Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Save the Vuelta!

Go To Hell, UCI!: By friendly letter, the UCI warned the director of the Vuelta that it may be 'downsized' from three weeks, and by the way, the UCI is considering shoving the whole decimated thing to September. Why? Some of the whining ProTour teams want to be free of their obligation to participate in the Vuelta to focus on the Tour of Germany and the Tour of Poland. Even more, German TV doesn't want to be bothered with it. What?! A two-year-old association of greedy self-sucking teams, and two shorter races, much less some soulless sponsor-whored TV station, should be able to destroy the long grand history of the Vuelta to satisfy their crybaby needs?! Bite me, UCI! Restructure the arrogant useless ProTour instead, why dontcha? Fortunately, Vuelta god Victor Cordero seems disinclined to jack his Tour, as it's part of cycling's heritage; all Spain loves it; and they can forget about pulling that crap on the Tour de France and Giro, either. Natch, Pat "Dick" McQuaid was quick to respond and halfassedly backtrack, saying nothing's final yet despite his clear desire to crush the event, and implausibly denying this crap powergrab has anything to do whatsoever with UCI's constant third-grade schoolyard bully match with the Grand Tours. Riiiigggght--because a freakin' TV network's scheduling conflicts and the crying of teams that don't flourish at the Vuelta are soooo much more important than three weeks of competition by the amazing Spanish squads in particular in one of the greatest athletic events on earth. Don't let 'em do it to us Spain!

UCI Really Am Disgusted: continuing their busy day, and faced with the predictable results of their utter impotence including the Discovery/Basso debacle and their complete failure so far to bust anyone for doing anything, UCI has now asked the Spanish sports minister to help crush the riders more quickly, bothersome due process or no, by pressing the courts to speed up the OP investigation by "informing the Spanish judge of the gravity of the situation." What situation is that exactly, UCI? Your total emasculation in the last 3 months? Totally aside from their patronizing attitude towards the judge, which in my experience isn't gonna get them anywhere anyhow, can these trolls please take a day off from their egos and let this sport--and the athletes who haven't tested positive for anything--breathe for ten freakin' minutes?

Multiplication Rock: Now, despite my utmost esteem for Spain, and noting that they have been nothing if not admirably methodical in the Op Puerto investigation so far, it nonetheless seems that they're not even quite clear on how many blood and plasma bags they seized from our pals Fuentes (most of em) and Batres (a few of em). On June 27, it was 116. On October 17, they had it at 106. Now, it's apparently down to 99. (So far, everyone seems pretty sure it's 8 bags of high-EPO blood out of the bunch.) Now, I can't help but wonder, did someone just miscount, as in total good faith could easily happen, or has something accidently gone missing here--and if so, whose?

Monday, November 27, 2006

Paranoid Conspiracy Theories of the Week

French fried: undaunted by seven straight years of failure to make anything stick to Lance Armstrong, Le Monde is now tagging Lance as the nefarious Landis case lab-slandering cybercrook, apparently based on year-old deposition testimony by Betsy Andreu in the utterly unrelated arbitration case that not only did she think rabid self-centered fascist Lance hacked into her own computer in 2005, but that she heard 2nd or 3rd hand that he may've hacked into someone else's and also put a bug in then-wife Kristen's computer during their divorce to forward all her emails to his account. "Lance wanted to control everything," Andreu testified. Not that *that's* a surprise, but can someone kindly explain (1) how someone who spent apparently almost every waking moment for seven years plotting his Tour wins found time to learn how to do this and (2) why a guy who spent his few remaining waking moments since Landis bailed for Phonak viciously humiliating Landis for his egregrious personal betrayal (ie, desire for his own life), would remotely do anything to help him out?

The Very Worst Code Name in the World: Oscar Sevilla, meanwhile, is calling bull#$%& on reports that some of the 8 blood bags that recently tested positive for EPO in the OP investigation belonged to him, despite the allegation that one or more were allegedly code-labeled "Sevilliano", calling it a "conspiracy" and claiming he was "warned" "they" were out to get him and Francisco Mancebo. Holy Mary, even Eufemiano "how's the Giro going, Rudy?" Fuentes can't be *that* stupid, can he? Predictably, T-Mobile immediately chimed in to justify their crap treatment of Oscar, surmising it "would not be surprising if it's true" and "we had no trust in the words of some riders." Now, the question of skankbag dopefiend Oscar's actual culpability aside, does anyone else recall *not* hearing T-Mobile complaining during the years of doping rumors swirling about the boy when he was quietly winning for the team but the feds weren't yet all over his @#$?

Conspiracy No. 3: Sore loser/born again cleanster Jesus Manzano claims Fuentes' lawyers offered him around 150k euros to keep his damn mouth shut, which accusation has been met by curious silence by Fuentes' legal team. Not to give the tiresome Manzano's latest whining any credit, but when a pack of attorneys can't even come up with a plausible nonperjurious nondenial denial, you know someone's got a problem. Too bad Basso's house genius Massimo Martelli's already booked!

Translation Conflagration: Right after Tyler Hamilton's Italian-language press release about his Tinkoff signing appeared to contain an oblique doping admission--"Ho sbagliato--I made--a mistake and the price I had to pay was very high"--which was needless to say quite the hot quote after 2 years of fierce denials and eyebrow- raising inhaled-twin theories--Hamilton's team leapt into redemptive action, claiming that a translation error botched the original English quote, the ambiguous, perhaps weaselling, but certainly less controversial, "There have been mistakes..." Whew--that was close!

The Quiet Man: We love Roberto Heras (yes, even if he's guilty--bite me! fine, he was busted in the Vuelta already, he was punished, it was given to whatsisname who for a 2nd place finisher I note totally coincidentally without implying anything at all tanked disastrously this year, and I still miss watching watching him ride despite the persistent tug that his time trialing improved so exponentially out of nowhere--I concede hypocrisy on Heras without apology) has finally broken his silence to deny that he's a doper to Marca. Heras alleges that, despite repeated requests, his team has been denied any access to documentation or even details related to his B sample, leaving him utterly defenseless. Just what are these lab goons so afraid of, anyway? Anyway, he wonders every morning how it is after 1 year he still doesn't have access to his test results, misses the Tour, and is devastated that after 17 years of living for cycling he can't race. Free Roberto anyway!

Lust in His Heart: Finally, Landis too flat out sez he hasn't taken drugs, though he has thought, when down and not racing well, "I wonder if other guys are doing it and if I should look into it." Am I the only lawyer suddenly itching a bit here? Anyhoo, on his departure from Postal, Landis remains diplomatic, conceding that Lance is "not known for being the nicest guy," but opining that a guy who is obsessed enough to win the Tour 7 times is not exactly thinking the same way as most people on the planet. Y'know, where I'm from, we'd probably just say he's an, um....well, anyhow, it's nice that you're still nice, Floyd! Then again, Lance did apparently hack into the French lab for him...

Annus Horribilis

In the latest tragedy for cycling, and a reminder of just how dangerous this sport can be relative to almost any other, 1999-and-current reigning track World Champ/Illes Balears sprinter/2006 4 Days of Dunkirk stage winner Isaac Galvez was killed in a collision with another rider (who shall remain nameless, being blameless and likely feeling otherwise anyway) at the Ghent Six Day when Galvez hit the rails, reportedly dying from a crash-induced hemorrage. Galvez also took a 2nd place in a Tour stage this year, yet declared himself still unsatisfied until he should take a first. As the rare rider with skill on both track and road, Galvez rode for both Kelme and Illes Balears. Teammate Alejandro Valverde dedicated his victory in the day's Criterium of Murcia, against a truly stellar field of Spanish talent, to Galvez' memory after the group decided to ride, despite the accident, in his honor. Condolences to his family, team, and his track partner of 7 years, Juan Llaneras.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Papa's Got a Brand New Bag

WADAn Interesting Move: So WADA's got a new VP, Olympic fencing gold medalist/French sports minister Jean-Francois Lamour, now in line to succeed "Dick" Pound when the latter's term expires in November 2007. While there's no word on the new guy's plans relative to cycling yet, as a precautionary matter I might try not to excessively tick off an expert swordsman. Meantime, Dick needs a new gig. Suggestions, as "sponsor-coddling leakmaster rider-crushing trigger-happy premature crap-evidence career executioner" seems a rather narrow resume?

Ugh: I ought to impose a self-moratorium on David Millar commentary, if only to keep my head from exploding, but Captain Morality has weighed in once again on the Landis situation, saying it's "pivotal" in making the sport wake up to a "fundamental cultural problem." I agree actually, it does have one, and in my view, the best way to combat this grotesque plague of self-serving poor-me overevangelizing by red-handed forcibly remorseful ex-crooks is to take your lumps, shut the hell up, and prove your point solely on your bike instead.

Hmmm..More interestingly, both American legend Greg Lemond and 1988 Tour winner Pedro Delgado have spoken out about the doping situation, with LeMond saying he finally quit after realizing after years of self-doubt that EPO was giving everybody else a 30% performance increase he couldn't match playing fair, and that if a moral guy like Floyd Landis is really positive, there's basically no hope for anyobody else in the peloton. Delgado, meanwhile, takes an entirely different tack, first on the tactical state of riding itself where he says riders have all psyched themselves out about the necessity of triumphing on climbs and the futility of even trying to win otherwise if you can't, instead of the old-school use of the entire race for advantage, including attacking on descents, which is what Oscar Periero did per his advice to near-win the Tour and which the cowed and "linear" Ullrich is mentally incapable of doing. Second, Delgado takes on the doping situation, the problem there being that the riders are a pack of wusses not standing up to 6 am race-day wakeup blood testing, egregious dope-seeking home invasions and a ridiculously huge list of banned substances any idiot might take for a normal ailment; the teams, specifically guys like Riis and T-Mobile, haven't got the guts to solve problems and instead throw their riders under the bus at the first sign of adversity; and the state of the art itself, mainly that doctors ought to be able to do (and the definition of "doping" ought to exclude) anything that doesn't put a rider's life in danger, which is a lot better than the "barbarous" unsupervisedamphetamine speculation that went on back in the day. Right on Delgado! Now, I'm not sure I agree one ought to be able to take anything that won't immediately kill you at the start gate, but I must say that in terms of sheer pragmatism WADA's probably missed a fine candidate here. Perhaps UCI might be persuaded to clean house?

Speaking of Self-Medicating: a recent study indicated that resveratrol, found in red wine and tested on a pack of presumably alternately tanked and overworked mice, improves mitochondrial function so much as to cause a 100% increase in athletic performance and make any clown look like a trained athlete without the bothersome necessity of actual training. Of course, it'll be years before yap, yap, yap. Is anyone thinking that the teams' drink (or at least snake-oil untested nutritional supplement) budgets are going to suddenly and mysteriously increase this year?

My Vacation Photos: while I hate to encourage Landis' press war by mentioning it, his doctor and pal recently put together a nice slide show at the Tuscon whateverthehell monsterdome, with the analysis apparently showing that not only did the lab chimps screw up the B sample, but the A sample was mislabeled as well. The Franch, of course, immediately nut-kicked Landis for pursuing his defense publicly, which of course Landis would never have had to do in the first place if UCI and WADA hadn't taken loudspeakers to the streets about it before Landis even had a chance to finish his Wheaties that first morning. (I too kick Landis for slugging it out publicly, but not for the French fed's reasons, namely their humiliation.) Coincidentally, the Italians have recently decided that they're gonna crack down on sample weaselling by having escorts glom on the riders tapped for post-race testing as soon as they hit the line, the allowable testosterone limit is going to be lowered again (and does it bother anyone else that every time this happens, some new guy gets jacked out of a race win that someone in an earlier era was allowed to keep with the exact same test results?) , and they hope everyone's gonna enjoy the blood controls taken 30 minutes before the race begins (though that does perhaps eliminate the aforementioned irksome early-bird wakeups). Boy, someone's not convinced of the riders' integrity!

Crap!: Far from imporving since he was forced out of the Vuelta and Worlds due to persistent dizziness, apparently now due to a spinal problem, we love Oscar Freire has only remained static and even gotten worse since then, with the Rabobank god sidelined indefiniately now but gamely plotting a swift return. Get well soon Oscar--the peloton deserves you!

Kibbles 'n' Bits: In other rider news, Tinkoff denies any Mancebo deal, which is just as well since his manager proclaims his loyalty to his existing AG2R contract much to the distress of sore-loser team leader Lavenu, much less cops to talking to Manolo "I just needed the 60k euros to pay the coffee tab" Saiz; Jan Ullrich's got a new lawyer, who proclaims him open to a DNA test ("hear that ProTour? Please? Pretty please?!"), which either means he's actually innocent of the latest charges or his lawyer's certain no-one's gonna go crying about who owns what blood bags anytime soon; Pereiro's training lightly, knew the Vuelta was blown anyway because he was plain whacked by all the post-Tour controversy demands, admires Vino despite him beating Valverde loves Illes Balears and just wants the damn Tour fuss over with; Bettini is finding more beauty on the six-day track than on the road these days; and finally, Kloden's T-Mobile promo '68 VW bus namesake is for sale for charity on e-Bay, which is nice cause I imagine they plan to take Ullrich's little namesake VW bug set it on fire and huck it over a cliff or something (though they pretty much did that to Kloden at season's end, come to think of it). On to the training camps!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

DN-A Perfect Move

The Very Best Lawyer on Earth: In the most perfect cosmic confluence of legal gamesmanship, public relations genius, and smug team weaselling imaginable, Discovery and Basso have announced that indeed, Mr. Clean will be taking a DNA test to show he's not a doper. Why am I swooning in admiration? Because his DNA's availability will be limited to cases in which there's a judicial or other inquiry that calls for its release--coincidentally, not now, nor not ever, the case in the Op Puerto investigation. So as long as Basso doesn't have any doped-up bags of dog-labeled blood currently stored with any other skankball doctor besides Fuentes--as I somehow imagine he doesn't--there's no possible threat to him or Discovery by taking this test, not now, nor not ever. This is not to suggest, of course, that Ivan Basso's ever done anything wrong, or that Discovery had any conscious intent of producing this result. It is to suggest, however, that Basso's lawyer, Massimo Martelli, is perfect. I say again, bow before him, Ivan!

Bruyneel, meantime, has noted that legally speaking, nothing can stop Discovery from signing a contract with Ivan Basso, which means, I imagine, that he was simply the first DS to have the chutzpah to take the ProTour teams' unwillingness to put their vaunted "gentleman's agreement" in writing to its natural, and predictably disgusting, conclusion. And now that he's had time to ponder it, the new ProTour code, with all its yip-yap about not signing riders under suspicion this and increased penalties that, does really go too far anyway. Ya think he might've raised these doubts to the team managers at the actual meeting? Then again, maybe not--he's no fool, after all. Anyone feeling the slightest twinge of sympathy for, say, T-Mobile right now?

Tinkoff the Freakin' Wall: Well, I was joking about Manolo Saiz, but apparently Tinkoff actually is talking to him about a ProTour deal. Incredible. Of course, there's still no way the Tour organizers would ever let them in, but it does present an interesting PR conundrum for the other ProTour races. And as an added bonus, can UCI even get smacked around any worse at this point?

Speaking of our noble watchdogs, I see WADA is considering revising its doping code, not only to up the current worst-case suspension from 2 years to 4, but also, as "Dick" Pound cannily suggests, to completely eliminate the taking, and thus troublesome testing, of the B samples entirely. Hell, if you can't eliminate the threat of career-crushing false positives not holding up due to crap lab work by improving the actual tests or training the fallible nits who conduct them, why not just fix the problem by ensuring no one can ever question or confirm the A sample results in the first place? If anyone can think of a way that this guy sleeps at night without the use of heavy narcotics to stun his conscience into submission, I would like to hear it. Looking forward to the new protocols for 07!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Curioser and Curioser

The Matrix: A day after the French authorities flip out over the half-competent hacking of the lab that's handily botched virtually every doping test within memory by an apparent "close associate" of Floyd Landis, leaking unfortunate self-critical internal documents that make the lab employees look like complete monkeys, the lab's conceded that it mislabeled Landis' (alleged) B sample in the doping report, raising the not unreasonable question as to whether they actually tested the correct B sample in the first place. Landis, with characteristic understatement, pointed out calmly that if the hacking story is true, it's just another example of how crappy the lab is anyway, and he still plans to unveil an updated presentation in his defense, this time via a physician-run slide show at a Tucson convention center. Unclenching my jaw for the moment over yet another legal-team miscalculation by the Landis camp, and going back to the point that someone else's B sample may have been positive entirely, how does the esteemed amoral one-man leakfest Dick "Dick" Pound respond to this crucial news? Why, by being outraged at the hacking of the nit lab's computer system, of course! I'm so glad this international expert on cybercrime has turned our focus to what really counts. After all, why let Landis' possible innocence on Tour de France-stripping career-destroying doping charges get in the way of a suddenly far more important witchhunt to find a nefarious hacking computer geek? I know I feel closer to justice on this one!

Ill-timedly, perhaps, Oscar Pereiro has now said he'll boycott the '07 Tour if a winner's not actually named by then. Sure that still stands if Floyd gets to keep it, Oscar? Dick, meanwhile, has helpfully weighed in on the lame standard of proof he's willing to accept for crucifying possible dope heads out of their livelihoods, namely "a comfortable satisfaction with the evidence", less than a reasonable doubt, but more than a mere balance of probabilities. So what exactly makes you "comfortable," Dick? Face-saving political expediency after you've prematurely leaked some poor bastard's positive A sample to the press without even the courtesy of a heads-up phone call? The opportunity to carry out grudges against guys you're *sure* are doping, but just haven't been able to actually catch yet? What flunking 1st grade Spongebob-weaned civics student sets these standards?

Yeah, Right: Now, we all know from the Festina, Cofidis and Liberty Seguros affairs, plus our relentless sponsor apologists over at UCI and WADA, that teams have, and have always had, nothing to do with rider doping whatsover. Given that, and even with the beating the OP-implicated riders' teams have taken in the press, is anyone else the least bit suspicious about the virulent new crop of anti-doping programs recently announced by teams like CSC and T-Mobile? (And I note that Riis in particular, amidst all the crying over the violation of the rider-rejected "gentleman's agreement" by the teams who didn't get Basso and co. on board because they're under suspicion and won't gack up DNA swabs to soothe the sponsors' shareholders, isn't requiring DNA profiles of his riders.) I mean, if the teams are controlling who they're testing, what they're testing for, and when, can't they just reap the self-righteous PR benefits of anti-cheat aggression while accidentally not testing anyone for anything anytime that might be an actual threat? Not to suggest anything against Bjarne Riis, who after all has to lick his wounds over the Ivan Basso fiasco somehow, or T-Mobile, who don't need any more help harming themselves at this point. I'm just sayin'.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Body: Well, I see that Team Tinkoff has backed off bashing poor Jan Ullrich a bit, now that it confirms that it has a contract offer out to him (though not for the huge chunk of change previously rumored), saying (1) it really doesn't think he gets *irredeemably* bloated in the off-season and (2) it didn't really mean to suggest that if Jan is forced to exit the peloton he's gonna immediately go on a drug binge and OD in a clubland alley after all. Well, that oughta make Jan feel welcome! And, continuing their apparent policy of "all (alleged) ProTour dopers, all the time," they've now managed to sign not only Danilo Hondo, reportedly Tyler Hamilton, and hopefully Jan Ullrich,but also Francisco Mancebo at 600,000 euro a year. Stunning. Who better to mentor the team's promising young Russian domestiques and stars-of-the-future than guys who really understand what it takes to get there? Apropos of nothing, I hear Manolo Saiz is looking for a new group to nurture...

Speaking of Jan, Dr. Werner "Hound of Hell" Franke has made more allegations against the boy, namely that Jan flew to Madrid on May 10, a Giro rest day, to meet with Fuentes for treatment personally, and they've got relevant phone numbers including a landline implicating Ullrich, apparently all courtesy of a leak from an Op Puerto investigator. Manager Wolfgang Strohband, natch, dismissed the claim as "fantasy," and while that's nice and all, correct my memory but isn't there already an outstanding permanent injunction with a monstrous 250k euro fine that your legal team can slap on his @#$? And Jan, didn't you just say you've hired a new attorney whose first (or at least second) task should be to clamp down on this self-aggrandizing crap (whether it's actually crap or not)?

Erik the Pink: So we love Erik Zabel, who has entertained numerous questions on his possible return to T-Mobile, concedes that the colors may be the same, but the team has rather, well, changed. He's also just won (after losing the lead in) the Munich Six-Day and, in yet another reason to love him, has surmised that UCI and WADA "heads should roll" over the Ivan Basso/totally incompetently handled doping fiascos. Is there anything that Zabel isn't doing right these days?

Damn Right: Finally, Austrian youngster Bernhard Kohl has tossed his helmet in the ring on the Ullrich situation, saying the unfounded allegations against Ulle and others are "character assassination". Good thing he's already left T-Mobile for Gerolsteiner, or they'd pull a Kloden on him and kick his traitor @#$ off the team!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Jan Ullrich

A perpetual Armstrong also-ran. An Ecstasy-snarfing party boy. A lazy squanderer of one of the greatest potentials in modern sport. A whiner. A doper. Most recently, a self-destructive presumptively finished drug-binger. Now, I've never been an apologist for Jan Ullrich or even, particularly, a fan. But, frankly, at this point I don't give a rat's @#$ what Ullrich's done and when--I'm tired of seeing him getting disproportionately smacked in the press over press-kissing up-and-comers and sobbing hypocrites. There's no way that he was ever competing against a completely clean field in his pro career, the same way there's no chance Basso took 12 minutes over the rest of the field in the Giro this year without earning it to some extent at least, and he is indisputably a great--if deeply flawed--champion. With that in mind, and given that Ullrich has been completely screwed and vilified relative to Basso and other pros for similar apparent crimes, here is a small review of Ullrich's palmares:

1993: World Amateur Road Race Champ
1994: Stage, Tour of Hawaii
1995: German Champion; Freiburg
1996: Stage, Tour de France; stage, Reggio; Reggio; Boblinger
1997: 2 stages, Tour de France; Tour de France; stage, Tour de Suisse; German champ; HEW Classic; Luk Cup; Boxmeer; Mulhouse; Emmen; Schweren
1998: 3 stages, Tour de France; Bochum; Hanover; Berlin; Nurmberger Alstadt
1999: 2 stages, Vuelta a Espana; Veulta a Espana; World TT Champ
2000: Olympic champ; Coppa Agostini; Hamover; Freiberg
2001: German champ; World TT champ; Giro dell'Emilia; Versatel; stage, Tour of Hesse; stage, Tour of Lucia; Bad Saulgau crit; Stiphout; Kassel; Hanover; Weisbaden
2003: stage, Tour de France; Run Um Koln; Stiphout; Nact von Hanover; Renault Cup
2004: 2 stages, Tour de Suisse; Tour de Suisse;oppa Sabitini; Grazer Alstadt crit; Heppenheim; Essen
2005: stage, Tour de Suisse; stage, Tour of Germany; Mayrhofer; Nacht von Hanover; Ravensburg; Lorsch
2006: stage, Tour de Suisse; Tour de Suisse; stage, Giro

Sure, Ullrich's a constant f#$%up, and usually, his own worst enemy. And this is what he is, when he is that?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Testa della corsa

Dammit! Part Due: Basso confirms that Levi Leipheimer is screwed: "I'm incredibly happy. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say it's a new life for me. I feel reborn. The squad is commiteed to supporting me in the double challenge of the Giro and Tour." Anyone ask Levi how committed he is to supporting Basso at the moment? Of course, Levi's got a rep as a level-headed, kind guy, fortunately a cross I don't have to bear, so while I'm sure he'll be be gracious in total screwedoverness, I can freely say, bite me, Discovery! You, like Bjarne Riis, miscalculated the fallout from the OP affair, and while I really like Basso, who richly deserves team leadership either here or at any other top team in the peloton, you are still a pack of low-rent skanks for jacking over someone else with empty promises, particularly this late in the contract season. Vattene, Bruyneel!

Sore Losers: The teams who didn't have the guts, lack of conscience, or confidence to sign Basso, meanwhile, are already sniping at each other in the wake of continued uncertainty as to whether he'll submit a DNA sample. T-Mobile, of course, who already f@#$ed themselves out of Ullrich, Kloden, Kessler, and every other GC contender who matters, was among the first out of the start gate, whining that there is a clear commitment from the teams, and Bjarne Riis is already crying that he's confused and lost over the whole issue, conveniently forgetting he took about 2 seconds to throw Basso, "the best rider in the world", to the wolves, all of which I imagine is merely code for "We could've kept Ullrich? And Basso? And our ProTour license? And a Tour podium spot? God *dammit*!"

The newly castrated UCI, meantime, has bravely leapt into the fray, changing its position and saying they'll be happy to whore the rider DNA they've kept for "research" purposes to the Spanish authorities after all, if only they'll ask nicely, with Pat "Dick" McQuaid smarmily noting that far from the riders' crying about the loss of civil liberties and other such nonsense, they oughta welcome the idea of some white-gloved lab clown jabbing a Q-Tip into their cheeks as an opportunity to prove their innocence. Even WADA shelved its open contempt for UCI in the wake of the OP collapse, newly happy to help UCI in its quest to make Spain cough up more info to our caring watchdogs for their inquest. After all, why not? If there's any reason why some trifle like lack of court-worthy evidence should prevent UCI from culling its filthy herd, I've yet to hear it! More, UCI's meeting with ProTour and rider reps tomorrow, presumably to crush the boys into compliance with their DNA registry by the sheer weight of their sanctimonious hypocrisy. Ugh! I swear I am almost rooting for the freakin' dopers at this point, the shrieking Harpies on the other side are so odious.

I Am Woman: Marianne Vos, jailbait road and cross world champ, sometime mountain biker, and poindexter biomed student (try that hat trick, boys!), has weighed in on the doping dispute, declining to whack the men directly for the most part and simply surmising that the women, who have less money shorter races and more going on in their lives, are probably doping less than the men. Now, I'm highly inclined to assume she's right. But let me just strike a blow for equality here and suggest that, given the same podium babes press slobbering obscene cash contracts groupies fawning entourages and giganto endorsement deals, I am absolutely certain that my sisters can be just as successful selfish unscrupulous greedy amoral cheating stealth skankbag dopers as the men. What else have we been fighting for lo these many years, if not such pure and perfect justice? You go sisters!

Double Jeopardy: French prosecutors, regrettably, recommended no jail time for David Millar today in the 2004 Cofidis affair. You can safely get back to whining about how oppressed you were by the burdens of team leadership and how mightily your humble soul wrestled with the pressures of doping, now, David!

Piling It On: Team Tinkoff, which has already helpfully derided the battered Jan Ullrich for porking up in the winter, now has kindly suggested that without a contract, the drug-happy party boy is going to OD himself into oblivion like the great, dearly lamented Marco Pantani. Ullrich, though, who is already back training on his bike, gamely professed to appreciate the ghoulish concern but affirmed that, with the love of family and friends, he is fully invested in life. All right already! First, Basso and his huge Discovery deal slam Jan in the face like a six-foot inflatable brunette Ken doll, now you coarse pigs start yapping about him in the past tense? If you're not gonna help him by offering a deal, Tinkoff--and I notice that *actual* positive tests didn't stop you from ass-kissing Tyler Hamilton or Danilo Hondo, O Defenders of Teetotaling--then shut the hell up! What are you, trying to send the poor boy off into a club-hopping Ecstasy binge? Jesus!

Jangentially Related: T-Mobile's fired Olaf Ludwig was recently press-yapping about his breakup with the self-destructing squad (and what the $#%^ were the sponsors upset about exactly? Innumerable consecutive Tour podium finishes? The constant stage and classics wins? The massive publicity of the Ullrich-Armstrong rivalry?), and naturally whacks all the blame for this year on everyone else but himself. The team was built around betraying junkie Jan; he switched off Gonchar and Mazzoleni in the spring to save them pointlessly for the Tour; replacements Klier, Ivanov, and Wesemann woofed the classics; and Kloden and Kessler completely screwed the team for the entire Tour in the 11th stage in the Pyrenees by acting on their own and blasting the pace with Rogers Sinkewitz and Mazzoleni until they blew themselves out Kloden bonked and their Tour win went down in flames. Only the management clowns at T-Mobile could make such a (previously) successful team sound so crappy. Take some responsibility, and leave Kloden alone--at least he had a spine and took a risk!

Round and Round we Go: Last, in actual race news (yes, there is some), new Olympic *track* hopeful Paolo Bettini takes on last-year's winner Erik Zabel in the 2-man Munich 6 Day; the Tour de Flanders is shelving the monstrous crash-inducing hike up the Koppenberg next year, but keeping in 18 climbs sure to visit cobbled misery on the bone-rattled peloton; Petacchi's back on the bike and wants Milan-SanRemo and stages in all 3 Grand Tours again; and Michael Rasmussen's snapped hip is recuperating nicely. Allez Chicken!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

What Else?!

ProTour, SchmoTour!: Barely a day after distancing Discovery from the ProTour teams' decision to require DNA testing of new signers and lamenting the probable loss of Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich to the Continental hinterlands, Johan Bruyneel has announced that yep, despite all the teams' yammering about no-suspects-allowed, despite Basso's refusal to cough up a swab (which he may yet perhaps be obliged to reconsider), despite the allegations of extensive contacts with Fuentes and blood bags named after his own dog, he's signed Basso to a lengthy contract, reportedly for a cool 6 mil (euros). Holy crap! Am I the only one who thinks Bjarne "Ivan Wrecked My Rep" Riis is sitting in a dark room softly rocking and sobbing right now? And am I the only one who thinks that any one of these sanctimonious team leaders would happily stuff their own grandmothers full of EPO if it would ensure the creation and retntion of a cash-cow of a rider like Basso?

And what's more, on a purely professional tangent, Ivan's lawyer is already on the warpath, claiming that anyone who F#$%s with Basso's image of integrity and cleanliness from here on out is going to get crushed with litigation til they're crying for mercy. Listen to me Ivan. It is unbegoddamnlievable that he not only got you out of this, but that he managed to get your @#$ signed to a ProTour squad, much less freakin' Discovery. Your lawyer is a god. You owe your career to him. I don't know what the hell he's charging you, but unless it's your firstborn child it's not nearly enough. Pay up, and kneel before him!

Frankly, I feel sorry as hell for Jan Ullrich. Not because I don't think he's a guilty lying doper cheat, because I pretty much do, but then, I pretty much think the same thing about Basso--and I like 'em both a *lot.* But this whole fiasco just completely confirms the biased arbitrary way these corrupt "V for Vendetta" cowboy vigilante f@#$wads go about choosing who and how hard to come down on. If I were Jan, even if I'd had Rudy Pevenage jam a needle in my butt cheek right in front of the time trial gatekeeper at the Tour, I'd still be pissed. What exactly does he have to do to get a break from the press, the teams, and everyone else like, um, somebody else I can think of? Distance himself from everybody who helped him win the Tour and stuck with him for years of constant wins and concurrent inexplicable German press abuse? Pimp cuddly "who, me?" photos of himself nuzzling his family to Vanity Fair? Pout his lips at the fawning starstruck journalists like shameless GQ disco pinup Basso? Cry a bunch of bullshit crocodile tears like David Millar about how tough it is emotionally to be exploited for a million euros a year? Jesus!
I'm not excusing these guys, and of course I'd rather the sport were clean like the dedicated amateurs who test themselves every year against the same cobbles and cols without the benefit of a fully dedicated sports career, team cars, or cheering fans or waiting press corps. But if you're gonna have rules, then enforce them fairly or not at all, you hypocritical cash-sucking wussbags!

As if Ya Didn't Have Reason Enough to be Irked At Lance Armstrong: Even worse, poor Levi! Here the poor SOB signs on as Tour leader, only to be smacked upside the head by Bruyneel's blindsiding contract with Basso. Now, Mr. R_J has suggested that this'll still leave Levi for the Vuelta, which he's ridden so beautifully, and possibly for the Giro, so that he won't just be relegated to superdomestique with maybe the consolation prize of a high finish in a mountain stage or individual tt in the Tour. But in the Giro, either Basso's gonna try to pull a two-fer with the Tour, or Johan won't let him and will make everyone use the Giro for a training instead--neither scenario benefitting Levi--and by August, with everyone zonked from killing themselves for Basso at the Tour, they're not gonna have (1) the will or (2) just the flat-out late-season freshness to give Levi the help he'll need to really do him justice in the Vuelta. So either way, I figure he's screwed. Dammit! Look, I understand the doe-eyed allure and fluid grace that is Ivan Basso at his peak, and Lance's not unreasonable desire for a payoff after years of courting. And I understand that, and why, we love Levi is a less certain bet for next year's Tour than this year's well-deserved Giro champ. But you asked him back, Discovery, and I think you're skanks to jerk him over. Not that you deserve to lose next year in a monstrous public flameout for being complete and total $@$holes to Levi Leipheimer. I'm just sayin'.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Ask and Ye Shall Receive

So more riders are weighing in on the doping controls, and while most wholeheartedly endorse "Doping Bad!", not a one of 'em is saying "DNA Testing Good!" Notably, Bettini thinks it the sort of thing one requires of serial killers; jailbait Giro champ/newlywed Damiano Cunego opines the whole thing ought to wait until Operacion Puerto shakes itself out (the apparent impotence of which, I imagine,'ll just make the racers say there's no need for it after all anyway--smart boy that Cunego); and, future grand tour champ/just about the only Spaniard in the peloton not implicated in OP claims the entire damn thing is ridiculous and asks "if we agree to that, what next? Lowering our pants prior to the start?" Don't give those nits at UCI any more ideas unless you're ready to smile for the camera, Alejandro! Of course, if they are gonna start looking for testosterone patches, this does beg the question of what unfortunate officials gonna have to go searching for 'em; on the other hand, hey, that oughta liven up the TV ratings!

Merde!: I see Cofidis' Philippe Gaumont has formally copped to winning just one race cleanly in his entire career. You sure you want to stick to that earnest story about only doping 3 times in your entire career before Gaumont blows that dubious assertion up in your face, Millar? Even beter, Gaumont's hands-on-the-syringe supplier was none other than the French cycling fed's current doctor, notably in charge these days of rider cleanliness. Sweet! You just can't make this stuff up. And, in yet another humiliation for the emasculated French, their own prosecutors have just dropped the LA Confidentiel doping allegations against Lance Armstrong. 7 years of whining about Lance, 0 vengeance--well done France!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Wheels of Justice

Oops: Much to the relief of pretty near every Spaniard in the peloton I imagine, plus Ivan Basso (but possibly not Jan Ullrich, who has allegedly imbibed in damn near every country in Europe), apparently the entire Operacion Puerto investigation is on the skids and the judges are considering dropping all the charges against everybody entirely. Why? Because a huge cache of steroids, EPO, transfusion equipment, 200 bags of blood and plasma, and phone taps involving managers of specific superstars are just too darn circumstantial to think anyone's remotely done anything wrong. That, and evidently they cower like dogs in thunderstorms before the mighty power of Manolo Saiz's latest lawsuit threat. Well done, Spain! Meantime, France, which moves slowly as hell but does indeed try to make stuff stick, is back to the 2004 Cofidis affair, and with any luck will not only be done with the riders' testimony--welcome back St. Millar!--but also manage to cough up an actual verdict sometime before Millar & Co hit the nursing home. Allez! And as usual, is anyone else pissed that guys like Millar are lionized as do-gooding martyr heroes for the weepy self-righteous mea culpas they spit out only when--and because-- they're caught with a freakin' needle in their arm, and other riders who are busted on far weaker evidence are smashed in the press for their filthy cheating lack of sportsmanship when they take their managers' advice and discreetly keep their mouths shut in public?

Speaking of dopers, Team Tinkoff has recently jerked out the welcome mat from under poor Jan Ullrich by noting that, while they like him and all, he really does get too fat in the winter, and anyway, he can't seem to find a country that'll take him. Might as well start loading on the weinerschnitzel anyway Jan! However, Tinkoff has no such reservations about Italian studmuffin Ivan Basso, who has officially confirmed he's eyeing the continental squads as the ProTour remains in some inexplicable snit and Tinkoff, with Ullrich dissed, confirms it's in the hunt. Indeed, Relax-Gam has just signed totally coincidental Tyler Hamilton '04 Phonak teammate/newly freed dope snarfer Santi Perez. With the continental teams mercifuly devoid of any morality whatsoever, is anyone else suddenly feeling cheerfully optimistic about we love Roberto Heras' chances for a new contract (very) late season 2007?

Now, not to diss the continental teams, or the individual talents of Basso & Co. And maybe it is, frankly, just a question of bankroll. But you need superdomestiques, and even--and especially--rank and file domestiques, to win a class or a sprint, much less an entire Grand Tour. And again frankly, many of the guys at this rank in the ProTour would be team leader material on most of the conentinental squads. So even if Basso and Ullrich and Mancebo and every other dope fiend ends up on a continental team, and even if they score a wild card to the Giro or the Tour, have they honestly got the backup firepower it'll take to put them on the podium anymore? Anyhow, even if it's all genuinely fair in the end--and I doubt it--I'm demoralized. And am I the only one to suspect that there's gotta be more'n one prominent rider left in the ProTour peloton who had the good sense to either (1) go individually to a less famous doctor in say Switzerland Austria France or Germany; or (2) since the teams, their managers, directeurs sportif, doctors and soigneurs have been under absolutely zero oversight pressure or scrutiny by the sponsor-sucking hypocrites at UCI and WADA, handle things discreetly in-house?

Valuable Insight: So jailbait sprinter Bernhard Eisel is happy with his new gig at T-Mobile, and notes of new US boss Bob Stapleton that he hadn't much to do with cycling before, being merely a useless dilettante millionaire until that got too boring. Well, that explains some of the numbnut decisions coming out of T-Mobile this year--sounds like a recipe for success in '07!

On a final note, my wish has been granted and Joseba Beloki's been freed, but there's no word from Vino or his owner Saiz as to whether his existing team, whatever the hell it is at this point, is gonna use him next year. So I change my clarion call to, "Sign Joseba!"

Friday, November 03, 2006

Law & Order

Uh-Oh: Forget the national cycling federations, WADA, and UCI: Spain's parliament has passed the anti-doping legislation the country was lacking. The new law will create a national antidoping agency, and take effect by April. Worse for the team-coddling tools at UCI and WADA and their cocoon-protected proteges: there's prison sentences of 6 months to 2 years for those abetting the use of doping substances by athletes. Interestingly--and for once fairly--punishment for the jocks themselves is way lighter--3 month to 4 year bans and fines up to $15k, a drop in the bucket for most of these guys. Even better, the riders get actual bonus points for spitting out the names of their accomplices, from directeurs sportif on down. Lucky for the teams I guess that they genuinely provide no help whatsoever to the individual rogue cheating bastard riders who dope!

Of course--and I freely concede ignorance on Spanish law regarding retroactivity--this seems not to affect the fine gyno Dr. Fuentes, Manolo Saiz, or anyone else previously busted in the Op Puerto scandal (and damned lucky for them), but right on Spain for putting the blame on the suppliers for once!

And natch, the timing couldn't be better, just ahead of the Giro, most of the classics, and everyone's favorite doping target, the Tour de France. Better take that crap over the border and get your bloodwork done somewhere else, boys!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Manolo Freakin' Way!

It's Good to Be a !@$%!@^*&! Gangster: Could I possibly be the only one amused as hell to see that UCI, lacking any other valid target in its monstrous debacle of a decision to allow Manolo "Cash'n'Carry" Saiz to keep his ProTour license, has nowattacked itself on its own website "regretting" its decision and blaming Spain for all its problems? What colossal bull$*&^! They'll whore any rider they can to the yellow journalists at every publicity-desperate sports rag and wreck his reputation on the slightest of sore-loser rumormongering, but they'll allow a guy caught red-handed to maintain his career-tanking deathgrip on a ProTour license he has no hope of ever personally putting into action as well as the contracts and futures of not-even-rumored-dopers like Vinokorouv? Don't their own ethics rules preclude this offensive result? Who *hires* these &^%$ing rodeo clowns?

Legion of Doom: Meantime, I see that UCI, in a bizarrely oblivious show of hypocrisy, wasted no time going postal over the Spanish, Italian and Aussie cycling federations' clearing most of the Operacion Puerto riders, vowing to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to smear their sorry spandex asses in time to club them all out of hte '07 Tour whether there's actually proof they've done anything wrong or not. Hey, why let petty details like that get in the way of preemptively ending the careers of some of the greatest riders of our time (and a huge cache of the domestiques who helped make them that way)?

Which brings us to the next issue making UCI insane, namely their inability to keep dope-suspected riders off the Continental teams, even if the ProTour squads successfully manage to obtain DNA samples from any poor SOB not already inked into a contract. Even Jan Ullrich's reportedly been offered a cool 3.8 million euro contract for God's sake, and there's apparently everything but digital footage of him snorting lines off Eufemiano Fuentes' mirror implicating him. Keep looking for that lost relevance, UCI!

Doping with the Stars: Speaking of Ullrich, this now leaves the fine new Tinkoff continental squad with 3 alleged monster past-or-current dope fiends on its likely roster: Tyler "Ate My Twin" Hamilton, Jan, and Danilo Hondo. Hell, why not just buy up the rest of the old Comunidad Valenciana squad while you're at it, they've gotta be cheaper than Beloki and the rest of the cleared boys over at Astana? Oh wait, somebody already *did* buy up most of the guys from CV....

Phonak Says Goodbye, and Bite Me: Well, Phonak didn't waste its opportunity to put all the blame for its (2nd) doping implosion on its website farewell, noting its regret that riders have become much more "individualistic." Phew! Glad we settled once and for all that the teams bear no responsibility for doping ever. With Phonak, Pat McQuaid, and Dick Pound all agreeing on this issue, can there really be any doubt remaining?

Easy Riders: Paolo Bettini, however, at least's not completely convinced, recently raising the not unreasonable point that it's crap for the ProTour teams to refuse to renew contracts of riders who won't take DNA tests given the utter failure of anyone to hold the managers, team directors, coaches and doctors responsible for anything. Right on Paolo! ProTour association prez Patrick Lefevre, incidentally Paolo's Quick Step team leader, promptly, if perhaps undiplomatically, replied that before Paolo opens his yap or refuses to submit a DNA swab he oughta think first and read the ProTour Code of Ethics (for that matter, so ought the ProTour). Now sure, Paolo's maybe not quite as pretty as golden cover boy Tom Boonen, but he is world champ, winner of an almost endless list of Grand Tour stages and classics romps this season, inarguably one of the most brilliant riders (particularly tacticians) of his generation, still got a couple of good years left in him, and as an Italian national hero is one of your major cash cows. You sure you want piss off a man that marketable to other squads that badly, Patrick?

Out of the Mouths of Babes: So Oscar Pereiro's weighed in, understandably enough, on the importance of fighting hard against the dopers. Now, not to imply anything against we love Pereiro *at all*, but I completely coincidentally wonder, have Pereiro and all the other guys who flourished so spectacularly under the preemptive boot-outs in the Tour de France this year noticed that they're under a lot more scrutiny lately? I'm just sayin'. Meantime, Sammy Sanchez also noted his concern over the "many false positives and errors" in recent testing, and opines that "many riders have no part in doping." Not to parse things too anal-retentively, but are we to infer that most do? Finally, Erik Zabel, already one hell of a powerhouse when Festina broke and who oughta know, is deeply concerned that cycling can't survive another year like '06. I know cycling's sort of a rarified world and all, and we Americans more'n most any other country are dense as diamonds about cycling, but let's be honest--I wouldn't worry about the death of the sport quite yet--it was the Vuelta in '05 and nobody gave a rat's ass, '06 was the *Tour de France* for the God's sake--is anyone really gonna notice comparatively speaking if in '07 it's the Giro going down in flames?