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Unbalanced and Unfair
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October 31: I don't think I can remember a situation like this happening. We have 2 of the finest Grand Tour riders in the world uncertain (at least for us), about their teams for the coming season, and it is just about November.
Cadel Evans is the current world road champion, was second in both the 2007 and 2008 Tours, third in the 2009 Vuelta and a few years ago wore pink in the Giro. He has just announced that he and his team, Silence-Lotto, are parting ways. His contract had a year to go, but there was an opt-out provison allowing Evans to leave. My biggest surprise is that Evans stuck with a team that was so ill-suited for his talents. Evans himself criticized Silence-Lotto for being unable to support him in the high mountains. Now, with an apparently amicable parting (although painful for Silence-Lotto), Evans will go somewhere else. We don't know where yet.
Nov. 1 Sunday morning update: Rumors are rife that Evans will go to BMC.
And what about Ol' Pistolero? Alberto Contador, of whom now both Bruyneel and Armstrong say has a lot to learn about racing, seems to be taking a quiet tack and is avoiding negotiating in the press. He apparently has the freedom to split from Astana if he so wishes. Yet, Astana says they are sure he is staying with them. Contador, winner of 4 Grand Tours in 14 months (if that's what Contador can do when he's ignorant, Bruyneel and Armstrong better hope to God he doesn't smarten' up any) says he'll know where he's going in a week or 2.
At least November won't be boring.
A little Bikeraceinfo.com news. Judging by the emails and phone calls, those of you who remember the old Torelli web site when Carol and I owned it clearly remember the KOM section with its data on paved climbs. I still get requests for us to get it back up. It's not that we didn't want to post one of the most popular features on the site. We were just not able to incorporate it into Bikeracinfo.com because of its "frames" architecture. We come up with a way to put the data back on line. It just involves a hideous amount of boring work. It's almost done. Look for it in the next few days. There will be a navigation button on the left side of the page. Thanks for your patience.
October 28: Are you a serious bikie with a huge trust fund? The owner of Mavic, Finnish company Amer Sports, has decided that the French bike parts company doesn't fit in its portfolio of sporting goods makers. Amer Sport currently owns Wilson, Atomic, Salomon, Suunto and Precor USA. In 1994 Mavic was acquired by the Salomon Group, which was then acquired by Adidas. In 2005 Amer purchased Salomon from Adidas and Mavic came along for the ride. Bike Europe reported that rumors were flying at the Eurobike Show that Mavic, which had been separated from the Salomon group, was for sale. This follows Mavic's nearly 13% decline in sales for the first half of 2009. Bike Europe further reported that Mavic should sell for about 100 million Euros ($150,000,000). A Taiwan company is said to be interested in purchasing the renowned company, which was the first to make aluminum rims.
When Mavic's first aluminum rims appeared, Tour de France founder Henri Desgrange banned them. In response Mavic then supplied a few riders with rims painted to look like the wood rims that were allowed.
Chuck Schmidt's Velo Retro site has a Mavic timeline.
October 24: The UCI's rule allowing a rider under contract to change teams without penalty if his team hasn't been approved by October 20 by the UCI for the following year was not instituted until this year. The big question was, does this rule apply retroactively to older contracts? The UCI ruled yesterday that it does apply to Alberto Contador's 2-year old contract with Astana. That means Contador is free to change teams. Now Contador seems to be willing to talk to Astana about staying.
He gave an interview to the Spanish sports daily, saying, "Even though they don't yet have a licence, the new people seem serious to me. There are still some very good riders at Astana and with a couple of reinforcements I can approach the Tour with guarantees. Let's see what happens because we have to study everything carefully."
A negotiating ploy to make Garmin-Slipstream, Caisse d'Epargne and Quick Step dig deeper and come up with better offers?
October 23: They did it. They really did it. Astana has missed the UCI-imposed deadline to submit all of its paperwork so it can continue to be a Pro Tour team in 2010. That may give Alberto Contador a way out of his contract with Astana.
First, here's the UCI press release:
"Press release: UCI ProTeams : applications update as of 20 October for 2010 registration
"Description: In October each year the UCI ProTeams are required to submit an application for registration the following year to the UCI. The UCI, in association with Ernst & Young, evaluates whether the teams are in compliance with the regulatory requirements, particularly in terms of their administration and financing.
"In accordance with a new article added to the rules on 1 July 2009 (2.15.169b), the UCI is today publishing the list of teams that by 20 October 2009 had submitted an application file containing the following required documents:
- • budget
- • the sponsorship contracts duly signed with the main partners
- • the bank guarantee
- • at least 12 contracts with riders duly signed by the two parties
- • for new teams only, a description of the structure of the team together with a copy of the deed of incorporation of the paying agent.
"The teams are:
- • AG2R La Mondiale
- • Française des Jeux
- • Footon-Servetto
- • Garmin-Slipstream
- • Lampre Farnese Vini
- • Liquigas-Dommo
- • Quick-Step Cycling Team
- • Rabobank Cycling Team
- • RadioShack
- • Omega Pharma-Lotto
- • Team Columbia-HTC
- • Team Katusha
- • Team Milram
"This information is being published with a view to keeping all parties concerned informed about the progress of UCI ProTeam registration applications.
"The UCI and Ernst & Young will continue to evaluate all applications, including those of teams not in the above list, which have until 20 November to submit their completed applications. The UCI ProTour Council will make a final decision on UCI ProTeam registrations for the 2010 season after the official deadline of 20 November.
"Any team whose application is rejected will have its file passed on to the Licence Commission. In the event that the application is subsequently rejected by the Licence Commission the team's UCI ProTeam licence is automatically withdrawn."
Being a very political organization, the UCI listed those teams which had complied with the first deadline, October 20, not those who have failed to do so. Not having everything together for the UCI is not a death penalty. They still have until November 20, which is the true drop-dead date. Those Pro Tour teams who have yet to comply are the new Team Sky, Saxo, Euskaltel, Caisse d'Epargne and… Astana.
Here's the kicker. The UCI rider contract has a provision that states: "If, on 20 October of the year preceding a year of registration covered by the present contract, the UCI ProTeam has not submitted a registration file containing the essential documents" the rider may end the contract without penalty. That would seem to apply to Contador's situation. But, Alberto Contador's manager and brother seem to have been less than clear today as to whether this clause was in Alberto's contract. The Contador Bros are planning an ASAP meeting with Astana management. I'll bet that will be an interesting get-together.
If Contador succeeds in breaking his contract with Astana, Garmin-Slipstream, Caisse d'Epargne and Quick Step are dying to have a chance to sign the extraordinary rider who has won 4 Grand Tours in 14 months.
October 21: I've been thinking about the 2010 Tour de France route and I think it's terrific. I've got a few quibbles, but no route is an unmixed blessing. I like the route because it is a good test of an all-around bike racer. Some have complained because, at three, there aren't enough hill-top finishes. I don't want the Tour to be a hill-climb. I want it to include mountains because that is part of the test of a complete rider, but they should not be the single deciding factor.
I also like the fact that the race includes cobbles. This a Tour of France and cobbles are part and parcel of the roads of Europe. I think the first three stages in Holland and Belgium will be critical to the Tour's outcome. They'll be edgy, nervous affairs. The Dutch stages are far enough inland and away from the polders (reclaimed coastal land surrounded by dykes) to avoid the worst winds, but I'll bet it still blows. That will give Armstrong's powerful Radio Shack team and perhaps the Saxo squad an opportunity to blow up the peloton with hard attacks; create splits and force the pack into echelons. If that happens, I give the advantage to Armstrong who is always at the front and always pays attention. Bjarne Riis of Saxo uses this tactic all the time. Any GC contender will have to be constantly alert and at the front. All the "traffic furniture" (various obstacles like speed bumps and roundabouts in the road to slow down traffic) in the Belgian and Dutch roads make those first days particularly dangerous.
Then there is that third day with the cobblestoned sectors that are near the end of the stage. That is crucial. Any gap the occurs during the cobblestone portions will be hard to close. The Tour had cobbles in 2004 and Armstrong used his team's overwhelming power to put all of his competitors under pressure. Iban Mayo was effectively eliminated from contention. As the pack approaches the cobbles there will be a free-for-all as everyone will be desperate to get to the front. I don't know how Cadel Evans will handle this, but his Belgian team should see him through this portion of the race. I don't think Contador has any real experience racing in a Belgian Classic like Flanders or ParisRoubaix.
My prediction is that coming out of stage 3 Fabian Cancellara will be in Yellow. His Saxo team will spend energy protecting the lead until the Alps, where he will surely give up the Yellow Jersey.
But more importantly, it's my guess that Armstrong, given his powerful team and deep experience and demonstrable ability to handle the terrain, will be first among the contenders. That will put him in the position he has used to good effect in the past. He'll be able to ride economically, able to pick and choose his moments. The others will have to wait for the high mountains and try to dislodge him. The final days of the 2009 Tour show that this will not be easy.
Coming: Alps, Pyrenees and time trials.
October 16: While Alberto Contador is muddling along, looking for some way to get out of his Astana contract, Lance Armstrong's new Radio Shack team has been given a 4-year Pro Tour license. Armstrong has already received assurance from the Tour de France organization that Radio Shack will be invited to the Tour, but this means that Radio Shack will be able to race all the Pro Tour races as well.
Additionally, Astana has released Johan Bruyneel from his 2010 contract obligations with the Kazakh squad. Radio Shack has mined Astana for nearly all of its top talent, leaving Astana, the team La Gazzetta dello Sport called a "Fortress", a shell of its former self. Radio Shack will go into 2010 with Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer, Chris Horner, Yaroslav Popovych, Andreas Kloden, Gregory Rast and several other big-watt riders. The team will be formidable.
This will surprise no one. The Spanish judge who has been handling the Operacion Puerto doping case had been ordered by a higher court to go back and take some testimony to see if any Spanish laws had indeed been broken during the commission of the various misdeeds. At the time doping in sport was not a Spanish crime. But there could be a raft of other laws that may have been violated. Judge "Slow as Molasses" Antonio Serrano, who has done everything in his power to block any investigation and done his best to protect those involved in the doping conspiracy, has refused to move on the case until next year. Can you believe it? This case started back in 2006.
Justice delayed is justice denied.
October 13: The hugely talented and deeply troubled Belgian bike racer Frank Vandenbrouck passed away. He was found dead in his hotel room in Senegal, where he was on vacation. The cause of death was a pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lung). Vandenbrouck won over 50 races, including Paris-Nice, Het Volk, Gent-Wevelgem and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. A knowledgable friend of mine who had watched him race said that no racer ever looked more perfect on the bike. He said Vandenbrouck must have been born to race.
But depression and drugs took their toll of the gifted rider and after his magical year of 1999, his career became a sine wave of attempts to restart his racing career and trouble with drugs and depression. He had been racing for the Cinelli Down Under squad and had done well earlier this year but had left the team and was looking for a new position.
October 12: It's Monday. What's been going on in our untidy sport?
A lot of effort is going into reading the tea leaves to figure out the details of the 2010 Tour and Giro routes.
The Tour will start in Rotterdam, Netherlands. It's pretty sure that the Tourmalet will be ascended twice, the first on the 15th stage that will finish at Pau. The second time it is will be a hilltop finish. 2010 will be the 100th anniversary of the first time the Tourmalet and other major Pyrenean climbs were included in the Tour. At the time it wasn't known if the riders could manage the gigantic mountains. In fact, that first stage with the Tourmalet, Peyresourde, Aspin and Aubisque was called the "Circle of Death". The riders handled the climbs just fine, although a lot of the time they had to walk their bikes.
After the Pyrenees there will be a time trial of about 60 km at Bordeaux. The official presentation of the 2010 Tour de France will be October 14.
The Giro will also start in the Netherlands. So far we know, the 2010 edition will include the fearsome Monte Zoncolan as well as the Gavia, Mortirolo and Pian de Corones. There will also be a stage over the unpaved roads of the Chianti area. Midway through the race there will be a team time trial at Cuneo, in Piemonte.
The final stage will be a time-trial in Verona. The official Giro presentation of the 2010 route will be October 24.
Since Pierre Bodry has been hammering the UCI over its lax doping procedures, the UCI's response, since Bodry hurt the UCI's feelings, is too shoot the messenger. The UCI is going to look for some else besides Bodry and the French Anti-Doping Agency to work with when testing is done during French races. Bodry responded that he didn't want to work with the UCI anymore, anyway. Take that!
A couple of Italians, Francesco De Bonis (Serramenti PVC) and Gabriele Bosisio (LPR) have had out-of-competition drug tests turn up positive. I assume these are knowledgable, experienced professionals who know what is going on in the peloton. They figured their chances of getting caught were remote enough to risk taking the dope. That says volumes about the state of drugs in cycling.
Alexandre Vinokourov signaled that as far as he and the Astana team are concerned, Alberto Contador, who really wants to leave the Kazakh team. is not going anywhere. According to Vonokourov, Contador will ride for Astana in 2010. The UCI is still reviewing Astana's condition to see if it can continue to be a Pro Tour team. If the UCI says Astana does not qualify, experts seem to believe Contador can get out of the year remaining on his contract. But don't expect him to leave without a fight from the Kazakhs.
October 5: The world is a-buzz with the story of a report by the French Anti-Doping Agency (AFLD) that Astana received preferential dope-testing treatment during the 2009 Tour de France. The report alleges that Astana was always allowed to be the last team to go to the tester, giving the riders plenty of time between finishing the stage and getting tested and that the Astana riders were not prompt in presenting themselves to be tested. The report details a specific incident on July 11 when the UCI intervened and caused a test to be delayed by 45 minutes. The AFLD report is said to detail a raft of other irregularities regarding how Astana riders were tested. Promptness in reporting to the testers is vital because it doesn't take long for a sophisticated rider to perform enough mischief to make his test results come out OK, even if the stuff running through his veins isn't. This is no way accuses Astana of any wrongdoing. The error, if the report is correct, is on the part of the UCI.
I am sure the reader will not be surprised to learn the UCI says that the report is old news, that they have dealt with the subject and everything is just fine. Just fine.
The AFP reports that Vuelta (and Dauphiné and Tour of Catalonia) winner Alejandro Valverde is hanging up his chamois for the season. His autumn will be pivotal to both his own ambitions and for cycling. The Italian Olympic Committee has, on the basis of what appears to me to be very firm evidence of involvement with Operation Puerto doping, banned the Spanish rider from racing in Italy. Because one stage of the 2009 Tour dipped into Italy, Valverde could not ride the Tour de France. Valverde has appealed this ban to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). Meanwhile, the UCI and the World Anti-Doping Agency want a ruling from the CAS to get the Spanish Cycling Federation to move on Valverde.
I know past performance is no guarantee of future gains. But, I'm guessing that the Spanish federation as well as the Spanish judicial system will do everything within their power to protect Valverde and keep the very talented man racing, no matter how dark the shadow is that follows him.
Now one man's technicalities are another man's civil rights. But none of the arguments that I have seen made by Valverde and his lawyers attack the validity of the evidence against him. They argue that the case should be thrown out because the Italians had no right to use the Operation Puerto evidence to make the case against Valverde. I guessing that the CAS will find the Italian case truly compelling and that Valverde will have to serve a suspension. And then finally a Spanish rider will have suffered some consequence for what is now the ancient, stinking corpse of Operation Puerto.
Pro rider Michael Barry (Columbia-HTC) made one of the most effective and cogent arguments against the race radios I have ever read. He makes a good case that they actually make racing more dangerous. It's on Velonews.com and here's the link.
I don't know if Chris Horner has crashed out of every important race on the UCI calender, but he came close in his hard-luck 2009 season, having been forced to leave both the Giro and Vuelta with injuries. He also broke bones in the California and Basque Country tours as well. There's no big surprise that he's going to join Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel on Radio Shack. The team has also signed Levi Leipheimer, Andreas Kloden, Janec Brajkovc and Gert Steegmans. Radio Shack has also announced that the team will ride with Sram components. That should be a given since Armstrong has made an investment in the company.
The Tour of California has been moved to May 16-23. This clashes with the Giro. Team Radio Shack, with its American sponsor would like to target the American race but Armstrong says the Giro gives better preparation for the Tour. He is, at this point, undecided about which race he will ride. He will start his season with the Tour Down Under in January.
There have to be a lot of riders wearing Depends right now. The French Anti-Doping Agency (AFLD) has targeted the samples of about 40 riders from the 2008 Tour de France for re-testing. We should know the results in a couple of weeks. Should be interesting.