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Cycling News and Opinions
Unfair and Unbalanced
June, 2012

Back to news and opinion index page for links to archived stories

June 24: The Tour de France starts in just days and what was thought at one time to be one of the most feared teams in the peloton, Radio Shack-Nissan, has had a complete melt-down. Instead of the gifted Schleck brothers guided by the the Tour's most successful modern manager and assisted by a team of powerful domestiques, the team looks like it is going nowhere fast.

Amid the accusations by the US Anti-Doping Agency of helping drug riders, Johan Bruyneel will not be managing the team on the road. Andy Schleck is injured and cannot start and Frank Schleck is gassed from his long season that recently saw him get a fine second place in the Tour of Switzerland. He says he's exhausted. I think the only thing to do do at this point is to rub salt in the wound and share a video about Radio Shack-Nissan's problems that might be in questionable taste, but is absolutely hilarious.

June 14. The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) plans to formally charge Lance Armstrong with doping. At this point, I am sure no one's mind is going to be changed. This has been argued by both sides in chat rooms all over the internet. Armstrong's fans are convinced he's innocent and the victim of a wide-ranging conspiracy while his detractors point to a mountain of compelling evidence that has been accumulating for more than a decade.

But, for those who want to learn what the USADA is really up to without the media filter, here is the 15-page letter that was sent to Armstrong, his director Johan Bruyneel and three doctors connected with Armtrong's teams.

If the USADA makes its case stick, Armstrong could be stripped of his 7 Tour de France victories and Bruyneel would face a lifetime ban from the sport. Pending resolution of the case, Armstrong has already been banned from competition. He currently participates in triathlons.

June 8: Looks like Bjarne Riis (Team Saxo Bank) is back in the stage racing business again. There had been some talk that Riis was take the Schleck brothers back and Alberto Contador would go to Radio Shack. That seemed like an odd bargain given the Schleck's generally ungovernable nature and results that are dwarfed by the Spaniard's. I got the following press release from Riis Cycling that settles things:

Contador returns to Team Saxo Bank

[08.06 13:15] Alberto Contador returns to Team Saxo Bank.
The 29 year old Spaniard will rejoin the Danish based World Tour team on August 5th, when his suspension has been served. Alberto Contador and the team have agreed on a deal that will tie him to the team for the remainder of the 2012 season and the coming three years. 

"A lot of speculations and rumors have surrounded Alberto Contador and his future in the past months, but both our sponsors, the team and Alberto have shared the same wish to continue and built on our relationship. All along throughout these last two tough years we have stood by Alberto, so to be able to announce his return to the team is something I have been really looking forward to. Now we can put an end to these speculations and start focusing on building the team for the coming years," team owner Bjarne Riis says.

Alberto Contador is equally happy that his future lies within the setup of Team Saxo Bank. 

"The decision to return to Team Saxo Bank has actually been pretty easy, and my first priority was always to rejoin the team and to continue working with Bjarne Riis, and the rest of the team. The support I have experienced from them in a very difficult situation is extraordinaire. I'm really looking forward to getting back on the bike, and my aim is to repay that support, hopefully with some great results," Alberto Contador adds. 

June 1: Some thoughts about the Giro.

What a terrific race! I don't think any of the contenders left a single watt on the road. Moreover, I only saw a single boneheaded tactical error that caused a change in the final standings. That was on the penultimate stage, number 20 to the top of Passo dello Stelvio.

To recap: At the pointy part of the race, Belgian Vacansoleil team member Thomas de Gendt was riding in a state of grace, relentlessly forging ahead alone with Damiano Cunego a minute back. With each pedal stroke de Gendt looked ever closer to a monumental stage victory. For a while, he was the virtual maglia rosa.

Further back, the maglia rosa group with Rodriguez, Scarponi (sitting in third place in the GC), Hesjedal, Basso, Henao, Uran and Gadret had descended the Mortirolo and were headed to the Stelvio. No one wanted to pick up the pace and take responsibility for reeling in de Gendt. Wanting to put Hesjedal under pressure and make him lead the chase, the others refused to work. Hesjedal did then go to the front. In the Garmin-Barracuda car, alarms went off because they realized that not only was de Gendt having a good day in the mountains, he was a very capable time trialist. Three weeks of work could go up in smoke right there and de Gendt could walk away with the Giro in the Milan time trial the next day. The only card Garmin had to play was a good one. Christian Vande Velde was still off the front as a survivor of an earlier break.

He was called back to the maglia rosa group and did a heroic job of chasing de Gendt and probably saved Hesjedal's Giro.

So where was the tactical error? Remember, about a minute behind de Gendt was Damiano Cunego, winner of the 2004 Giro. Cunego was chasing hard and was also having a good day, but not a good enough day to catch the fleeing Belgian. So, why did Lampre leave Cunego out front to work for what is ultimately a low-value goal, second place in a stage, when Michele Scarponi's hopes for a final podium place in the General Classification were flying away with de Gendt?

Wouldn't it have made more sense to pull Cunego back to join Christian Vande Velde to help pull the Hesjedal group closer to de Gendt and seal Scarponi's third place in the final GC? When they finished the Stelvio stage, Scarponi was still in third place, but he had only 27 seconds on de Gendt. Scarponi is a marvelous, aggressive climber, but his time trialing skills are questionable. Scarponi's goose was cooked.

In fact, despite de Gendt's prodigious energy output the day before in the Stelvio stage, he turned in the best time trial in Milan of any of the top GC riders, beating Hesjedal by 8 seconds and knocking Scarponi off the podium by 26 seconds.

Would Cunego's contributing to the chase have closed the gap and kept Scarponi's third place safe? I think so; it would have been worth the effort to try. But it was wonderful to see de Gendt reap the fruit of his brave and wonderful ride.