Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's Resolutions

In keeping with the mood of somber reflection with which one is traditionally supposed to greet the New Year, shortly before the effects of the general debauchery and booze kick in, I humbly offer a few cycling-related resolutions for 2007:

1. I will recognize UCI for the sincere and noble guardian of riderly virtue and true sportsmanship that it is, instead of the impotent obsequious sponsor-sucking ego-driven petty-revenge-mongering den of iniquity I have so unkindly accused it of being. That one oughta last.

2. In a similar vein, I will stop referring to caring antidoping crusader of pure motive Dick Pound as Dick "Dick" Pound in a mean and juvenile way. Instead, I will respectfully refer to him as "Dick" Pound. Pat "Dick" McQuaid, though, is out of luck.

3. I will continue my irrational defense of and bias towards quiet Vuelta king Roberto Heras, in part because he's beautiful to watch on a climb and he's no more guilty than most of the rest of em anyway, but mostly because I still think Manolo Saiz was a complete tool for selling him down the river in an implausible denial of his total control over Liberty Seguros. Free Roberto!

4. I will not, not be happy when Andreas Kloden and Matthias Kessler wipe the floor with the (newly and at least temporarily) emasculated T-Mobile at the 2007 Tour in the wake of its disgusting and relentless campaign to crush them in the wake of the Jan Ullrich situation. I may, however, in the spirit of forgiveness that marks the season despite how annoyed I was when he bushwhacked his own team leader in the '05 Tour, be really, really happy when Vinokorouv kicks their @#$.

5. I'll stop slagging Discovery for signing Ivan Basso in violation of the earnest unwritten "gentlemen's agreement" the other teams were stupid enough to stick to, and for having Ivan Basso submit to a DNA test only when it became patently clear that it wouldn't threaten his participation in the 07 Grand Tours in any way, and instead simply admire Johan Bruyneel's Machiavellian genius and willingness to sell his integrity down the river for a colossal cash cow of a rider instead, in part because I dearly believe in 'innocent until proven guilty,' and in part because Basso's lawyer Massimo Martelli is a god, and may also someday be looking for new faces at his law firm. You hiring Massimo?

6. I'll stop my National Enquirer gossip-driven sleazemongering yellow journalism in favor of kindler, gentler, more objective New York Times-esque dull factual reporting. For today.

Happy New Year to you and yours, and cheer up Floyd and Jan--you'll be back!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Truth or Dare

Gonna Find Out Who's Naughty or Nice: in a tactic stripped from the Maury Povich "Are You My Baby's Daddy?" Show, embittered gadfly/ex-Kelme dopester Jesus Manzano took a lie detector test on Spanish TV, establishing once and for all that (1) damn straight Fuentes doped him at the direct behest of Kelme's director, but --oops!--(2) he wasn't forced to dope, he didn't receive death threats for his brave whisteblowing, and (surprise!) damn straight his noble crusade was fueled by revenge against the squad that sold him out, not the sainted love for pure sport he'd professed. Oh, Jesus. It's nice you're telling the truth about Fuentes and all, but couldn't you have run this stupid stunt by your legal team first so they would've forbidden the asking of the questions you were going to blow?

The Three Faces of Floyd: speaking of legal teams, the alternately depressed, determined, and optimistic Landis (lately bouyed by Inigo Landaluze's CAS overthrow of a legit 2-year doping ban on purely technical errors by the endlessly incompetent Landis lab monkeys) is apparently accepting contributions for his legal defense in a new fund for which he hopes to raise $2 mil, so if any unheralded cyclist who'd have to sell his or her firstborn child for new SRAM components would like to contribute to his lawyers' ongoing inability to clear him, and as an added incentive their Tiffany cufflink budgets, by all means, pony up! Whatever happened to the pocket-change $500k we were talking, Floyd? Anyhow, for $2 mil, these guys *better* not choke. Better yet, hire Massimo Martelli!

Give Me Liberty (Seguros' ex-riders), Or Give Me Death: in the latest round of signings of promising youngsters from the tainted stables of recently-ex-ProTour Machiavelli Manolo Saiz, Alberto Contador is allegedly headed to Discovery and Luis Leon Sanchez to the fine company of Valverde and Co. over at Illes Balears. Apparently, they're too young and innocent to be blamed by mere association with the master control freak, which is really quite fair, in contrast to the really pretty decent old guys still without a contract--or a positive test either goddammit. Free Beloki! And is any other gossip hound the least bit envious of the lively debate Sanchez is gonna witness watching Valverde and Pereiro slug it out over supremacy in the Tour?

If You Can't Beat Em, Join Em: ex-women's TdF/world champ Zinaida Stahurskaya, banned for 2 years for anabolic steroids, has now been busted in Italy for dealing them to fellow athletes. See what happens when you don't pay the women worth a damn?! Anyway, she oughta at least have no trouble picking up where she left off when she gets out of the slammer...

You Want Fries With That?: Speaking of which, I note that current women's worlds queen Kristin Armstrong works at Home Depot for their Olympic Opportunity Program. Big points to Home Depot and all, but I gotta say, this really bites. At least give the elite pro women enough dough to live on, for God's sake. Does anyone see Paolo Bettini manning the small appliances section at Wal-Mart in the off-season?

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Year in Review

AS we wind down what's certainly been a lively 2006 (largely in the sense that a train wreck is lively, unfortunately), I thought that before I devolve back into my wallowing in all things seedy and scandalous, I'd ruminate on a few things that I sincerely enjoyed in 2006:
(1) Landis' stage 17 to Morzine. Oh, come on! I don't give a rat's @#$ what he was on, if anything--nothing everybody else wasn't, anyway. It was a beautiful stage, and whatever he may've been taking was not the reason he won that way. The peloton had written him off, and perhaps extended him the kindness of allowing him to redeem himself from the prior day's spectacular crack, until it was far too late to fix it. Allez Floyd!
(2) Julich's prologue at Paris-Nice. Considering his later Tour, a nice save for the season.
(3) Going to the Giro. If there's anything more entertaining than almost getting run over by a team car, swamped in a sea of screaming tifosi, freezing on a mountaintop for six hours waiting for a two-second glimpse of Gilberto Simoni or fighting off a squadron of huge Germans all vying for the same shot of Basso leading the way in the Dolomites, I've yet to experience it. All that, and prosciutto too!
(4)Thor Hushovd. Sure, Petacchi was knocked out of the Tour and Vuelta for unfortunate and idiotic reasons, respectively. But he's whacked Petacchi before, and his Tour wins were bar-non perfect.
(5) Jean Lockhart, 65 year old women's master's national cross champ. Right on sister!
(6) Valverde at the Vuelta. A class act, all the way, in the face of Vino's unstoppable Kaschechkin-propelled attacks and his post-Tour-deprivation thirst for revenge.
(7) Carlos Sastre, busting his @#$ for Basso at the Giro then gamely killing himself for Riis unexpectedly at the Tour and Vuelta, all without a single whining yap to the press. Give that man a huge bonus!
(8) Paolo Bettini's win at the Worlds. Even more, his poignant win at Giro d'Lombardia right on the heels of the loss of his brother. Vai Paolo!
(9) Dutch jaibait World Champion Marianne Vos. Absolutely a beautiful athlete and a likely threat for years to come.
(10) Last, but not least, my bitchin' copper Ross Apollo three-speed stick shift. Harley-Davidson, eat my dust!


Feliz Navidad!: in the midst of Discovery's self-congratulatory swooning, Ullrich's spankin' new exoneration-then-hell-no-we-take-that-back from the Swiss cycling fed, and his and Francisco Mancebo's ongoing fruitless search for a trusting squad that'll love 'em just as much as Ivan Basso, a Spanish news'n'lite porn publication has come out with highly unpleasant, if intriguing, coded budget estimates purporting to show Eufemiano "Records King" Fuentes had, at a minimum, planned deals of up to 70k euros in '06 for blood doping for Basso and Ullrich, up to 50k euros for riders including Heras (shut up! free Roberto anyway! and can anyone explain why these are '06 budget estimates when Heras was stripped of the Vuelta in '05 and immediately thereafter appeared to cave and retreat into obscurity?), Mancebo, Santi Botero and Oscar Sevilla, and lesser amounts for other riders. Even better, Fuentes allegedly arranged for healthy bonuses for every win he helped produce, a nice incentive for Dr. Morality to "protect the health of the riders" all 'round. Now of course, even if accurate, these are just all ID'd by code names, and again, with Basso's camp assuring us that "Birillo" is not in fact his dog's name, I'm sure they could all be just about anybody, perhaps just some unscrupulous footballers, and I've got no pony in that race honey.

Feliz Navidad, Dos: Meantime, the Spanish courts have now called up most of the rest of the 51-odd riders implicated in the Op Puerto scandal to testify, including at last Jan "are there any more goddamn countries that are gonna dope-slap me this week?" Ullrich, this time with a rather expanded list of questions from the original 3, none of which mysteriously still appear to include "hey pal, is any of this blood yours?" but, in a tactic noticeably absent from any of the holier-than-thou team managers' antidoping yammering I've read over the last months, actual questions concerning any negative impact on the riders' health as a result of snarfing all this crap. Glad to see someone besides Dr. Fuentes cares! And finally, one must admire Jan-manager Wolfgang Strohband's diligent optimism, noting that Jan is currently in negotiations with 3 teams, at least one of them ProTour. If this isn't bald-faced desperate publicity crap, Jan, I don't care who it is (though I imagine it's probably not, say, Astana), or what they're offering, take it!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Holy 'Cross!

So after years of road fanaticism, and shameful ignorance of all things cyclocross, I finally went to my first cross race ever, the national championships, over the weekend, and boy, was I blown away. Fun, dirty, fast, and fun! Now, not to diss anyone who can climb six Alps in a single day on a road bike, much less in a lifetime, particularly since my own aerobic capacity maxes out somewhere south of a speedbump summit. But man, roadies are pampered like bloated emperors at a bacchanal compared to these guys! Wah, wah, I've gotta go 20 yards on a tightly packed dirt section without a suspension, I'm on strike. Wah, wah, I've got a puncture, get the team car up here and my rear wheel changed in 15 seconds or your sorry mechanic @#$ is *fired*! What about the poor cross SOB with a flat who has to schlep at top speed with her bike over her shoulder for a k and a half just to get to the neutral support station? Anyhow, I was deeply impressed.

I particularly had occasion to admire the sportsmanship, as one rider went down just below the stairs, skidding into the line of rider (literally) no. 2, no. 2 warmly extended his hand, and just as I had time enough to wonder "wow, that's nice, taking the time mid-race to help another guy up," said hand instead delivered a gentle dope-slap to the head of the fallen as he got up, and the boys proceeded apace upstairs. Beyond cool: the women's 65+ masters' national champion, who did indeed do the whole course alone and in damn good time to take the prize. I'm lobbying Mattel for a Cyclocross Barbie! So, I'm still shamefully ignorant about cross, but now intrigued. What the hell are you supposed to shout at these riders if not "Allez!"?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Trouble Brewing

Road Warriors: Man, Chechu's right; the riders *are* in disarray. First, we love Jens Voigt smacks Basso around for disgracing the sport and the team, and undermining the riders; then Paolo Bettini smacks Basso around for caving on DNA testing, and undermining the riders; and now Michael Rasmussen (who just lost Danish Cyclist of the Year honors to the first woman, U23 Euro tt/Route de France Feminile champ Linda Villumsen--right on sister!)'s smacking around Basso for receiving special treatment compared to other riders under suspicion, and undermining the riders. On second thought, perhaps the riders are united after all! It is sort of sad, particularly if Basso is actually (as opposed to merely legally) innocent. And I do like him, and watching him at the Giro (despite the controversy over whether he jacked Gilberto Simoni out of a stage win) was a fine thing to behold. On the other hand, I remain completely irked that Prince Charming, without a positive test but under suspicion, is riding for Discovery for a cool six million euros, while equally pretty unfortunate German press b@#$% Jan Ullrich, also without a positive test but under suspicion, is left struggling for a spot on the Toys'R'Us Remedial Regional Big Wheel Squad. Sure, Jan's getting a bit long in the tooth in Tour years, but is that really any reason to abandon him? Free Jan!

Piling it On: Speaking of Basso, the Tour of Denmark has stated that neither Discovery nor Basso are welcome next year. While that's perhaps understandable, they're also telling Tinkoff to sod off, which is frankly unfair. Okay, Hamilton and Hondo are actual convicted doping crooks, protestations of innocence aside (and true or not, can you really blame 'em for it?). But they've duly served their time, and there's no allegation whatsoever (fine, yet, you cynics) that the riders or the oligarch who started the team have started slapping testosterone patches on their--selves. Is there *no* redemption allowed by the race organizers whose TV ratings benefit from riders' suspiciously enhanced performances? You suck TdD!

Utterly Beside the Point: I see the French lab implicated in the Landis affair and various Lance shenanigans is getting an upgrade--to its computer security. Now if it'd only upgrade the competence of the lab chimps who, if nothing else, made themselves look like such nits! Meanwhile, the French antidoping president sez there's no evidence the Landis camp was involved in the lab's computer hacking in the first place, which might've been nice to mention in light of the instant blame on his team. And while we're on the subject of beside the point, can someone explain to me why Cofidis jailbait Tristan Valentin was suspended for six months for testing poz for a stimulant his doctor screwed up and gave him but that the team acknowledges he didn't knowingly take? It's not like was given this all wink-wink-nudge-nudge at a start gate, by all accounts. I call bull@#$& Cofidis!

Speaking of which: So Jesus Hernandez, denying doping along with Alberto Contador at his OP testimony, denied even knowing the fine Dr. Fuentes, but happily concedes that Manolo Saiz has "total control" of Liberty Seguros, including medication, specifically, patches of some kind, that apparently never warranted any overt curiosity by the riders, put on their skin. Jesus, Jesus. Haven't we all learned by now that "don't ask, don't tell" is a lousy shield?

Ullrich/Vino Redux: finally, I note that Illes Balears estrellas Valverde and Pereiro seem to be setting themselves up for an ugly repeat of T-Mobile's self-destructive 2005 Tour de France, each claiming the Tour as their top goal, with Valverde optimistically saying it's possible he and Oscar can share team leadership in France, as Vino and Kashechkin did taking 1st and 3d at the Vuelta. Ah, but there's the clincher isn't it--Oscar, not Alejandro, took the Tour (almost) last year, after all. You sure you two agree on who gets 1st and 3d next year?

Viva la Vuelta!

Yes, the 2007 Vuelta route is out--still 3 weeks, so go to hell UCI!--and it's quite interesting. The first week culls the herd bright and early, with limited time for the maillot d'oro contenders to get their legs under them for the 3 mountain summits in the first 10-odd days, including the stage 4 hors category Lagos de Covadonga, a punishing next day of climbing, a 'break' for a 49 km time trial, then stage 9 and 10 hors category climbs. Shifting gears (no pun intended, particularly as it's a lame one), the Vuelta calms down oddly midstream with a batch of sprint and rolling stages, before the last week kicks back into action on stage 19 with 6 categorized climbs and a cat one finish and a second, 25 km time trial on the second to last day. Reaction? Well, with Vino, Kasheckin and Sastre notably absent from the party, not so much from them yet, but preliminary word from Valverde, Pereiro and 2005 runner-up goddammit Denis Menchov is positive, with commentators presuming a predominately defensive team stance in week 3 for whoever didn't drop dead the first week but still enough action to require some actual leadership by the contenders towards the end. But with Valverde, Pereiro, Menchov and Vinokorouv all proclaiming their focus on the Tour de France, which'll take out their superdomestique teammates a bit, and Sastre likely to do so as well with the kickout of Basso from CSC and its future grand tour contenders still needing some time to grow, I'm putting Sammy Sanchez on the podium in Madrid. Either way, we love the Vuelta!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Oh, Snap!

Il Grande ProTour: just days after WADA paid a surprise visit to Discovery's training camp to snag blood and urine samples from Ivan Basso, the International Professional Cycling Teams (IPCT),the ProTour teams' association, held a preliminary vote to kick Discovery out of it because they're really, really jealous none of the rest of them had the audacity to sign Basso, I mean they're really, really mad that Discovery blew off the "gentlemen's agreement" that all these team management clowns intentionally didn't put in writing in the first place but that they really, really meant. Antidoping crusader/head honcho Lefevre, natch, wants to "talk" ahead of the January 11 final decision, presumably either about Disco kicking guaranteed Tour podium Basso off the team, or if Discovery's really determined to take the gloves off by keeping Ivan on hand, which of these other vultures gets to scavenge for Jan Ullrich and every other continental-bound OP alleged dope fiend from impending obscurity at what bargain-basement price. T-Mobile, of course, seems downright delighted about the whole thing, which still doesn't change the fact that they completely imploded this contract season by throwing all of their non-OP-implicated Grand Tour contenders off the team bus in what appeared to be a colossal revenge snit over friendships with Jan Ullrich. (Armstrong, of course, completely disingenuously defended Basso by saying he offered to give a DNA sample, what more can he do? Um, offer it to people who are actually in possession of anonymous code-named blood bags? Sure, it goes against all American ideals of innocent-til-proven guilty. Isn't, say, the Tour actually located somewhere else?) Anyway, lookin' forward to the chat with Bruyneel in January!

Speaking of OP: Ex-Liberty Seguroses Astana's Alberto Contador and Relax's Jesus Hernandez were the first called to testify in front of the Spanish inquisition, out of the 50-odd riders expected to be on the hook, apparently limited by the judge to 3 questions: (1) What's your relationship with Dr. Fuentes, Saiz, & Co.? (2) what treatments did you get? and (3) didja suffer any health problems? Now, again, I have only the utmost esteem for the Spanish legal system, particularly (listen up, you leak-happy goons at UCI!) its careful attention to due process. But am I on absolute crack here, or oughtn't one of these questions (indeed, perhaps the only one we all really want to know the answer to) be "hey, is any of that blood yours, buddy?" Unless, of course, I've missed the news that it was all just collected by Eufemiano "I treasure their good health" Fuentes as a do-good blood drive for the Red Cross, though last time I checked, donors didn't have to cough up 60k euros for the privilege of doing that. Come on, cut to the chase already! Surely none of these guys would lie about doping?

OP, Due: Meantime, we love UCI rider representative Chechu Rubiera has weighed in on OP, expressing his concern for his OP-implicated Spanish compatriots who are mostly out of a job at this point (Free Joseba!), and regrets that the riders themselves are in self-destructive chaos, with, for example, we also love Jens Voigt openly calling for Ivan Basso to get the hell out of the sport. And Jan Ullrich's spokesman was recently busy clarifying the odd (perhaps mistranslated?) statement that the OP court said it does not "lay any value on his testimony in this case," which to me sounds either like they think he's not involved so his testimony is pointless, or that they think he's gonna lie if called to the stand so his testimony is useless, but apparently just means they're not gonna call him at the moment, as they're taking the Spanish riders' testimony first. Am I the only one still confused here?

License to Ill: So the ProTour slugfest between Astana Barloworld and Unibet, which keeps getting put off but is purportedly on the block this week for sure, may face a new challenge with the confirmed signing of alleged dopester Jose Rujano for 2 years with Unibet. I thought all these guys were off limits (or at least that their potential brethren in the ProTour would be irked enough to whine to UCI against such teams' entrance)? Is it something about kicking !@# at the Giro that's getting these guys a free pass? Lesser minds want to know!

Le Tour: Poor Floyd Landis is quite down on his chances of winning his fight, suggesting the sport doesn't want him to (damn straight!), and that if he wins, everyone'll think'll be over some crap technicality (I hope not!), but that anyway, it's gonna cost him $500k to smack it out anyhow through UCI's threatened appeals (what, all the publicity hasn't encouraged his legal team to offer him some small discount? Are none of these people cycling fans? Hell, I'd work for a cheapo team water bottle!), and he flat-out lacks the cash. Nice job taking care of your own, Phonak!

An Open Letter to AJ Smith: finally, a shout-out to wunderkind AJ Smith, who thinks anyone not a pro cyclist should shut the hell up about doping: yep, we don't all ride. Some of us are dedicated amateurs who suffer on the bike to great personal physical and spiritual--but no monetary-- gain, some of us are just humble armchair tifosi with no athletic talent who admire those who have it and the power and beauty of the sport. Of course we'll weigh in, and of course we've got the right to. Without a sponsor, team, buckets of people whose livelihoods depend on you and your fans that justify you a paycheck, you're just another brilliant recreational rider on a private, personal battle against the cols. We hope you're all clean, even if we harbor no illusions about that likelihood, because we don't want you to die of the crap unregulated products out there or someday, like Pantani, of the pressure, and also because we want our favorite riders, for whatever petty biased noble or ridiculous reasons they become that way, who may be clean or want to be, to have a fair shake at the podium. So slam us for our naivete or ignorance--fair enough, we're not on the team bus, alone in a hotel room with a syringe and a choice to make, at the beck and call of a hundred people, or sitting in a doctor's office with our livelihood on our minds. But if you don't want our opinions, garbage as they may well be, to be out there, choose a private relationship with your bike and the road instead!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Il Grande Giro

Better Late Than Never: sure, I'm a lazy slacker, but man, am I excited about the '07 Giro! Leaving aside the natural inclination to pass out resulting from Discovery's smug presentation of a sleek Ivan Basso as The Lance's hand-picked successor (Free Levi!), it's quite a nice course. Opening team tt, an uphill tt for the climbers whose tt skills have miraculously kicked up in quality the last couple of years, 8 or so sprints for Petacchi assuming he doesn't impetuously slug it out with any more team buses (a fruitless battle, he might recall), a flat tt the second to last day, and 5 mountain top finishes, particularly in i Dolomiti, with the brutal stage 15 treating the riders to Passo di San Pellegrino, Passo Giau, and finally the vicious Tre Cime di Lavaredo, and, most interestingly, stage 17's Zoncolan, with a section at 22%, already tested, to some pain, by the optimistic and excited Gilberto Simoni. Jailbait Giro champ Cunego, Paolo Savoldelli (who's just confirmed he will stay with Astana), and we love Stefano Garzelli have all weighed in favorably as well, with the prevailing sentiment seeming to be "it's open." On the short list, and considering I'm still in a major snit at Johan Bruyneel and that Basso will still want to hold back a bit for the Tour, I think Simoni, despite his advancing years, will have quite a friend in Iban Mayo in the high passes, that Savoldelli's chances depend on who Vino's going to give him for the mountain lead-outs if he wants to keep Kashechkin fresh for him in July, and Garzelli, though brilliant, is likewise going to have problems with a Continental squad (however fine) to hold him throughout the Giro, and Cunego--well, his season took quite an uptick late in the game this year, and he's got the motivation of a lot of old hype to validate. Onwards to May!

Crank Shafted: Jan Ullrich's management team has, predictably, lammed into the whining Tour of Germany over their self-promoting guardians-of-morality act, as if some freakin' race organizers should get to pick the teams, when Jan "will" in fact be racing in '07 gosh darn it, though as to the reasonable question "for whom?" the answer still remains a curt and somehow confidence-killing "none of your beeswax" (though the rumors that he might be considering signing with Manolo Saiz have to be too good to be true.) Jan, no offense to your handlers, who have after all remained loyal despite constant smacking from the German press, sore-loser directeurs sportif and pretty much every cycling body on earth, but do the words "Ivan Basso" mean anything to you? Send your guys to remedial sports-pimp classes if you have to for God's sake, and get your tainted show back on the road already!

Vai Paolo: Speaking of Ivan Basso, world champ/canny tactician Paolo Bettini, meantime, says he'd rather quit the sport than take a DNA test, which ought to be administered only to those stupid enough to keep bags of blood at their actual houses, and took the opportunity to slap Basso upside the head for refusing to cough up a swab during the Op Puerto investigation on the same moral grounds he slobbered over Bettini with gratitude via cell phone for taking so firmly, then 3 weeks (and, I note, approximately 6 million euros) later changing his mind and happily agreeing to do it when he signed with Discovery and already knew OP wasn't gonna require it. Sure, Basso maybe left the rest of the riders to hang out to dry a bit after reaping the benefits of your stance, but does any of that really matter when you get to snuggle up to Lance on the road in Austin in the end? Basso, though, has been quick to praise his new teammates, who have welcomed him warmly and made him feel quite comfortable as their leader since, after 7 years, they once again after a prospective number one. Yes, I know it's true, and Basso's brilliant and I like him yap, yap, yap. But who gives? Poor Levi!

Dr. Pereiro and Mr. Hyde: So I see Oscar Pereiro (perhaps understandably) continues his constant press vacillation between I'm-a-Happy-Valverde-Superdomestique and Eat-My-Dust-Buddy-I-Won-the-Tour-Not-You, noting that if he has the option to win it in '07 as well, he's not gonna work for anybody, but that everything's being taken out of context because he is absolutely loyal to Valverde, who coincidentally has a "lot of time" to take the Tour someday himself. That oughta make for a nice atmosphere on the team bus! However, if these guys are gonna tear each other apart in a Vino/Ullrich rematch in July, what's left of 'em both for the Vuelta is gonna suck. And, with we love Iban Mayo's new goals being stated as the classics he rode so finely this year and the Tour (presumably for stages--oh Iban!), plus helping Gibo in the Giro--and notably, not the Vuelta--I'm starting to feel just a bit glum about August. If this crap trend keeps up, and CSC kills Sastre from overuse early in the season again, Sammy Sanchez'll be able to walk his bike up the damned Pyrenees and still take the thing. Don't do it to the innocent Vuelta, boys!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Bits and Pieces

Project Runway: As teams like CSC and T-Mobile hike barefoot through dank forests, get dropped in the desert without water, and totter over high gorges on decaying rope bridges in Fear Factor team-building exercises at their training camps, let's take a moment to admire the relative refinement of Illes Balears, which is sipping Champagne peacefully as the boys from Hugo Boss attend to their bespoke suiting needs and Le Coq Sportif takes measurements for their babe-magnet club-hopping casual wear. Next week: Discovery heads to Canyon Ranch for a week of mani-pedis, herbal wraps, bikini waxes and aromatherapy. Sure, they might not win, but man, will they be pretty!

Relax, Don't Do It: So Francisco Mancebo and AG2R, rather estranged of late by lukewarm management comments like "I'd rather die than have this filthy cheat on my team," have officially parted ways, sadly with no word from the sponsor about the obscene amount of cash they must've had to pay to strip him of his contract without a positive test but enough apparently to allow Mancebo to continue his talks with continental squad/recent Vuelta breakaway upstarts Relax-Gam. Hell, with top ten finisher Luis Perez on board, and a well-earned likely wildcard repeat so long as Mancebo remains off the hook for any prior misdeeds, is anyone doubting they'll shake up the Vuelta a bit next year?!

Gerolsteiner News: So with Levi Leipheimer gone to Discovery (only to be supplanted by Ivan Basso--you suck Discovery!) and Georg Totschnig enjoying a well-earned retirement from the saddle, Gerolsteiner's young team is conceding they haven't really got anyone for Grand Tour contention, though they are quite sensibly optimistic about the future prospects of brilliant '06 Tour youngster Markus Fothen and Stefan Schumacher has been let loose to focus on the '07 Worlds. While I have no doubt we'll see a passel of stage wins from their boys, please, for my sake, re-sign Levi!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Things That Make You Go "Hmmm"

Air Jan: So Jan Ullrich, in the midst of training and his search for a new team contract before the Swiss come knockin', is on what is being variously described as a vacation and a "business trip" to the USA. Apparently it's the latter, as Jan has acknowledged "several meetings" in the works. No offense to the very fine US teams and the excellent riders thereon, but please, please tell me that Jan's not looking at a new gig here! Bad enough he blew it with Tinkoff and can't even find another Continental squad to sign his !##; now he's going to be stuck watching every classic and Grand Tour he's won on TV disconsolately chugging a Michelob from his new home base here?! And Ivan Basso gets to sign with Discovery, jack over Levi Leipheimer and take on both the Giro and the Tour? Aiiiggggghhh!

Vaughters Shows His Spine: Actually, if this possibility weren't so gut-wrenching, it'd be hilarious, as alone among the team leaders--and certainly far farther'n any European in charge has been willing to go--TIAA-CREF head Jon Vaughters has actually publicly held the teams, the sponsors, and yes fairly, even the fans responsible for the superhuman demands and "do it or else" mentality that inevitably result in doping. He also notes, though, that unlike other teams (*cough* T-Mobile! *cough*), he would punish, but not actually distance himself from, his red-handed rider, taking personal responsibility for the problem. He also, unlike others, won't toss a guy under the bus over a bad patch (hear that too, T-Mobile?). Sure, the US scene has long been the bastard child of international cycling, even relative to the overseas Continental squads, and the tacit assumption has been that if you really have the ability, you head for Europe, despite the surfeit of legitimate reasons one might have for staying home, such as family and, dare I suggest, perhaps less pressure to turn one's body into a garbage can for every injectable vial of untested crap that comes down the ever-evolving control-evading pipeline? But even assuming the US sponsors and team leadership are pious virgins in all this--a big assumption, at that--isn't it at least a bit less cowardly than the "Who me? You're fired!" expression-o-shock from the Phonaks of the world? Right on Vaughters!

Yap, Yap, Yap (again): Finally, a new book by TdF/Vuelta/Giro king/presumably low on cash Dutch ex-rider Jasper Skibby has the boy confessing to using EPO and testosterone his entire career, though he won't cough up his dealer but claims he injected himself. Yawn. Is there anyone who actually feels guilty or concerned enough about doping to raise the alarm *before* they retire, get caught with a vial in hand, or realize they can't make a living in cycling team management?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Astanishingly Stupid

Unbelievable Cycling Imbeciles: in a gross injustice, Astana--home of, let's recall, Alexander Vinokorouv, Andrei Kashechkin, Andreas Kloden, Matthias Kessler and (if they can manage to hold him at this point) Paolo freakin' Savoldelli, for God's sake--has been denied the one remaining ProTour slot they so richly deserve by UCI--who, let's also recall, still managed to leave one in the pointless dirty deathgrip of Manolo Saiz' Active Bay. Why? Well, it's the Kazakh backers' fault, of course, according to our friends at UCI, for failing to provide the financial info that left the required paperwork incomplete by the deadline. That was apparently news to a pissed-off Marc Biver, who so far as he knew had that squared away by Ernst & Young well ahead of time, and who feels they're being treated rather differently than others in the hunt--whose riders, I note, haven't been unfairly @#$%*@ out of the Tour this year by apparently blameless association with Manolo Saiz then utterly cleared in any UCI fantasy scandal while UCI's revenge jones against Saiz for *his* wrongdoing still goes unslaked. I'm sure it's just a coincidence though. Anyhow, they've got to December 7 to appeal, but I'm sure by then Unibet or Barloworld'll have a lock on it. Luckily, though, as of today Saiz's application's in hot water (begging the question over why not just make up some bull@$$% reason for getting rid of him, rather'n constantly having to search for technicalities to strip him--gotta appreciate the search for honest justification though I suppose) over his listing Astana as backers for his license, which promptly sent Biver postal, saying they cancelled the damn contract and don't think he has any place in cycling at all anyway no matter what clown excuse Saiz has for saying otherwise. So Astana may get it yet, if they can hold off say Barloworld--and no offense to them, how can't they? Vino, though, with Vuelta win in hand, remains philosophical, opining it just undercuts the supposed supremacy of the ProTour teams to have Continental teams of this caliber (not unfair, either, given the exodus of brilliant riders this year to Continental gig), and it's not like they won't get all the ProTour wildcard invites they can handle anyway. Still, free Astana!

Wah, Wah, Wah: So Bjarne Riis said recently that if Basso had agreed to DNA testing earlier, he could've stayed with CSC. Since he didn't, and Op Puerto's future was uncertain, they had no choice but to bag him instead. Hilariously, Basso's lawyer Massimo "you'll have to pry Ivan's swab out of my cold dead mummified sarcophagi'd hand and I'm still going to slap an injunction on your @#$ from my grave" Martelli replied that, well, Bjarne just never asked. Leaving aside that one might be reasonably discouraged by such an attitude from expressly requesting a sample, one must admit that if Martelli's assertion is true, he's got a point. Anyhow, cry me a river, Riis! If you hadn't been so eager to leave skid marks on Ivan as you ran him over with the team bus exiting the parking lot the second the scandal broke, you might've salvaged the relationship. And what possible reason would Basso have had to take a DNA test, anyway? Doping wasn't illegal in Spain at the time. The OP investigators indicated they won't require tests of implicated riders. Why set yourself up for problems? Sure, it's disgusting, and presents a reasonable inference of likely actual guilt. But can you really blame Basso for trying to save himself? Your conscience or your tainted rider--like Discovery, you made your choice, so quit cryin'. At least, unlike Discovery, you've still got your dignity!

Jan, Jan, Jan: The Swiss authorities, meanwhile, have announced their intentions to fry Jan Ullrich early next year, and are willing to slog through whatever Spanish bureaucratic dithering it takes to get the goods to crush him, despite Jan denying their jurisdiction in the wake of his license resignation, and presumably fishing for a friendlier, more rider-friendly license by training diligently in Italy (but they'll never treat Jan with the deference they do Basso though, poor baby). Tinkoff, meantime, blamed Jan for blowing off a possible deal with them, and announced there's basically no way he's on their roster for this year when they've already confirmed Tyler Hamilton. Not to worry Jan even further, but is there any squad this late in the year that has the kind of cash left in the bank they'd need to sign him? And, not to be outdone, German TV and the Tour of Germany have both announced that no matter what kind of legal abuse they're sure to face there's no way in hell those two dopers are gonna ride that race. I don't recall these guys complaining about Ullrich getting dirt on their white gloves every single other year Ullrich was smothered in doping allegations (since he's turned pro, essentially)--getting desperate for pre-season publicity, are we?

He's Baaaa-aaack!: Speaking of Tyler, in his first interview since becoming the king of Tinkoff, he throws his support to ex-teammate Landis 100%, saying that in his own case, staying silent was his worst mistake, particularly since it was never his or his legal team's defense that he was "chimeric" or had a "vanishing twin", as the press so constantly mis-reported. For those of us who would love to see Tyler cleared, or at least explained in a way we're not too technically stupid to understand, what the hell *was* his defense then? Unsurprisingly, I'm genuinely bewildered here. In the meantime, with contract in hand, he's hoping to get back in the Giro and to win Liege-Bastogne-Liege this year. With both Tyler and Danilo Hondo on board, and the ProTour on a shiny-clean-image rampage, I'm guessing it'll be a lively news day when he tries to!