Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The French Revolution

Mon Dieu!: Irked by the natural decision of French teams Bouyges-Telecom, Cofidis & Francaise de Jeux to ignore the UCI's idiot demand that they boycott their hometown ride Paris-Nice, UCI has now stooped from mere strong encouragement to active threats, blustering that they'll whack the teams with "severe sanctions" if they fail to fall into line with the rest of the ProTour squads--who, if my understanding is right, didn't actually promise Pat "Dick" McQuaid anything with regard to Paris-Nice when they met with him last week at the Tour de California anyway. The renegades, however, remain unimpressed, politely accusing McQuaid of being "totalitarian," and reasonably noting that their ProTour contracts in fact require them to attend it and other ASO events as well, so what is a poor team to do? Unibet, meantime, which has a lot more to lose in biting the hand that just fed it a license, wisely targeted an impassioned plea solely to the race organizers to, for the love of cycling, treat them with the respect they were due and the races they were promised, and, in a more likely effective tactic, playing the classic schoolyard "wuss card" by taunting the Grand Tours for presumably being afraid of Jose Rujano taking another King of the Mountains jersey or GT podium spot away from one of their talentless pampered lily-livered Continental also-rans who couldn't possibly earn it otherwise. When in doubt, emasculate!

The Spanish Civil War: I see that the generally innocous decision of Illes Balears to bail on team sponsorship, apparently on the dual grounds of crap TV coverage of Spanish races and thus their jerseys, and the whole doping thing being a less than attractive image for a tourist destination to project, has turned into a bit of a political hoo-ha, with a home party objecting that the whole thing bit anyway from the start because it was cheating domestic talent by blowing 3x the entire sports budget for local athletes on some team from Pamplona. Now, though the end of the sponsorship would therefore seem to be a good thing to these guys, for me, it's a freakin' disaster--for the life of me, while I had a reasonably competent handle on "Illes Balears," I have no idea how to pronounce "Caisse d'Epargne," particularly "Caisse." Anyone?

The Wounded: Well, we love George Hincapie is fortunately recovering nicely from plate-and-screw-inserting surgery to stabilize his nasty broken wrist from the Tour of California--and an unsurprisingly amazing job from Hincapie riding on that thing and in fact leading the charge for Levi the rest of that stage, by the way--but Johan Bruyneel has all but confirmed that George won't be riding his beloved Paris-Roubaix, as the cobbles would take him out even if he could already pull off an ordinary road ride by race day. Poor George--Basso, you know he'll similarly work his heart out for you in July, you'd better let him take a stage in the Tour de France! Meantime, big Maggy Backstedt, who just had his shoulder plate and screw removed from his track smack in October, still has an outside shot at making it to the Hell of the North. And, in yet another tale of cyclist masochism, Karsten Kroon didn't even realize he'd snapped a rib at the Tour of California Stage 1 pileup til this week, well after he'd finished the whole Tour anyway. Hamilton buzzing along with a busted collarbone, these guys toughing it out with useful upper body parts in disarray--these boys make the rest of the planet's injured athletes look like a pack of toddlers whining over boo-boos!

Baby, It's Ull Right Now: so with Jan gone, the accolades are pouring in, and though the press seems unapologetic for hounding him out of the sport, he's at least got Miguel Indurain and Eddy Merkcx on his side, admiring his tremendous and long-running career and lamenting the brutal psychological pressure he unfairly faced over his compatriots. So in the spirit of similar sensitivity, is there any particular reason the press felt compelled to publish approximately 1500 interviews this week with every single other Op Puerto implicated-and-dumped rider--some with reps as bad as Jan's, or worse--who signed a contract with another team this
year? Give him a day, for goodness' sakes, before rubbing his nose in it again!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Ull Over!

Rich-o, Suave: well, he's out--despite a hope-inducing recent training, or I guess pleasure, ride in Mallorca with ex-teammates Kloden and Kessler, Jan Ullrich is off the bike for good, and into a presumably lucrative "consulting" role (I imagine on the nutritional end) for upstart Austrians Volksbank. Jan, though, was adamant that this is a joyous, fully voluntary move, insisting he had 7 offers to ride including several from ProTour teams, but, one Tour de France (and pretty much everything else as well) win later, he was just plain satisfied with his career. As any cyclist should be, with his stellar palmares--but I call bull@#$% at least on the ProTour teams, Jan! You didn't want to defend last year's victories? You didn't want to pound out one more winning time trial, one more stage or podium finish at the Tour? My !@#!

Now, I've heard suggestions that poor Jan is just plain tired out by all the doping hoo-ha, and just too depressed by all the accusations to continue. But hell, if that's the case, couldn't he have just pigged out on schnitzel and Ecstasy like he always did in the off-seasons to soothe his soul? It's called displacement, people! Regardless, this really bites, and I'm truly sorry to see him go. Yap, yap, yap, he's a filthy convicted Armstrong also-ran who never valued the inestimable power of his natural machine--but still he triumphed over similarly tanked-up counterparts who even so couldn't match his record. Yap, yap, yap, he never fully realized the promise of a beautiful early career--well, read it and weep, he never really went downhill despite the constant unwarranted press slaughter and persistent (and, given his interest in winning races throughout the season, pointless) comparison with brilliant freakishly focused one-trick pony (and I say that in the most complimentary way) perpetual icon Lance Armstrong. Pudged out early in the season to a monstrously bloated 2 or 5 kilos over his race weight, unmotivated by internal team backbiting, injured, too lazy to take the initiative up the mountainside, or just plain whining, Jan even at his worst was a force to overwhelm 99% of the rest of the peloton throughout his career. And does anyone really believe that the fallout from Op Puerto truly fell fairly on the shoulders of all his peers, including the others who haven't tested positive for anything this round? Real and imagined doping aside, he was a pretty good sport too (if no Jens Voigt perhaps) as these boys go, certainly not unconfident but largely gracious in winning and in defeat despite the plague of egomaniacal grandstanding that seems almost a prerequisite for a rider at his level. Condemn Ullrich if you will--and man, will folks ever--hell, I sure have--but I, for one, feel the loss and, on the doping end, can't abide the foul stench of hypocrisy. We'll miss you Jan!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

ProTour, ShmoTour

Paris-Nice Try, UCI: well, the gloves are fully off in the ever-evolving war between UCI and Tour de France organizers ASO, the latter of whom announced that the venerable Paris-Nice will take place under the auspices of the French national cycling federation, not the UCI rules. UCI, of course, immediately went over the edge, strongly nudging and then outright barring the ProTour teams from participating. And the teams? Well, perhaps not so in love with the ProTour management scheme as, to their credit, Paris-Nice itself--Cofidis, F. de Jeux, and Bouyges-Telekom, at least, have already told Pat "Dick" McQuaid and UCI to blow, with conflicting reports that Rabobank, T-Mobile and Gerolsteiner may be doing the same. (Only one team either ProTour or continental, incidentally, has had the guts to stick up for poor casualty/ProTour newbie Unibet in this whole disgusting affair, and surprisingly, it's Tinkoff, home of the finest collection of ex-and-alleged-ex-dopers in cycling this side of the late Phonak squad. Ah, the freedom of sponsorship-by-oligarch!) And the riders? Well, not that they're worth consulting on this, but the rider's association CPA issued a nasty press release not unfairly slagging ASO for its stubbornness, but, far better, blasting UCI and you-know-who for putting their battle for "prestige or personal pride" above cycling itself, noting, in perhaps the least of UCI's obnoxious moves, that the Grand Tour organizers had pretty well conceded defeat and okayed co-existence 18 ProTour teams, when UCI just couldn't help itself and tried to jam two more ProTour licenses down the GT organizers throats anyway, setting off the conflagration at hand. Allez, CPA! Meantime, Alessandro Petacchi is just plain ticked, arguing that if the teams bail, the riders are going to rebel, especially since anyone with half an eye on Flanders or Roubaix needs either Paris-Nice or Tirreno for training rides even if they don't, as they all do, value them for their own sakes. Let's see...Paris-Nice: the beloved "Race to the Sun," 80 years old, fondly held in the hearts of thousands as the hallowed home of legends like Sean Kelly and Miguel Indurain, purpose: the beauty of pure sport. ProTour: the beloved nothin', 3 years old, fondly held in the hearts of...oops! no saving that one, purpose: the ugly of pure corporate administrative convenience. Is anyone else thinking it's obvious who should win this one?

California Dreamin': and, it's been a heck of a lively Amgen Tour of California, with the domestic squads surprising the hell out of everyone with their high GC and stage placings, perpetual attack hound we love Jens Voigt taking a stage and very nearly the yellow jersey off Levi Leipheimer, Leipheimer solving that threat by absolutely smoking Jens--his nearest rival, no less, over guys like Fabian Cancellara--by 18 seconds in the second time trial, JJHaedo and Jason McCartney proving exceedingly worthy new additions to the rival teams, master tactician Paolo Bettini trying out his legs to great effect for an earlier win and then nearly taking the sprint today, and Stewie O'Grady nearly blowing apart Levi's near-insurmountable lead over him by taking advantage of a 9 man breakaway that just got disorganized and snatched up at the line. Even better, actual Americans have shown up in droves to watch the race, a promising sign for a Lanceless USA. Vai Levi!

Gripe of the Day (well, week): He's a brilliant rider, and along with Alexander Vinokorouv the most likely winner of the 2007 Tour de France. He's Discovery's new star and Lance's spoonfed handpicked protege, and he flat-out nailed his early-stage photo op ostentatiously stopping his bike to kiss his wife and bambina. And indeed, he's uncommonly, uncommonly pretty. But Levi Leipheimer is Discovery's leader for the Tour of California, so while I understand "Cyclysm Sundays" has to pimp their new camera-grabbing man-candy poster boy to ensure decent ratings for the season, can we please, please cut the "Ivan Basso Leads Discovery" lead-in crap after the commercials and give Levi, who's been dope-slapped enough by the team's late signing and uncommonly gracious to boot, fair credit for his status in this one race?

Jan Ullrich Contract Watch: like it matters, even if Volksbank wants him, with the Swiss vowing to continue their relentless pursuit of him even if he tries to snake out of it by retiring, the Spaniards ignoring his lawyers' pleas not to turn over the Op Puerto blood bags to the Germans, and pretty well everyone else claiming to have personally reviewed unreleased documents that will link him to Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes in irrefutable proof of his culpability. Man, let him get through the Monday press conference before lighting the torch on the bonfire, why dontcha?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Amgen EPO Tour of California

Kings of All Marketing: Y'know, it was funny enough last year when pro "doping bad!" cycling allowed Amgen, manufacturer of legitimate lifesaving blood booster/nefarious banned cyclist's-best-friend EPO (yep, what stripped we still Roberto Heras of his last Vuelta) to freakin' sponsor a major bike race. I mean, what better way to accidentally target a select yet lucrative group of consumers, and their pro-athlete wannabe fans, than to plaster your logo over every surface they pass for 6 days straight? But it's just downright hilarious that--oops!--everybody forgot to test the riders at last year's Amgen Tour for EPO. Of course, the sponsor's indignant and the teams shocked and horrified at the oversight, just as the riders surely are when they learn they've totally inadvertently scarfed someone else's, say, asthma meds. Me, I'm looking forward to the 2007 Bob's Exogenous Testosterone (TM) Deutschland Tour. You go, Amgen!

Talking Heads: Well, talks between Tour de France organizers ASO and UCI appear to be on the fritz again, not that Patrice Clerc's "drop dead" blowoff was any indication of impending obstacles, so the fate of Unibet, the ProTour, the Classics, and the cosmos remains unknown. On the plus side, ASO stands firm that Paris-Nice will go forward, so if UCI wants to call their bluff and crush the dreams of their own cyclists to participate in a storied race with more--and more beautiful--history than soulless doomed corporate stooges like UCI will ever achieve, there'll be just that much more room at the start line. By contrast, WADA's "Dick" Pound and Floyd Landis have been nothing but amiably chatty, with Pound continuing to slag doping-scum Landis and Landis continuing to smack Pound for his slimemaster character assassination and brutal preemptive leaks that sunk Landis before he was even on personal notice that the ship had left the dock. Anyone else starting to wish for a nice hostile silence from all parties at this point?

Jan Ullrich Contract Watch: who the hell knows? Well, Jan apparently does at last, and his camp is coyly hyping his upcoming press conference Monday, at which the "good news" about Jan's "professional future" will be revealed. Professional what future--rider? Tell-all author? Ongoing sportsgear endorsement studmuffin? Freelance team management doping, I mean antidoping, consultant? If it were a team that got him, wouldn't they have coughed up the word and gotten a cyclist that seriously expensive into spandex and earning his keep by this point? And while we're at it, Michele Scarponi for heck's sake just got a gig with Acqua e Sapone and Stefano Garzelli. Free Joseba Beloki dammit---aiiiigggghhhh!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Total Carnage!--and A Controversy

The Carnage: Well, after a peaceful yet shocking start to the Amgen Tour of California, with Leipheimer taking the prologue time trial and who-the-hell-is-Slipstream's Jason Donald!? taking 2nd over world tt champ Fabian Cancellara, American wunderkind Dave Zabriskie and everyone else, a not-unusual rolling Stage 1 with a bunch sprint finish descended into total chaos and controversy in a flash two 3-mile circuit laps from the finish line, when apparently very fine youngster Gerold Ciolek, about 6 boys back, hit a traffic spot marking the road and shot sideways, taking down 50 riders including most of the leaders and sprint contenders and, by the rules, blowing not only Leipheimer's chance to keep the yellow leader's jersey on the day, but as far as I'm concerned, with the minute they lost, his chance to win the whole show.

What's so surprising about this, to any newcomers to the sport who may be joining us, is everyone was doing everything right here. While we're at it, although it's the start of the season, most of the European riders have already got their racing legs back under 'em at Challenge Mallorca or the Tour of Qatar, so they should've gotten most of the usual post-rest awkwardness kinked out of them already. Anyhow, T-Mobile's sprint lead-out is on the front left (facing the finish line), controlling the pace. All other the sprint contenders--Quick Step, Ag2R, Predictor/Lotto--are on the front or near to it to set up their boys. And Discovery is exactly where they should have been, up front on the right wrapped around Levi Leipheimer like a blanket. This is the safest place, though frenetic, to be--when a crash happens, it's generally smack in the middle of peloton hell, with about 40 km/hour and 2 inches separating everyone's wheel with no room to swerve to ensure maximum numerical and bodily damage. Ciolek losing it at the front is a freak of the sport. Anyhow, the overall leaders are knocked out of contention in a split-second, half the sprinters are gone, Levi's bloody (and sore today I'm sure) but okay with his left short, calf, and forearm shredded, and the only sprinters left in one piece are Graeme Brown, American Fast Freddy Rodriguez and Thor Hushovd and T-Mobile's Greg Henderson. So Brown takes it, but who cares? Dave Zabriskie already crashed and abandoned earlier, but is luckily fairly unscathed, after banging his head on the tarmac, so so much for his Stage 5 time trial and shot at the overall. Basso's whacked his knee in a lousy start to his season. The rest of the GC is decimated. Which brings us to...

The Controversy: The crash happened in the second-to-last lap--waaaaay back. If you're close enough to the line, generally 3 km I think, the race organizers will often "comp" the field some time in the event of a crash order to keep the general classification playing field even by not punishing the main contenders with the actual amount of time they lost so that a lesser rider will inevitably take the overall a few days (or seconds, if we're just talking a one-day race) from now. No excuse this far back--in what the European teams must be seeing as colossal home-town coddling for the second-rate Americans, the organizers comp everyone anyway, ironically taking the rightful lead from a boy on a US team, but giving every other American in the race a colossal bull@#$% advantage and Levi Leipheimer the unearned gift of wearing the yellow jersey. I love Levi--but this is total crap. The rules are what they are for a reason--a recognition of the leader's talents close to the line, but an acceptance of the dangers of cycling for even them farther back. And like the Europeans need another reason to think of US cycling as the fruitless training camp for perpetual talentless neo-pros wishing they had the ability to race with the big boys overseas? I call bull@#$% Amgen Tour of California!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Cycling 101

Welcome, Cycling Newbies!: So, Versus is miraculously showing a bike race on actual American TV, you've set out some chips and beer and are ready to watch, and yet all you know about cycling is that American Lance Armstrong kicked limp French @#$ 7 straight times after battling back from cancer and inspiring a generation of young athletes to want to grow up and date rock stars, and oh yeah, some Mennonite guy made us look like a bunch of dirtbags and worse, morons, for taking drugs then winning a race right in front of everybody the very next year. Well, there's so more more to know and love about this sport, and frankly, it helps if you understand exactly why it's interesting for the 6 hours before the winner even crosses the finish line. So to help you on your way to enlightenment, I humbly present this highly incomplete Cycling Dictionary:

Allez, Allez!: What you yell at the Tour de France at the riders as they pass you by, unless you're American, in which case you wear huge cowboy hats or paint your beer gut with the American flag and scream in English, humiliating us all.

Autobus: the @#$-end of the *peloton*. This is where the guys who can't keep up in any particular stage grind along in misery with some jerkface on a scooter ramming a camera up their sweating miserable nose for the sole purpose of abusing them on the news that night. On a mountain stage, it's generally the *sprinters*, who have a lot of heavy carcass to schlep up an Alp; in the flats, it's the tiny little *climbers*, who get whacked around by the wind like raindrops in a nor'easter.

Breakaway: When an individual or small group takes off on their own ahead of the main group, in the unlikely event that they'll be allowed to stay away and take the win. Great chance for the camera to focus on the garish logo on your butt, to the delight of your check-writing sponsor. If you're a threat on the day to a big name or in a long stage race to an overall contender, you'll get chased down by the group, sometimes within moments of the line. If you're not, and you don't *crack*, congratulations! You just took a win.

Classics: some of the oldest, most beautiful, and most prestigious races on earth. Some races to know: Paris-Nice (Race to the Sun), Paris-Roubaix (the Hell of the North). Many of the best of these riders are superdomestiques or stage winners in the *Grand Tours*.

Climbers: twee little mountain goats who can climb six Alps in a day and get there first. Sometimes bigger, but generally only if they're *Grand Tour* contenders for the overall. Notable: We love Roberto Heras; Michael "the Chicken" Rasmussen; everyone from Euskaltel-Euskadi.

Crack: I've been lauded in the press for weeks as a threat for the win. This stage is the key to my success on this earth. But oh crap! I'm exhausted and can barely turn over the pedals at this point--I'm straggling off the back end of even the autobus--I've cracked. Don't, for the love of God, read the sports pages tomorrow, especially if you're Belgian and at the top of your game every other day this season.

Continental teams: the second tier of bike teams, behind the *ProTour*. More likely factors in their own countries' races, you're probably here on your way up, or on your way out, until this year, when you've been blacklisted by the big teams over doping, and hired by one of the newer Continental squads who want your tainted carcass anyway.

Crash: yep, the cringe-inducing clips you see again and again. Causes: melting tar; misjudged turns; touch of the wheels in the peloton; some clown interfering with your line in the last few yards of a sprint. Recent of note that isn't too tragic to mention here: poor George Hincapie, headed for the win at Paris-Roubaix until his steerer tube snapped going over the cobbles in a disastrous mechanical.

the Devil: yes, yes, the Prince of Darkness; also, I swear, an elderly gent who dresses like him, running beside the riders at every single European race and shaking his trident and yelling. Apparently, he's got sponsors now, and has a nice new van with logos all over it.

Directeur Sportif: basically, your non-rider team leader, who sets the strategy and can make or break your career at least on that team. Often brilliant ex-racers themselves, they will throw you under the bus in two seconds if you test positive for dope no matter who told you to take it.

Domestique: helper riders, sort of like drones, except they can completely crush every single other athlete on earth except maybe the guy they're helping out, and probably then in other races anyway. Common duties: killing themselves setting a blistering pace to tire out other threats to their *team leader*; going back to the *team car* for food and drinks for their teammates; riding in front of their team leader to take the brunt of the wind so he can sit on their wheel in the slipstream and conserve energy.

Doping: more on this in other posts, but if you're a naive purist, you think this is the aberrational amorality of a select few mercenaries who are ruining the sport with their selfishness; if you're a paranoid conspiracy theorist, you think everyone's taking everything and the riders are but pawns in a chess game played from on high; and if you're a typical European fan, you don't see the fuss, and my it's hot waiting for the peloton on the mountainside today, is there any more wine back there in the cooler?

Feed zone: lunchtime! It's on the fly. *Soigneurs* stand by and hand out *musettes* and you eat as you ride. Occasionally, a minor snafu will occur, and an errant mobile lunch bag will tangle in someone's bike, setting them into a rage.

General Classification: The overall lead. There are individual stages within longer races, and you technically needn't even win one to take the GC, so long as you place well consistently, though usually this is not the case.

Grand Tour: there are three, and you haven't heard of two of 'em: the Giro d'Italia in May; the Tour de France in July; and the Vuelta a Espana in August. Their organizers, and those of the *classics* are currently in a nasty battle over which *ProTour* teams get to ride them when. Names to know: comely Discovery pinup/'06 Giro winner Ivan Basso; endless Lance nemesis Jan Ullrich; '06 Vuelta champ/blowing it off for the Tour this year Alexander Vinokorouv; Alejandro Valverde; Gilberto Simoni. Allez allez!

Jersey: in the Grand Tours, different ones denote King of the Mountains, Points leader (determined by your placing at little sprints at various points in the course), Young Rider, *General Classification* (the overall leader). Overall is Maglia Rosa (pink) for the Giro, Maillot Jaune (yellow) for the Tour; Maillot d'Oro (gold) for the Vuelta.

Lead-Out: the set up by a group of racers ahead of a sprint for their team leader. It's all about the last two k, baby. They set the pace for the final run to the line, keep their boy enough in front to have a chance but not so much in front that he tires too early, get him in position on the road, then get the hell out of the way.

Mechanic: be nice to him, especially because your bloated salary is the reason he's not paid nearly enough. These guys are geniuses, and a mechanical or flat at the wrong time can absolutely lose you the race. No podium babes, no champagne, no glory, but hopefully the satisfaction of a job well done.

Musette: the little cloth lunch bags that sling over your shoulder like messenger bags that riders get in the *feed zone*, typically filled with real food like little pastries, fruit, and sandwiches instead of the disgusting gels and other energy crap you'd expect. Discarded by the side of the road, these are highly prized souvenirs by those of us who think a sweat-stained bag filled with half-eaten food from a top rider is really, truly a gift tossed by the gods.

Operacion Puerto: the preeminent doping scandal of 2006, and not the one that tripped up Floyd Landis. Liberty Seguros, how could you?

Peloton: the main body of riders and the most dangerous spot in the race; also called the "main field". These guys are riding inches apart, and frequently crash with disastrous and occasionally career-ending results. Watch for a team to literally surround their leader like a cocoon to protect him from jostling by other teams, and keep him towards the front out of the way.

Podium Babes: if you're a guy and you win, you get a photo op with two models, champagne you can spray, and your trophy. You can't fraternize with the racers, even if you wanted to with a guy who's just sweated in spandex for six hours, though George Hincapie recently married an ex one. If you're a woman racer, you don't get Podium Babes of any gender, but then, you barely get paid either so it's the least of your troubles.

ProTour: a nascent organization of top teams that pretty much everyone hates, but the upshot is it's the best teams and the best riders, with the biggest sponsors and the deepest pockets.
Premier US team: Discovery, Lance's team, which just pulled its sponsorship. Others we love: CSC, Euskaltel-Euskadi.

Soigneur: manservant to the best riders on earth. Fill bottles, pack/hand out food, do everything else.

Sponsors: the corporation that pays your bills and makes you wear garish spandex. You have to remember to zip up your jersey as you cross the line if you win, which is quite a trick in a hotly-disputed sprint, or else your sponsor will go postal that you've blown the publicity that justifies your inconsequential billboard existence.

Sprinter: just what he sounds like. Sprints are generally flat stages. Guys to know: Milram's Alessandro Petacchi and we love Erik Zabel; Ag2R's Thor Hushovd; Quick Step's babelicious Tom Boonen.

Stage Races: often 5 to 7 days, there are lots of these. Nice to win: Deutschland Tour; Tour de Suisse; US's spankin' new Amgen Tour of California. If you're a pig like Lance Armstrong, you'll basically flip off your ex-superdomestique Floyd Landis when you pass him on a stage. Watch for: we love Discovery's Levi Leipheimer, Jan Ullrich.

Superdomestique: No man is an island. This guy will win or lose you the big races; the man who would be a team leader anywhere else. Examples: former Lance lieutenant big George Hincapie; we love CSC's Jens Voigt.

Team Car: You've got a mic to it. It has your team manager for strategy and encouragement, a doctor who will patch you up after a fall while you're riding, a mechanic to change your wheel in 5 seconds or give you a new bike; and a guy who will hand you food and drinks. Can ride right next to the stage leader; otherwise, you've got to schlep to the end of the peloton to get back to them.

Team Doctor: well, there's the team doctor, and there's the nonteam doctor you see on the sly. Neither are in great repute at the moment.

Tifosi: Italian for fans. You paint your favorite's name on the road; hold up banners lauding riders both dead and alive; give a discreet push to a zonked-out rider as he slogs uphill; throw water over them to cool them at your own risk; hand out newspaper at the top of the mountain to protect the boys from the wind on the downhill, which they cram in their jerseys; and stick your digital camera out blindly into the course, taking out an occasional rider with a busted nose to the distinct displeasure of both the rider and the *directeur sportif*. Fans to love: Belgians, who have perhaps the proudest history of cycling on earth; Euskaltel-Euskadi's band of orange-clad Basque fanatics.

Time Trial: a race against the clock in an excruciating position on a hard-to-control bike. Getting to the point where if you can't master this, you're off the podium at the Grand Tours. Of note: we love CSC's Dave Zabriskie; Floyd Landis but not this year; Levi Leipheimer; current world champ Fabian Cancellara.

World Championships: separate disciplines for road and time trial. All year, you get to wear the World Champion jersey for races in that field. Names to know: we love current road world champ/winner in every terrain Paolo Bettini; Tom Boonen again; Oscar Freire.

All right, there's lots more, but I'm watching the Tour of California. Allez!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

? and the Mysterians

Unibet Your !@# They're Ticked: AFter being first forced to wear anonymous, if fortunately media-grabbing, question-mark jerseys on French soil due to weird and apparently inconsistently applied rules on advertising gaming (correct me if I'm wrong here, but Predictor-LOTTO, anyone?), then officially barred from the Giro, and now finally cut from beloved classics Paris-Nice and Paris-Roubaix, all as pointless hostage/collateral damage in the ongoing war between protectors-of-the-faith Grand Tour organizers and egomaniacal power-grabbing upstarts UCI/ProTour, the sponsors are finally starting to get twitchy, not unreasonably wondering if despite their early-season results it's worth it to pay the substantial salaries of guys like Jose Rujano and Baden Cooke if they're not gonna be able to get camera time with their de rigeur garish jerseys at any rides more publicized than a race by a couple of kids to the end of their own driveways. Now, I understand entirely why the oldest and most beautiful races on earth don't want a pack of self-interested corporate stooges in a jailbait system pretty near everyone concedes is deeply flawed making the rules for them, but Unibet didn't form the ProTour for Christ's sake--it just wanted to enjoy its benefits. Bad enough these poor s.o.b.'s had to pay out the hoo-ha and still almost lose their slot to Manolo Saiz and Active Bay's desperate fruitless deathgrip. But, really, why them? I mean, are they actually less deserving of a spot at the Giro (or Milano-Sanremo, or Tirreno, or...) than, say, Tinkoff or freakin' Agritubel? Y'know, I love you, Grand Tours. But it doesn't take much guts or muscle to slap around the newest, weakest link in the arrogant impotent ProTour chain. Pick on somebody your own size, instead of the defenseless little brother of the big kid on the block!

Meanwhile, the teams, who really could put their foot down on this one so to speak, don't feel attached enough apparently to Unibet to take the risk of getting their own boys kicked out of the big ones beyond a vague and almost certainly bull@#$$ threat to boycott Paris-Nice or something, particularly since ASO is also going utterly ballistic over inconsequential details like Gerolsteiner screwing up its paperwork, though Discovery for example has taken the opportunity given to weigh in on the Unibet situtation by bravely snarking at the Tour de France with their predictable annual wank about favoritism towards lesser French teams, instead of anything that's actually relevant. Meantime, this whole situation may be resolved by reports that the ASO and UCI have reached out to each other for sincere talks about their differences, which seems to mean that Pat "Dick" McQuaid assures ASO that he really, really likes the ProTour but is willing to talk, and Patrice Clerc assures Pat that the entire ProTour is "illicit" and McQuaid and Co. can bite him. Sounds like a promising start, boys!

Actual Racers Actually Racing: Well, it's another fine start to another season, and a heck of a way to thank his new team, for unusually fine jailbait Liberty Seguros refugee Luis Leon Sanchez, who took the overall at Challenge Mallorca over a host of stage wins by guys like Oscar Freire. Speaking of Iles Balears, Valverde and Pereiro have seemingly met at a happy understanding regarding the Tour de France, with Valverde warmly continuing to proclaim co-leadership and Pereiro conceding he's not gonna be in the top tier of podium candidates barring some unforeseen circumstance at the start (and really, what could happen?), and that he's looking forward to helping Alejandro as Alejandro will, as co-leader, generously help him. Anyone thinking that, say, T-"Eat Our Own Young"Mobile could learn a little bit about PR from these guys?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Trashy Gossip, and a Mea Culpa Sorta

Jan Ullrich Contract Watch: rumored to be in "serious talks" with a couple of teams (assuming that's not just more desperate propaganda from interested parties); may imminently get a new Swiss racing license; successfully court-thumped Werner Franke today on his appeal of his injunction against yapping about Jan allegedly paying Dr. Fuentes 35k euro a year for dope; and just back from over a week of training with unjust-T-Mobile-throwaways/primo Astana catches/old pals Andreas Kloden and Matthias Kessler, neither of whom should be screwing around at this point in the season. It can't be Astana though, even aside from the obscene amount of money they'd suddenly have to find in an already (worthily) overstuffed budget. I mean, Vinokorouv would have to personally gack up an apology to Manolo Saiz for all his high-horse Bible-thumping if he was gonna take on that big an alleged career felon, right?

Beach Blanket Blitzkreig: In his latest assault against tyranny, Floyd Landis is apparently set to publish his new book "Positively False" over the summer. Oh, Floyd. Must we go through this *again*? Play your cards right, get over your martyr complex (fairly earned, as I hope it is, or not), ditch responsiblity for everything onto your lawyers like Basso, and exonerated or not in the worst case scenario you can be back riding the Grand Tours in two years a la Tyler Hamilton, only at a much better age. So stop it!--just stop it!

The Tifosi's Lament: It has come to my attention that the more sensitive among us, far from furtively enjoying the ongoing National Enquireresque three-ring sleazefest that is the latest round of doping allegations to discredit this beautiful sport, are genuinely in mourning over the whole thing, and actually would prefer to hear about, you know, actual riders actually riding their bikes. In deference to such delicate sensibilities, and to the fact that I swear it's the reason I started following cycling in the first place, I hereby swear I will devote my next post (for the two or so faithful readers who might care) to the noble endeavor of racing itself. So please, no disgusting revelations from the peloton for at least the next five minutes, all right, boys? Much appreciated!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Disco is Dead

Ivana New Sponsor: in the wake of a corporate shakeup, Discovery's announced it's gonna bail on sponsoring Lance's home team as of the end of '07, and the rumor mill's already a'turnin' with speculation that years of doping allegations are making the sponsor pull out. Umm...did anyone notice how much doping (and allegations) it took for say, Phonak to implode? More likely, I imagine, is that US cycling currently lacks both a media-friendly money-magnet back-from-tragedy national icon (not even Saul Raisin yet--he's got a miraculous story, but given his extreme youth needs more time to rack up results) and any damn jersey-showing TV coverage--much less enough of a general US cycling public to justify sinking the dough into Ivan Basso's monster (if quite deserved) deep well of a salary. Which, if they can't come up with a new US sponsor, leaves American cycling even more in the tank among sports fans than it already is. Crap! Even if Berry Floor should go in whole hog, we seems to be looking then (at least from the handy corporate website) at a Belgian squad. Not to diss the Belgians, to whom we owe a major proportion of the greatest cyclists and races ever, but you've already got cycling coming out the hoo-ha, unlike us lonely fans in the US, and we need the exposure dammit to free us from the scourge of constant televised wrestling and bull-riding binges. Again, I say, crap!

Ale, Ale!: It's a sweet end to a long drought for Alessandro Petacchi, who took his first win in about 9 months at the GP Etruschi over Daniele Bennati despite some ongoing tweaks to his revised blue train. Now, if he can only stay out of the way of daredevil sprinters and losing battles with hefty inanimate objects, we might again see some truly satisfying sprints knowing that everyone who ought to be there, is there. On a similar note, we love Oscar Friere, still neck-kinked but indomitable, took his first race of the season at the Challenge Mallorca, taking out Erik Zabel and Tom Boonen, reasonably good indicators of early-season form indeed.
Welcome back boys!

A Good Pounding: In an entirely satisfying development, the International Olympic Committee discreetly lammed into WADA king "Dick" Pound, urging him to apologize to Lance Armstrong like a man for his relentless campaign of unsubstantiated filthy-skankball dope-snarfer innuendo and to kindly shut his yap til he's got some backup. Y'know, if, say, dignity, respect, and sportsmanship aren't gonna make you aim at a target you can actually hit, wouldn't at least Lance's fearsome bottomless litigation machine do the trick?

Uniallbets are Off: days after Unibet proves its worth and takes its first two wins of its nascent ProTour career, the Grand Tour organizers continue to punish them for UCI's admittedly despicable existence and ridiculous claims to supremacy over the most beautiful and prestigious races in the world by nonetheless continuing to refuse to allow the team to participate in a damn one, wanky upstart ProTour rules or not. This time, Unibet's out of the Giro, not even a wildcard. Who beats 'em in? Well, Astana for one, who though the subject of ASO contempt and denial of elite status still slips in for some reason as they certainly should on the merits, but even better, Team Tinkoff, home of busted-but-still-innocent Tyler Hamilton and Danilo Hondo for God's sakes. Way to stick to those "no suspected dopers allowed" proclamations, Grand Tours! Now, while I'm almost always going to side with the GT organizers over any organization voluntarily on purpose even tangentially associated with Pat "Dick" McQuaid, is this really fair to poor little Baden Cooke & Co.?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Landis of the Lost

Tick, Tock: Right on the heels of the predictably contemptuous change-of-heart French response to the Landis team's forlorn and well-reasoned pleas (backed by the rider-crushing justice-bashing goons at WADA, no less) to hold off on his pro forma banning, I mean totally unbiased hearing, until after Landis is done dealing with the USADA appeal going on on another continent entirely, Landis agreed not to race on French soil in 2007 in exchange for the AFLD French antidoping honchos' promise not to inevitably light his death pyre under him til after USADA's done with his carcass some time in May. Of course, the whole thing's rather a moot point anyway, since even Manolo Saiz wouldn't sign this bundle o'tainted goods at this point I suspect, but like the French wouldn't be kid-gloving one of their own who was on a similar hot seat in the name of chivalry and fair play? Please! Still and all, the French made clear they're determined to get this mess out of the way in time for the pre-Tour press blitz, sure to prominently feature the inevitably-anointed-06-winner/Therapeutic Use Exemption giftee Oscar Pereiro and lots of smug "we couldn't get Lance, but we sure got you" smiles and couture-draped handshakes all round. Meantime, Landis' group scrounged for what little leverage they have left, telling USADA to forget running exogenous testosterone tests on samples that already tested within acceptable testosterone/epitestosterone limits. More, poor Landis is so ticked and demoralized at this point that, even though a two-year ban would still leave him well within reach of future podiums in cyclist years given his tender age of 30, he's vowed to hang up his bike for good if he's stripped of his Tour title and winnings. Now, let's leave aside the question of Landis' actual guilt here. But given the likely state of most of the rest of the peloton he was up against in the 06 Tour, the monstrously incompetent bungling by the lab monkeys at every stage of the process, and the disgusting conduct of UCI and WADA during this whole affair, is anyone else thinking the whole thing should just be shelved at this point? Ugh!

Jan Ullrich Contract Watch: Sigh. Mancebo. Sevilla. Perez. Let's not even think about the grossly disproportionate fate of Basso, the mother of all babelicious camera-friendly talent-packed cash cows. But Ullrich? Nope. Oh, Jan. If even Relax-Gam won't take you, when they've apparently managed to hire those other boys with a clear conscience and a sincere belief in their wild-card chances nonetheless, I'm afraid you're well and truly sunk for this season. Even your rah-rah manager Wolfgang seemed to concede as much, noting that the Giro is out of the question this late in the training season, and you can maybe still shoot for the Worlds. Hmmm, who else might take you? Well, Tinkoff's full. Too bad Phonak's still not around...

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Gloves Are Off

Bull In a China Shop: Add Jorg Jaksche to the Op Puerto victims--and presumably to the 7-still-unemployed-riders' Liberty Seguros suit, including we love Joseba Beloki and the Osa boys, against maestro of misery Manolo Saiz for refusing to paying off their contracts (you wrecked their careers, now cough up the dough you cheapskate!)--as Volksbank, despite some protestations to the contrary from all parties, bailed out on their deal with Jaksche under apparent pressure from the Deutschland Tour, which told Volksbank to stay home if they had filthy dope fiend Jaksche under contract despite the fact that they said no problem if Jaksche voluntarily took himself off the start line as he allegedly did. Jaksche, then, immediately went on a complete rampage, snarling that Volksbank was "blackmailed" into not taking him by the Deutschland tour, and while we're at it, he offered to give UCI prez Pat "Dick" McQuaid his DNA, despite the fact that it's not even a doping control and that if he had given up blood to Fuentes all it shows is that he gave blood not that he doped, and while we're still at it, Jens Voigt is a complete hypocrite for sucking millions of euros off his association with Ivan Basso then throwing him off the mountainside after the scandal without even having the guts to give the tainted Basso windfall back. Man, tell us how you really feel Jorg!

Duck Season, Landis Season: on a similar note, just after Landis finally gets some good news from the French who agreed to hold off on their witchhunt til after USADA's done with him (which'll give him more time presumably to hike up the sad $150k he's raised so far for his Fairness Fund), he gets whacked in the jaw again, this time by Cofidis' Brad Wiggins, who sez it's up to someone to have the cojones to tell it like it is, and Landis "sickens" him for testing poz and then denying it, taking all the riders for fools in the process. Give me a !@@#$ing break! I am indeed very sorry for everything that happens to the many, or at least several, guys in the peloton who aren't actively trying to evade the doping controls for a damn good reason. And not to imply anything against Brad Wiggins, who I presume is racing clean as a whistle. But don't you want the OK to challenge a positive test under crap lab controls without being smacked as a disgusting cheat if *you* get busted, not that you have any reason to worry? And I may be the only one amused here, but someone from freakin' *Cofidis* is whining all holier-than-thou about doping?

Jan Ullrich Contract Watch: oh, almost! The day after Jan is rumored to be Relax-Gam's next signing/team leader, quite a suitable place I imagine along with Francisco Mancebo and Santi Perez (freshly returned from his 2-year Phonak doping ban), Relax held its Jan-less team presentation, with Mancebo Perez and Sevilla its team heads. It's not they're afraid of tainted goods Jan--you've still got a chance to convince 'em! Is anyone else impressed with how Relax-Gam has had the initiative to come from fruitless no-name breakaway sponsor-appeasors to potentially major players this season (if they can get any of the GTs to let them in after these signings) by the way? Anyhoo, in a rare bit of good news for Ullrich, he's managed to get a new clothing contract as the studly face of X-Bionic performance sportswear, which if nothing else gives him a little bit of cash for his inevitable ongoing legal hijinks. Right on Jan!

Friday, February 02, 2007


Jan Ullrich Contract Watch: Ha! But he'll either get one or not soon now that, days after telling the Swiss antidoping investigators to buzz off, he amiably gave up a DNA sample to the Germans, who are merely investigating him for contract fraud. Its destiny? Comparison with the frozen blood bags seized from every cyclist's friend Dr. Eufemiano Frankenstein in the Op Puerto affair. Which to me says one of two things: either Jan actually didn't do it (or at least wasn't stupid enough to let Fuentes keep his stash in his fridge), and he's gonna turn around and sue everyone on earth for blowing his rep, his contract, and his endorsement deals; or he did do it, and he's already started writing a monstrously lucrative tell-all that'll bring most of the teams and management and half the peloton down with him. Either way, way to go Jan! (yes, yes, "doping bad," but for me anyway, "selective enforcement worse".)

You Take the High Road: Notwithstanding the skid marks Bjarne Riis left on Ivan Basso's Giro-winning carcass after he threw him off the speeding team bus as he peeled out of the parking lot in July, Basso in a recent interview spoke far more warmly than necessary of his athletic growth and general tenure under his old boss, which perhaps, I imagine, has no small thing to do with the fact that Riis' grievous miscalculation in assuming the teams actually meant all that crap about not signing accused dopers who would increase the bottom line resulted in a ginormous contract as Discovery's latest iron-man pinup boy. Basso did, however, seem to take a bit of a swipe at Gilberto "Basso Non E Uomo" Simoni, noting he doesn't think it's necessary to be 'cattivo' or nasty as a cyclist, which is funny as hell if he actually did break a promise to Simoni to have the latter take the stage win if Gibo wouldn't leave him completely in the dust in the Dolomites, and either way not quite unfair given that he was 'accidentally' accused of offering to pay Simoni tens of thousands of euros to give him the stage. Simoni, meanwhile, professed that the Basso affair in the Giro left him "nauseated" and unmotivated, which love of the bike he fortunately recovered by taking the Italian mountain bike championships, and he'll be back in form and absolutely in motivation for the Giro this year. Hear that Basso? Don't @#$$ with me!