Cycling News and Opinions
Unbalanced and Unfair
Collected 2008 news postings
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Monday, December 8: When we last checked in with Bjarne Riis and his formerly CSC sponsored team, he had signed up Saxo Bank and the booming tech company IT Factory. But, because the chief executive officer of IT Factory had apparently embezzled something like 70 million Euros, IT Factory had to declare bankruptcy. That left Riis without a cosponsor and in a bit of trouble because Saxo Bank doesn't want to be the team's sole sponsor. While Riis has been looking for some more dough for his team at least the IT factory story has been cleared up and it's a strange story at that.
The IT Factory CEO, Stein Bagger, was supposed to be a genius manager. He was named Danish Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young. Bagger was supposed to have taken IT from a troubled firm to a soaring enterprise, doubling its revenue for 3 years running. It turns out to have been a complete fraud and Bagger had fabricated the invoices and contracts, forging signatures. The Los Angeles Times reports that his fraud may end up being as high as $170 million dollars. 90 percent of the company's business actually didn't exist. Bagger is said to have had the Danish Hell's Angels beat up an IT staffer.
In late November Bagger abruptly flew to Dubai and then to New York. While he was gone the IT Factory financial fairy tale came apart. Bagger then drove to Los Angeles where he turned himself in to police, "I am Stein Bagger. I'm a fugitive from Europe and I'm here to turn myself in," he told the initially disbelieving cops at the police station near skid row. The police found the Interpol warrant for his arrest and took Bagger into custody.
Sunday, December 7: Americans are not alone in their fascination with Lance Armstrong's return to professional cycling. As I write this, La Gazzetta dello Sport's cycling web page has 6 stories, 5 of them about Armstrong. L'Equipe's cycling index page has 8 stories, 4 of them are about or involve Armstrong and Astana.
The current Gazzetta lead story describes yesterday's Team Astana four and a half hour training ride. It involved an extended and difficult climb with a total of 3000 meters of climbing for the day. There, unsurprisingly, Armstrong showed that he was in superb condition. He dropped Alberto Contador. To be fair, Contador has just undergone surgery and is surely at a disadvantage at the moment. Contador, as is his wont when faced with questions he doesn't like, was vague about their relative strengths. But the Gazzetta writer thought that Armstrong's display of strength was in no small way a psychological weapon to allow Armstrong to assert his supremacy. Leipheimer said that the current Armstrong is like the Armstrong of 2003. With a month and a half to go before Australia's Tour Down Under where Armstrong will make his return, it looks like Lance will be truly formidable.
Thursday, December 4: The Amgen Tour of California Route was announced. The final winner may not be known until the final stage because of the difficult climb up Mount Palomar (19 kilometers long, 21 switchbacks) that comes midway through stage 8.
Below the route map is a list of the stages.
|2009 Amgen Tour of California route map|
- February 14: Prologue individual time trial, Sacramento, 3.9 km (2.4 miles)
- February 15: Stage 1, Davis - Santa Rosa, 173.2 km (107.6 miles)
- February 16: Stage 2, Sausalito - Santa Cruz, 186.6 km (115.9 miles)
- February 17: Stage 3, San Jose - Modesto, 167.7 km (104.2 miles)
- February 18: Stage 4, Merced - Clovis, 187.7 km (115.4 miles)
- February 19: Stage 5, Visalia - Paso Robles, 216.1 km (134.3 miles)
- February 20: Stage 6, Solvang 24 km (15 miles) individual time trial
- February 21: Stage 7, Santa Clarita - Pasadena, 143 km (88.9 miles)
- February 22: Stage 8, Rancho Bernardo - Escondido, 155.8 km (96.8 miles)
Tuesday, December 2: La Gazzetta dello Sport's top cycling story was about Lance Armstrong's return to cycling and his decision to ride the Tour de France as well as the Giro in 2009. Armstrong and the Astana team are currently in Tenerife in the Canary Islands for a training camp. I'm paraphrasing La Gazzetta's story here: Armstrong said that when it came time to ride the Tour he would ride for the strongest member of the team. I'm sure this was aimed at smoothing over any tension between himself and Alberto Contador. Contador has insisted that he is to be the team's sole protected rider for the 2009 Tour. But as conciliatory as Armstrong's words sound, they have an eerie resemblance to Bernard Hinault's pronouncements regarding himself and Greg LeMond for the 1986 Tour. Armstrong further said it would be stupid to think he could begin where he left off racing. He said he felt better than ever and that what will happen in the race remains to be seen (that sounds like the door is still very open for Armstrong to assert his right to be the team leader). Mentally, he said he felt as good as he did in 1998/1999.
Monday, December 1: It has been an interesting day.
Lance Armstrong announced that he was going to try for the Giro-Tour double. He had already made a firm commitment to the Giro and is now planning on doing both Grand Tours. I'm sure Alberto Contador made a happy face when he heard that news. Armstrong did note that the Giro might leave him too tired to lead his Astana team in the Tour. Given all the heavyweights who are planning on riding the Giro's Centennial edition, anyone who wins in 2009 will be both worthy and toasted.
La Gazzetta dello Sport reported that CSF rider Emanuele Sella, who won 3 spectacular mountain stages in this year's Giro, will receive a 1-year suspension for his positive for EPO/CERA. He got the reduction from the usual 2 years because he named his supplier, teammate Matteo Priamo, and others involved in his doping. Priamo also had an unusually successful Giro. Now we know why. A few Italian bloggers have complained that Riccardo Ricco also confessed, but still got the full 2 years. Maybe the extra year was piled on was because Ricco is a jerk.
Bjarne Riis thought he had the sponsorship for his Saxo, formerly CSC, team all wrapped up. The team was to be cosponsored by the Danish firm, IT Factory. Won't happen. The president of the firm is said to have embezzled what might turn out to be almost 70 million dollars. IT Factory has filed for bankruptcy. IT's former (I assume) prez is supposed to be somewhere around Dubai. If you see him sunning on the beach, tell him Bjarne wants him to call home. Riis is now looking for a new cosponsor.
Sunday, November 8: The International Olympic Committee is retesting samples from the Beijing Olympics, looking for EPO/CERA. Jacques Rogge, the IOC president, thinks that another 7 positives might turn up. So far, the Olympics have had 6 positives for dope, including Isabel Moreno from, unsurprisingly, the Spanish cycling team.
I applaud the IOC's vigorous search for cheaters. The Tour de France also performed restrospective testing and among others, caught its third-place finisher Bernhard Kohl.
The UCI has ruled out a retest of Giro samples. Given the rumors of widespread EPO/CERA use in the Giro, the resulting potential scandal from such a search for dopers probably scared the UCI from doing the right thing. Nothing new there.
Wednesday, October 22: The Tour de France organization revealed the 2009 route. Next year's TDF will be run between July 4 and July 26. It has only 55 kilometers of time trialing and a mountaintop finish on the penultimate stage. The first stage will be a 15 kilometer individual time trial, making it hard for a sprinter to work his way into yellow in the early stages. The race will start in Monaco and hit the Pyrenees before the Alps. It will be a 21-stage race with no prologue.
There will be: 10 flat stages, 7 mountain stages, 1 medium mountain stage, 2 individual time-trials and 1 team time-trial.
Also: There will be 3 mountaintop finishes, the usual 2 rest days, 55 kilometers of individual time-trialing and 20 Category 1, Category 2 and highest level passes.
Here's the map:
Monday, October 13: Some good news and some bad news. I'll start with the good news. Lance Armstrong has accepted the invitation from Angelo Zomegnan, the Giro Boss, to ride the 2009 Giro. I have no idea how this will affect either his plans to race and win the Tour nor the dynamics within the Astana team. It looked like Alberto Contador was planning on heading for the exit door if he weren't given an iron-clad guarantee that he would be the protected Astana team leader in the 2009 Tour. Maybe Armstrong takes the Giro and Contador the Tour? Who knows? In any case, this is good new for the Corsa Rosa. Maybe it'll be on TV.
Now the bad news. Tour revelation Bernhard Kohl (Gerolsteiner), third place in the 2008 Tour and winner of the KOM, was found positive (OK, non-negative. I guess I'm getting cranky. I'm tired of these cheats and don't feel like mincing words) for EPO/CERA. The "B" sample has yet to be tested. If it comes back positive I assume he'll be tied to a post, given a blindfold and a cigarette.
Monday, October 6: Some news. A couple of weeks ago the Tour de France organization announced that several riders' urine samples were suspicious, and therefore they planned to submit the riders' blood samples to further testing. The results of those tests are starting to come in and it ain't pretty. Two riders have so far been caught in the dragnet. The first is no surprise: Leonardo Piepoli, a teammate of disgraced Saunier Duval rider Riccardo Ricco, was found to have EPO/CERA in his system.
The other rider surprised me. Stefan Schumacher of Gerolsteiner, winner of both of the Tour's time trials and holder of the Yellow Jersey for a couple of days also triggered a positive for EPO/CERA. Schumacher has signed to ride for Quick Step in 2009. I don't think we'll be seeing him racing in those colors for a while, if ever.
I don't know if more names are coming, but it is nice to see that the good guys are doing everything in their power to catch the cheaters.
Wednesday, September 24: It looks like Lance Armstrong will announce today that he will ride for Johan Bruyneel's Astana team. He'll start his road season in January at the Tour Down Under in Australia. Meanwhile Alberto Contador has turned positively grumpy about Armstrong's joining the Astana team. Initially Contador welcomed Armstrong, but that was probably when becoming Armstrong's teammate was theoretical. Can you blame Contador? If becoming only the fifth rider in cycling history to win all 3 Grand Tours doesn't gain him the privilege of being the team's sole leader, what does? I'm sure Contador knows enough cycling history to realize that these split-leader teams just don't work. Just ask Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault or Roger De Vlaeminck and Francesco Moser. A Kazakh cycling federation official seems to think Contador can be smoothed over. I'll bet Contador is wearing a different team kit in 2009. Contador versus Armstrong in the 2009 Tour? That will be a race! I hope it happens.
Wednesday, September 17: Some news. The Associated Press reports that the French Anti-Doping Agency is going to test the blood samples of riders who had suspicious, but not conclusively positive, urine samples in the Tour de France. They will be looking for CERA, the third generation EPO that disgraced Saunier Duval rider Riccardo Ricco was caught using.
The tests should be completed in 10 days, 15 days at the most, says the chief of the Anti-Doping Agency. I'll bet there are some cheaters who will spend the next 2 weeks wearing Depends.
Tuesday, September 9: It is confirmed. Lance Armstrong is going to resume professional bike racing with the aim of winnning the Tour de France in 2009. He has not decided on a team nor has he chosen his race schedule, beyond the Tour itself.
Monday, September 8: 7-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong (who will turn 37 this year) is said by Velo-News to be set to return to professional racing in 2009. His schedule is said to include the Amgen Tour of California, Paris-Nice, the Tour de Georgia, the Dauphine-Libere and the Tour de France. He will ride for Astana. He will also post all of his blood values on-line. I have been told by a person I consider reliable and knowledgeable that the story is true.
A spokesman for Astana denies having plans to include Armstrong in its coming season.
This is going to be interesting.
Tuesday, August 5: Emanuele Sella (CSF-Navigare), the 2008 Giro d'Italia King of the Mountains, has tested positive for the same EPO-CERA that brought down Riccardo Ricco in the Tour de France. Sella, winner of 3 stages in this year's Giro, was caught in an out-of-competition test. It looks like the UCI is going after riders whose performances have been too good to be true. It has been rumored that EPO-CERA was widely used in the Giro.
Alberto Contador beats Michael Rasmussen at Plateau de Beille in Stage 14 of the 2007 Tour
July 2: Michael Rasmussen has to be feeling a little bit better today. Rasmussen was dismissed from the Rabobank squad a few days after he was pulled from the 2007 Tour. Feeling that he had been fired illegally, Rasmussen sued his team for 5.5 million euros. A Dutch court ruled that while the team could fire Rasmussen, they didn't do it the way Dutch law mandates. Moreover, Rasmussen did keep his team informed of his whereabouts even while he was deceiving the UCI (see posting below), so Rabobank had trouble arguing that Rasmussen had wronged them. Rabobank had the option of keeping Rasmussen off their Tour squad. Knowing what they did about Rasmussen, they clearly should not have brought him to the Tour. So, Mikie gets 665,000 euros ($1,050,700) which is 2 months salary and the 400,000 euro bonus he would had received had he been allowed to finish and win the 2007 Tour de France. And your mother told you cheaters never prosper.
July 1: Michael Rasmussen, who was leading the 2007 Tour de France when his team removed him from the race, has received a 2-year racing suspension from the Monaco Cycling Federation, where Rasmussen holds his license. During the 2007 Tour it was revealed that Rasmussen had lied to the UCI about where he was during June, 2007 when he was training in the Alps. Racers must make themselves available for out-of-competition dope testing and Rasmussen had said he was in Mexico. Rasmussen had what looked like an unassailable lead in the Tour (3min 10sec over Contador) after winning stage 16 when his team pulled him because of the ever-growing public disgust with the scandal over his lies. Rasmussen's suspension goes until July 25, 2009. Goodby. Don't let the door hit you on your way out.
Floyd Landis rides away from the field in stage 17 of the 2006 Tour de France.
Monday, June 30: Floyd Landis lost his appeal to the Court for Arbitration of Sport in Switzerland. Landis therefore remains stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title and must continue to serve his 2-year racing suspension which began January 30, 2007. In addition, he must pay the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency $100,000 to cover their legal costs. The decision handed down was very strongly worded against Landis. Landis has said that he was saddened by the decision and added, "I am looking into my legal options and deciding on the best way to proceed.".
Wednesday, June 18: Congratulations to Jonathan Vaughters and Team Slipstream. They signed Garmin (the GPS Navigation system makers) as a title sponsor. The new Garmin-Chopotle-presented by H30 team will have their new kit (which will remain in the team's distinctive argyle style) in time for the Tour de France. It's nice to see the good guys do well.
Tuesday, June 17: Team High Road (formerly T-Mobile and before that Telekom) has signed Columbia Sportswear Company of Portland, Oregon, to be its title sponsor. The contract is for 3 years and allows the squad to sign other sponsors. Starting with the start of the Tour de France on July 5, High Road will begin competing as Team Columbia. Good Luck.
Wednesday, June 11 Update: The Tour organization has informed Tom Boonen and Quick Step that Boonen cannot compete in the 2008 Tour de France.
Wednesday, June 11: Tom Boonen, probably the finest 1-day racer currently competing (2x Paris-Roubaix, 2x Tour of Flanders, World Road Championship), tested positive for cocaine in an out-of-competiton test done on May 26, 3 days before the Tour of Belgium. Boonen was scheduled to start the Tour of Switzerland but the Swiss Tour organizers have told Boonen's team, Quick Step, to leave their star at home. Boonen and team Quick Step's manager Patrick Lefevre held a press conference today. Boonen apologized ("I'm not perfect.") and Lefevre said that the team would not fire their talented rider. Further, Quick Step has extended its contract with Boonen for another 3 years. Boonen's contract with Quick Step was due to expire at the end of this year and he was being shopped to other teams. Now, will the Tour allow the 2007 Green Jersey winner to ride the 2008 edition?
June 5. In 2004 the previous president of the UCI, Hein Verbruggen, rammed through his vision of a modern, big-money reorganization of cycling, called the Pro Tour. Four years later we still have nothing but misery. Several important, smaller races are no longer held because they could not attract the big teams who have to race elsewhere in order to honor the obligations of their Pro Tour licenses. The Grand Tour organizers have been engaged in a non-stop feud with the UCI over the Pro Tour structure. The UCI keeps trying to threaten riders and organizers who don't follow their rules. The latest was a not-so-subtle hint that riders who participate in the Tour de France, which will not be held under a UCI sanction, would not be allowed to participate in the Olympics. As with all their other threats so far, the UCI, which is nothing more than an organization of bureaucrats with rubber stamps, had to back down.
Earlier this year when the UCI threatened the teams with punishment if they rode in Paris-Nice, the team managers made their loyalties clear. They are beholden to their sponsors, who have paid millions of euros to have people watch riders wearing their logos race. So the teams came and raced Paris-Nice. The organizers have the races, the teams have the talent, the sponsors have the money and the UCI has desks and pens. Barring some extraordinary development, I can't see how the UCI can win.
The Tour de France organizer, ASO, has abandoned the UCI and is having the race sanctioned by the French national federation. The UCI fumes and expresses its indignation. So what? The Tour will go on as it has for over 100 years.
Today ASO upped the ante by buying a half-interest (49% really) in the Vuelta a Espana.
I think the UCI has brought a knife to a gunfight.
Monday, June 2: The most exciting Grand Tour since the LeMond-Fignon 1989 Tour de France is over. The 2008 Giro has to go down as one of the great races in history because of the wonderful equipoise between so many of the riders. As the tough third week tore the riders' legs apart, several of them just ran out of gas. No one was leaving a single watt on the table.
Contador is truly a deserving winner. The other competitors threw everything they had at him and each other. La Gazzetta dello Sport noted that Ricco was the last man to surrender to the Spaniard, fighting ferociously until the end. La Gazzetta also wrote of Ricco and Contador as the future of cycling. It will be great to watch these 2 battle in the coming years. Might we see a return of something like Coppi-Bartali, Anquetil-Poulidor rivalries?
Bravo to the Giro organizers who made it clear that the Giro is no longer to be ridden as a training race for the Tour de France. They accepted only those teams who wanted to race and win. With this new additude of selectiveness, I hope the Giro can rise in prestige and become a co-equal with the Tour de France.
June is the month of 1-week stage races, races that the Tour de France competitors will use to fine-tune their fitness and try to get the measure of the other riders. June 8 -15 will give us the Dauphine Libere. This race is now so hard and prestigious that winning it can leave the winner too tired for the Tour. Even Lance Armstrong suffered in the Tour after going deep to win the Dauphine.
June 14 - 22 gives us the Tour of Switzerland, the last major stage race before the July 5 start of the Tour de France.
The final weekend of June is reserved for many countries' National Championships. The weekend after that will be the start of the Tour de France in Brest, Brittany. This year's Tour will not start with a prologue time trial. The riders will race a 197.5 kilometer road stage with four category 4 climbs. Every year the Tour throws something different into the mix, constantly renewing the race with change.