Sunday, September 30, 2007

You @#$%^&^! Bite, UCI "Live"!

Worlds? What Worlds?: So, here I am, all excited about watching the elite men's road race at the Worlds, eager to see if a ticked-off Paolo Bettini's dream (according to our faithful pals at gazzetta) of personally accepting the rainbow jersey from the dirty hands of Pat "Dick" McQuaid is be realized due to the collective anger over at the squadra azzurra over Danilo DiLuca inexplicably being barred from the race over crap that may've happened in 2004 when certain actual confessed dopers are allowed to race (tho' one less giant champion ego on board the Italian team is probably good news for Bettini, not that I'd have any idea right now), or whether we love Oscar Freire is gonna take advantage of both the chaos and his unusual good health and take him out at the line, or perhaps even if one of the baby Germans is going to surge to a wholly unexpected win as they've been doing smashingly all season, when lo and behold, *two and a half @#$%&^% hours* into the promised "live" UCI coverage I gacked up 28 euros for--and I don't even blame their proxy for this, as I'm sure they can't control what they get the rights to from the control freaks over at UCI--there's nothing--nothing!--on my computer screen but some giant-fonted "CHANNEL IS OFF-LINE" bull@#$! Really? Thanks for the insight, guys, 'cuz I could've sworn that the humungous red "X" pulsating on the screen was really exciting live coverage of the field reeling in the early (or late, at this ridiculous hour) breakaway! Of course, I can be genuinely comforted by the fact that our bass-fishing-obsessed friends over at Vs. are dedicating a fabulous full hour of cycling coverage to us US fans later today--of the *Vuelta*, for !@#$'s sake, not only completely irrelevant to me at this point, but also an insult of such heinous proportions to that beautiful race that they might as well just show 24/7 coverage of rodeo clowns tormenting 3,000-pound hunks of charging enraged living roast beef instead. Meantime, cyclingnews is hovering over at page 20 of their written live race coverage, as I fruitlessly click again and again on UCI's "live" webcast in the dim and pointless hope that these smug hypocritical selective-rider-persecuting vigilante goons'll cough up the goods I paid for before the winner, who I'm sure they'll whiningly protest anyway, is smothered in champagne, trophies and podium babes at the awards ceremony. Aiiiggggghhhhh!

Correction and Update: in the interests of total fairness, can in fact blow, as well, as they allowed me to purchase and pay for UCI "live" coverage without first drawing attention to the obscure disclaimer, and rather pertinent up-front fact I should think, that people in the US do not have the right to actually *view* the live coverage they just bought. Fortunately, of course, the race being barred but the festivities not, live video coverage *did* kick in just in time to allow me to see the top finishers climb the podium for their medals, photo ops, and smooches, thereby rendering my last three hours of self-restraint avoiding the written live coverage on cyclingnews utterly &^%$#$# pointless. Thanks, sure saved me a lot of trouble! Y'know, if I find out that Vs. bagged the rights only to promise to air the last two kilometers of the race sometime in December between fifty hours of coverage of doe-pheromone-soaked hunters hunkering in bushes whispering admiration for the miraculous wonders of nature as expressed by the stately Bambi's ten-point rack just before they kill it, I'm going to really, really be annoyed. Is it me, or would my money have been better spent buying a hammer and whacking my freakin' computer into a thousand tiny pieces for all the use it's been to me this morning? Again, I say, aaaaiiiiggggghhhh!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

It's the Spaniards! No Wait, It's...

Yep, Now It's All the Italians' Fault: Having blamed the Spaniards from everything from his dissatisfactory breakfast waffle yesterday at his local IHOP to the rapid disappearance of the Arctic ice cap (and just today having being forced to choke down the news that Alejandro Valverde was just cleared by the distinctly non-Spanish Court of Arbitration for Sport to ride the Worlds on Sunday, thereby forcing UCI even more ignominiously to let ex-Liberty Seguros' Allan Davis in out of the unheard-of concept of 'fairness'), Pat "Dick" McQuaid, in typically whining bait-and-switch deflection mode, has also unleashed his righteous wrath upon the Italians, not only the Italian cycling fed who he sez "doesn't take ethics seriously" (like Pat does), but also particularly the irksomely skeptical Paolo Bettini, who refused to sign UCI's idiot (and clearly ineffective) anti-doping virginity pledge, but, contrary to UCI's earlier reports til Quick Step popped up with a contradictory email, did offer to cough up a DNA sample--just not with the "forfeit a year's salary on the word of the same lab monkeys who so grossly botched the Landis affair" promise every other sap was forced to sign to ride the Tour. Said our hero: "There are some people who still do not realize the condition of cycling today. I feel very angry and very annoyed." Has it occurred to you, Pat, that being one of the greatest pro cyclists of his generation (no matter how he may or may not have gotten that way), Bettini *does* get it but perhaps doesn't appreciate your disgusting selective persecution tactics? Last time I checked--um, yesterday--you were defending actual confessed German doper Erik Zabel, who unlike the reviled Alejandro Valvderde you're happily welcoming to the Worlds, opining "we need riders like him who support a change of the system." Look, we love Zabel. He's a great champion, and it's still thrilling to watch him snatch a Grand Tour stage win over the rising Eriks-of-tomorrow like Daniele Bennati when guys like Mario Cipollini have long since ditched the spandex (team kit, anyway). But did it really escape even your hawk-like notice that even he 'fessed up only after everyone on his team from the soigneurs on started yapping to the narcs and the statute of limitations for actually busting him had passed?

Stelle Italia: Still, Pat "Dick" McQuaid must be in heaven this evening after all, as German TV hands him the big one by reporting that recent convict Patrik Sinkewitz said Paolo Bettini personally provided him doping products during their time together at Mapei. Bettini's response? Sensibly (if I'm reading gazzetta dello sport correctly, a big freakin' "if" I admit), he's challenged Sinkewitz to put up the the proof now or "he will pay the consequences." Now, not to make you all jumpy Patrik by pointing out UCI and WADA blasted Italy this year as one of the "Mafia nations" of cycling--but you sure you don't want to reconsider that accusation? After all, at the very least, til you've come face to face with the sort of legal bills one could pile up fending off the sharp-suited attorney attack dogs a deep-pocketed rider like Bettini can swing, you haven't been truly whacked! Meantime, Danilo DiLuca finds himself possibly out of the Worlds for crap that happened back in 2004, as Oil for Drugs rears its ugly head *again* while the Italian Olympic Committee decides whether to sanction the Killer for seeing an unapproved doctor even if they can't actually nail him for anything else, which charge coincidentally carries a penalty of 30 days off the saddle. Damn, can't any of these blockheads get things sorted out *before* half the riders start a major race? Anyway, between the doping and the infighting, the dominoes are falling over at the squadra azzura--I love you Bettini, but seize the Worlds Freire, seize it I say, it's yours!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Doping Solved!

It's the Commies' fault! No, it's the Bogeyman's! No, it's...: yep, the Spaniards', the Spaniards', the Spaniards' (and Floyd Landis'.) Wow, thanks, Pat "Dick" McQuaid--I see it all so clearly now! You see, kids, cycling was clean and beautiful until the filthy cheating Spaniards came along, polluting this pure sport with the vile cesspool of their poisoned morals, scarfing EPO with joyous abandon straight from their musettes at snack time and toasting each other with testosterone-spiked champagne at the end of every stage win, aided and abetted by the nastiest dirtiest most codependent enabling cycling federation and bought-and-sold legal system this side of...oh, why set myself up for a lawsuit? Anyhoo, UCI's got just buckets of evidence of continued blood doping among the Spanish riders, which it'll unleash as soon as it bothers to read the rest of the Op Puerto file, which it's had sitting unopened under a pile of GQs in the UCI limo for the last 4 months but is somehow the Spaniards' fault that UCI's still "waiting for something to happen on it." More, the ridiculous protestations of the protectionist lying pigs that a rider like Alejandro Valverde in the prime of his career oughtn't to be excluded on the Worlds just because UCI is pissed they never managed to nail Lance Armstrong and can't get anything solid on this guy either are just a kick in the works to a noble organization solely concerned with the riders' health and safety and not in the least desperate to justify its own grossly flawed existence. Now, not to be a wisenheimer, but let us review the 2007 dope fiends, shall we? Matthias Kessler. Alexander Vinokorouv. Andrei Kashechkin. (Need anyone point out that "Astana" is the capitol of that notorious Spanish stronghold, Kazakhstan?) Cristian Moreni of Cofidis. Patrik Sinkewitz of T-Mobile. CSC's disgraced German doctors. Hell, let's even throw even Michael "My Tour Was Stolen" Rasmussen of Rabobank into the mix. Well, I sure see a disgusting pattern of Spanish misbehavior emerging, don't you? Now, I ain't saying they ain't doping (though I am saying they likely ain't doping more'n anybody else)...but put up or shut up, you bitter scapegoating crybaby, and no, Iban Mayo's presumptively positive B sample doesn't cancel everyone else's positives out!

War of the Worlds: meantime, things aren't looking much more harmonious over at Team Italy, with gazzetta dello sport reporting that Paolo Bettini is worried that there's too many queen bees and not enough happy worker drones on the team, to which the team manager gamely replied that (1) every single Worlds-thirsty star on the team will act as one without regard to individual ambitions and (2) Cunego's gonna take it anyway not Bettini (a surprising pick over say Di Luca, given Cunego's middling late-season form and ugly Vuelta crash, but who am I to be puzzled?). Now, I'd still be perfectly happy with either you or Bettini taking it this year...but here's your chance now that they've all psyched each other out, Friere!

Finally, Denis Menchov Genuinely Deserved His 2007 Vuelta: if Roberto Heras can be complimentary about it, so can I, though I'm still even happier with Sastre's smokin' recovery on the third to last day out from Madrid and Samuel Sanchez' smashing 3 stages (please don't test positive, please don't test positive!) Anyhow, my sincerest congratulations to Menchov, and I wish him even better luck in the Tour next year. Next!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Career Day for Floyd

Onwards and Upwards!: Well, Floyd, the results are in, and despite paying Gibson Dunn & Crutcher more money than I'll ever earn in a lifetime for them to lose this thing (though they did leave you some pretty fine grounds for appeal, to their credit), you're out of a gig for good unless and until the CAS reverses this farce and restores you to your rightful place in the peloton. Still, a man's gotta pay the bills, and so far as I can tell, unless you've already got some nice solid profession like carpentry to go home to, ex-pro cyclists aren't good for much besides stocking the shelves at Wal-Mart and being the Fastest Bike Messenger In All Of Recorded History--noble pursuits both, but unlikely to match your former salary over at Phonak. Except for one job: that's right, Team Management! Now I've thought long and hard about this thing Floyd, because I think you've been disgustingly hosed even if you were guilty, but you've gotta do this *my way.* Here then, I humbly present my Disgraced Possibly Not Even A Doper Career Restoration Plan:

1. Accept DS job from grossly hypocritical team sponsor at bargain-basement price, on the contractual understanding you're about give them more news coverage in one day than slapping their gaudy logos on tiny cyclist spandex !@#$$ has bought 'em in 15 years.

2. Call press conference surrounded by preening corporate toadies. Bonus points for bearing the smirking presence of the loathesome Pat "Dick" McQuaid or Dick "Dick" Pound in the background. Wear that nice suit of yours, and leave the bite-me-ASO yellow tie at home!

3. Confess, on camera, that you've been a filthy doping pig all along. No, I don't care that you actually weren't--you want a !@#$ing job or not?! Commence bawling, and offer drooling apologies to your friends, family, the tifosi, the cycling community, your soigneur, the guy who delivers your newspaper and especially Greg LeMond. If you can't cry convincingly on camera, Floyd, a little hot pepper rubbed on a hanky always does the trick.

4. Announce, in your first act as Directeur Sportif, a rabidly stringent anti-doping program totally at odds with your (convicted) personal history. Daily blood tests, prison-trained packs of slobbering hounds to track down escapees who deviate from their previously announced schedules, 24/7 handcuffed escorts to the men's room, a video camera strapped to the cyclist's body in perpetuity to record malfeasance, mittens worn at all times off-bike including in the shower to prevent manipulation of doping products and paraphernalia. Boy, won't it be fun to be on your team!

5. Almost done! Tear up once more, blow nose loudly, look straight into the assembled cameras, and specifically promise your Mom that henceforth you will fully revert to the good values she taught you in childhood.

6. Return to hotel room. Crack champagne with buddies, and laugh your @#$ off. Ah, the wages of (proven only in a kangaroo court) sin!

Next Lesson: How to Be Sincerely Shocked, Shocked! When One of Your Proteges Turns Up Poz. In the meantime, get crackin'!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Floyd F@#$ed-Over Fund

And You Thought People Hated Lawyers *Before* Today: yes, as everyone who's not actually clinically dead now knows, the LNDD lab chimps have triumphed at last, as the arbitration panel officially kicked Floyd Landis--and any concept of fair play--to the Fryolator. Am I the only one on this planet thinking our fine profession--for whose credentials I'll be paying longer'n Floyd will his monstrous legal bills if that's even humanly possible--looks like a repulsive parody of a crap episode of "Night Court" at this point?! Thanks, clowns--the way everyone from the lab monkeys on up handled this, no-one can ever feel confident of the justice (or injustice) of the verdict except the boy himself! Of course, the most entertaining part of any decision being the dissent, let's take a look, point-by-point, at the findings of the 1 in the 2-to-1 vote (and I note, in the interests of protecting the few ratty threads of dignity the field has left, that I am rather paraphrasing here):
--Athletes' Interests Are Screwed
--LNDD Submitted Improper Evidence of a Doping Violation
--WADA's Code of Ethics for Head Lab Chimps Has Been Interpreted and Enforced (it's been enforced?!) as an Unnecessary Obstacle to the Search for Truth
--LNDD Failed to Follow Proper Procedure for the T/E Ratio Test
--LNDD Blew the Chain of Custody
--The Lab Monkeys' Failure to Properly Record Forensic Corrections Renders the Documents Worthless !@#$
--Other Documents Are As Valid as a $3 Bill
--LNDD Completely Tossed Its Legal and Ethical Obligations of Confidentiality Over a Cliff
--LNDD Couldn't Even Properly Document Its Adverse Findings re: Additional B Sample Testing in Like 400 Tour Stages
--The Document Package Doesn't Comport With a Cheap Star Trek Ripoff, Much Less Actual Known Science, to Wit: the T/E results Don't Match the IRMS Test Results, and the Metabolites in Landis' Sample Are Acting Like Alien Life Forms; and, the disgusting icing on the cake:
--Even Accepting the Lab Monkeys' Crap Findings as True, Landis' Sample Was Actually Negative. Well, that last one oughta comfort you Floyd!

Holy crap, in the real world this oughtn't have convicted a junkie personally growing opium poppies cooking up some hash then shooting up live on "Geraldo Rivera" in front of a hundred million people for chrissakes, much less some lone renegade introvert cyclist surreptitiously whacking a patch on his package in the privacy of his French hotel bathroom. And congratulations UCI on Floyd being the first cyclist in 105 years to be stripped of the Tour for doping--I'm *sure* he's the only guy who's ever done it, you !@#$%%$! incompetents!

Oh Iban. Call it a day. Alejandro Valverde excepted, looks like *every* poor bastard's going down from here on out!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Levi Leipheimer Is Hosed

Hit the Road, Jack: yep, the rumor mill's officially churning with the speculation that we love Levi Leipheimer, fresh off his time trial win at the Toura Missoura and the fact that but for an unfortunate 8-second time penalty and helping out Alberto Contador the boy might quite possibly have won the Tour de France or at least snatched second place from Cadel, is headed to Astana with Johan Bruyneel and, presumably, the buffeted-but-still-standing Contador (who, to his credit, is more than willing to play domestique to his elders when called upon.) But don't do it Levi--he's sure as hell not going to be playing superdomestique to you in the Tour next year! What exactly are you going to be allowed to do over at Astana, with Bruyneel--brilliant as he is--having nut-kicked you twice last season, first with the Ivan Basso debacle and then with our little Liberty Seguros wunderkind? Will you be happy enough with the occasional time trial stage, or perhaps being allowed off the leash at the Tour of Germany? Or are you going to have to go up with a second-string support roster to the Giro or the Vuelta, both of whom field native teams at the peak of their powers? Sure, he can't blast off like Contador on a steep pass--but he has a tenacious steady Cadel quality without the constant wheel-sucking, and a sizzling time trial when the conditions are right, both key to Grand Tour survival. You don't deserve this Levi--aw, *rats*!

Flower Wilting: and, poor we-still-love-Iban-Mayo-so-shut-the-hell-up seems on the precipice of a self-destructo Vandenbroucke spiral, lamenting yesterday that "the wait is despairing," he still doesn't know the result of his EPO B-sample even though it's already in, and since "every day you think today's the day" but it isn't, he has "passed the time very badly" through this exhausting "slap in the face." Hold it together Iban--even Vandenbroucke, after all, is back on the bike!

All the Worlds' a Stage, and Valverde, Perhaps Not a Player: so, according to the folks over at Gazzetta dello Sport, the sore-loser goons over at UCI have struck a fabulous blow using the exact same evidence that's been around for a year from Op Puerto, *again*, proclaiming they now see a clear link between Valverde, the dog/code name "Piti", the number 18, and a wunk of Eufemiano Fuentes' blood bags. The new rallying cry: turn over your DNA, or else! Anyone else think that's going to have to involve either tying the boy to a chair or whacking him with a big enough stun-gun dart to take down a charging rhino before he'll agree to stay still enough for anyone to jab a Q-Tip in his mouth? The Spaniards, naturally, responded this threat by filing lawsuits in both Switzerland (home of UCI) and the Court of Arbitration for sport, dissing rumors they'll pull out of the Worlds by making clear their intent to stick Valverde right into 'em. Keep trying though UCI! Meantime, ASO's Patrice Clerc has taken the opportunity to pile even more abuse on UCI about the Rasmussen, and also Patrik Sinkewitz, debacles, and while we're at it, the ProTour's a disaster being rammed down their throats, UCI is a pack of power-grabbing nefarious autocratic incompetents, the sport's entirely in the shape it's in because of these morons, and there's barely any point in talking to such blockheads. I'm feeling better and better about the upcoming anti-doping summit every day, aren't you?

What the Worlds Needs Now, Is Love, Sweet Love: and what it's got, instead, is some damn sweet teams, as the Italians come in with Bettini and Di Luca blazing and Davide Rebellin Pozzato Ballan Nibali and Bruseghin--but not sprinter-emergent Bennati--on formidable backup, and the Spaniards pull revelation-of-the-Vuelta we love Oscar Freire out of their hat, with Valverde (maaaaaybe), Sastre, Sammy Sanchez, Triki, and Juan Antonio Flecha to set the pace. The Americans, too, are in decent shape with Hincapie Julich and Vande Velde, with Zabriskie and McCartney pulling double duty on the road race and time trial for the boys, and Kristin Armstrong Amber Neben and the !@#-kickin' Tina Pic for the women. My money's on Freire, then Bettini, then Di Luca, with Valverde as the wildcard, but then, I'm almost always wrong, and when it comes to Freire and Bettini, I'm grossly biased. Allez allez Oscar!

Aaaarrrrrggghhhh!: finally, a big "you bite!" to the planners of this year's Vuelta, not only for forcing me to concede that Denis Menchov who's still not worthy of winning Roberto Heras' 2005 Vuelta is unfortunately exceedingly worthy of winning this one, and, worse, disappointing the usually-amiable we love Carlos Sastre, who's finally had to lam into the organizers for not making the mountains hard enough, and actually making him wish for a Tour de France-style mountain stage, as if the ones in the Vuelta don't usually blow them out of the water in sheer bonecrushing audacity. Oh Vuelta, what have you done?!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Toga! Toga!

Party Hearty: yes, it's a mere week to the gala event of the year, as the French health and sports minister woos perpetual mutual kneecappers UCI, WADA, and the organizers of all three Grand Tours into coming together in the City of Lights to play nice and fake like they don't all profit handsomely from the rider results derived from doping, I mean, to genuinely bury the hatchet (in each other's backs) and conquer not only the disgusting problem that is rider cheating, but the minor interpersonal difficulties that tend to arise when some folks call other people in other countries, like Italy and Spain, dirty doping "Mafia" and their preferred kind, like the clearly trouble-free Germans, the only winged saints interested in cleaning up the sport. Surprisingly, the two entities most affected by the current wave of faux outrage--the ProTour teams organization, whose members stand to benefit so from doping, so long as no one gets caught, and the cyclist's union, and why should anyone think the riders have a stake in this?--are not yet reported to be invited. Thankfully, despite the sour feelings on all sides, the Tour de France's Patrice Clerc started off reconciliation ahead of time by helpfully reminding everyone that UCI blew his beautiful Tour by stupidly not kicking out the disgraceful Michael Rasmussen in the first place, when they knew perfectly well in June that he ought never have been allowed to start, much less lead the thing two weeks in, though he's sincerely looking forward to the opportunity to chat with the incompetent bastards. I can't see any obstacles to a productive meeting here, can you?

Discovery Implosion Contract Watch: and, right on top of the homeless Jason McCartney's smashingly timed stage win in the Vuelta, Jonathan Vaughters confirms that it's McCartney he's been courting, which is too damn bad for him as I imagine the boy's asking price just went up, and which is so far as I can tell completely disastrous news for Levi Leipheimer, who now looks increasingly likely to be stuck with Bruyneel over at Astana, which means he's going to get hosed yet again with at least a year left in top form in the service of jailbait genius Alberto Contador, so long, at least, as the latter doesn't get caught up retroactively in the Liberty Seguros/Op Puerto fallout. Don't do it Levi! And, while we're on the topic of riders we love with Astana who are completely and utterly !@#$ed, poor Andreas Kloden is out of the Worlds, not having recovered either from Vinokorouv's repugnant brainless betrayal or, in more practical terms, from the physical beating he endured in a training crash, which likely would never have happened in the first place if Vino had held his ginormous egomaniacal need for vindication in check, thanks for nothin' you weasel!

Pain in Spain: yes, my heart is broken for little Carlos Sastre, presumptively foiled again by a second time trial he has no hope of beating Menchov or Cadel in and the presence of only one more really serious mountain stage before the boys all coast into Madrid. Dammit! Happy as I am for Sammy Sanchez' thrilling stage win (I honestly didn't realize what a fabulous descender he is, and right on Triki!), what happened to the bonecrushing endless mountain passes of prior years--what the hell is the beautiful Vuelta for, if not to let the twee little climbers out to play as the heavyweight all-rounders cry like babies as they shoot out the back of the peloton? Aarrggh!

The Green Mile: finally, after weeks of dead silence, I note that it's almost time for Floyd Landis and Iban Mayo to officially fry, as the arbitrators announce that they've closed their inquiry at last and intend to completely destroy Landis' career based solely on the grotesque results-obfuscating bungling of a pack of monstrously inept lab chimps, I mean, release the completely neutral untainted results of the Landis hearing on Friday. Am I the only one thinking that if the Landis team hasn't already started writing their appeals briefs, they oughta get crackin'? As for poor Iban Mayo, training away bravely if fruitlessly at home as Saunier Duval declines to renew his contract for '08 and the Spanish Worlds team shapes up without him, his endlessly delayed positive EPO B sample, having finished its little trips to Belgium and Australia for double-checks, is finally due home just in time to give the self-righteous trolls over at UCI the perfect PR distraction in case they actually don't succeed at booting Valverde out of the Worlds despite the Spanish cycling fed and Valverde's final decision to sue their pants off for it. Oh Iban!--what a glorious fragile brilliant train wreck of a career to lose!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

French Whine

Wah, Wah, Wah: so the team directors of French squads AG2R and F. de Jeux, predictably, are blaming everyone but themselves for the French losing the Tour *again*, as they lam into Discovery and its clearly skankball tainted riders' superior performance, with AG2R's Vincent Lavenu in particular declaring Alberto Contador's win "suspicious". A protege of Manolo Saiz', doping? No way! Anyhoo, Johan Bruyneel promptly called for peace, sort of, in an olive-branch letter to the ProTour teams' organization, asking everyone to be scientific and simply calculate what is physiologically possible, and, more to the point, comparing Alberto's climbs in the Tour favorably to Christophe Moreau's implausibly blistering pace up the Col du Telegraphe in the Dauphine, especially since Moreau, unlike Contador, is a monstrous old bat of 36 and not even a climbing specialist to boot, so if you want to take it outside, you smack-talking twerp, bring it on! Not that the boys are necessarily wrong to raise suspicions, but really, is anything served by it this late in the game but making the French look like a pack of sore-loser crybabies for the umpteenth straight year in a row?

Big Blue Marble: and, in Worlds news, UCI's Pat "Dick" McQuaid blusters on Gazzetta dello Sport (if my craptastic translation skills aren't totally off-base) that it's "baffling" the way the Spaniards are protecting the clearly dirty Alejandro Valverde. Really? For my money, it makes perfect sense, as first, the boy's a coddled national hero simply awaiting his inevitable crowning as champion of the Tour de France in their view and no-one wants to see him fry, second, unless Valverde was physically harmed by the doping he didn't commit any actual wrong under Spanish law at the time if I understand correctly so there's nothing the Spaniards can do about it, and third, why the hell did UCI let him ride the Tour in the first place if he's such a dirty pig given that they are going on the exact same evidence to exclude him from the Worlds now that was already out a year ago? But what *is* "baffling" is the way the righteous master sleuths over at UCI are utterly unable to pull any other out of a hundred names in the 6000-page Op Puerto file besides Valverde's, and instead selectively seem to target certain disfavored riders at completely random points in time (cough! Rasmussen! cough!) with all the rationality and care of some wingnut celebrity stalker. But you keep talkin' there, Pat!

Baby, It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over: whew! after a largely crappy beginning- and mid-season, then his ignominious whack out of the Tour, then his endless early-Vuelta hammering at the hands of Oscar Friere Paolo Bettini and Daniele Bennati, Alessandro Petacchi finally earns the break his Therapeutic Use Exemption is supposed to give him by storming back to form and taking the sprint yesterday in the Vuelta. Am I the only one thinking how odd it is to root for this guy as an underdog? Anyway, nice lead-out Erik, so long as you got your stage I'm happy!

Lifestyles of the Rich and the Famous: and, with Belgian pinup studmuffin Tom Boonen's sprint-earned goods, including his yellow Lamborghini, sexily laid out in the current issue of Velonews, I note that Lamborghini has just unveiled a spankin' new $1.4 million version that some of the boys in the most recent sweet-16 list of top peloton cash cows might want to consider buying to increase, if it's even possible, their rock-star appeal, though, as Phil Liggett gently pointed out during the Giro I believe, at least a few of those boys in the wake of Op Puerto and now later scandals are rather more in a position to need to sell theirs unfortunately. See what signing off on that stupid UCI returning-a-year's-salary pledge is going to cost you, gentlemen?

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehn, Goodbye: finally, a fond farewell to the very fine Axel Merckx, who if he weren't his father's son would've gotten more credit in his own right for his fine palmares I believe, and especially smashing Classics warrior Peter Van Petegem. Aw, rats! On the plus side, though he's not retiring, big George Hincapie is in fact sending off his career with Discovery in handsome form, taking the stage and an all-but-insurmountable lead at the Toura Missoura over 'most everyone but 10 or so other boys in the peloton, with David Canada thankfully salvaging some dignity for Saunier Duval and the domestic squads, despite some unpleasant setbacks, nicely showing the Europeans that, contrary to endless cross-Atlantic contempt, US teams besides Discovery don't suck. Allez allez!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Denis the Menis

Menchov the Charts: oh, *ass*! after his smashing time trial, then second-place mountain smack at the GC contenders, and now today's definitive giant leap for the podium, I still don't believe Denis Menchov deserves Roberto Heras' '05 Vuelta (and in my defense, oh ye naysayers, I note that as a purported all-rounder he certainly justified that view by his ignominious season-long tank last year as well as his deserved domestiquehood in the Tour this year in the service of a team leader with an exponentially crappier time trial than his own), but even I have to concede, as I finally was obliged to do with St. David "Crybaby" Millar in other races, that the boy's really earning his keep, and his place in the Vuelta, this time out. I truly thought that, if Sammy Sanchez was gonna pile on the hurt, today was the day he needed Haimar Zubeldia to do it. Rats! Meantime, I'm not the only one getting my grudge on, as dear uber-gentle Carlos Sastre lets his claws out for the first time I've ever seen, complaining that Leonardo Piepoli was clearly conspiring to help Menchov--who, after all, is of another team entirely--and that he proved it today by faking trouble, in response to which Piepoli cheerfully decided to blow up the field to no-one's benefit from Saunier Duval but distinctly to Menchov's. While Menchov and Piepoli's teammates immediately denied such nefarious hijinks, we love Triki Beltran weighed in as well in Sastre's favor, being particularly unhappy, no doubt, because Piepoli's wanton treachery destroyed his own chances for a stage win. Man, Leonardo, between snorting enough asthma meds to power a herd of antelope and now ticking off some of the nicest (at least publicly) boys in the peloton, haven't you drawn enough hostility from the cycling world this season?

Ciao Italia: and, it was nice to see Damiano Cunego in the early break today, giving him hope in the tight race for the Italian Worlds team, currently suffering from a surfeit of indispensable talent and the possibility that some true stars mightn't make the cut in favor of boys who'd more willingly sacrifice their own chances for one of their customary rivals. As for the Spaniards, with Valverde spinning in and out of the roster rapidly enough to induce serious yacking motion sickness, and Pereiro conceding abysmal legs despite just-recently-fine pre-Vuelta form, and Contador opting out, I can't help but wonder, will we love Oscar Freire be able to take it anyway? Nothing against Valverde, who after all could use some redemption after his iffy Tour and idiotic distraction by the rabid foaming UCI dogs, but venga Oscar!

Completely Idle Gossip: So with Eki set to DS at Astana--and I imagine highly likely to bring at least one formidable Disco boy with him (especially if puppetmaster Johan Bruyneel signs on as manager)--the question arises, what of lately-hosed perpetual Tour podium Andreas Kloden? Will Disco, I mean Astana, take on someone associated with Lance's respected if deeply tainted rival Jan Ullrich? What about Kloden's ties to T "Name That Doper" Mobile, or worse, his filthy connection to his current team, that Eki and Johan must desperately want--or be under pressure--to clean up? And if Kloden does stay on, and baby Tour winner Contador is with him, does that whack Kloden out of his favorite Grand Tour a la Levi and relegate him to the Vuelta? And if so, who gets the Giro--Levi?--and what kind of support will either of them get with the inevitable focus on the Tour? Without Lance and his Discovery legacy, will Astana spread its resources more evenly, like a conventional ProTour team determined to let all its talent have its day, or will it stick with the fading all-or-nothing-me-or-no-one philosophy of the Armstrong years? I'm rather hoping for the former, just because there's races I like more than the Tour (and I particularly hate the Vuelta being treated like squat). Any guesses?

Disco Ducks: finally, I see it's a star-studded goodbye in front of those least likely to know or care about the legacy they're watching flush down the loo, as Discovery packs the bulk of its firepower into the Toura Missoura, with Levi, Hincapie, and Contador all set to take on the mostly-US field including Danny Pate and Ryder Hesjedal, with the exception of the top Mexican and Canadian squads and some lively competition from David Canada over at Saunier Duval. Oh, take it George, you deserve at least that much for all your years of sacrifice!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

I Piti the Fool

All Around the Worlds: Alejandro "Piti" Valverde, having had enough of being stalked by UCI like teenagers doing the nasty by a masked freak in a slasher flick, has finally sued the sore-loser impotents, presumably (1) for his rightful place in the Worlds and (2) to make 'em shut the hell up about his alleged connection to Eufemiano Fuentes. Damn, UCI, I'm sure he *did* dope, but if you haven't got the goods, then suck it up and try to connect the dots on the 100 other riders in the 6000-page Op Puerto file already! Afraid of looking even more irrelevant by managing to nail only some minor neo-domestique at the now-disbanded Comunidad Valenciana squad?--well, no need to worry--trust me, you clowns've already hit rock bottom! The Spaniards, meantime, cheerfully antagonized UCI on their own initiative, formally putting Valverde on the Worlds start list and apologetically claiming that they can't DNA test the Op Puerto blood bags for a match to Valverde as requested because first, they're unfortunately in possession of the courts which have already forbidden their release, and second, UCI's own idiot purity pledge required the riders to sign away the right to do a DNA test to UCI, so by implication the Spanish cycling fed has no authority to do so instead. Suckers! UCI, today, of course smacked back, affirming that Alejandro still can't start the Worlds, and that, while this doesn't in any way imply that Valverde actually did anything wrong, they are sadly hamstrung by their own rules barring any rider "under investigation" for doping from racing and, totally coincidentally, UCI has decided to investigate him. I can see the Sports Illustrated cover story (and lurid photo) now: a screaming, deranged Pat "Dick" McQuaid dragged off in handcuffs for his own protection from a howling Spanish tifosi mob for kneecapping poor Valverde at the start line a la Tonya Harding's Brutus inbred boyfriend on ice queen Nancy Kerrigan. Can we *please* restore some dignity to this beautiful sport, boys?

Big Wheel Keep On Turnin': and, after a train wreck of a sprint where only the timeless Erik Zabel had the presence of mind to keep racing after all the official sprint leaders were taken down in the usual monster lead-out pile-up, Denis Menchov sure seems to be taking out his rage about the Tour out on the Vuelta time trial, and is now only 30 seconds back on GC and, more importantly, ahead of all his likely GC rivals but Cadel Evans by over two (we love little Sastre) to several (Jose Angel Gomez Marchante) minutes. As for we-still-want-Sammy Sanchez-to-take-it? Hanging in at 4:03 back on GC. Still, for my money, I don't think Menchov can hold even that much spare time if Haimar Zubeldia decides he's got the legs to crush the field for his leader in the remaining mountains, and I don't know that Cadel will be able to go with them. We're still rooting for you too Sastre--venga venga!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Ekan't Believe It!

Team Implosion Contract Watch: just as the coy Johan Bruyneel finally confirms talks with the Kazakh cycling federation about taking over Astana, and the team ditches apparent trouble by firing Spanish youngster Jose Antonio Redondo for mystery rule-breaking that "has nothing to do with doping," according to a team spokeswoman (what? the sneaky little bastard wore a black jersey during a training ride and you're afraid of UCI going nuts over it? gack it up already!), Gazzetta Dello Sport is reporting that loyal Discovery workhorse Viatcheslav Ekimov has signed on as its spankin' new Directeur Sportif. Meantime, Predictor-Lotto just made a smashing deal with Yaroslav Popovych, making slow'n'steady climber Cadel look like even more of a Tour king next year given Popo's success at blasting apart the peloton for Levi and Alberto (in addition to the preexisting ass-kicking power of Chris Horner). So with Eki cleaning house at Astana, and with Contador and Leipheimer near about the only high-profile Discovery boys (except for the still-jobless Chechu Rubiera) still without a contract, could it be possible we'll be seeing both of them in baby-blue and yellow next spring? Don't do it Levi--Slipstream can't screw you over in favor of another GC contender they don't have!

UCI Smell Desperation: firmly told to blow by the Spanish cycling fed over their ridiculous efforts to exclude Alejandro Valverde from the Worlds after okaying him for the Tour on the same unsubstantiated (if quite possibly accurate) Op Puerto allegations from a year ago, UCI has now hit on another way to get Valverde and, not coincidentally I imagine, fruitlessly try to salvage their dignity, this time by accusing him of skipping an out-of-competition pre-Tour doping control (something they would've known at the time, and should've excluded him for then if they're not being total whining babies, but who am I to point out the obvious?). Now, even that appears to have utterly tanked, as the cycling fed sez UCI has acknowledged they knew where Valverde was that day because he told them. Nice work there Inspectors Clouseau! The Spaniards do, naturally, still reserve their right to sue the !@# off UCI if they continue to try to block Valverde from his rightful place at the start line in Stuttgart, though it's clear they're all friends now. Am I the only one thinking that if UCI can't nail Valverde, Iban Mayo's pointlessly-delayed and inevitably-positive B sample results will be triumphantly released in extremely short order? Speaking of which, Floyd Landis somehow manages to keep himself gainfully occupied, racing along and being a good sport to all apparently as his arbitration panel still holds off crucifying him til they're sure, it seems, that the nails'll really hold. If it weren't for the fact that the poor boy's legacy and career are on the line, and that so many organizations (you know who you are) have behaved so disgustingly in this whole tawdry affair, one couldn't really fault them for desperately trying to wring some credibility out of the whole filth-laden, sopping mess, could one?

Openly Hypocritical Roberto Heras Contract Watch: aw, *rats*! Fuerteventuras/Canarias now denies talking to we still love Roberto Heras (oh, forget his freakish '05 improvement in the time trial--admit it, don't you miss seeing him climb?), both on grounds of cash-poverty and their own uncertainty as to continued sponsorship next year. Well, there's always Tinkoff I suppose--no wait, they were horrified by Tyler Hamilton and Danilo Hondo's past doping once they'd whored themselves for the publicity stunt of signing 'em--or T-Mobile--no, they're far too aggressive against their past-guilty riders-now-directeurs-sportif--or....

Freire'n to Go: yes, our beloved boy Oscar Freire, of late years spending at least half his season wrangling with some unappealing saddlesore or undiagnosably odd spinal problems, fabulously snagged sprint #2 at the Vuelta over Liquigas-bound pipsqueak Daniele Bennati and we also love Paolo Bettini. Now, forget even Freire's thrilling win #3 today--what I want to know is, what the hell's going on with Alessandro Petacchi? He was 121st yesterday for heck's sake--116 places behind even his creaky ol' backup Erik Zabel! So let's see: Petacchi (even assuming it was just post-Covadonga leaden-leg blues)'s looking, well, less strong than usual; Tom Boonen ain't on top form either, plus he hates the Worlds course; both Bettini and Freire are stronger on rolling courses than either of 'em; and Bennati's simply surging this season, just as Petacchi did over Mario Cipollini just a few short years ago. Who to root for, who to root for...Oscar in rainbow stripes again, anyone?

Karma, Baby!: Finally, I see poor Robbie "Predictor Stole My Vuelta" McEwen's been felled by a nasty virus right at the start of his alternative late-season race program, and while I wish him a speedy recovery, I can't help but wonder if he's thinking somewhere deep down, this is what you get for jacking me out of wins in all three Grand Tours this season, you !@#$%%$#!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Vuelta Skelter

Soldiers of (Mis)Fortune: holy crap, I abandon my keyboard to play nice with the in-laws for a few days and my whole beautiful Vuelta goes to hell in a bike basket! First, Next Great American Stage Hope/ever-luckless Tom "Thank God I Just Signed with Slipstream" Danielson's out with a day-1 busted collarbone, sprint-winner/Petacchi-smacker Daniele Bennati is banged up and possibly utterly screwed for the Worlds, and Damiano Cunego, Oscar Pereiro and, far worse, Sammy-Sanchez-really-needs-him-for-the-GC Haimar Zubeldia are ripped all to hell. Nice start, boys! I swear, season start to finish, this is the most uncoordinated peloton in years--clearly, all that dope they're snorting despite the narcs putting the hammer down ain't designed to help their balance. On the plus side, Freire and Bettini gave us stage wins, tho' I see that according to gazzetta dello sport Freire went nuts on Bettini the day of the latter's take, angrily accusing Bettini of cutting him off while an innocent Paolo said it was just a little deviation from his line and it really wasn't his fault in any case. Oh, who cares anyway--they're both clearly on form for the Worlds at least!

And Lance Armstrong's Heart Grew *Three* Sizes That Day: so, a new study's out finding that Tour de France cyclist's hearts are 20 to 40% bigger than normal ones (tho' it's not yet clear if they tend to start that way, and these guys are preexisting freaks of nature, or if they solely get that way through the riders' astonishing aerobic feats), and that, while they do indeed shrink by a quarter after the boys retire, they still remain larger'n normal, which certainly explains, at least to the extent that the ego is located therein, a few riders' monstrous sense of self importance. Ironically, for reasons it's beyond my lame ability to understand, the doctors note that drugs like EPO could potentially *erase* the "natural advantage" the big-hearted cyclists receive, in effect acting like anti-performance agents. Someone in the peloton's feeling pretty silly right now I imagine..."I Doped for Ten Years and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt" souvenirs, anyone?

Team Implosion Contract Watch: nope, Levi Leipheimer still hasn't signed, but as the new US National champion (woo-hoo!) his odds are certainly improving if he doesn't let it inflate his asking price too much this late in the season, but even better, Saul Raisin was back on the bike in the national time trial after his near death experience, and good sports Credit Agricole are apparently still keeping the light on for him. Right on Raisin! Meantime, Danilo Di Luca continues to be linked to Lampre, which chances look even better now that the Italian prosecutors have apparently gotten the grim clarification that Di Luca's blood was really not, in contrast to the earlier reports they'd received so cheerfully, being toted around in Thermoses by his handlers. Keep trying though guys!

We Still Love Roberto Heras Contract Watch: yes, I'm a disgusting hypocrite. Next question! Anyhow, he's rumored to be in talks with Fuerteventura-Canarias for 2008, which means that while it's hardly gonna help the team's much-desired chances for a ProTour license from the raging morality kings over at UCI (and I sure ain't gonna tell them that), he does have a chance of riding the beautiful Vuelta yet again next year if the to-be-tainted-crew snags a wildcard, tho' whether or not he can win at the advanced age of 34 next year after 2 years' ducking for cover is beyond me; then again, I think a lot of that really depends on how many of his toughest competitors (sorry, I don't count Menchov among them) are not gonna be barred by their own doping problems from participating again with him. Either way, venga Roberto!

Work it Girl/Give a Twirl!: finally, points to Velonews for its more comprehensive bitchy-rider-comments section in its latest edition, but most of all for abandoning gritty shots of riders in gasping agony for their hunkalicious cover photo of Tom Boonen and, on the inside, a Tour de What I Earn Compared to Some Low Rent Domestique of the Belgian babe magnet's yellow Lambourghini and associated trappings of studly success. Please boys, get back to the point here--you're not going to tart up Ivan Basso in a Cosmopolitan-magazine-Burt-Reynolds-come-hither pose next issue, are you?