Archive for April 2009
Rebellin, Schumacher, Kohl – why have three high powered lawyers and the needless legal expenses? I think these guys should get a group rate: one lawyer, one cost, maybe even make them one person to simpify the process. “Your honor, my disgraced cycling client Davide Stefan Bernard.” Sounds smart to me.
And while we’re making new combinations, let’s agree to never refer to the old team Gerolsteiner team name again. From now on, it’s Cera-steiner, in honor of their EPO of choice. When you reach the critical mass of three riders on the same team, you have to figure there’s more rats under the carpet.
There’s a certain Three Stooges quality to all this. Kohl admits, Schumacher denies and Rebellin prays his Olympic B sample somehow comes back clean. Until then, Rebellin will maintain the usual shocked, amazed, there-must-be-some-mistake stance all dopers use. There’s probably an Idoits Guide to Denying Doping book somewhere for riders that gives them all the keys phases.
Next up, Mr Valverde. I can just feel it coming. And nobody does denial better than Valverde.
If Andy Schleck wins a Giro mountain stage like he did in Liege, rocketing past a stunned Gilbert, leaving all the top riders gasping and rubber legged, people will whisper the secret word. And the word is Basso. Andy made it look too easy, like he had wings, super-human, master of the universe. In other words, like Basso in the 2006 Giro when he won the overall by something insane like 11 minutes over his closest competitor. In the case of Basso we later found out why super human is often super juiced. Andy was that scary in Liege Bastogne. I’m sure the Tour de France and UCI took note of his performance. I’d guess Andy the Younger will pee in a lot more cups in the coming months.
That said, wow, Schleck number 2, the backup Schleck if you will, was brilliant. And you had to feel for Philippe Gilbert. Finally, it looked like the under-achieving Silence- Lotto team would finally get a major win. But in the end he couldn’t even nail down third place. If there’s one open job for Director Sportif this year, I’d say it’s Silence- Lotto. This is a team that consistently fails despite having quality rider–so there’s clearly a management problem. Now riders bicker amongst themselves about who’s captain for which race. Gilbert complains about Evans and Evans can’t seem to decide whether he’s on form for a race or not.
Also absent at Liege and really all three Adrennes classics was the little prince, Damiano Cunego. Little Prince, little results. Always a protagonist but not quite there at the final kilometers. At Liege, he had to let Schleck go and that was the end of the race. The good news was Old Man Rebellin, at 37, outsprinting Damiano for third. Chapeau, as the French say.
Until the last 18k of the race, this looked to be one the the greatest, closest, most dramatic finishes ever. You had Boonen, Pozzato, Hushovd, Flecha and Hoste all together, each with a real possibility of victory. It was going to be attack after attack and the suspense was going to be fantastic. Then Flecha crashes and takes out Hoste — a disaster that forces Pozzato to brake hard while Boonen accelerates away. Zing, zing and zing. Flecha, the man famous for his bow and arrow victory salute, shoots himself and puts an arrow in two other riders.
Fortunately, we still had Hushovd. Yes, two top sprinters taking it to the line on the velodrome. What better way to end the race? Except that Hushovd over-cooks a corner and crashes. Race basically over. Nothing left to do but watch Boonen cruise safely to victory and watch Pozzato fade behind him. Even the race for third was a foregone conclusion at that point –Hushovd beating a furious Hoste. Put Leif Hoste and George Hincapie on the same team and you have an all-star Paris Roubaix line-up of unlucky riders. You just know every year something bad will happen to them.
Yes, it was another terrible day at Roubaix for Hincapie. At this point, it’s a self fulfilling prophesy for George. He must get out of the team bus in the morning knowing disaster is near. The only question is where, when and how. A mechanical, broken handlebar, snapped chain, a ditch, a rider crashing right in front of him, a fan crossing the road, a pigeon flying into his spokes, a lightening bolt, an act of God — what’s on the menu this year? If there was one big, loose cobble in the entire race, George would hit it.
This year it felt strangely anti-climatic as he flats with 73 k to go. George looked calm as he waited for the mechanic to rip out his trashed wheel. I suspect that calm was closer to resignation. 73 k is a long way to ride knowing you’re already out of your favorite race and done for the year, all your training good for next to nothing. Just once I’d like to see George blow his stack, go berserk with anger, hurling the offending bike into the field. Watch him get down on his hands and knees and scream insults at each and every cobble. Maybe that would break the curse, exorcise the demon.
Watching Filippo Pozzato’s uninspired racing tactics reminded me of another guy who plays it too safe. Yes, Filippo did a Hincapie in the Ronde.
I was a big fan of Geroge Hincape. I say that with an emphasis on the past tense. Every year at this time I’d start getting nervous for him, knowing something would inevitably go wrong again and he’d fail in the Tour of Flanders and Paris Roubaix. A crash, a ditch, flat tires, a moments inattention, a general unwillingness to race aggressively and take risks. Something always happens to George, no matter how good his legs are. The things that Lance would simply never let happen.
But I’ve let George go now, knowing his time has past. He’s never going to hoist that chunk of cobbled stone above his head in the Roubaix velodrome. I’m sad but resigned because Hincapie is a swell guy, a class act and he also married a beautiful podium girl which fills me with envy. I still want Geroge to win the Ronde or Roubaix; I just no longer have any hope or expectation.
You have to wonder what Pozzato was thinking. What — he’ll shadow Boonen and pray that all three Quick Steps simultaneously get flat tires on the Muur? That some freak accident takes out all three? That Patrick Lefevere chokes on some frites in the team car and out of respect for their fallen DS, Boonen and the boys stop riding? The only way Pozzato wins is to be the un-George. Attack, take a risk, ride for glory. At least have a story to tell at the finish line that’s better than “well, I stopped Boonen from winning so Devolder could win.”
Pozzato raced for nothing better than second place and got… fifth. Which was better than Hincapie who rolled in 34th. Ouch.
What’s brilliant about the Tour de France organisers is how they go out of their way to make sure that tainted riders don’t sully their event. You have to wonder if they actually planned this clever tactic, which involves a geographic net to catch the bad guys. Creative, unexpected, out-of-the box thinking. Chapeau, as they say in French racing circles. But first, our friend Alejandro.
Finally, two years past Operacion Puerto, the Italian Olympic Committee nails the Spanish rider. His response ran the typical gamut of reactions, the usual indignation, the time-honored denial, the feigned surprise, the angry legal threats, the immediate hope that some testing technicality or legal loophole will allow him to keep riding. Don’t think so, pal. All the testing groups have had their eye on Alejandro and his blood abnormalities for a while. And at long last, the lawyers got their acts together. But back to the tour organizers.
Here is the true genius of the TDF drug trap. They ran stage 16 into Italy where the Italian Olympic Committee has jurisdiction. Any rider who has broken their rules (read Valvarde) is not allowed to ride in Italy. Thus that one little stretch off Italian road means Alejandro is booted out of the Tour. What a neat trick. A little piece of road in Spain, a little stretch of tarmac in Italy, a detour into Germany or Belgium and you can remove any rider sanctioned by their country–no matter what the UCI does. So what the TDF people are saying is, hey, doesn’t matter who else sanctions and punishes Alejandro, he’s out. Sure, if we have to let you start the race, fine, but you’ll be wasting your time because stage 16 is your exit.