed of most of this season by sheer stupid fate, I'm really quite sympathetic, even if to Forster's eyes it did look in the sprint as if Petacchi was putting the moves on Napolitano and not the other way round--perhaps he just caught the tail end of the dispute, after all. Plus, Petacchi did apologize (to his own team of course, not to Lampre that I heard), so bonus points to him for belated sportsmanship, if not for spot-on self-control. Anyhow, an unfortunate end to an unfortunate latter season for a most excellent sprint god. Get well soon, Petacchi!

Finally, Cancellara has sadly if sensibly left the Vuelta after Saturday's disappointment to prep for the Worlds, with Paolo Bettini presumably soon to follow as the course looks to suit him well. Tomorrow, it's back to the high mountains where the Vuelta belongs, and beyond past time for we-love-but-are-deeply-exasperated-by Iban Mayo to reward our felicity and fatten his next-year's Euskaltel paycheck with a stage win. Allez, Iban, already!

T-M, the Impossible Team: It turns out that T-Mobile's fine Andre Korff bailed out of the Vuelta not for the stomach problems previously claimed, but for the noble cause of being best man in Ullrich's recent wedding, with the courtly blessing of T-Mobile no less. Not to scare the poor boy, nor to dismiss T-Mobile's sporting gesture, but has anyone told Korff what happened to the last guy to openly support Jan Ullrich? Speaking of whom, T-Mobile is still trash-talking poor Andreas Kloden for inexplicably refusing the team leadership they offered him so warmly to instead set up shop as Vinokorouv's downtrodden superdomestique over at Astana. Now, true, it's been a bit since I've seen the replays, but as I recall Kloden looked actually rather happy standing repeatedly on the Tour de France podium, and the idea that he would gleefully bail to play some hapless Dean Martin to the still-relatively-unTour-tested Vino's Frank Sinatra not due to any action of T-Mobile whatsoever is perplexing, to say the least. I'm sure, though, that the weeks of public slagging to the press in the face of Kloden's persistently fine season results really, really, made Kloden feel welcome. As usual, management, fine work!

Friday, September 08, 2006

I Want a New Drug

German prosecutors are about to charge Jan Ullrich with 3 solid years of doping at the tender hands of Rudy Pevenage; French doping chief Pierre Bordry is ticked that 12 of 13 riders testing poz for banned substances at the Tour and a giant slew of other riders have a therapeutic use exemption for drugs that coincidentally happen to cause performance enhancement, mostly due to a totally legitimate plague of asthma among elite athletes who can take hors category climbs after 6 hours and a few simpy cat-1 climbs already in the saddle; and, no points again to Floyd Landis' legal team for annoucing they're about to seek dismissal due to "inconsistencies in testing protocols and methodologies," which sounds so much like legalese for "we've got webcam footage of him getting a testosterone patch slapped on his $!@#" that you hardly even get to the totally legitimate-sounding and genuinely entirely possible part about how a review the just-received lab docs will "support Landis' innocence." That's all your lawyers really needed to say Floyd, is the latter part. Sigh. *Must* we go over this again?

T-Immobile: well, Rolf Aldag apparently almost got the unbeatable Jens Voight for 2007, but for the minor inconveniences of a CSC contractual commitment through next season, Jens' alleged lack of desire for a court battle, and Bjarne Riis' perhaps understandable reluctance to let a truly stellar asset go to a rival team which seems incapable of snagging a Voigt-worthy team to support (or a team leader to properly use) him anyway, so all the better for Jens to stay put as-is. Nice try T-Mobile! As Aldag diplomatically notes, this will be a "transitional" season ahead for the team, so let's just hope than with Jan and Sevilla sacked there'll be someone to watch in pink in the mountains next season who's actually riding somewhere north of the autobus. There's gotta be someone left without a new contract who you haven't alienated yet!

Nailbiter: Finally, in actual Vuelta news, yesterday Luca Paolini took his first Grand Tour win in a hell of a powerful breakaway-from-a-breakaway at 4k to go leaving Bettini & co. in the dust; and today, mountain gods/lately flat-attack freaks Euskaltel's Samuel Sanchez positively shrieked down the descent of the Cat 3 Alto de Castillo to leave DiLuca, omnipresent Bettini, Valverde, Landaluze, Davide Rebellin, and no-fool Sastre desperately moto-dodging to catch up, only to have them (with the adddition of Vino, now sensibly locked back in with the GC contenders, and we love Thor Hushovd) finally whack the hammer down on his 7 or so second gap as they cut things dazzlingly close at the corners in the final charge, but still gasp-inducingly beat them to the finish with only 3 or so bike lengths to spare. Right on Sanchez! Now, if only we love Iban Mayo could get his act together for the mountains next week...

Speaking of the motos, is it too much to ask that they get the hell out of the way particularly on a decisive twisty descent before a rider already vision-impaired from his aero-slump beneath the handlebars bodily rams his bike up their @#$es to the presumptively severe detriment of all parties? Given the disasters that have already ensued in the Grand Tours this season with a surfeit of nimrod spectator encounters, might not the race organizers have these clowns actually watch a damn bike race first to give them the heads-up that the riders are there to actually use the roads to win the race, and that it might cause them more than a bit of inconvenience to be churned under the wheels of a motorbike like so much inconsequential road grit? Not to diminsh the valuable function the motos serve, though aside from the ironic job of road-clearing (and that pretty cool chalkboard job) I'm at the moment hard-pressed to remember it. I'm just sayin'.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Three Is a Magic Number

And, with Sergio Paulinho's exciting win on a rolling stage, Astana makes it 3 on top of Vinokorouv's prior two-fer. Take that, UCI! Unfortunately for Astana of course, young Paulinho is headed to Discovery next year, but considering he was initially implicated in Operacion Puerto (free Joseba!) I think Sergio's giving them a fine farewell. The stage finished in dramatic fashion as an excellent breakaway of stage contenders (Mayo, Ventoso, Karpets, etc) began trading alternating attacks and wait-and-see slowdowns, and I was utterly crushed when Iban Mayo, who clearly had legs yesterday, took off but was immediately glommed on to by fine-sprinter Ventoso, obliging Mayo to call it a day as he lost out in all the politicking, and leaving it to Paulinho to eventually pounce and leave the rest of the gruppetto several seconds back. Venga Iban--reward my faith already! Meanwhile, ever-equable Sastre finally snapped after CSC, which didn't even have the maillot oro to protect, was forced to chase down the break because of vague GC threat Karpets, and slapped Iles-Balears for wanting to win the Vuelta without ever doing any actual work. Valverde, of course, whacked back, saying if CSC didn't have a GC threat up in the break unlike his team then it was their own damn fault they had to work. Fair enough, but because I'm personally not under any obligation to be whether the merits demand it or not, I'll still arbitrarily take Sastre's side on this one. We love Sastre! Today, Discovery continued its top-20 takeover as Egoi Martinez took the stage alone with time to spare to zip up his jersey for the sponsors.

The Old Cog and Chain: Congratulations to newlywed Jan Ullrich, who sure as hell needs some good news, and a big "you stink!" to the German sporting authorities for their wedding-gift demand that Ullrich immediately submit to a DNA test. Might we not be sporting enough to let the boy eat his wedding cake (and whatever else he wants to celebrate with) before we break out the handcuffs? Meanwhile, Ivan Basso's most competent lawyer shut the door on that one with a nice clean "as long as I'm defending him, Basso will never have a DNA test", and that he'd better be treated along with the usual protocols instead, unless of course they want every pro rider to submit to the same, which I admire from a purely tactical standpoint, but which does leave me wondering why the waffly Riis isn't taking a stand on that and suspending rather than "he's just not riding" him, particularly since Riis was so recently crying about how Basso's making him look bad. In other news, Italy's antidoping head Di Rocco is punching back at McQuaid's accusations of dirty Italian Basso-backing by reasonably pointing out that he's been begging UCI to investigate actual team management as a possible source of the doping problem (heavens no!), but sponsor-coddler Basso-bigot McQuaid has refused to do so. I love infighting. Finally in the nefarious world of drugs, Great Britain world's team manager has conceded that appointing St. Millar to the team "is not the greatest message", but of course he really, really feels very bad (*cough* about getting caught *cough*) after all.

Aw, Heck!: We love Oscar Freire, thwapped out before the Vuelta due to yet another entry in his annals of odd medical troubles, is looking out of the Worlds now, still whacked from his endless dizzy spells and his resultant lack of training and race time. Rats, can't anyone worth watching this season catch a break? Certainly not poor Denis Menchov, who finally bailed out of the Vuelta with stomach problems, or perhaps just an overall mental and physical crack under the weight of his sadly-won 2005...title. There, I finally said it, even if I still can't stand it. Free Heras!

Phonak Phallout: phinally, I note that the very fine Nicolas Jalabert has found a new home at Agritubel, and Aurelien Clerk is headed to Bouyges Telekom. Which is all very nice I'm sure (though I hate seeing any of these guys going to continental teams, no offense), but which begs the question, where in the world is Axel Merckx?

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Alejandro the Great

Yes, Alejandro, not Alexander, though major admiration again to Vino as he managed to redeem his earlier humiliation at Valverde's hands as he held off the latter in the runup to the line at La Cobertoria after he was obliged to drop the Kashechkin he'd been properly serving when Andrey's legs bonked after a valiant 2 man breakaway about 7k from the line. They really do work well together. Anyhow, dear little Sastre, Valverde and DiLuca trade attacks as they work to reel in the Kazakh break, when Valverde takes off, DiLuca and Sastre look at each other and realize neither one of em's got anything left in the tank, and Valverde overtakes the bonking Kascheckin but can't quite overcome Vino's dented pride despite his previous day's surprising win and comes in around a quarter-minute back. Still, Valverde takes over yellow, and if the perfectly consistent Sastre can't ditch him on a subsequent mountain stage or in next Saturday's tt, I don't know that anyone, except maybe the Astana boys (and remember Vino is a couple of minutes back on GC still), can take him out. So venga Sastre, but I'd still be pretty happy with Valverde as well!

Gnurk!: Iban Mayo (so promising yesterday) continued his recent bout of ill-timed cracks in terrain he ordinarily stomps on and came in a hearbreaking 9-odd minutes back. I'm still ever-hopeful he'll take the stage win he wants, but less optimistic that after that performance that Euskaltel will show him the money I'm still convinced he's deep-down worth. Come on, Iban--I believe!

US News and World Report: Well, Hincapie handily took the USPRO road race championship in a nice consolation prize for his nasty luck at ENECO over we also love Levi Leipheimer, making me wonder how they're going to split up responsiblities next season over at Discovery, since the latter had a damn good classics season and came up quite a bit higher on GC in the Tour as well. Johan, is there a strategy here we all ought to know about? Across the water, Belgian pinup Tom Boonen continues his handsome (get it? handsome?) run up to the Worlds by taking the ultimate stage in the Tour of Britain, and next season will have brilliant, savvy (if slightly post-prime) uber-vet Peter van Petegem along at Quick Step, where he'll hopefully teach promising new leadout jailbait Gert Steegmans a few of the tricks he has yet to pick up for the Tour--shouldn't take much I imagine, as considering he took over on no notice when Fast Freddy crashed out, he really did rather well anyway. And, T-Mobile, which may very well be taking on ascendant comet Luis Leon Sanchez if Saiz plays fair and lets him out of his Active Bay gig (a whole nother world of doubt, given the way he's been jacking Astana around so far), still swears it's gonna sign a big current star, though having either tossed, alienated, or waited too long on almost every GC god worth pursuing I'm at a loss to think of who's next. Well, one hopes the fact that 3 or 4 years from now they'll have a hell of a team to beat (if they keep all their newbies) will keep their management, and their sponsor, warm at night through the coming cold seasons in the interim!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Being Alexander Vinokorouv

What a thrilling and heartbreaking mountain stage yesterday, as Mayo came into his legs at last, Sastre stayed right up there with the final breakaway, Valverde definitively called team leadership over a flat-whacked Oscar Pereiro, and a gorgeously surging/almost certain winner (I thought so, anyway) Vinokorouv visibly crumpled like wet tissue paper as he was overtaken by stage winner Valverde then swept up by the rest of the break as well only 200 m or so from the line. Holy moly, what a finish! Either way, it was dandy to see Vino both set himself apart from the stronger-so-far Kaschechkin and, even better, firmly slap the reminder into the powers-that-be exactly why he had no place whatsoever being jacked out of his rightful participation in this year's Tour. Though I'm not his biggest fan by any means, nice work Vino!

Then today, redemption on a sprint finish of all stages, as big Maggy Backstedt's perfect set-up for Liquigas was utterly blown when an overconfident Luca Paolini mistakenly thought he could hold off the bunch in an attack a whole kilometer from the line, and it was Vinokorouv of all people blasting around him and leaving Paolini and the rest of the confounded sprinter's teams quite in the dust. Wow!

Meantime, back on US soil, Dave Zabriskie handsomely smoked the rest of the field in the USPRO time trial, and he'll back on Sunday as he, Hincapie, and a pack of really very solid domestic pros take on the road championships. Had poor Hincapie, who was so cruelly (if not unfairly) denied his ENECO Tour win by Stefan Schumacher's unfortunate fan-dodging crash-inducing swerve and along with Discovery understandably went nuts, not been quite so wanky as to say he'd thrown away his second place trophy, which seemed to me to be a crappy gesture to an apologetic Schumacher and the judges who rightly placed the blame on fate and a stupid spectator and not on any malice by Schumacher, I'd be rooting for him, but as it is and in recognition that unlike Hincapie we love Zabriskie did not get to wear the maillot jaune this year, and his penchant for asking random weird questions to fellow riders in the peloton, I'm rooting for the latter in the road race as well. Go Dave!

Tomorrow--watch out! It's the nastiest stage of the Vuelta, and after 3 cat 1 climbs, 2 cat 3 climbs, and an hors category mountaintop finish, we'll see who is in the race for GC, and who is out of it. Since Iban Mayo has said he's opted himself out of the overall and instead professes to be shooting for merely a stage win, I'm hoping that with his legs clearly under him this time around and guys like Zubeldia (and basically everyone else on Euskaltel) to lend a hand in the high passes he'll make the showing he's more than capable of and prompt team management to seriously up the dough on his contract offer for next year. Come on Iban!

Ugh, More Doping: So Germany's decided to massively expand its antidoping efforts and plans to keep an extended blood profile on each of its riders from next year, which is certainly a noble calling, except they're also including the 15-and-under riders. That's great. Let's just rip the pudding cups right out of the hands of the cheating little @#!%@%$! among the training-wheel set at snack time and subject em to lab analysis right after we bring the tots in for a urine test when they get up from their post-recess naps, why don't we? And, a number of pro cyclists allegedly hit the road to Hamburg (even after Fuentes' arrest)in May and June to have blood taken coincidentally ahead of the Tour coincidentally by associates of Fuentes, but I'm sure again it was just to protect the riders' health, and it was a pack of squeaky clean Boy Scouts one and all on the slopes of the Alps, but I assume the paper trail that Fuentes seems to keep so diligently will clear all that straight up, assuming he's not been running around incorrectly identifying riders by the wrong dog name again like he's accused of doing with Ivan Basso. Can there be just one day without some ridiculous drama?

Anyway, tomorrow's Vuelta will certainly be dramatic, and like I said despite my wish for Sastre for the overall (particularly if Mayo's called it quits, and I would also be pretty happy for Valverde to take it after his nasty crash-out at the Tour), venga Iban!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Bite Me, Pro Tour!

Halls of Justice: So in return for exercising the due process rights he's been provided, Tyler Hamilton is getting another 2-year extension of his ProTour ban, over the same old (in fact, even older) doping accusations. Apparently, if you're a self-righteous Oprah-confessional chest-thumper like David Millar, who gutsily copped to doping charges only after being directly caught with a bucketful of scrimy syringes in his own hotel room and issued a whiny mea culpa and saintly redemption song thereafter, you get a ticker-tape parade down the Champs-Elysees, and if you have lesser proof against you and protest (even if your protest is frankly probably crap) according to the rules you're given to follow which are after all voluntarily set by the authorities accusing you, you're burned at the stake for the egregious act of as-of-right self-defense. Bite me, ProTour!

Black Hole Forming: T-Mobile continues its implosion of cosmic proportions with its apparent failure to make a contract offer to the very fine Stefan Wesemann, though it's redeemed itself a bit by its uncommonly intelligent retention of Patrik Sinkewitz (who already had a contract through 2007 I believe anyway) and the surprise move of reliable vet Jacob Piil from the House that Riis Built (which is gaining promising youngster Matthew Goss) to T-Mobile. Which is good news for the German squad, because if they keep trash-talking and hemorraghing guys like Kloden and Kessler while other teams maintain their peculiar attachments to their Grant Tour GC contenders and stage winners, they'll only have about two lesser fading backup domestiques (noble a calling as even that is) to choose from for 2007 and to carry up the water bottles to their nonexistent team leadership. Keep up the good work guys!

On the flip side of teambuilding, Astana "Beg Beloki's Forgiveness, Dammit"'s apparently snagged 2x Giro god/impeccable descender Paolo Savoldelli from Discovery, making me tangentially wonder how seriously Discovery's going to take the Giro next year despite Il Falco's rather wheezy rocky ride this year, and continuing, with the recent additions of Kloden and Kessler, to build one of the strongest on-paper teams in the ProTour for this coming year (assuming they can either pry a license out of Saiz' fruitless deathgrip or take on Phonak's).

More Contract News, Of Course: Perdiguero is recovering from his snit enough apparently to be looking for a new gig after all, and Gibo Simoni, shut out in the Giro to Ivan "Non E Uomo" Basso, is done with the road for the season and playing on his mountain bike the rest of the year. Don't bust anything you'll need on the road for 2007, Gilberto!

Legion of Doom: Frank "Tom Boonen" Vandenbroucke is headed to Acqua e Sapone--with Stefano Garzelli? he's hardly fit to breathe the same air!; and fellow disgraced doper/Kelme sellout-or-savior Jesus Manzano is assisting yet further investigation into a German doc accused of working with Fuentes. Hell hath no fury like a doper scorned, particularly when he knows the names of other dopers who haven't been!

At Last, the Vuelta, Baby: Danilo DiLuca finally freed himself from the sobbing remonstrances of a slew of crushed Italian tifosi in the Giro to definitively announce his return to form with a gorgeous stage win and maillot d'oro capture at the top of la Covatilla over impressive Discovery jailbait/relentless wheel-sitter Janez Brajkovic, which almost made me forget the look of suffering on poor (yet still valiant 4th-place finisher) Carlos Sastre's face, and that I'm thinking that if Oscar Pereiro doesn't get some snap in his legs soon, he won't even be able to wage a mutually self-destructive leadership war with cucumber-cool Alejandro Valverde, which would certainly benefit the team overall (and the Tour's not such a bad consolation prize, Oscar, so you might let this one go this year anyway). Still, DiLuca with his eyes on the Worlds is not looking towards GC contention. Rats!

Meanwhile, a rather sad (as sad as I get over him anyway) goodbye to a bonking Robbie McEwen, who finished outside the time limit, leaving Fast Freddy Rodriguez whom we love for the sprints. So the amazing we love Thor Hushovd had one less contender in the extremely tight sprint which he finally took the day before yesterday having already worn gold without one, but I note that even in recovery Alessandro Petacchi placed an impressive 4th, reminding one how he can rip the face off pretty much anyone in the bunch when he's actually in health. Welcome back Petacchi! And, I'm hoping that Iban Mayo's Tour-regurgitating crack in the mountains the other day is but a flat-and-heat-induced anomaly before a smashing performance in the mountains ahead, particularly since Haimar Zubeldia's already looking great, and I dearly want Mayo to be able to slug it out hard with Valverde and Sastre for GC. Venga, Mayo!

Finally, I note without the slightest trace of snarkiness that 2005 second-place finisher Denis Menchov is so in the tank so early that his directeur sportif has already given up on him (in which poor tired Michael Rasmussen perhaps can be cut some slack to rest), and I can't help but feel total satisfaction to see "HERAS" written in huge letters in fresh white paint all over the road this year. Free Roberto!