Thursday, February 28, 2008

Paris-Nice Knowin' Ya, Chumps!

Team Effort: in a remarkable reversal of their usual spinelessness, the habitually meek and impotent teams association has marvelously struck a blow for actual riders, bravely informing UCI that, notwithstanding its terrifying threats of unspecified misery, they're telling the organization to blow and happily planning to ride the beautiful and eternal Paris-Nice. Pat "Dick" McQuaid's hilarious response? Yes, race organizer ASO and their disgusting employees are evil scumly anti-rider dirtballs who will lose no opportunity to destroy the innocent cyclists and their even more cherubic team managers on the most slender of unsubstantiated unkind doping-related rumors in heinous disregard of the truth, in contrast to UCI of course, which always has the very best interests of the poor riders at heart and has shown them nothing, as their exemplary track record will clearly show, but compassion, kindness, understanding, and, most of all, justice. Um, aren't we talking about the same pack of soulless rider-whoring vicious bitter bastards who left Iban Mayo wallowing on his couch like a slop-stuffed pig over their nasty refusal to accept his unpositive Z sample and bonfired Floyd Landis as the loathesome example of all that is wrong with cycling to every press outlet on earth before the boy even had the chance to get his boxers on the morning the scandal broke? What a sparkling little snowglobe of a fantasyland you live in, Pat "Dick"!

Lover's Quarrel: and, the bloom seems to be distinctly off the rose for Rock Racing's Mario Cipollini and Michael Ball, as the former appears to realize that not only does he remain a living god amongst the besotted tifosi on his home turf, but even the lumpen cycling-ignorant Americans know and adore him and, if Ball doesn't give Cipo the power and control he so clearly deserves, plus keeps embarrassing him by having a pack of convicted or even merely implicated declining dopers running after the team car at races like slobbering tire-nipping hounds, he's gonna take his pearly whites smashing wardrobe and general suavity back to Europe where he's duly appreciated. Surely a nice box of chocolates or perhaps some roses would patch things up--turn down the ego and turn on that charm, Ball, he's already proven he's a keeper!

Daniloh, Crap, Is There Gonna Be *Anyone* Left to Ride the Giro?: meantime, our friends at CONI, still strangely displeased by Il Killer's amusingly toddlerish hormone levels post-Zoncolan at last year's Giro, have now decided to press for a two-year ban for DiLuca, leaving his lawyer to sputter outrage, his team to stoutly proclaim its faith, his fans to demand not only exoneration but also immediate fair-play tar-and-feathering of certain suspect Spanish cyclists, and the head of the Italian cycling fed to pay a sympathetic visit to the bewildered champion at the sanctuary of his home. Okay, I make no bones about the fact that I hope Paolo Savoldelli kicks his !@#, or at least leaves him whimpering at the back of the autobus like a baby on a couple of descents. But really, how fun is that if he doesn't even get the chance to bushwhack DiLuca fair and square? Plus, just look what the stress of the last few days has done to poor Danilo! (photo from tuttobici):

Basso Amongst the Bambini: lest anyone think Ivan Basso's been forgotten in all his comely glory, gazzetta dello sport's got a gusher of an article on his continued good works for the children's charity Intervista, particularly charmed by his irresistible urge to buy the local waifs some bicycles, as a soul-touched, humbled Ivan swears to return to the peloton not a better cyclist, but a better man, all thanks to the blessing in disguise that was his two-year ban. Not to disparage the truly laudable work he's doing, nor doubt the sincerity of his dedication as a parent himself to helping the children of others, but given his constant St. David Millar-esque protestations of unwanted (yet somehow perpetually press-paraded) martyrdom, is anyone else starting to wish someone'd just cut off the end of his sentence and get the boy back on a damn bike already?

Dick Clark On Wheels: finally, though I know I'm supposed to revile Erik Zabel for his repulsive one-time 90s doping slip-up (and I'm quite certain that's all he did), I can't help but be delighted by our ageless warhorse's recent sprint triumph at the Valencia Tour over a peloton's worth of far younger also-rans. Allez allez Erik--I mean, bad, bad, bad, bad cyclist!

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Silence of the Soigneurs

...Yeah, Kayle Leogrande *wishes*, as ex-Saturn pro/Rock Racing soigneur Suzanne Soyne sez our hero 'fessed up to ingesting truly T-Mobile-worthy quantities of doping products, including EPO and a bucket of other reprehensible no-nos, during the past Superweek. Y'know, I'm no evidence maven, but I'm pretty sure that, intimate though the relationship can get (at least according to the bone-chilling chamois-cream-spreading scene from "Hell on Wheels"), there's yet no "soigneur-cyclist privilege." Kayle, what were you *thinking*--do the words "shut the hell up and use your masking agents in silence" mean nothing to you?! Now, before I get accused of supporting doping *again*, let me make clear that I hope every cheating scuzzbag has the lack of self-restraint and, frankly, sheer stupidity to hire an airplane to sky-write their doping plans above UCI headquarters. But man, can't anyone speak out against the plague of moronity besmirching this sport? Anyhoo, Rock Racing immediately issued a press release assuring all doubters that they take such accusations quite seriously, thank you, and there will be severe consequences if he's proven guilty, such as, presumably, pulling guys like Vinokorouv Kessler Heras and Bjarne out of retirement signing 'em to lucrative contracts and pimping them proudly for the cameras at every event. Allez allez Michael Ball!

I Know What You Did Last Summer (Or the Summer of 2006, Anyway): yep, not content with the prospect of poor Patrik Sinkewitz dessicating in an isolated Viennese jail cell for a crappy little year, yip-yappy anti-doping ankle-biter Dr. Werner Franke, in an apparent attempt to have the boy consigned to the clink for a far more pleasing "all eternity," has chosen this very moment to regurgitate tired allegations that a good six-pack of riders from T-Mobile besides the aforementioned cheating lying hear-no-evil-see-no-evil drug skank were also blood doping at the team docs' Freiburg clinic during the Tour de France. Damn, Werner, I'm sorry you failed to get Jan Ullrich actively stampeded by a herd of raging wildebeests in addition to merely making him retire, but must you take out your thwarted dreams on an entirely unrelated cyclist?

V for Vendetta: and, as ASO utterly validates Vino's ridiculous charge that Astana's the hapless victim of a Vast Anti-Kazakh Conspiracy by blocking a team from the Tour de France that has nothing in common from last year's drug-stuffed outfit except its check-writing sponsor (though I suppose punishing Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Kloden for Johan Bruyneel's boys' taking 8 of the last 9 Tours is a perfectly fair reason, as well), UCI announces its own sweet revenge for ASO's treachery by threatening any team that dares to ride ASO darling Paris-Nice with dire, if still rather unspecified, consequences. Heck, how could removing the best cyclists in the world from the road and leaving one of the most storied and beautiful races on earth to a few careening no-name neophytes *not* improve "the image and stability" of the sport, which loss Pat McQuaid so eloquently bemoans?

Cipo's Run: in actual race news, colossal kudos to aging chick magnet/Re Leone Mario Cipollini, who not only pulled off a perfectly respectable time trial and a third-place finish in a key sprint at the Tour of California after two years out of the saddle, but also came in an admirable 58th in the overall. Next up? He dreams of Sanremo, with the adoring tifosi skeptical of his actual chances but absolutely dewy-eyed over his passion. Meantime, over in the World Cup, Geelong goddess Katheryn Mattis has, despite her smashing win, been sadly hosed out of the US team for the Beijing Olympics due to rules that unfortunately don't count this race this year towards her chances for the squad. You still kick @#$ Katheryn!

Photo o'the Week: finally, this handsome photo of Pat "Dick" McQuaid and Dick "Dick" Pound getting ready to pick over the roadkill that is pro cycling these days at the recent Tour of California:

Image by Getty Images, caption by racejunkie

(Image by Getty Images, caption by racejunkie)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Love Stinks! (Yeah, Yeah)

Smile Like You Mean It: as Levi Leipheimer valiantly continues his quiet effort to humiliate ASO into allowing Astana into the Tour de France by kicking as much @#$ as humanly possible in the Tour of California time trial and overall, baby savant/defending (stolen from Rasmussen) champ Alberto Contador has grimly taken to the airwaves in a decidedly more defeatist fashion, candidly admitting that signing with Astana was "a mistake," but since he's got a contract he can't get out of even though he wants to, he's not gonna be able to bail to another team to ride the Tour no matter how much it upsets his fans. A spurned Johan Bruyneel, of course, confirmed his deathgrip on his now-reluctant young paramour, cheerfully noting Contador's unassailable two-year contract but promising that, while he won't tolerate the boy sneaking off into the bushes with some other squad for the Grand Boucle, he'll make "every effort" to see he gets to ride it with Astana. Hell, between ASO's love for Johan, and their equally likely appreciation of UCI's recent threats to sue on Contador's behalf, I'm confident they'll let 'em in, aren't you?

Remain Calm! All is Well!: and, I see the expected mob of cyclists eager to accept the Spanish courts' generous offer to let 'em compare their DNA to that in Fuentes' formidable stash of blood bags to prove their innocence in the Op Puerto affair has shockingly failed to materialize, leaving the poor phlebotomists to twiddle their thumbs as the implicated boys and their agents, I imagine, scramble to write up some yip-yapping b.s. press release about outrageous violations of human rights and insults to riderly dignity in a desperate effort to divert ASO and the other Grand Tour gatekeepers' attention from the actual point so they can continue to ride in blissful security. Hey, it worked for Andrei Kashechkin, right? Oh, wait....

Prison Break: and, the rewards continue to mount for repentant cyclists who courageously admit their wrongdoing in an effort to selflessly clean up the sport, at least if you're David Millar or Ivan Basso, as confessed T-Mobile doping poz Patrik Sinkewitz, already thwapped with a one-year ban for his noble honesty, now faces the friendly offer of a year in prison if he doesn't cough up the names of all his teammates who similarly spent a relaxing evening under the care of the tender loving care of the T-Mobile team docs during a rather recent Tour de France. Um, not to excuse Sinkewitz' egregious wrongdoing and all, but out of the entire freakin' peloton, is he *really* the only one the authorities can think of who should communing with the rats in some dank dungeon at this point?

Robbie McEwen is A Wuss: finally, a cycling smackdown for your viewing pleasure that outweighs even our head-butting Pocket Rocket in sheer gore 'n' guts violence:

Monday, February 18, 2008

The First Annual Racejunkie Telethon for

Alms! Alms for the Poor!: so just as I was about to blast yet *again* for massive technical screwups that randomly jerked the video and/or audio coverage of the opening stage of the Tour of California to first a sporadic then finally a near-continuous halt--causing me to miss Dave Zabriskie's inaugural 2008 time trial debut to my extreme irritation, dammit--I came to a startling realization: it's not their fault. Why? Yep, despite charging desperate pathetic tifosi like myself 100 freakin' bucks this season to watch the Vuelta (and I'll be damn glad to pay it, like a sap, since US coverage utterly blows), it's clear the poor things are broke! There I am, fruitlessly checking in again and again in the diminishing hope they'll fix the prob, when what should pop on the screen but a reminder that their Norton AntiVirus protection has expired! And did take this inexpensive chance to protect themselves from such nefarious threats to website integrity? No! An arrow discreetly crawled across the screen and clicked on "Remind Me Later." Surely, nothing but the most dire financial straits could cause their tech lords to ignore that essential mantra, "Viruses Bad." Thus, in sympathy for their obvious destitution, I humbly begin my First Annual Racejunkie Telethon for Now, I don't know where to send donations, tho' I'm sure the network could be of help in that area. And I'm desperately in need of has-been talent to hype our piteous appeals for aid, so if someone could kindly get me in touch with the reps for some of our more beloved ex-dopers for example, that'd be a big boost to the cause. But a cherished if occasionally, well, broadcast-challenged member of the cycling community needs our aid--Help Renew Its AntiVirus Protection today!

The Return of the King: speaking of the Tour of California (and putting aside the question, what the hell is going on with Dave Zabriskie?! in the hope that he's merely pacing his form for an attack on the Grand Tours later this season), the Italian press is all a-swoon over the return of Lion King Mario Cipollini, charging in an extremely respectable 44th (for a sprinter, no less) after 3 years out of the saddle to the all-caps adulation of the gazzetta tifosi, despite lingering snarks that, legend o' the bike tho' he is, he's really only doing it to pay off those pesky gazillions recently assessed in back taxes. Then again, who really cares--hell, 100,000 euros to ride your bike sure as hell beats 20 years at the overnight shift at the 7-11, don't it?

Necessity is the Mother of Invention: and, with Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes' lab long dismantled, and glum cyclists everywhere in a hasty scramble for their next hit of completely legal vitamin injections, the Viennese authorities are putting the heat again on a local blood-doping lab, alleged home of such Mafia Nation names as loyal ex-Levi lieutenant Georg Totschnig, Michael "Can My Crappy Year Get Any Worse?" Rasmussen, Michael Boogerd, Peter Weening and, not least, 2008 Tour de France GC aspirant Denis "Give Heras Back His Vuelta If You're Just As Big a Skank, You Skank!" Menchov. Well, that's about 5 seconds' worth of press coverage to give the Spaniards a breather--oops, time's up you-know-who, it's back to Op Puerto again!

Oh, Snap!: finally, I see that Rock Racing has taken its sweet revenge on the Tour of California, tarting up its excluded stars Hamilton Sevilla and Botero in even more garish barbed-wire-and-skull team kit than the boys in the race--and even more frightening, having them walk around in public like this amongst the innocent defenseless crowd--in a showdown-by-spandex guaranteed to leave the Amgen race organizers quivering in their prissy little Gucci loafers. Next up: Riccardo Ricco's Saunier Duval encrusts its feed-zone musettes with Swarovski crystals at the Giro in an attempt to intimidate LPR's DiLuca and Savoldelli ahead of the Dolomites. Oh, God, the pressure!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

And We're Off!

Territorial Pissings: well, it looks like the Amgen EPO Tour of California's won this round, as Michael Ball's predictably egomaniacal press-conference blustering--accompanied by Floyd Landis lawyer Maurice Suh, no less--about the horrors of excluding Op-Puerto implicated Tyler Hamilton, Santi Botero and Oscar Sevilla from the race, when he knew damn well it would piss off the race organizers to even bring it up the day before but would, totally coincidentally I'm sure, generate enormous publicity--yields in the end to AEG, letting in its 'original' five, including last-minute change to Mario "the Chest" Cipollini from Kayle "John Doe" Leogrande (already a deliberate poke in the eye), rather'n pull Rock from the race entirely, a decision apparently made after a chatty and ultimately fruitless bike ride between Ball and the head of the race. Oh well, Ball, you got your picture all over the news--not to discount the honorable yapping about giving poor mistaken underdogs a second chance and all, but wasn't that really your point?

The Ick Factor: Floyd, I deeply admire your own willingness to endanger yourself by supporting such innocent victims as Hamilton & co. And I strongly believe that every one, even that tiresome self-promoting screw-you preener Michael Ball, deserves the best legal advice possible ('cause let's face it, with some of the boys on his team, he's gonna need it). And not that you have or should have any control over what Maurice Suh does on his own time, since after all he ought to be lauded for taking on, well, perhaps less sympathetic clients than yourself. But can it really help your case to have your very own lawyer up there at yesterday's press conference whispering sweet counsel in Ball's ear for the entire cycling disciplinary planet to see mere weeks before the same guy presents your defense at your CAS appeal? Not that it would have any effect on the fine objective folks who'll be deciding both your place in history and your immediate fate--but, aaaaiiigggghhh!

Free Levi!: finally, uber-diplomat Levi Leipheimer is still expressing his misery over Astana's exclusion from the Tour in the politest manner humanly possible, delicately introducing his LetLeviRide e-petition and gently encouraging folks to help ASO see the light. Me, I have no such sense of decorum, so I'm perfectly content to call out ASO as being the most self-destructive self-serving whining bitter arbitrary tools on earth for smacking around Astana, especially considering the unreformed skankmaster squads still allowed in their noble race. Free Levi!

All right, enough of this ridiculous sideshow. Leipheimer, Julich, Hincapie, Zabriskie, Bettini, Boonen, Freire--what a smashing crew we've got for the actual race--allez allez Levi!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Degenerate Hospital

Luck o' the Spanish: so I'm guessing a good half of the peloton's got its chamois in a twist over the Spanish court's decision yesterday to reopen the Op Puerto investigation, at least with regard to blood doc Manuel Batres and Nobel prize aspirant Dr. Eufemiano "Gyno to the Male Stars" Fuentes (because I know every time *I've* got a medical problem, I, as a woman, run straight to a prostate specialist). Lucky for at least a few of the boys, it's not yet being reopened as to Liberty Seguros mastermind Manolo "Briefcase" Saiz, who, having contented himself with blaming Roberto Heras's voracious drug-snorting appetite for all the team's problems, is likely off amusing himself at a luxe beachfront villa somewhere at least until his bank account hits the skids & he's obliged to pen a sordid tell-all to ease the cash crunch. Not so lucky: the Spanish investigators *are* interested in the contents of Manuel Batres' hard drive, reposing happily undisturbed to date in an evidence locker. To this news, the Basso faithful have responded with delirious joy, nearly tearful with happiness over the possibility of actual Spaniards being busted for a Spanish doping scandal involving Spanish teams, and the pure cycling nuts thrilled to finally see, as is rumored, a pack of coddled crappy soccer players also take a hit. The big question? Whether Fuentes, who has revealed of late a decidedly disconcerting tendency to show up at various public events proudly extolling all the wonderful work he's done on behalf of his health-conscious stable of cyclists, is going to go so far into wingnut territory that, if his own stupid coded documents don't sink him, and the Spaniards ever bother to ask, he's gonna start naming names, or retreat into ethical doctorly confidentiality and refuse to sell 'em out. Good luck on that one boys!

Can I Get You More Salt for that Wound?: and, adding insult to dope-slap, I see the Giro d'Italia has decided that Team High Road appreciates the beauty of the race enough (and is committed to riding clean enough) after all, letting it back in to the delight of managers and riders alike but still pointedly excluding the rude ungrateful drug fiends over at Astana. Is there anything *else* the Grand Tours can do to humiliate Johan Bruyneel? Not that I'm gonna particularly weep over that, tho' I do wish him well and all--but why take Andreas Kloden and Levi Leipheimer down with him?! Thinking of other morally righteous squads, I see scorched-earth bridge-burner Michael Ball over at Rock Racing has announced his 5-man team roster for this weekend (woo-hoo!)'s Tour of California, leaving in we love Fast Freddy Rodriguez and Victor Hugo Pena--and, in an apparent attempt to get them all ignominiously kicked out of the race, recent John Doe Kayle Leogrande--but inexplicably leaving out marquee alleged ex-dope-hounds Oscar Sevilla, Tyler Hamilton, and Santi Botero, whose big names he's seemingly happy to pimp so long as they don't actually ride. Didn't Tinkoff pull that exact same weaselly publicity stunt last season between cutting its imploding stars loose?

Question o' the Week: so, pondering the return of convicted perps like Hamilton, and merely sanctioned suspects like DiLuca and Petacchi, to this season's peloton, and the ensuing shock and outrage that tends to result, I'm a'wondering: do folks really mean it when they say "he's paid his dues, we should welcome him back" even if, like Tyler, they've adamantly denied their guilt? Or is it only when someone's copped to their evil deeds in a perfectly orchestrated humble dewy-eyed ongoing public wah-wah (you know who you are), or even a terse'n'surly one-time interview (and we all saw how far that got Sinkewitz), that we'll take 'em back with open arms? Everyone about to get their !@# kicked in Op Puerto needs to know!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Clash of the Titans

Or Maybe Just the Petty Preening Selfish Egomaniacal !@#holes: as everyone who's not actually clinically dead (and perhaps a few who are) now knows, in an incredible triumph of hypocrisy, showmanship, and contempt for both riders and fans over common sense, fair play, and merit, the chest-thumping weenies over at ASO officially announced today that not only is Astana is out of the Tour this year because of a completely unrelated team's scumly tactics last year, but Alberto Contador is welcome to pop by anytime and defend his title should he only have the courtesy to tell Johan Bruyneel to screw and sign up with a new squad in time for this year's start line. Among the pure and shining stars in the antidoping sky the boy has to choose from? Yep, none other than clean Team Rabobank, largely unchanged themselves from last year after their gross protectionism of Rasmussen's evasions ended in a crumpled pile of dream-dashed riders sobbing in the team bus right before their presumptive victory laps on the Champs-Elysees. (Sure, Contador stole the Tour from Rasmussen, who if knowingly allowed to ride by those clowns at ASO and UCI when everyone knew he was off evading doping controls should've been allowed to ride til the end, but it wasn't *his* fault.) Oddly, Christian Prudhomme seems to have no problem excluding Levi Leipheimer, who's never been tied to anything, or we love Andreas Kloden, whose greatest crime seems to be playing hapless gun moll to a series of ill-chosen dope-snarfing goon amores, while welcoming baby Contador to the race after a passel of Liberty Seguros teammates testified to the Op Puerto investigators that Manolo Saiz whacked mystery skin patches on his unquestioning proteges like badges on Girl Scouts, nor allowing in, say, Caisse d'Epargne, particularly since he spent the last two years bitching about Alejandro Valverde's foul unwanted presence in his race. I'm so glad Prudhomme's committed to clean sport, at least where he arbitrarily likes the teams who are at least bothering with an attempt to achieve it! Still and all, there's plenty of time for ASO to change its mind if duly appeased, so it's entirely possible that once the snowball fight is over and Mom calls in everyone for hot cocoa, tempers will soothe and everyone'll be friends again. Lookin' forward to it ASO!

The Fallout: I can't imagine what poor Kloden is doing at the moment, unless it's drinking himself into a disbelieving stupor, but Levi Leipheimer has (still politely) expressed his shock and sorrow, promising to justify the fans' faith in himself and the team elsewhere if he has to this season, and Contador is already planning to take on the Vuelta, as the squad's at least found a home there (and not to bite the hand that feeds me, but can everyone !@#$%$' *stop* using the Vuelta as an also-ran dumping ground for faded dreams?). And the ever-vocal faithful over at gazzetta? Generously bemoaning Contador's blameless hosing, still ticked that the only riders taking the hit for a Spanish doping scandal are Italians, and, in further nationalist fervor, snarking that ASO's only pulling this stunt so that finally a French guy has a chance of winning the Tour. Keep on waiting there Prudhomme--it really ain't gonna help you that much!

PS Woo-hoo Thor Hushovd on his first win of the season--green jersey again in '08!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Smells Like Team Spirit

Fight Club: as the teams grow increasingly twitchy over the upcoming team-roster release for Paris-Nice--likely a grim crystal ball view of the teams for the upcoming Tour--and UCI, WADA, the Grand Tours, the rider's association, and the national cycling feds continue to rip out at each other's throats like rabid foaming wolverines, a slew of disgruntled ProTour teams like Astana, High Road, CSC, Milram, Quick Step, Lampre, Liquigas, and Rabobank have wisely ratcheted up the hostility index by insisting upon meeting with the Grand Tour/"monument" race bosses right this very minute in order to make a righteous "it's all of us, or none of us" demand. Um, not to question the wisdom of such a fine alliance, or the sincerity of a proclamation like "we respect that they don't want teams that could hurt their image," but leaving aside the merely mild tint of scandal associated with teams like Milram (Petacchi & Zabel), Liquigas (lately of DiLuca), and Quick Step ("LEFEVERE: THIRTY YEARS OF DOPING"), if Astana and High Road are so eager to prove their commitment to purity and their complete break with the disgusting doping practices of their forebears as a reason to let 'em into the races, is joining forces with a team like Rabo "Of Course We Knew Rasmussen Was a Lying Sack of !@#$! When We Let Him Destroy Your Tour de France This Year!" bank *really* the way into ASO's heart? (And no, I'm not counting coalition member Saunier Duval on the original sin list. Rehire Iban goddammit!) Meantime, UCI has also announced the wildcard teams, including such notables as we love Gilberto Simoni (and reformed or at least returned dope fiend Danilo Hondo)'s Diquigiovanni and natch climbing god Maurizio Soler's Barloworld, but not, interestingly, Paolo Savoldelli and Danilo DiLuca's new gig LPR. Oh well, what do they care, the Giro and the Classics are still theirs--I'm sure the loss of whatever Tour de Who Gives a Rat's !@# that's still left in the ProTour stable ain't keeping them up at night!

Revenge of the Nerds: so as the Giro dope-slaps Bouyges Telecom and Credit Agricole out of the race for lack of devotion to the sport (since they really can't pin much of last year's doping hoo-ha on those boys, unlike...well, actually, none of the other ProTour teams they're keeping out can fairly be excluded on that basis, either), one can't help but notice they've been confirming their obvious ennui by winning half the races so far this season, including a stage at Etoile des Besseges and a bucket o'stuff, including sustained race leadership, at Langkawi. Now, I *love* the Giro, and am loathe to criticize anything they do, but I gotta say, targeting these two teams for ejection just seems stupid. Sure, they largely bit last year in 'most everything. But isn't half the beauty and power of this sport the delight of redemption from humiliating season tanks past? Free Thor Hushovd, I say--*someone's* gotta be around to take a sprint if Petacchi gets kicked out of the 2008 Giro over his, well, overenthusiastic Salbutamol intake last year!

Reading Is Fundamental: finally, I see an Italian journalist has a lengthy new book out on Marco Pantani, "He Was My Son," or, more accurately, "Blame the B!@#$$!", as, amidst an exhaustive review with family and friends of every detail of Pantani's life, Marco's bereaved papa' reveals that Marco's Danish fiance, Christine, became pregnant in 2002, Marco was happy, a child of his own would have changed his life--but she wanted to finish her studies, and for some utterly unclear reason the baby was never born. Lest we miss the point: had this not happened, Marco would still be here. The still-devastated tifosi over at gazzetta, of course, posted tribute after tribute to their hero in response, and I must say I'm inclined to agree--whatever he did or didn't do, and whatever did or didn't undo him, wouldn't it be kindest if the poor boy--and his fiance, while we're freakin' at it--were finally left in peace?

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Let's Go!

Off to the Races: so the season's plans are on for the two Italian World Champions, with Paolo Bettini having already shed the extra kilos he packed on during his winter hibernation and starting out at the upcoming GP Etruschi (and still breaking my heart with his apparent plan to skip the lovely Giro) along with Petacchi, Napolitano & Cunego (but not Petacchi-dissing nemesis Daniele Bennati, already ominously hampered by a knee problem), and fellow road god Marta Bastianelli aiming, like Bettini, both for the Olympics and to defend her title at the Worlds in Varese. Swoon. Can the Italians even *get* any better than they are right now? Forza Il Grillo and Marta!

Dangerous Liaisons: as the Splenda-sweetly humble Ivan Basso now enjoys the beginning of a welcome-back from a cautious peloton, poor Bjorn Leukemans by contrast laments he's been distinctly frozen out of the in-crowd, saying that not only is Lotto utterly ignoring his pleas for his job back should his upcoming appeal in Belgium clear him of his inadvertent testosterone ingestion at the hands of his dopus team doctor, but that dear friends like Nick Nuyens won't even deign to talk to him at all anymore. (Wah, wah, Iban Mayo's similarly !@#$ed, and his B sample didn't even come up poz, you baby!) Oh Bjorn. Perhaps if you'd only continued to lay the blame on your interactions with your lady friend, the commiserating male-bonding sympathy factor of all your amorous colleagues might've saved you! Crap, if the infighting between the UCI, WADA, the teams and the race organizers doesn't take down the sport, the paranoiac "sell out thy fellows/speak up for no-one" mentality of the riders eventually will...

Woe Is Me (And Garzelli)!: meantime, poor Stefano Garzelli is both outraged and heartbroken over Acqua e Sapone's inexcusable boot from the Giro, telling Tuttobici how he had just returned from a grueling 5 1/2 hour training ride when he called his agent and learned that his team had been cruelly excluded from what, as he nears 35 years old, is highly likely to be his last farewell to the race. In fact, he was so distraught that he almost quit cycling entirely on hearing the news, but--and damned good for the rest of us it is--decided to suck it up and keep training for Tirreno at least if nothing else. As he justifiably cried, "Give me back my Giro!" Free Garzelli and A&S already--like they love the Giro any less than freakin' Tinkoff? And, as the race organizers continue to roll out their team choices, the teams panic over who's going to be left out of the "monument" races as well as the Grand Tours, Contador prepares for life beyond the Tour de France, UCI gadfly Pat "Dick" McQuaid proclaims that Astana should absolutely be in the Giro (damn, Pat, do you want to kill their chances off entirely? stay out of it you nit!), and Giro organizer RCS kindly clarifies that it wasn't the old Astana's doping problems but the new Astana's lack of emotional commitment to the race that's keeping the boys off the corsa rosa, Johan Bruyneel's gamely pointed out that there's still time to convince RCS otherwise, though it'd really be pretty skanky if Johan used his 8000 Tour victories to muscle out a squad of, say, innocent Continental boys already thrilled beyond measure by the previously unexpected chance to take on the gorgeous fearsome Giro. !@#$, if appreciation of the races is gonna be the driving issue, this season is gonna flat-out blow. Sure, the Classics'll still be packed with ProTour squads who loudly claim their burning desire for the prestigious additions to their palmares (palmareses?), but my beautiful Vuelta--fortunate as it will be to retain the rabid orange-clad fanatics and peerless climbing masters of my beloved Euskaltel and an impressive passel of Spanish Continental squads--will be *completely* decimated. Empty, I tells ya, empty as a Bud Light keg after a frat party!

Peanuts and Cracker Jacks: finally, in baseball-yet-still-instructive-for-cycling news, I see that Roger Clemens' former trainer, in the face of stout denials of wrongdoing by his famous client, now sez he has "corroborative physical evidence" for the delectation of Congress that proves Clemens in fact did imbibe performance-enhancing drugs. Now, in light of various allegations by outraged or merely book-pimping cyclist associates that have recently come to light, it seems to me that here is a valuable teachable moment for the riders: if you don't want to get caught--and of course, you oughta be, you soulless amoral stage-stealers--for heck's sake, *don't* enlist the help of, or share the existence or details of your stupid scheme with, some low-ranking minion who not only is gonna inevitably end up taking the fall for whatever sleazeball tactics you use to pad your legacy, but gets paid so little for the privilege of being your scapegoat that there's no incentive whatsoever for that person not to immediately sell your disgusting lurid story to the highest (or in the case of cycling authorities, most threatening) bidder. Didn't you dopes learn *any* practical survival skills in Scumbag Cyclist Cheating 101?

Monday, February 04, 2008

Every Time Basso Bats His Eyelashes, An Angel Gets His Wings

...Or Perhaps a Devil Gets Its Twitching Tail, Instead: amid rumors that certain bedazzled authorities are considering knocking three months of Ivan Basso's "attempted doping" sentence in order to let him race the Worlds in his hometown of Varese (to which report Gilberto Simoni naturally went bull!@#$, snarling "I do not agree with this is we who are paying for his errors"), and Danilo DiLuca's open courting of Basso for future teammateship despite the former's newly-stated desire to take the Tour, Gazzetta dello Sport also posts a smashing interview with our humble talent-packed saintly man-candy. The upshot: He will return to the peloton in 2009 and not before. He has no reason to expect that the tifosi will ever feel the same way about him again. He is the last person to talk about the state of cycling, preferring to stay quiet, work, and serve his penalty. He confessed his guilt for the sake of his young daughter Domitilla, who turned his blood to ice as he realized how it affected her and also his forgiving wife. He has not yet chosen a team, but will probably decide at the beginning of March, and already has an idea of what riders he wants to work with. And he has trained on an unmarked bike in the jersey of his beloved charity Intervita to remain anonymous, but will gladly tell of his work for them. Workin' on the link and a better translation folks!

I must say, I find myself truly caught on this one. Has Basso--who to be honest is gorgeous to watching on a bike, smooth and self-contained--really ditched the traditional business-like European approach to doping for genuine regret at the damage he's done not only to this beautiful sport but also to his own integrity, as opposed to merely his own career and Ferrari fund? Or is this simply the same savvy, focused Basso who so cooly brushed aside the tifosi's out-thrust pens at the '06 Giro in favor of a full-on press corps seduction as the more gregarious Jan Ullrich and even some of the more retiring CSC boys amiably autographed anything that was desperately shoved at them? The tifosi, it appears from the comments page, have largely chosen the former, embracing his soul-stricken remorse and eagerly awaiting his triumphant return to the peloton, particularly if it's in the immediate company of DiLuca. Should we be heartless cynics on this point, or accept his deathbed conversion as true regret? The naive idealist and eye-rolling pragmatist in me are at war!

Oh Heras. If only you'd ditched your customary reticence, cried your penitence for everything Manolo Saiz "attempted" to pump you full of, put in some charity miles for the tots, and even better gone back to quietly sucking in your time trial training results, you could have a nicely-paying gig riding or even just DSing for a Spanish continental squad right now. Tears, dammit, where were the tears (and the half-@#$ed admissions to boot?)!

One Day You Are In, the Next Day, You Are Out: so ASO/Tour director Christian Prudhomme is speaking out to Velonews, and the topic du jour is "you clowns better not give me another doping scandal this year, or I'll personally light the pyre they're building for you in Hell." What's interesting, though, is that he professes to have no problem whatsoever with baby Contador, who after all has been implicated in Op Puerto along with several other Liberty Seguros teammates, which I assume means he either genuinely thinks the allegations against Contador are true crap, or deep in his heart of hearts--and perhaps not wrongly, at that--he's giving the boy a pass for all those "mystery skin patches" for his sheer youth and powerlessness under the relentless control-freak manhandling of Manolo Saiz. And since Prudhomme's also saying no individual riders will be excluded--either he thinks your whole team is honorable enough to be in, or not--this, in all fairness, should actually favor Astana, as, with the exception of a few harmless leftover Kazakh domestiques and, perhaps more problematically from Prudhomme's perspective, the ever-jacked Andreas Kloden, it really is a completely different squad with not only a different philosophy (if you accept the proposition that all Johan's Postal refugees only went bad *after* they left the nest), but a completely different cult of personality from that of insular rock-star Vinokorouv as well. However, the ASO king *has* in the past expressed his discomfort with Valverde coming out to play, which leaves open the distinctly lousy possibility that guys like hapless victim-o'-circumstance Oscar Pereiro and the exceedingly fine Luis Leon Sanchez at the endlessly talented Caisse d'Epargne will be left out of the big show as well. And what of Rabobank, now that Max van Heeswijk said of course the riders knew ahead of the Tour de France that Rasmussen wasn't where he said he'd be--can anyone really believe now that team management was (or should have been) as egregiously oblivious as they've continued to claim? If so, crap luck for poor disillusioned Menchov--but you better not "settle" for contesting the beautiful Vuelta as a lame consolation prize, you ungrateful Tour-whoring twerp!

Welcome Back, Horner: finally, thanks again to Velonews for their dandy chat with we love Chris Horner, rightly confident in his worth and abilities as usual but, unlike say half the sprinters, able to talk straight without being an arrogant !@# about it. He's been happy with each of his team-hops, is blown away that Lotto decided to let him go, delighted with his new gig at Astana as he's old enough to put the brakes on too much training and while not guaranteed a Tour slot, his salary and program sure make him think it's heading that way, and, best of all, is gonna aim for Pais Vasco, support Levi in CA, and really, really try to take Amstel Gold, Fleche-Wallone, or Liege. Allez Chris, and thank heaven there's some halfway pleasant news out there for once!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Giro d' !@#$% You, UCI!

But What Did A&S Ever Do To You?: so, the shock and hoo-ha over the Giro d'Italia start list continues, and while I must admire the sheer evil genius of making Pat "Dick" McQuaid pay for his years of vicious empire-grabbing self-centered stupidity by spurning his new darlings Astana and High Road in a spectacularly backhanded dope-slap, I gotta wonder--what's exactly being gained here (besides gratuitous humiliation of the French, itself a worthy enough goal I suppose) by excluding poor Bouyges Telecom, which let's face it hasn't the palmares to threaten or even mildly annoy *anyone* these days? And while of course I'm delighted to see we love flawless smack-talkin' Gilberto Simoni get one last marvelous crack at a farewell stage win thanks to the invite for Diquigiovanni, and certainly appreciate the welcome for Slipstream so Zabriskie can take the time trial, I must in all fairness call bull!@#$--what the hell are you people thinking excluding Acqua e Sapone with Stefano freakin' Garzelli on board?! He's a long-ago taker of the whole show, itself enough to merit a nostalgia welcome. What's more, even without the staggering budget of a ProTour squad to domestique his aging carcass up the Dolomites, the boy blasted the peloton absolutely apart in the last week and a half with the most limited of support to beautiful and triumphant effect this very race past. Explain to me exactly why--particularly since, if doping is the snit du jour you're claiming for the exclusions, you're letting in Petacchi DiLuca Piepoli (all with disconcerting drug or hormone levels last year) and Cunego (see below)--Garzelli is not only the utterly inexplicable fall guy for these shmoes, but also for the second explanation you've given, that Astana and particularly those openly-Tour-de-France-prepping ungrateful twerps Levi & Contador just don't appreciate the race enough? I stand firmly with you that the Giro (and Vuelta of course) outrageously gets no respect--but you're absolutely making the wrong guy pay for it. Meantime, the tifosi over at Gazzetta dello Sport, never shy about expressing their emotions, are in seriously imminent riot mode over the dissing of their hero, except for Damiano Cunego's roaring supporters, who are naturally delighted to see one less excuse for Il Piccolo Principe to choke again in 2008. Free Garzelli dammit--and let him liven up the mountains for one more year!

Midnight Espresso: speaking of Cunego, the outrage continues over Lampre's late-night wake-up by the narc squad, with the Italian cycling press buzzing over the news that not only could he and Ballan be barred from the peloton for up to a year for unforgivably sneaking out the window down the trellis and off to dinner without telling their parents, but that CONI prosecutor Ettore Torri is now justifying the attack by alleging a possible link between the cherubic innocent and Oil for Drugs. The amiable Cunego, meanwhile, has appealed for calm, noting that while he did indeed commit the egregious sin of going out for a nice dinner after a lively evening with the fan club, he zipped right back to the hotel when they called him on his cell phone, and he'd neither the inclination nor even the opportunity to dope himself into a stupor over antipasti anyway. Y'know, I think it's fine to ascertain that, say, you're not reclining in a team doctor's university medical clinic over the border with an IV in your arm when you're supposed to be peacefully resting up for the next day's stage under the DS's noble and watchful eye, but doesn't the second booth at your local Chili's seem a rather less likely site for syringe-snarfing than, for example, the privacy of one's own hotel room? Then again, who'd be stupid enough to stash performance-enhancing drugs smack dab in the middle of their own luggage--right, Millar?

Guess Who's Hosing Landis for Dinner?: yep, none other than leakmaster Landis-lambasting accusation-pimping WADA ex-honcho Dick "Dick" Pound, now aiming for the leadership of the Court of Arbitration for Sport just in time for his new minions to hear Floyd Landis' utterly fair and unbiased March doping appeal. I, for one, think the boy has nothing to worry about. After all, not only has he already been kindly forced to serve his entire ban anyway whether he did the dirty deed or not, but who can possibly fault the impartiality of a man who openly excoriated the morals, ethics, talent and cleanliness of a winner of the Tour de France before the poor thing even had time to get his boxers on straight, much less to prepare for and defend himself in court?

Rock Me Gently, Rock Me Slowly (Not!): as ex-manager Frankie Andreu acknowledges his pre-split discomfort with the Kayle Leogrande situation, only to have Michael Ball reflexively label USADA a pack of tattoo-fearin' Wonder-Bread-eatin' ultrasquare Pat Boone weenies, rumors abound that Rock has predictably decided to ratchet up its knee-jerk "!@#$ you!" response to any perceived challenge by not only naming every Op Puerto-linked rider on earth (save Valvderde of course) to its Tour of California team, but yep, Kayle himself, if our head-stitched USADA-suin' rebel-without-a-cause manages not to knock his own head off on the tarmac entirely beforehand (listen to your mother and wear your helmet from now on, alright?). Touchingly, Rock remains "deeply committed" to "racing clean," which point may be moot even if--as I'm absolutely certain it is--entirely sincere, as the Amgen EPO Tour organizer AEG renews its vow that no rider with an open doping case can ride their race, and it looks forward to speaking with UCI and WADA to nail down who exactly, in their learned and perfectly fair opinions, that is. Who's apparently *not* named to the ToC Rock Racing squad to date? Bizarrely, none other'n Lion King Mario Cipollini, whose gig is said to be already on the rocks but which gossip the Italian press--perhaps because of their current preoccupation with Cunego, or perhaps because it's just plain crap--has for some reason completely ignored. Now, not to be superstitious here, but let's see...Andreu bails, Leogrande gets named, Cipo's uncertain, Leogrande cracks his head open days before the team debut...Fast Freddie, get the hell out of this sinking ship before it disappears in the salty deep for good!

Down But Not Out: finally, speedy recovery wishes to big Maggy Backstedt, now nursing a broken collarbone after his lousy crack-up in Qatar but already cheerfully planning to put the hurt back into the peloton at his beloved Paris-Roubaix. Allez allez Maggy!