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?

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