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Letters to Cyclingnews - February 28, 2008
Here's your chance to get more involved with Cyclingnews. Comments and criticism on current stories, races, coverage and anything cycling related are welcomed, even pictures if you wish. Letters should be brief (less than 300 words), with the sender clearly identified. They may be edited for space and clarity; please stick to one topic per letter. We will normally include your name and place of residence, but not your email address unless you specify in the message.
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ASO vs. Astana
Everyone seems to be saying that ASO's decision to leave Astana out will cause the sport to lose sponsors. That is true to some extent, but people seem to forget that ASO also relies on sponsors to put their races on. Remember last year, German TV stations stopped showing the Tour to make a point about doping? Well I'm sure ASO does not want that to happen again, or the race to not be shown period. ASO has shown that their muscle flexes much harder than the ProTour's, and now they're using it to make their point about doping.
Complain all you want about it, don't watch the Tour this year if you've got something better to do in July, I'm sure ASO took the half dozen US based fans into account when making their decision and they are ready to pay that heavy price. Consider their decision stupid if you'd like, but in the meantime, who's put on a race year after year that is considered by everyone to be the greatest in the world? That's right, it's ASO. I'm pretty confident they know what they're doing.
And where was the outrage and 1000's of letters when the Giro excluded Astana? They're not bringing their best guys is a good enough reason, but a history of doping isn't? Give me a break. I'd like to find someone dumb enough to put money on the fact that all of Astana's riders are clean. If you wouldn't, why the hell do you expect ASO to do the same?
While I appreciate Mr. Barton's comments about finding sponsors that want a return on their investment by appearing at the Tour de France, I can't help but disagree. The biggest problem that accelerated the doping occurrences is exactly that mentality. Team managers faced with the pressure from "big money" to produce results began to take short cuts to guarantee those results.
The best thing that can happen to the sport is having those with money and the passion to be involved. How can a board of directors understand what happens in Stage 7 of the Tour de France? Do they care? Think of some of the major sponsors of many of the teams - I can think of Credit Agricole, Quickstep, and Cofidis of the top of my head - that have had long term involvement and understanding in the sport. Professional cycling takes a special breed of athlete, and also a special breed of sponsorship.
Where would we be without up-start stories like the continental team Barloworld? I'd rather see them in the Tour than Astana. I know that in North America were used to big million dollar contracts for athletes, and predictable schedules/results, but I know several ex-professional riders from the 80s that were happy that the sport provided a house paid for in Europe, and other fringe benefits. Andy Hampsten has had a successful career and an enjoyable career after cycling. Same with Steven Bauer and Phil Anderson.
I'm sorry, but cycling needs less "big money" and more "money from the heart." While Michael Ball is not my cup of tea, I appreciate his support of my favourite sport.
Good riddance to Discovery Channel and T-Mobile - never watched the channel nor bought your phones, even though you had great riders in your ranks. Bring on the wild card continental teams! Go LPR Brakes!
Cycling has reached its moment of truth. It will either crash or crash through. To crash will see the sport return to being the bastion of the aficionado - my sport will return to me!
To crash through will see this beautiful sport become part of the mainstream popular culture. Commercialised, sanitised for the masses, but appreciated by many more.
That cyclists have doped is a fact. That champions of the sport have doped is a fact. If your boat is floated by defending Tyler or Floyd, that's your choice. Knock yourself out.
My sport will survive. My sport will endure. Its audience might wane, but its core will remain. My heroes will remain heroes and my villains will remain villains.
Charley Mottet is the cyclist with the greatest integrity. Eddy Merckx the greatest full stop. Bernard Hinault the most aggressive. Phil Anderson the most underrated. Lance Armstrong the most recognised. Greg LeMond the transformer. Cadel Evans the reformer.
I am tired of the arguments. I am tired of the moralising and I am tired of the angst.
In 2008 there will be some bike races. There will be winners and losers. Some stories will endure.
Friday, February 15, 2008
I write this as a 15+ year fan of cycling and I have to say our sport is dead.
It has lost any relevance as a real sport by constant doping problems, it has lost any relevance as a professional sport by the mismanagement by UCI/ASO and WADA and most importantly it has lost its relevance as a sport since it has lost me.
Not that I am that important but I, like many am a big fan, but I am sick of this sport. Of the constant rumours of doping abuse without actual proof, the constant Operation Puerto open/close issues and the constant trampling of riders rights.
If I am giving up and am sure many others are giving up too. The riders are abused by the UCI/WADA/ASO and the reason I watch cycling is for the riders, not the UCI/AOS/WADA. I don't give 2 hoots about those bumbling, drunk, stupid, ignorant asses who run these institutions not for the sport but for their own press, publicity and personal ego. They are blinded by their inability to understand the riders, they are blinded by their own definition of what cycling is to them and they are blinded by the fact that they think they know what's best for cycling without ever asking who matters, the fans and riders.
I want to thank cyclingnews for the years of excellent cycling coverage and the unbelievable support of our sport whilst so many tear it down.
I am off to greener sport pursuits, not sure what that will be but it will be a sport that puts the fans and athletes first, not the organizers of the sport.
The recent actions of RCS and the ASO not to invite Astana to any of their races this season clearly demonstrates why we must have a ProTour like competition for top level professional cycling.
Race organisers cannot be trusted to be above petty politics and self promotion when it comes to selecting teams to compete in their races. Having teams that have earned the right to ProTour status with automatic pre-selection to the races in that competitions calendar is the only way to go.
Teams like Astana this year and Unibet last year have committed the dollars, hired the riders and put in place the infrastructure to compete at the highest level. To see their riders not able to compete because of petty politics is a real shame and only damages the sport. How can a sponsor commit when there is no guarantee that their team will be invited to all the major races?
I have seen no evidence that any of the big three race organisers can be trusted to run the sport and not put their interests first. Whilst the UCI is in no way perfect I do believe they do have the interests of the sport and its promotion as their number one goal.
Unfortunately the UCI missed its chance when it caved to ASO before last year Paris Nice. It should have banned ProTour teams from riding and forced ASO to comply with the rules. On the upside I think if these organisers continue to behave in this way the globalisation of the sport will leave them and their races behind.
I thought I would never say it. After Michael Ball's announcement of Rock Racing Team's roster for the tour of California, I'm starting to agree with this guy. Like it or not, he may be just what professional cycling needs; he is someone who could drag it, kicking and screaming of course, into a new century.
Shame on AEG for excluding Rock's riders. As a sponsor, how is Mr. Ball supposed to reconcile having signed three riders that have been cleared to race with the UCI but are not allowed to start in a UCI-sanctioned event? How can the UCI remain credible if its own confirmation of a rider's eligibility is not honoured by events it sanctions? Mr. Ball is rightly incredulous. He paid for riders who are licensed to race and he is reasonable in expecting them to be able to start any UCI event. It is time to take the power away from race organizers. As the ASO and now AEG have shown, there is no recourse available to teams or riders when these organizations arbitrarily dictate their terms while ignoring the rules.
Bravo to Mr. Ball for standing up for his guys. I hope that he his able to make cycling a more stable sport by wresting the power away from parasitic race organizers. As he has pointed out, someone needs to create a league of cycling teams that control all aspects of organization from ownership, to rules, to race promotion and staging. Only then will self-interested entities like the ASO and AEG be excluded from further screwing up our beloved sport.
The problem does not lie with the dopers: there will always be cheats. Instead, the problem is the conglomeration of hapless leaders who lack the gumption to set rules and stick to them. A sport that does not have mechanisms to gracefully handle cheaters is doomed.
I agree the Astana suspension is more about punishing Johan for his disco days and has very little to do with the 2007 edition. When you dance with the devil by hiring riders like Basso (in contravention of agreements you had with other team managers) it comes back to bite you in the end (just ask Michael Ball!).
ASO aren't really saying the 2007 Astana aren't allowed in - they are saying that they don't trust the 2008 team because of Postal, Disco and Johan from '99 on.
It's not the ASO killing cycling but doping and shady team managers that have accepted it as part of professional cycling.
As a cycling fan I'm sure that the Tour de France will be exiting to watch even without "the best" riders. Hopefully I can catch more of the action when the average speed drops to 36 km/h like we used to see in the 1980's, pre EPO and blood doping.
What kind of Tour de France champion do we have who has been forced to sit out two of three editions because of his team; first Liberty-Seguros and now Astana? Think about it.
I cannot help but noticed that there is almost unanimous outrage toward the ASO's decision to exclude Astana. I'm sure that they have their reasons. I dare say that a lot of the folks who howled in contempt did not yet realise that the Puerto investigation was being re-opened.
This investigation has obliquely implicated Alberto Contador. Interesting... Let's not forget also that Brunyeel's judgement is not exactly perfect. He did hire Basso... after Puerto (a move which I predicted would be the end of Discovery's sponsorship). And then he hired Contador... after Puerto. I am confident that the ASO probably knows a little more about what is going on behind the scenes than us mere-mortals do. Let's sit back and see what happens in Spain before we start braying about how the organisers of the greatest sporting competition in history are destroying the sport.
The real problem with ASO's decision to leave Astana off the Tour invitation list is that they can't suddenly decide these things in February after all the team rosters are in place. If they are going to enforce a strict rule against doping (which is good, in essence) they should have told Astana (and everyone else) in August. I guess I don't need to re-state the common knowledge of how ridiculously unfair it is to tell riders only after the season starts "oh by the way, that team you just joined, well, we don't like them (Bruyneel) and we've decided no to let them race in the Tour this year" I can't fathom the foolishness of this gesture! It kills cycling and sponsorship. There is nothing else to be said.
It's time for the UCI to flex its muscles and tell ASO, RCS and Unipublic just who is in charge of cycling.
The UCI needs to use similar tactics to the FIA when the FIA demanded that all race circuits put chicanes in on straights that were longer than 2km. The organizers of the Le Mans 24 hour race refused, stating that the Mulsanne Straight was sacrosanct and could not be touched. The FIA fired back that the Le Mans 24 hour race would no longer qualify in the points standing. Teams still entered because Le Mans is the most prestigious race of its kind, they didn't care about the points as long as they got the publicity for winning. The FIA fired back saying that any team that entered Le Mans would be banned from all other competition, the result was that the organizers of Le Mans relented and put 2 chicanes in the Mulsanne Straight.
The UCI needs to employ similar strong-arm tactics with ASO, RCS and Unipublic and threaten to pull the license of any rider who enters events organized by these bodies unless these bodies follow the rules set by the UCI. Will riders be willing to risk losing their license and enter these races, or will they toe the line and leave the races with no riders?
If the UCI has the balls to do it, this action will draw a line in the sand and we will finally see who is in control of cycling, the UCI or ASO, RCS and Unipublic.
I don't agree with ASO's decision to exclude Astana from this year's TdF, and I think it is bad for the upper end of the sport of professional cycling. I suspect it has as much to do with the power struggle between ASO and UCI as much as anything else.
The riders and teams are caught in the middle. How does a rider predict whether he or his team will be permitted to enter a race promoted by ASO? As a sponsor, how do you know whether you are sponsoring a team that will be invited to race in an ASO event, and as a result how do you assess the value of the sponsorship dollar you invest? Can you imagine how frustrated those riders and sponsors of the Astana team this year, and Unibet last year, feel?
Is there a solution? I fear there is not. If the riders and teams were smart they would, with one voice, say "invite Astana or you do not have a race - this is unfair and you are ruining our sport". The riders and teams that have been invited by ASO are probably not going to bite the hand that allows their sponsors, and therefore them, to be fed. I think that is sad, as it really shows who has the real power in pro racing, and it is not with the riders but those that control the money behind pro racing.
I wonder (because I really do not know) WHY ASO has the right to host the TdF and other races. What is to stop another organiser, say UCI, running a similar event? Why can't UCI run "The Tour around interesting and hopefully really hilly parts of France for 3 weeks"? Likewise the "Tour around hilly and interesting bits of Italy". If there is a need to secure approval from government, why can't such approval be given? The Promoters need to be put in their place, in my view.
Pat McQuaid's recent comments regarding the ASO's brave decision to exclude Astana from the 2008 Tour are surely final proof that he and the UCI have totally lost the plot when it comes to dealing with the issue of doping. Given Astana's record, not to mention the huge amount of controversy surrounding Bruyneel, the ASO are perfectly justified in their actions. True, some other teams are hardly 'whiter than white', but a line has to be drawn somewhere and ASO's actions give a much stronger message to those teams who feel that organised doping is perfectly acceptable than anything the UCI has done.
One of the most disappointing things about McQuaid comments is the way he has resorted to justifying his position by means of blinkered, anti-French rhetoric. Such attitudes have become one of the most distasteful aspects of the ongoing war between the dopers and their supporters and those trying to protect the future of the Tour and tackle doping. Anti-French xenophobia has become a staple of the supporters of Armstrong and Landis, and no doubt the supporters of Leipheimer will now be following suit. However, as president of the UCI McQuaid should not sink to such levels. I wonder if McQuaid will also be criticising the organisers of the Tour of California for their decision to exclude riders from the Rock Racing team who are merely under 'suspicion' of doping in relation to operation Puerto. Somehow I doubt it!
McQuaid's latest comments follow on from his claim that a 'mafia Western European culture' exists which endorses doping and which stands in opposition to 'Anglo-Saxon' culture which is opposed to doping. Odd then that the French (who doubtless McQuaid would regard as being part of the 'mafia') have done so much to tackle the issue of doping whilst he, as a shining knight of 'Anglo-Saxon culture', should be taking sides with the dopers in the Astana affair. Thankfully McQuaid's views are not shared by all, with the Giro organisers also choosing to exclude Astana and other team managers refusing to act in their support. (And Bruyneel could hardly expect other teams to support him after he broke the IPCT agreement not to sign riders implicated in operation Puerto by signing Basso when he ran the Discovery team).
The ASO may not be on McQuaid's Christmas card list, especially given the way they have resisted the UCI's attempts to wrest control of the TV rights to the sports major events away from the organisers in return for a pretty 'Pro Tour' jersey and compiling a list of rider performances. However, McQuaid should reflect on the fact that the need to exclude Astana has arisen largely because of the UCI's flaccid attitude to doping over the years.
I have a face saving way for ASO and RCS to allow Astana to ride in their races. Either they, or UCI, require Astana to put up a substantial amount of money (say $1 million?). ASO or RCS receive 25% of this amount for the first illegal drug violation by an Astana rider in any race, the remaining 75% for a second violation, and then the team is refused entry into RCS and ASO races following a third violation. Why allow the first two? To allow benefit of doubt for accidental use, race induced abnormalities, or laboratory error. Another option is to have Astana pay for drug testing of all its team before and after each days racing.
This along with the biological passport should show the team to be clean or not.
I personally find it very good that the ASO decided not to let the Astana team compete in this year's tour and other of its events. Should this sport have any chance of truly being cleaned up, I think decisions like this have to be made. Astana nearly ruined the tour last season with Vinokourov et al.
I think the point is to ban the people behind this team, not the riders and if the riders had thought for a few moments beforehand about signing with this team they would not be in this situation. I have no sympathy really for the riders of Astana; it is time for teams and riders to get the message. Enough is enough.
It seems quite strange that no athletes from any sport other than cycling have been named in Operacion Puerto. Have the Spanish authorities been singling out cyclists or are the reports of other sports being involved merely fabrication? And as for the ASO decision to ban Astana, well what can you say? Once again they have shown how much they flip flop on the issue. Just be consistent with teams whose rider(s) test positive, and make decisions across the board
With the stunning return of Mario Cipollini from retirement in the Tour of California at the age of 41, and a seemingly increasing number of older gentlemen in the pro peloton, is it time to introduce an "Older Rider" classification for stage races, in the same way that there is a young rider classification?
It would be great to see some of the legends who may have lost some of their top end speed, but are still as popular as ever (think Zabel as well as Cipollini), battling for their own jersey (though perhaps not a grey one). Think how popular the Masters Tour is in other sports.
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