Cycling News and Opinions
Unfair and Unbalanced
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June 18: It seems that the two big stories causing the most buzz in the cycling forums and chat rooms are the Cavendish/Haussler crash in the Tour of Switzerland and the Team Radio Shack exclusion for the 2010 Vuelta.
I was a bit surprised by the brief riders' strike before the start of stage 5, the day after the big crash. The dangerous life of a sprinter makes crashes like this a normal but regrettable part of their lives. I saw the video of the crash several times it and while Haussler's line wasn't perfect, it seemed to me that Cavendish veered into Haussler causing the massive spill.
Now it's not the crash that troubles me, it's Cavendish's churlish post-crash behavior that turns my stomach. For some reason it seems to have not been worth mentioning on most of the cycling reporting web sites that while Haussler was still on the ground Cavendish spit on him. What a disgusting, revolting, childish thing to do, no matter who was a fault. No wonder the next day the riders wanted to make it clear that Cavendish should show a little more respect to the other riders.
Cavendish's non-apology is in keeping with the HTC-Columbia team stance that the crash was not Cavendish's fault. "I'm not going to say that I wasn't wrong, but I don't think I'm the one who should have taken all the blame."
Team Director Valerio Pivo, who seems to get his information from radio signals sent to his tooth fillings, blamed the riders' outrage at some weird conspiracy by the pro peloton to play with the sprinter's mind before the Tour de France. “There is jealousy from other riders because Mark won a lot of races last season.They want to disturb Mark in his head before the Tour de France starts.”
“I didn’t understand this protest,” Piva continued. “Its obvious that some riders and some teams want to put pressure on Mark before the Tour. They speak about him like if he was the devil.”
Cavendish is a magnificently talented sprinter who, so far, is just that, a man with great physical talents. But he's got a lot to learn about being a good sportsman and even more about being a man.
The Vuelta's Radio Shack snub seems to have surprised a lot of people. For me the only surprise is the surprise. If one accepts the notion that nothing scares the Grand Tour organizers more than the prospect of yet another doping scandal, then the Radio Shack exclusion makes perfect sense. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know the Vuelta guys said they made their decision based on the teams' sporting qualities. The check is in the mail and I'll respect you in the morning.
It should be noted that when Javier Gillen made his defense of the Vuelta team selections, he was vague about the entire subject and spoke mostly in generalities. I'm guessing that what he could not say without causing a furor is that several of the riders and at least one member of Team Radio Shack management appear to be the subject of a U.S. Federal government probe with an investigator and a prosecutor looking into Floyd Landis' accusations. Furthermore, there are rumors that the Feds want to see if RICO laws can be applied in this case. If so, the government has a giant club to beat information out of people. With that prospect, the possibility of the scandal erupting during September is certainly greater than zero. The odds are surely good (or bad?) enough to think it would be best to not court trouble.
The reader should remember that ASO owns half of the Vuelta. Former Tour boss Jean-Marie Leblanc made clear that he believes that the retrospective testing of Armstrong's 1999 Tour samples did indeed show that he had used EPO. I assume the rest of ASO management shares this view. Couple that with the Feds sniffing around and it's my feeling that you could reasonably expect the Radio Shack team to miss the Vuelta.
June 10: Even though the Euro has lost a lot of its value against the Dollar (I bought Euros a couple of days ago for $1.199, much better than almost $1.50 it was earlier) there are clouds on the horizon that will make bike stuff cost more in the future. Even if your planned purchase is a truly European-produced item that is priced in Euros at the factory level, like a Campy group or a Milani frame, there are reasons why its pricing will at least be affected somewhat.
First of all, commodities like butyl (needed for tires and tubes) and aluminum are going up and commodity prices tend to be in real dollars and adjust to currency fluctuations. Raw material prices are so unstable that according to a story in Bike Europe, component makers are refusing to give price quotes for very far into the future. Several makers have already announced immediate price increases. Bike Europe says there are probably more price boosts coming.
The Wall Street Journal did a recent story on shipping costs. The owners of container ships have pulled some of their shipping capacity and with fewer ships and containers on the water, transport prices have been going up. Several governments are looking into price-fixing charges, but almost nothing ever comes out of these investigations.
Since a lot of the bike stuff the world uses comes from China, what happens there matters. Cheap China labor (compared to earlier years) may be a thing of the past. Labor strikes in China are not uncommon. Honda just had to give a large pay increase to the workers at one of its Chinese factories. In addition, the world is demanding that China revalue its Yuan upwards. There are predictions that the Yuan could be allowed to float upwards as much as 15% later this year.
June 1: I got my birthday present a bit early. The Court of Arbitration for Sport has banned Alejandro Valverde from racing until Jan 1, 2012. Valverde gets to keep the race results he earned (I hate using that word, but I can't think of a more suitable one) while he spent years fighting the UCI's efforts to suspend him.
Here is the UCI press release regarding the Valverde ban:
"The International Cycling Union (UCI) is satisfied by the decision of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on the Alejandro Valverde case. Mr Valverde has been suspended from all competition for two years commencing 1 January 2010.
"By deciding to suspend the Spanish rider, the CAS agreed with the UCI, which had appealed in 2007 together with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) against the refusal of the Spanish Cycling Federation to open disciplinary proceedings against Mr Valverde for his involvement in Operation Puerto.
"The UCI and cycling as a whole have certainly suffered greatly from this affair. The damage caused by Mr Valverde's behaviour since the UCI became convinced of his guilt cannot be fully compensated for by this regulatory sanction. Nevertheless, the UCI is now relieved and contented with CAS’s decision as it resolves a situation that had become untenable.
"Following the CAS's decision, Mr Valverde will not be allowed to participate in any cycling events before 31 December 2011. Furthermore, he has been disqualified from all competitions in which he has competed since the beginning of the year and all points allocated to him have been removed. Mr Valverde must also return all prizes received.
"The UCI World Ranking has been modified accordingly."
Valverde has promised to fight the ban. I wish this irksome person would just leave cycling. Unlike other riders (say Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis) who appealed racing bans, Valverde has been able to race brilliantly with the connivance of the Spanish judiciary even though the Operacion Puerto mess ruined many other careers, starting in 2006. Valverde has been able to postpone his punishment for about four years. He has been able to enjoy racing during his peak years and earn a lot of money and fame. Weirder, he been able to get lots of sympathy because the recent ban occurred years after the offence. The fact that the delay was largely the result of Valverde's actions has had no effect upon his fans. Reminds me of the story of the person who killed his parents then asked for mercy from the judge because he was an orphan.
More disappointing was the general reaction of Spanish cycling. Valverde's team said that he was "probably the most controlled sportsman in the world". I thought that Lance Armstrong was the most tested rider, anyway. Not getting caught in a dope control doesn't mean a rider is clean. It means that he has passed doping controls, nothing more.
I'm sure Caisse d'Epargne knew that when they put out that release. It sure lets you know how dedicated Caisse d'Epargne is to clean cycling. The Spanish press and cycling federation are standing foursquare behind Valverde and complaining about the harshness of the punishment. Sort of sounds like the 1988 Tour when Pedro Delgado was found to have a steroid-masking agent in his system. Spain was prepared to create a diplomatic incident if the judges punished Delgado. Luckily for Delgado, the substance found wasn't yet banned. But it shows that social cohesion, fan passions and nationalism can corrupt the fight for a clean sport.
Valverde had been the world number 1 ranked rider, but today the UCI removed the results of races in which Valverde competed since Jan. 1, 2010, from when the start of the racing ban is dated. Cadel Evans is now the big dog. That feels better.
Spain remains the number 1 UCI ranked cycling nation.