Category: Pro Tour 2007

August 25, 2007

Danielson to Slipstream

Tom DanielsonIt looks like Vaughters still had some cash left in the bank: Tom Danielson is the latest of many signings to the Slipstream squad. With Zabriskie and Vande Velde, Slipstream has really stocked up on the American Pro Tour riders and it should be a fun team to follow in the coming years.

Fellow American and Discovery rider Levi Leipheimer is reportedly closing in on a contract with an unnamed team -- perhaps an announcement will arrive this week.

August 10, 2007

Discovery's disbanding

Update 2: Tailwind/Discovery clarifies -- they had a sponsor, but decided that the current doping/ASO/UCI/ProTour/infighting climate was too much to risk. Armstrong: "The guys at ASO are talking about taking the Tour back to national teams like they did in the olden days. If something like that would happen, someone's $15 million investment is worth zero. Issues like that are too unknown. It's too risky to ask for that kind of money. There are too many questions within the sport."

Update: Hincapie to T-Mobile is confirmed

Despite eight Tour de France victories in the past nine years, including first and third place this year, Discovery Channel is disbanding. This comes in the heels of T-Mobile announcing that its sponsorship will continue and on the same day that Contador was busy professing his innocence in Madrid with Bruyneel at his side.

Comparing and contrasting the two teams, Discovery's disbanding comes across as a bit mysterious. Discovery's disbanding was not based on "a failure to find a new sponsor," according to Tailwind spokesman PJ Rabice. Armstrong added, "clearly things need to improve on many levels, with a more unified front, before you would see us venture back into cycling." T-Mobile didn't have the difficulty of finding a new title sponsor, but one wonders then what it was that caused Discovery/Tailwind to cease. The most obvious candidate would be doping-related. T-Mobile has a anti-doping test program; Discovery does not. In spite of this, Discovery never had a rider test positive for doping, whereas T-Mobile had Sinkewitz high profile Tour de France case; T-Mobile also dismissed Honchar earlier in the year as a result of its internal testing. Discovery was hardly squeaky clean: perhaps their big mistake was to poach from the ranks of Operation Puerto: Basso, Contador, and Davis. Basso obviously cost them and Contador is now in the crosshairs.

Hincapie is rumored to be heading to T-Mobile. It will be interesting to see where Levi, Contador, and Danielson end up. Devolder is being sought by CSC, Quick Step, Predictor-Lotto, and Rabobank. Perhaps we will see some more Slipstream announcements, if there's anything left in those coffers after David Millar, Dave Zabriskie, Christian Vande Velde, Magnus Backstedt, Julian Dean and Christophe Laurent. Slipstream could also make a play for Discovery's Pro Tour license, but that might be too much too soon for Slipstream.

July 30, 2007

*Not* another doper: Mayo

Update: Mayo's long delayed B-sample was negative and there were admissions of error in the first sample. Hmm, I guess this is why test results should remain confidential until confirmed and people like me should be more careful with headlines.

Not a whole lot of details yet, but CyclingNews reports:

Iban Mayo tested positive for EPO on the Tour de France's rest day, July 24, it was announced Monday night. His team Saunier Duval was informed of the positive test by the UCI and immediately suspended the rider.

June 21, 2007

CSC testing results

csc.testing.gif

CSC has just posted their mid-year doping test results online. This really does seem like the type of program that can regain confidence in cycling: open, frequent, and longitudinal. Of course, the desire to present a clean image is in conflict with the results being posted on riis-cycling.com, but it does make me think that Riis has turned a corner in his career and there will be no more Hamiltons or Bassos.

It makes me want to guess which line is who -- like the blue line that climbs up.

June 18, 2007

Team Disco resigns from AIGCP

Johan Bruyneel apparently didn't like the latest meeting of the Association International Group of Cycling Professionals (AIGCP) and has removed Discovery from the membership rolls:

"I no longer feel confident that this group can lead our sport and represent our Team in a positive manner. It became clear at our most recent meeting that the goals and objectives among the teams are very different and I do not want to continue to be a part of such contentious and unprofessional meetings," said Sport Director Johan Bruyneel.

Hard to know what precisely pissed off Bruyneel, but the VeloNews summary of last week's meeting does narrow it to the Puerto elephant in the room. VeloNews also had this quote:

"Any team not respecting the ethics code will be excluded from the AIGCP," said Patrick Lefevere, president of the professional teams association.

Quitting is one way of not being excluded. Perhaps Bruyneel was worried because Discovery is still carrying three Liberty Seguros/Astana riders on its riders: Sergio Paulinho, Allan Davis and Alberto Contador were initially linked and then officially cleared by Spanish officials. Then again, Bruyneel also had this to say:

"We need to become a unified group for our sport to reach a higher level but everyone is not willing to do that and AIGCP President Patrick Lefevere is not to blame. He has shown great leadership and insight while presiding over this group, however, the same cannot be said of all members."

We should be able to put together the pieces soon -- Discovery's withdrawal from AIGCP seems timed to arrive just before tomorrow's big UCI/Pro Tour team pow-wow. The meeting is expected to included a listing of riders to be excluded from this year's Tour.

Press Release @ Road Mag

June 7, 2007

Belgian dope

At the Tour of California I talked with the family of one of the racers. Their son had raced over in Belgium but decided to return to the US because he felt like he was racing with a bunch of drug addicts (performance- and non-performance-enhancing). Thus, it wasn't with much surprise when I read about the police raid in western Belgium that uncovered doping products and arrested one of the trainers for QuickStep. QuickStep denies any implication, but with time more sordid details are certain to emerge.

May 25, 2007

Friday dope

Bjarne Riis"My yellow jersey is in box at home, you can come and collect it." Bjarne Riis is the latest former T-Mobile rider to own up to doping, which is the most significant confession so far because he admits to using EPO to win the Tour de France. Riis' use was long rumored by deduction: the Festina riders he beat to win his Tour were using EPO and the Festina riders gave him the nickname "Mr. 60%", as an allusion to his rumored hematocrit level. This now makes Jan Ullrich the only T-Mobile rider in history to have not doped (kidding).

As owner of CSC, I am wondering if this will start freeing up even more cyclists to start confessing (looks at Jonathan Vaughters, head of Slipstream). Of course, like all of the other confessions, they point to the past and cut the ties to the present: "I'm doing this to keep the focus on the work we are doing today that keeps cycling in the right perspective. The massive steps we have taken to fight doping and the ways in which we have secured that the team rests on the right and proper foundations."

In saying that he "bought it and took it [himself]," Riis may be attempting to further protect CSC from guilt-by-doctor association. Looking at the Wikipedia entry on Riis, it appears that Riis' coach in 1996 was Luigi Cecchini, who was later involved with Basso and CSC. In addition to being Rii's coach during his now infamous '96 Tour win, Cecchini was also involved with Francesco Conconi, who is believed to have given athletes EPO. The last little connection in there is Michel Ferrari, who worked with Conconi and also coached Lance Armstrong.

Riis and Basso

May 24, 2007

Thursday dope

  • Erik Zabel and Rolf Aldag admit to past doping. Several other past T-Mobile riders also owned up. Say it ain't so, Zabel. Isn't it strange how such admissions never seem to involve recent use? Zabel only admits to doping in 1996 and Aldag admits to 1995-2002 (or 1999, according to cyclingnews). Interestingly enough, Rolf Aldag is being kept at the team manager despite T-Mobile's new-found public stance against doping. I guess it's like hiring computer hackers to be your security consultants.
  • The Landis arbitration case has finally finished the closing arguments. The gold standard of coverage has been Trust But Verify, which has every possible detail and roundup that you might need to catch up. The sensational, but largely irrelevant, Lemond testimony overshadowed the scientific aspects of the case, which seem quite interesting. Landis found some credible experts to testify on his behalf. WADA/USADA put their own scientists on the stand, which was a bit dubious. Interestingly enough, the WADA "code of ethics" states that WADA scientists cannot speak ill of other WADA scientists labs. There is also the issue of biting the hand that feeds you. Reading through the coverage I can't help but feel that Landis is right in that the LNDD lab is a sub-par lab. Instead of arguing that all WADA labs are crap, they compared LNDD against the better UCLA lab, which is more convincing in my eyes. Nevertheless, showing LNDD to be sub-par does not acquit Landis in my eyes and much as it convinces me that better standards are necessary.

May 8, 2007

'Attempted' dopers suck

Dopers SuckIf there's ever anything I've heard that makes me want to stock up on extra pairs of Dopers Suck socks its Basso's new defense, which is about the craziest f#$ing thing I've ever heard. Basso is now claiming that he is only guilty of 'attempted' doping as he never used the banked blood (the Clinton inhale defense). His "crisis of conscience" was more of an indigestion of conscience, barely letting out a suppressed burp. The defense is made all the more ridiculous by the fact that the Operacion Puerto evidence that Basso was presented with should quickly unravel it (quoting from cyclingnews):

2) Two telephone recordings from May 13 and 14 made by DS Ignacio Labarta to Fuentes. "Birillo had arrived with Simoni at sixteen seconds," was said on May 13 according to La Gazzetta dello Sport. This referred to Giro d'Italia stage seven, won by Rik Verbrugghe, where Basso finished 16 seconds back with Gilberto Simoni, Davide Rebellin and Serguei Gonchar. The next day another recording, "A certain Ivan Basso won." Basso was now first overall with José Enrique Gutierrez (Phonak) second. "Friend, you have... a first and a second."

3) A fax, outlined in page 15 of the dossier, that was sent from Fuentes to Nelson Giraldo Flores (in Colombia) in the days leading up to the "festival Mayo" (or Giro d'Italia). Fuentes wrote, "As per our agreement, I am sending a list of collaborators and participants in the festival that takes place in May;" going on to ask Colombian Flores for "help and collaboration." It listed riders Basso, Marco Serrano, Michele Scarponi, Gutierrez and Jan Ullrich (spelled with one "l" in the fax) without the use of code names.

4) An agenda with a schedule of blood extractions and transfusions since 2004. In the agenda the pseudonyms 'Birillo' and '2' are use

May 7, 2007

Guilty

San Franscisco Grand Prix-84 Update: Discovery Channel's Press Release

It seems perverse for it to feel so refreshing, but at last Basso has come clean and admitted guilt. If only other riders could do the same so cycling can move forward as a sport.

According to cyclingnews, it appears that there is some debate as to whether or not Basso is going to be offered a retroactive two-year suspension, though the UCI is saying no way.

April 30, 2007

Basso leaves Discovery

Basso inspects the damageFrom VeloNews:

Beleaguered Italian rider Ivan Basso has removed himself from his two-year contract with the Discovery Channel team at his own request just days ahead of a hearing before the Italian Olympic committee for alleged links to the Operación Puerto doping investigation.

..."Ivan's request was unexpected and he was very emotional, but adamant, about his decision to be released," Bruyneel said in a team statement. "We spoke with him at length before granting his request. Although he was only on our team for a short time, he was a great leader and a very well respected and selfless teammate. I, along with the entire team, wish him the best."

Previously: Basso suspended, Levi's patience pays off?

April 24, 2007

Basso suspended, Levi's patience pays off?

IMG_1084Things aren't looking good for Basso's season as Discovery Channel has suspended him due to the Italian investigation into Fuentes blood bags. Basso may have to finally submit a DNA sample, which could finally resolve this once and for all.

Levi may be inwardly celebrating based on statements he made during his Lombardi Sports talk. Going back to my notes:

...There were of course plenty of questions and rephrased questions as to Basso vs. his role on the team. Levi admitted he was surprised that Discovery signed Basso, but he hasn't given up his hopes for the Tour de France. Noting that many teams run with two leaders, Levi seems to be taking a two-phased wait-and-see approach: wait and see if Basso/Discovery survive the current uproar, and wait and see who is the strongest come Tour time.

There is that other doping news involving Floyd Landis. My only response to that is to wonder repeatedly, "Why do they keep giving Landis more ammunition? Can't they gather evidence without creating reasonable doubt in the process?" I don't want to believe in a conspiracy, but its almost as if the authorities want to help fuel the flames.

April 3, 2007

Ullrich link to Puerto confirmed

My farewell to Ullrich was touched with the uncertainty of whether or not Ullrich was guilty of doping. Today's confirmation of Ullrich's DNA matching blood in Fuentes' office clears up a whole lot -- especially since the bags were marked "Jan," "N.1", and "Hijo Rudicio" (Son of Rudy). Ullrich's defense has now seized on the last remaining shred of uncertainty to suggest that there is a "manipulation" conspiracy, which fills my head with images of black-clad spy operatives sneaking into Ullrich's apartment late at night and secretly drawing bags of blood while he sleeps.

March 18, 2007

Paris-Nice Stage 7: Contador wins it all

Davide Rebellin got a lot of help from other teams, but in the end nothing could change the fact that Gerolsteiner was whittled down to four riders and Discovery had Leipheimer, Popovych, Danielson, Paulinho, Devolder, Vaitkus and White to work for Contador.

Devolder and Paulinho were part of an early break until Discovery decided to take full control of the race and start pulling back the break on the early Cat 1 Col de la Porte climb. By the end of the penultimate climb up the Turbie, Discovery had already dropped all of Rebellin's Gerolsteiner teammates, so there was little help with Leipheimer, Danielson, and Popovych drilled it up the final Col d'Eze. Discovery then put it all in the hands of Contador as he attacked and gapped Rebellin by 37 seconds over the top of the Eze.

All of this was similar to Discovery's tactics in stage 6, but Rebellin could not find the help that he had in yesterday's stage to pull back Contador. Rebellin was able to pull it back to within 17 seconds, but by the end Contador was able to get the stage win and 22 seconds over Rebellin.

March 16, 2007

Paris-Nice Stage 5: Popo all the way

Popovych got in the early break (13-man break that included Zabriskie) and then attacked with about 40km to go. From there on out, it was Popo to the finish. He was in the virtual yellow jersey for some time on the road, but in the end he could only hold off the charging peloton by 0:14. The chase was difficult enough to only leave 50 riders in the main peloton.

There was no change in the overall as Rebellin and Contador finished with the same time. Discovery clearly has many weapons for putting pressure on Rebellin and they will start tomorrow will Contador 0:06 back and Leipheimer 0:50 back. With 16 riders within a minute of Rebellin, it could be interesting. Stage 6 has plenty of hills, but its a 20km run to the finish from the top of the final Cat 2 climb.

March 15, 2007

Paris Nice Stage 4: Contador wins, Rebellin now the man to beat

Discovery Channel got a well-earned victory to day with Alberto Contador -- their strongest rider at their Solvang training camp. Discovery did all of the work to chase down the early three-man break of Casar, Moinard and Muravyev and got them within striking distance.

The real fireworks began on the final, short-but-steep climb up to the airport of Mende, aka "montée Laurent Jalabert." The early attacks were contained, but eventually it was Contador, Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), Cadel Evans (Predictor), Tadej Valjavec (Lampre), and Frank Schleck (CSC), with David Lopez Garcia (Caisse) tacking on late. CSC was hoping for a chance at the overall with Schleck, but he was shelled from this group as Contador and Rebellin charged. Rebellin did his best to keep Contador in sight, but the steep grade was better suited for the Spanish rider. At the finish line approached and the grade decreased, Rebellin was able to put in a final charge, but Contador held him off by two seconds at the finish. Cadel Evans finished thirteen seconds back, putting him 0:35 back overall. Leipheimer came in 0:33 back.

Contador thought he would get the yellow jersey at the finish, but Rebellin was able to keep the lead by six seconds. Today's stage was billed as the most decisive for Paris-Nice and seconds are hard to come by in this early season race.

March 11, 2007

Paris-Nice 2007

After much battling between race organizers and the UCI, Paris-Nice finally went off as it should, keeping all happy except for Unibet.

David Millar nearly broke six-minutes with his 6:01 time, which is a promising result for his road towards re-earning the World TT Championship he lost as a result of his doping. Fans of the Millar Line will be pleased. Millar's result today clears the entire field of doping -- think of the money the Paris-Nice organizers could save with the testing.

David Millar rejected his wind-tunnel-determined TT position; Levi Leipheimer's new wind-tunnel-determined position finished 0:03 behind in sixth. Overall it was a tight grouping with the top five all within 2 seconds of Millar. Former Paris-Nice winner Bobby Julich finished just outside the top-ten at 0:06 back. Zabriskie finished 0:11 behind, so he appears to be telling the truth about his lighter winter training schedule designed for later-season peaking.

FYI: Race coverage on cycling.tv, including free low-bandwidth coverage

March 5, 2007

Paris-Nice/ProTour olive branch?

Things are looking slightly better on the other side of the pond as CyclingNews is reporting that the UCI and ASO/RCS/Unipublic seem to have somehow hammered out temporary grievances long enough for Paris-Nice and the rest of the cycling season to go forward. There is a bit of a cloud over Unibet and Astana in that they get wild card invitations to the organizers events, with caveats:

"Without prejudicing their right to grant wild cards to all other teams of their choice, for the duration of this agreement ASO, RCS and Unipublic will examine in a positive spirit the granting of wild cards to the teams Astana and Unibet, in particular insofar as such decisions are not likely to expose or be likely to expose the organisers to legal consequences, of whatever nature they might be."

This clause seems to mostly target Unibet. Unibet's team has been in trouble as their jerseys run afoul of French laws prohibiting advertisements for gambling that compete with the French national lottery FD Jeux (coincidentally, also a cycling team).

The silliest bit of the whole deal to me is that ASO/RCS/Unipublic seem to have won the concession that they don't have to award the ProTour jersey at their events. I mean, they handed out awards for best port-a-potty at the Tour of California Solvang time trial -- is it really that hard to acknowledge the current ProTour leader (likely to be a fan favorite anyway)?

With things looking better over there, hopefully so miracles will start happening in the US to rescue the US Open Cycling Championships and Tour de Georgia, which are in a serious funding shortfall. The US Cycling Open in particular lost is executive director with only six weeks to go. As much as I wanted to judge the state of US cycling from the Tour of California, it may just be in an oasis in the current turmoil.

Update: slight edits and note about jersey presentation

Update 2: the US Open Cycling Championships have named a new executive director. Also, Unibet is not happy.

February 26, 2007

Farewell, Ullrich

As suspected, Jan Ullrich has announced his retirement rather than continue his cycling purgatory sans team and license. It's not terribly satisfying as a fan to hear this: if he isn't guilty you would like to cheer and honor his career; if he is guilty you want to feel that justice was somehow indirectly served. Like many of the Operation Puerto cases, you want to know how the sport could be ripped apart on the eve of the Tour de France without a single actual rider being sanctioned.

Instead we are left with the sad knowledge that there are no more Tour de France champions racing. I have a hard time regarding Oscar Pereiro as a TdF champion regardless of any Floyd decision as Pereiro's ascension was a bit of a gigantic-breakaway fluke. Floyd's future in the sport is of course uncertain still.

Ullrich gave us many great Tour de France moments. Perversely, my favorite Ullrich moments were his crashes -- going off the side of the mountain road during stage 13 of the 2001 TdF and his crash on the rain-soaked final TT of the 2004 TdF that cost him another chances at victory. In both cases he got back on the bike and kept on chugging.

February 10, 2007

Team Discovery Channel to cease

Last year seemed to be a banner year for American cycling. Even after Operacion Peurto, American cycling seemed to walk away clean from all things doping. Then the Landis scandal, then Discovery hired Basso, and then Hamilton returned to racing on Tinkoff -- the narrative has changed.

I don't know if that has anything to do with news that Discovery Channel is ending its sponsorship. The news reports are citing a change in management at Discovery, but that's not really a reason as much as a trigger.

On a side note, as a fan of several Discovery shows (MythBusters, Dirty Jobs), I hope that this is a positive development for the network as a whole. Ending sponsorship of my favorite sport is not a positive sign, but in general they've never impressed me with their understanding of the Internet/current state of media.