Cycling News and Opinions
Unbalanced and Unfair
January - May, 2009
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Monday, May 11: The Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) has handed Alejandro Valverde a 2-year suspension for his involvement in the Operation Puerto doping scandal. For now this ban involves only races that happen in Italy. That means Valverde will not be able to ride the Tour de France because the Tour stage 16 does take the Tour into Italy.
Valverde insists he is innocent and has threatened to sue CONI's prosecutor Ettore Torri over the way he acquired and used the blood bags that had been seized by Spanish police in 2006 in prosecuting Valverde. Through DNA matching, Valverde was linked to some of these blood bags. All of Valverde's arguments are legalistic and for the sports fan, nothing but a bunch of hooey. At no point have I seen any rational argument from Valverde or his lawyers that explain away the damning evidence. They just are trying to shout it away.
Tuesday, May 12 update: Valverde has already filed an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Alejandro Valverde should just go away now for a couple of years. We'll welcome him back after he serves his suspension.
Saturday, May 9: Some news. Tom Boonen, probably the finest living classics (3-times Paris-Roubaix winner) rider has again tested positive for cocaine. As in May of 2008, the positive occurred in an out-of-competition test. As a result of the positive, police searched Boonen's house. His team, Quick Step, has suspended him. Last year, as a result of his first positive, Boonen was not allowed to ride the Tour de France. I would guess that another exclusion is likely.
A second offense by a man still serving a suspended sentence for the first positive has the heartbreaking smell of a habit that is out of control. He is now in jeopardy of criminal prosecution and real punishment, including prison. I hope Mr. Boonen wants and gets help. I wish him well.
Wednesday, May 6: Some news. When I looked at the French sports website lequipe.fr this morning there was a small note that the Astana team had received a demand from the UCI that they replenish their bank guaranty, a 2-million dollar requirement that protects the riders' salaries from team financial problems. It didn't seem like a big deal. A story in cyclingnews.com makes it clear that the problem might actually be a catastrophe.
Several of the Kazakh businesses that are financing a team so powerful that La Gazzetta Dello Sport calls it "Fortress Astana" are refusing to continue paying for the team of Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer and Alberto Contador. Many of the industrial oligarchs in the former Soviet Union are having money problems with the recent worldwide collapse in the price of commodities. I don't know if this is the cause, but refusing to pay for a sports team seems to be a likely place for a beleaguered company to save money.
If a couple of million bucks aren't found and found fast, the UCI will be forced to yank Astana's Pro Tour license. In Kazakhstan, sports and team organizers are not hopeful. The postings on sports.kz (you can use Google to translate the pages from Russian) have a miserable and abject tone.
For now the Astana team doesn't have any comment and it looks like Astana probably has until the end of the Giro to find secure financing that would enable them to ride the Tour de France and the rest of the season.
Armstrong is musing about owning his own professional cycling team. He plans to make an announcement regarding his cycling future and team ownership at the end of the '09 Tour de France. Might these the Astana troubles be related to Armstrong's plans?
Wednesday, April 29: Some news. Here we go again. Another "pure" sportsman probably has feet of clay. This time it is Davide Rebellin, silver medalist at the Beijing Olympics.
The International Olympic Committee has been performing retroactive dope tests on samples given by athletes at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, specifically looking for CERA-EPO and Insulin Growth Factor (IGF). Six athletes turned up positive for the CERA-EPO, none for IGF. Of these 6, 2 are cyclists: the aforementioned Rebellin and Stefan Schumacher, who has already tested positive for CERA-EPO during the 2008 Tour de France. Both riders were on the troubled Gerolsteiner team last year.
Rebellin's current team, Serramenti PVC-Diquigiovanni, has suspended Rebellin for now and the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) has also suspended Rebellin and ordered him to report to CONI in Rome on Monday, May 4.
Rebellin has staunchly denied any misdeeds and has asked to have the "B" sample tested. Given that the other cycling dope positive was triggered by another former Gerolsteiner rider, a team that also contained disgraced doper Bernard Kohl, and both the Olympic and Tour positives are for the same drug, CERA-EPO, I can't say it looks good.
Rebellin has had a remarkable string of victories, mostly in 1-day races. He just won Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday, the 22nd.
Schumacher continues to fight his Tour doping positive and I'm sure Rebellin will litigate the Olympic test.
We've all watched this play before, the anguished cries of surprise from the caught doper and ferocious attacks on the competency of the testers with the athlete's fans furious that their hero could be accused of wrongdoing. We know how it will probably turn out. I'm tired of it all.
I'm tired of the racers and complacent officials changing the sport from one that tests athletic prowess and mental grit to one that sees whose body has the superior response to dope.
I'm tired of complaints about journalists who work like dogs to ferret out information unmasking the cheaters who rob the honest competitors. The David Walshes and Paul Kimmages who ask the hard questions and make the racers squirm are heroes and deserves our thanks.
Thursday, April 9: Some news. Bike racing seems to have its own version of the 100 Years War. In the Middle Ages it was the English against the French. Now it's Lance Armstrong versus the French. This latest chapter could have dire consequences for Armstrong's plans to ride the 2009 Tour de France. A representative of the French Anti-Doping Agency (AFLD) made an unannounced visit to Armstrong in order to get samples. Here's where it gets ugly. Armstrong said that he had just returned from a ride and that while his team director, Johan Bruyneel, checked to make sure that the visitor was indeed from the AFLD, Armstrong, with permission from the AFLD tester, ran off to take a shower. The AFLD man says that he did not give permission and Armstrong's refusal to stay put was a violation of the rules. Those rules basically state that once the tester has made his surprise visit, the athlete must remain in sight of the tester. The reasons for this are obvious. The athlete can disappear and perform any sort of mischief that might affect the test results. It also obviates the surprise nature of the test. After races, those riders getting tested have chaperones assigned who stubbornly stay right with the racer until the test samples have been given. Long experience with dishonest athletes has shown the necessity of this supervision.
The AFLD is going to open a disciplinary hearing. I'm guessing that it will revolve on the two different accounts and which one is thought to be correct. This could result in Armstrong's been banned from racing in France. It's surprising that two such knowledgable and experienced campaigners as Bruyneel and Armstrong let this happen. Even if the AFLD representative had given his permission to let Armstrong take his shower, both had to have known this was against the rules.
Wednesday, April 1: Some news. Ettore Torre, the anti-doping prosecutor of the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) has asked that Spanish racer Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) receive a 2-year racing suspension for his part in the Operacion Puerto doping mess. The Italians were able to match up a blood sample given by Valverde after stage 15 in the 2008 Tour de France when the Tour traveled to Italy, with a blood bag seized by Spanish investigators in 2006. When interviewed about the case Torre asserts with a metaphysical certainty that Valverde is guilty of participating in the systematic doping program that cost Jan Ullrich his career and Ivan Basso a lengthy suspension.
Valverde continues to assert his innocence and will surely appeal any penalty CONI hands down. He claims the evidence against was seized illegally, that CONI has no jurisdiction, etc.
That's all a nice bit of legal mumbo-jumbo but doping and bike racing do not quite operate like a court of law. For this race fan, Valverde has not argued away this problem: why does blood taken at the 2008 Tour that we know is Valverde's match a Puerto blood bag? Instead of trying to make the evidence go away, I would much prefer an innocent explanation. So far I haven't heard it. I don't think any amount of conniving by the Spanish judicial authorities will keep this scandal buried any longer. But Lord knows, they've tried.
I will be very surprised if Valverde starts the Tour de France this year or next year.
Monday, March 30: 3 days after undergoing surgery to repair a collarbone that was broken into 4 pieces, Lance Armstrong has already started training again. He spent a half-hour on a stationary bike. In 4 or 5 days he may start riding the rollers and in 2 weeks or a little more he may get back on the bike. The Giro starts in Venice in only 40 days and Armstrong's team is optimistic that he will be there.
Wednesday, March 25: Lance Armstrong's broken collarbone was repaired today. What was thought to be a simple break turned out to be a more complex fracture. The right collarbone was broken into 4 pieces which required a 5-inch long steel plate and 12 screws to repair. Armstrong believes he will be able to resume training in time to make his planned rendezvous with the Giro on May 9. Armstrong crashed in the first stage of the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon.
Monday, March 23: . Lance Armstrong crashed in the final kilometers of the first stage of the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon, breaking his right collarbone. He will fly home for surgery. This will surely compromise his Giro ride given that a broken collarbone takes 4 to 6 weeks to heal. The Giro starts May 9.
Tuesday, March 17: The Tour de France organization released the names of the 20 teams receiving invitations to race the 2009 edition. Notably missing was Fuji-Servetto, reformed from the old disgraced Saunier-Duval squad. I assume that Fuji, like Astana, will have to wait a year before they can ride so that the Tour can monitor them and make sure that things have truly been reformed. As expected, Astana was invited this year.
- Quickstep (QST)
- Silence - Lotto (SIL)
- Team Saxo Bank (SAXO)
- AG2R - La Mondiale (ALM)
- Agritubel (AGR)
- BBox Bouygues Telecom (BTL)
- Cofidis, Le Crédit en Ligne (COF)
- Française des Jeux (FDJ)
- Team Milram (MRM)
- Lampre - N.G.C. (LAM)
- Liquigas (LIQ)
- Astana (AST)
- Rabobank (RAB)
- Skil-Shimano (SKS)
- Team Katusha (KAT)
- Caisse d'Epargne (GCE)
- Euskaltel - Euskadi (EUS)
- Cervélo Test Team (CTT)
- Garmin - Slipstream (GRM)
- Team Columbia - High Road (THR)
Thursday, February 19: Some news. Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) went to Italy to meet Ettore Torri, the prosecutor looking into the Operation Puerto scandal. Torri says he has positively matched a bag of blood that was seized from Eufemiano Fuentes in 2006 with blood given by Valverde after stage 15 of the 2008 Tour de France. He says he also has documents showing money payment to Fuentes and for "substances", but they need "interpretation". Torri says the case is identical to that of Ivan Basso who also had a Fuentes blood bag match.
The Spanish judge who is doing all in his power to keep from having the Puerto scandal properly investigated is furious at the move by Torri, claiming that the Italians have no jurisdiction in the case. Torri basically told him to pound sand. Valverde kept his mouth shut the during the examination and refused to speak with reporters after the meeting.
The lawyers and press releases defending Valverde contain the usual garbage: Valverde never failed a drug test, the Italians are being vague about their charges, they don't have jurisdiction, it's unfair to use the Tour blood samples this way. On and on. Valverde has a couple of weeks to prepare his defense. Anyone think Valverde will be starting the Tour de france after this?
Valverde continues to insist that he is innocent. As so he is until proven otherwise.
Oh, and Stefan Schumacher has been suspended by the French Cycling Federation for his EPO-CERA postive in the 2008 Tour. Schumacher also insists upon his innocence.
Update: Valverde has been granted a 2-day postponement.
Wednesday, February 11: Some news. For years Spanish racer Alejandro Valverde has had the shadow of the Puerto doping scandal hanging over him. He has never been able to dispel suspicions with his repeated denials and prosecutors have never been given the tools to prove his guilt. Things are changing a bit. The Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) has acquired blood and urine samples Valverde gave when the race went into Italy in the 2008 Tour de France. That would presumably be stage 15 on July 20 to Prato Nevoso. Valverde's Tour samples are said to match a Puerto sample. Oh-oh!
CONI has told Valverde to show up for a hearing on Monday, February 16. He's got a lot of splainin' to do.
Now, when Valverde has either been cleared or sent to the galleys, let's move on to the dozens of others who have so far skated with the help/connivance of the Spanish judicial authorities. It should not require the Italians to prosecute a Spanish doping suspect.
Monday, January 12: The Diquigiovanni-Andronni team of Gilberto Simoni and Davide Rebellin was presented today. It was the 25th anniversary of the team managed by Gianni Savio (third from left, below). It can't be called any kind of a youth movement since Simoni and Rebellin are both 37 years old. La Gazzetta dello Sport called them old and terrible, terrible in this case meaning fearsome. They said they can win anywhere. Simoni is looking for his career 8th Giro podium place in the upcoming Corsa Rosa.
Here's the team in Broglia, near Vicenza.
They'll be riding Guerciotti bikes. From the left, Paolo Guerciotti, Gilberto Simoni, Davide Rebellin and Alessandro Guerciotti.
Three of the best came to the presentation. From the left, Alfredo Martini (3rd in the 1950 Giro to Koblet and Bartali, team manager of the legendary Ferretti and Sammontana squads and Italian national team director), Paolo Guerciotti and Francesco Moser.