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Letters to Cyclingnews - March 16, 2007
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We all know there is stuff going on behind the scenes of pro cycling that is protected by a law of silence, the omerta. A lot of people will never talk about doping because of a fear of their past misdeeds resurfacing. It's all a bit mafia-like in some regards. That was kind of my tongue-in-cheek way of seeing it until I read about Patrick Lefévère urging all his riders to sue Het Laatste Nieuws. Now the comparison is not even a joke anymore.
Asking all your riders to sue the paper so you can find the snitch in your team is a pure mob boss move. If that's not intimidation, I don't know what is. It is also very close to an admission of guilt. Now, I doubt we'll find a rider at the bottom of the Channel with cement shoes. But if Lefévère is confident enough to sue the paper for the sum he is, he must have some pretty ironclad facts on his side. Either that or he knows the people who talked to the paper won't talk to the courts. And, very sadly as I like the man, his last move tends to point to the second option. While attempting to "protect his image", Patrick Lefévère may well have done the complete opposite.
Ah, how refreshing it is to see Patrick Lefévère go back to the old pre-Operation Puerto style of running a team, at least he shows consistency. In the wake of Operation Puerto the teams banded together, spoke of transparency and tougher anti-doping regimes.
OP also lent more energy to the press no longing giving a nod and a wink to doping inside the peloton. This was apparently all well and good when it meant close analysis of Discovery hiring Basso and Contador, or new issues regarding the possible involvement of Valverde, but when it involved him not so.
First he threatens to sue the paper, understandable if actually innocent, however his latest tactics are reprehensible. Of course he says he only "asked" his riders to sue along with him, but since they were not directly besmirched this would seem odd. The question that must be asked is, when the guy that holds your career in his hands "asks" you to do something, when he makes it clear that the person who says no has to be the guy who helped "blow the whistle" is it really a request?
This is a cheap attempt at two things. Identifying a possible witness against him in a future court proceeding, and preparing that same person for career destruction. Now I must ask are there not whistle blower protection laws in Europe? Can QuickStep (the Sponsor) not see the damage this could do to their corporate image and more importantly where is the UCI and the organizers who so strongly condemn omerta in public when Lefévère has gone a step further in trying to enforce a mafia style omerta with open mafia style intimidation.
Okay then I spent the winter in a religious fervor studying up on Sunday school betrayal stories and listening to The Who. I flayed myself for believing in The World's Fastest Mennonite. I did research on my forthcoming book, "Tugboat, We Hardly Knew Ye." It seemed to go better with the homeopathic throat lozenges provided by my aunt in Peru.
I haven't paid much attention to the pro racing scene but now that spring is upon us, I guess I can't help myself, and will actually try to read something other than doping reports on occasion.
I stopped by my local bike shop Saturday. Their parking lot was busy as the snow was melting at a fast pace. Greg Lemond will make an appearance at their expo in April.
Someday an old blood sample of his will be unearthed and found to be high in trans fat.
While I feel that the actions that led to Jan Ullrich's retirement were unfair, it was nothing to do with witch hunts or a manipulative press. Jan's problem was that he lived in a country that decided to take doping seriously. Unlike in the U.S. where you can take drugs, get caught, and still continue to play and be worshiped (i.e. Barry Bonds, Shawn Merriman, etc.)
Germany actually wants to stop cheating, even at the expense of their superstars. For many fans it seems the only way an athlete can be caught cheating is if they are videotaped sticking a needle in their arm. Even then the athlete would say "it was a B vitamin and you can't prove it wasn't" and his fans would rally behind him. It seems to me that Ullrich knew that the DNA samples he was being required to give would one day be tested against the blood found in Spain, and he chose retirement rather than risk the embarrassment that would cause.
If Ullrich, Basso and anyone else involved in Puerto want to clear their names they could easily test their DNA against the blood found. If they doubted the character of the labs they could have their own representatives present during the testing (I believe as Floyd did during the test of his B sample). The fact that they chose to hide behind lawyers instead speaks volumes.
Congratulations to John Bridger for finally putting the UCI's ProTour experiment into perspective. The UCI has seriously ‘crossed the line', from being just an administrator, into the muddied waters of event risk management and the proprietary ownership of specific events.
The Grand Tour race promoters have proprietary ownership of their events, carry all of the event risks, exercise monopoly control, and are focused on the expected financial return (be it a profit or a loss). Ownership means power, and ownership generates potential risks and returns. The UCI must be naïve in the extreme to think that the Grand Tour promoters would swallow UCI interference with the proprietary ownership of their various events.
As a Grand Tour promoter, it's impossible to work in an environment where your event risks (and subsequent profits or losses) are somehow dictated to you by a world governing body. The UCI has made a fundamental mistake – you can't control what you don't own.
UCI has no power #2
I disagree with John. The UCI is trying to increase revenues for all interests in cycling, not just ASO. By creating a group of races where all teams will race, sponsors from across all countries will be interested in sponsoring races across borders, riders benefit from higher minimum salaries, team owners can justify higher monies from sponsors with interests beyond their own countries. ASO just sees their vested interest diluted.
I will don my trusty tin-foil hat and suggest that the reason Puerto was shelved has more to do with some of the non-cycling names that surfaced (read:football) than anything else.
It appears that the "leaders" of professional cycling and the major cycling events have been taking massive amounts of HSH, Human Stupidity Hormone.
The symptoms of this abuse include making rash and incoherent statements, canceling then reinstating events, sudden turnarounds in the middle of negotiations, and amazing next-day pronouncements that all will be well. The long-term effects can be a reduction of credibility and higher unemployment for racing cyclists.
Thomas C. Ricketts
Can somebody please explain how the UCI can make the decision that a ProTour series of races will go ahead (this decision made after the Paris Nice fiasco) and a ProTour winner's jersey will be awarded, with the associated points awarded to other riders and teams when not all the ProTour teams and riders are allowed to compete?
Where is the sense, value, kudos and dare I say it legality, in running/winning that competition when all the protagonists have not been allowed to compete?
I think it is a disgrace that the governing body of cycling and the organizers of the major professional races in Europe are using the riders as pawns in their battle. If the riders of ProTour tour teams are truly behind the UCI, then why don't they hi-jack the organizers. Some riders state that they don't agree with what is happening to the Unibet.com team, but in the next breath, they say that they will ride Paris-Nice, because it is important training. Talk about garbage.
Every ProTour rider should go to Paris-Nice. Every rider should ride the first stage. On stage 2, all riders line-up at the start and when the gun goes off, every rider does not move. Use the race as a means of pressuring the organizers to allow Unibet.com to ride.
Riders, your voice needs to be heard.
I have not decided yet if I support the UCI or the race organizers. I used to be a cycling commissaire/race organizer/racer. I have seen many different sides of cycling. What I do know, is that if this battle is aloud to continue, then cycling as a whole will be hurt. That, I don't want to see.
I second the motion.
There is a whole world out here with routes just as interesting and scenic as anything in France, or Europe for that matter.
The UCI's caving in to ASO is a major mistake. They basically admitted they have no power. Oh well. Goodbye UCI.
We have every conceivable race venue for racing 12 months out of the year in the US. The only thing great about the races in Europe is the tradition (and romance) that has come about solely because of their longevity. There is nothing inherently better about these routes. They can all be duplicated 100 times over in other parts of the world.
I for one am tired of this European nonsense. The UCI brought to a head and had the chance to kill the traditions that are killing pro cycling's growth (beyond its provincial borders). The UCI blinked at the wrong time. I doubt they will get the baton back. What good is an enforcement body that can't enforce anything? Obviously, it's not the UCI that's going to make this happen. As is almost always the case in business history, change comes from an element nobody expected (hence they were not ready to combat). It will be interesting to see what that element will be in this case.
Cycling Promoters: If you keep catering to the same love the romance of the historic races crowd you will never grow your market. Also, you don't need TV distribution rights. Everybody has an internet connection now. All you need is a local camera crew, a fast pipe to the internet, and two announcers talking over the feed. (This of course means that you will not be covering the ‘historic' races.......unless you have a lot of startup money. I for one am getting sick of watching what the French or Italian production managers think I ought to be watching at any point during a race. Lets start clean some place else, eh?).
ASO-UCI split #2
Jerry from London has it right! ASO et al are trying to control all of the revenue in the sport. The teams recently did themselves and the riders a disfavor by seemingly siding with ASO on Paris Nice. I do not understand the Vuelta's approach at all. Without the ProTour they would not be able to attract any non-Spanish quality teams and with a strong ProTour they could probably negotiate better TV coverage.
I have known of the Tour de France forever, I have become a big fan watching every stage on TV in the last three or so years. Prior to the ProTour, I did not know about Paris-Nice, the Spring Classics, the Giro and Vuelta. So I may just have been an ignorant ‘Jonny come lately' but now look forward with eager anticipation to all of these upcoming races.
I sit poised at my computer on Cyclingnews.com at all hours of the night/early morning waiting for the 2 lines of updates posted every 5 minutes or so. I doubt my experience is unique, if this is the experience of an individual tucked away in Australia, how many others around the world have been enlightened to the richness of the competitive season of professional cycling brought together by the ProTour.
The ProTour may not yet be perfect, but it already is reaching a much greater audience around the globe and accelerating the acceptance of the sport of cycling and substantially broadening the fan base. I for one am very grateful that the UCI and the ProTour have been able to open my eyes in a way that the ASO have not.
I find it incredible the in-fighting amongst different organizational heads concerning Unibet.com.How many sponsors have pulled out of cycling lately given the doping scandals? How many are shying away from being involved in this chaos? Anyone proven guilty of doping should be thrown out of the sport for good, period. The key word there is proven.
But enough of the hysteria surrounding anyone even mildly associated with certain doctors and programs...and as for these old castrated bulls in the ASO and UCI arguing who has the right to race or not...frankly, they should just be put out to pasture...let's just get on with the racing...I for one will order my Unibet jersey when it becomes available...
Sunday, March 11, 2007
Just back in from a training ride around my lake in central Italy. In any case I was discussing the dismal current state of pro cycling with this Italian guy (doping, internal feuding, retirements, etc.) and the following conclusions were made:
1. Doping is simply a reality which will never be beaten, and not merely in cycling, so long as there are gobs of money to be made, and therefore unscrupulous interests, in pro sports.
2. Cycling, however, in this sense, is a weak sport (relative to say soccer - that is "protected," and which is why we don't get the huge drug scandals and administrative problems, despite the scandalous behavior of some within the sport, to say nothing of the riotous fans at the stadiums!, because it is simply too huge a business to seriously crack down on the corruption, just as it is with American football) as is ridiculously evident by the war being waged between the UCI and the big tours organizers.
3. That cycling needs to get back to its roots, if it wants to survive. What I mean by this, is that it has to invest in that which has always made the sport practicable at the professional level, namely its traditions (the beautiful races that champions of the past generously tried to win as many as possible, even at the risk of failing in some) here in Europe, which had been arrogantly ignored during the Armstrong era.
Armstrong gave the sport greater visibility in the important US market, which is not a traditional cycling viewing nation (the various Lemonds and Hampstens notwithstanding), but at an extremely high price for the sport in general, focusing as he did exclusively on one race, le Tour.
Armstong's greed and obsession for wining that race, yes, changed the way athletes prepared to win it and gave the event an exaggerated prestige (which only the Tour benefited from). Though having done so he gave pretty much the rest of the calendar, a kind of second and third class status regarding events such as il Giro and the Worlds for all those but the truly passionate tifosi.
The results are plainly evident: the UCI responded by inventing the ProTour, which seems to have done noting to rectify the damage caused by Armstrong's one race a year challenge. To the contrary, the conflict of interests that the policy has created has caused the ongoing war between the UCI and major tours organizer, which seems to be leading to permanent schism.
Then there is the unsupportable hypocrisy with cases like Operation Puerto, when a certain other medic, Michele Ferrari, Armstrong's medical adviser, allegedly doped an entire generation of athletes and was acquitted in an Italian court.
The truth is simply that certain athletes and sports are "protected," because going after them would be too detrimental to the profit margins, which is all that really counts and what leaves no room for morality, but only hypocritical "moralisms." And now that Lance has retired what is happening in the US? Sponsors are pulling out and the public is less interesting in watching bike races on television.
How foolish and shortsighted, consequently, have the European investors and administrators of cycling been. The Armstrong era was bound to end. And now just look at the dire state of the sport. Was it really worth it to sustain and profit from the American Tour champion at the expense of the rest of the races for seven years, given the now disastrously evident long term costs of such a policy?
Oh the rift between the UCI and the ASO and friends has presented itself at the most opportune time in cycling. At no time in the history of the sport have riders had more power than they do right at this moment.
The UCI has a ProTour that is proving to be obsolete since it can't provide the simplest of supposed commitments - all teams allowed to race - just ask Unibet.com.
ASO and friends are showing themselves to have themselves and only themselves in mind by deciding to make statements against riders and team participation in their events.
Now is when the riders need to strike! No not go on strike, but strike at the opportunity to take control over their sport for its own good. Now is the time for someone to step up and create the Pro Cyclists Union. That's right...a cyclists union that will help and protect the riders. Not help and protect the organizers and not help and protect the ProTour.
Now, like no other time is when a strong union needs to be created, much like the NFL or MLB, that has the best interests of its members, the cyclists at its core. A union that can keep the greedy men from the UCI, ASO, RCS and Unipublic from destroying the sport and can keep unfounded allegations from WADA and L'Equipe from destroying riders without due process.
A union run by the riders...strong enough to tell the UCI and ASO and friends to find a solution that helps the sport or no-one will ride the ProTour or race their races.
A union that can demand fair and lawful treatment. A union that can protect the innocent.
A union that realizes that Paris-Nice and the Tour de France is nothing without the riders. No one goes to the Tour de France to see France...they go to see the riders race.
Imagine if the riders went on strike. The UCI would have no ProTour to force down the sponsors throats. ASO would have no TdF. RCS would have no Giro and Unipublic would have no Vuelta to hold over anyone heads. And they would also have no sponsor money, no TV money and no control.
New races could be established using the same roads and climbs. A new calendar would be created. New sponsors would come in. Cycling would still live on. People would still want to see Tom Boonen, Paolo Bettini, Erik Zabel and George Hincapie race each other. Fans would still watch Discovery try and control a race for Basso while Vinokourov and every member of CSC attacked time after time trying to shake loose Valverde and all this as Predictor-Lotto tried to set up Robbie for another sprint win.
What cycling needs today is a strong Pro Cyclists Union. One that protects the riders. One that protects the sport.
I nominate Eddy Merckx as the president with assistance from Lance Armstrong, Jan Ullrich and Jorg Jaksche as commissioners.
It's just a thought.
I have to pass on my congratulations to the Unibet Marketing Department.
They have succeeded in making Unibet a hot topic both inside and outside the cycling community - even before the season has started, and certainly propelled themselves past their competitors in terms of publicity. They've probably generated more column inches now than most teams will do over the next few months - and they did it without a drug related scandal - in fact, they've generated sympathy for the riders and active support for the team.
Bearing in mind that professional cycling teams are sponsored as a form of advertising - with a solid ROI expected - it would be fair to say that the Unibet team has already paid off in spades. The Unibet marketing department would have known from day one that they had a controversial product in places like France, and the fact that they chose to sponsor a team that would invariably, have to race there, is a pretty good indication of their strategy.
The cost of the team is far less than paying lawyers to fight for the right to advertise in places like France, and you can bet your bottom Euro that much of France now knows precisely where to place their online punt.
All I have to say is good on them, and I'll be cheering for Unibet and their question mark jerseys.
I think that Unibet are doing quite well out of the whole situation. How many times a day is there name mentioned in the press now? Good or bad - you can't pay for that sort of publicity!
Unibet.com has a great marketing strategy. Creating controversy to get attention to one's self is a time proven method.
As one of the traveling Tour Marshals I got to see and witness the tour firsthand. In addition I got to talk to a lot of the riders about the decision in question and most of them thought it was a fair ruling. Cycling has come a long way in this country and still has a long way to go. Our support of this event is paramount to raising the public's interest in the sport. I respect your view of the incident but having been on the scene personally it was an entirely different story since over 50 of some of the top riders in the front of the peloton were involved in the crash.
Hope to see you again next year as the drama unfolds once again. The Tour of California will probably never develop into a three-week event as you suggested due to the timing in the calendar as well as the end of the training camp season. What you probably will see is more of the Pro Tour teams coming to California to do their training sessions and better acclimate to the local conditions as opposed to a 12-hour plane flight with two or three days of "rest" before the start of the race.
Take care and keep the round side down.
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