The `07 Tour Signs Off
Just got done watching our recording of the final stage of the 2007 Tour. The stage is mostly ceremonial, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t be any real racing action. As the peloton worked their way into Paris, they stayed together, passing a couple of notable landmarks along the way, as Bonnie DeSimone noted on ESPN:
During Sunday’s “ceremonial” 90.7-mile stage from the southern suburbs of Paris into the heart of the world’s most elegant city, the peloton will pass through a very special destination at the 74-kilometer mark. Here’s what the Tour’s official “Guide Touristique” has to say about it:
Chatenay-Malabry: Cyclists are very familiar with the name of Chatenay-Malabry, as it is the headquarters of the national anti-doping research centre, which unfortunately confirms many positive tests on the Tour.
And a bit further down in her article, she tells of another important place that the racers passed by:
Stage 20 also traverses Issy-les-Moulineaux, home to the corporate headquarters of the company that runs the Tour, Amaury Sports Organisation. Another one of ASO’s holdings is the daily sports newspaper L’Equipe.
This could work out splendidly. The lab techs at Chatenay-Malabry could stand on the side of the road like the team staff members (called soigneurs) who hold feed bags (musettes), only instead of loading them with protein goop and tiny sandwiches and cakes and mini-colas, they’d be full of urine and blood test analysis results.
The Tour riders — who all signed documents before the race swearing to do all they could in the effort to cleanse cycling of performance-enhancing drugs — could act as bike messengers, picking up the packets and delivering them straight to the L’Equipe newsroom, where they usually wind up anyway.
There’s a bit of dark humor in what she says, as all too often Damien Ressiot of L’Equipe gets the scoop on positive tests conducted at LNDD before the rest of the media. DeSimone’s article is a good read, going into the problems that face professional cycling today.
Returning to today’s events, the racing around the Champs-Élysées included a breakaway that was caught in the final lap. Both the escapees and the peloton were hammering away at speeds of 30 mph or more. The final sprint featured all of the riders in contention for the sprinter’s jersey. Danielle Bennati won the stage, while Tom Boonen held on to the green jersey.
Alberto Contador, at age 24, became the 2007 Tour’s new champion. I’m happy for Contador, he worked hard to get there. And Levi Leipheimer, who had been tapped to be the Discovery team’s leader at the start, showed an incredible amount of class in how he spoke after finishing the stage. If you want to see a true sportsman, look no further than Leipheimer.
When it became clear that Discovery would have to defend the yellow jersey that Contador claimed a few days ago, Leipheimer (the consummate professional) adapted to the support role with grace. And he spoke graciously about his younger teammate afterwards, despite what must be a great personal disappointment in not climbing onto the highest podium step himself. Alberto Contador has a great future ahead of him. It will be exciting to see how his career develops.
In their sign-off from Paris, Phil Liggett and Al Trautwig made a couple of comments that hit the mark, at least for me. Liggett noted that after all that’s been going on, it’s time for the big powers in cycling to bury the hatchet and come together for the good of the sport. And Trautwig made reference to the fact that all these scandals have moved people’s perceptions from “innocent until proven guilty to guilty until possibly proven innocent.” I was glad to see someone actually address that on the air. Trautwig is my least favorite of the four Versus commentators, but he went up a notch in my eyes with that comment.
The Lesson of “Deep Throat”
In their book All The President’s Men, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (the two Washington Post investigative reporters who blew the Watergate scandal wide open), recount a meeting one of them had with the source they called “Deep Throat.” He gave them some sage advice for their investigation, “Follow the money.”
The (un)civil war that’s going on between the ASO (owners of Le Tour and other races), the UCI and WADA has gotten out of control. Behind all of the fighting between the groups is a struggle for power and money. Who will control the races, how they’re marketed, who assigns broadcast rights, who collects and distributes the money paid for those rights, how the athletes are tested and so forth are some of the issues that form the subtext for all of the vituperation between the three groups.
As Phil Liggett said, for the good of cycling, these three groups need to come to the table and make peace. WADA needs to end its witch-hunts and needs to muzzle Dick Pound, whose gift of gab and ability to sling quotable, but mean-spirited, comments often give the impression that he’s already determined who’s guilty (according to Pound, any cyclist who’s ever been tested) and we needn’t bother looking into the matter any further. Pound’s comments cast the objectivity and fairness of the anti-doping process into question.
If there’s someone at the UCI who is providing some of the tips about positive drug tests to a certain reporter at L’Equipe, that person should be found and fired. In addition, the UCI needs to figure out exactly what its rules are and enforce them. It seems a bit silly that there would be a rule that anyone who’s missed a doping test within 45 days of the start of the Tour should be barred from competing, and changing the rule might be the right thing to do. But if that’s the rule, then someone who’s missed a doping test within that time period should be barred from competition. (And let me tell you, it is incredibly strange to find myself agreeing with Christian Prudhomme on anything.)
But by allowing Michael Rasmussen to race, despite such problems, he should have been allowed to continue. Did Rasmussen lie to his team about his whereabouts during June? Perhaps. And certainly Rabobank needed to deal with it if he did. But the timing really sucked, at least from this fan’s perspective. And none of it would have happened if the UCI had followed their own rules.
After all was said and done, the UCI’s Pat McQuaid got his wish regarding Rasmussen: One of the younger riders in the Tour won. And Dick Pound seems determined to rain on McQuaid’s and Prudhomme’s parade with his remarks about Contador and Operacion Puerto.
One thing I don’t agree with M. Prudhomme on, though, is bypassing the UCI’s involvement or responsibility for drug testing at the Tour. Yes, there’s the whole issue of the ProTour that needs to be ironed out. (There’s that money angle again.) But going straight to WADA and the AFLD will not solve the doping problems in the Tour.
And it won’t do anything to address systemic problems at LNDD. If the answer is to conduct more doping tests, and LNDD is short-staffed for their volume (as they appear to be, as was highlighted in the Landaluze case), then those tests should be conducted at a lab capable of handling the work. Like the UCLA lab, or the Montreal lab, or even the one in Lausanne. FedEx can deliver samples overnight to any of those labs, with good chain of custody documentation, to boot.
And it does no good for WADA’s chief to be criticizing the Tour’s organizers and blaming them for the doping problems. If doping is as wide-spread as certain people would have us believe, there’s plenty of blame to go around.
But underneath all of the charges, counter-charges, accusations and hyperbole is a struggle for money and power. The UCI has their ProTour, and they want to make money off of it. That includes controlling the broadcast rights for ProTour races, which means more money in their pocket and less in the ASO’s pockets and the other race organizers. And it means controlling who gets to race in ProTour races. That doesn’t sit well with the ASO, or the organizers of the Giro d’Italia or the Vuelta a Espana. After all, it’s their races, why shouldn’t they decide who gets to participate?
All three of these groups are using the issue of doping as a way of gaining leverage over each other. They don’t give a rat’s ass about the cyclists, the teams, the sponsors or anyone but themselves. The biggest losers in all of this are the cyclists, who appear to be pawns in a much larger chess game — easily disposed of while trying to put the other agencies into checkmate.
It’s time the infighting stop. It’s time for these groups to come together and make peace. And it’s strange, too, for me to be (somewhat) agreeing with Dick Pound. It’s time for a summit meeting between all of these groups, where frank and open discussions can occur and where responsible decisions can be made. But these meetings need to be about more than the alleged doping problem in cycling, they need to work out the real issues between these groups.
While the anti-doping system is dysfunctional, the relationships between WADA, the UCI and the promoters of the races is beyond dysfunctional. For the good of the sport, for the good of the cyclists, and for the good of all who care about cycling, it’s time to come together and make peace.
If it’s not done soon, what happens next could be the end of professional cycling. And if that happens, there will be plenty of blame to go around.
Decision Watch: Could It Be Soon?
Now that the Tour’s over and we know who won the 2007 edition, speculation has begun again as to when the arbitration panel deliberating over the Floyd Landis case will hand down their opinion. I’ve seen people suggesting that the decision could come in the next few days.
No one knows, for sure. Having taken so long to reach a decision, I hope that their findings will be well-reasoned and supported by the facts. If that’s the case, things could well go in Landis’ favor. And if it does, one can expect that there will be some (probably highly qualified) criticism of LNDD’s lab procedures, training of staff, and other technical issues argued by Team Landis. If it goes the way of USADA, expect that while the science of the case will be addressed, the panel will also cite the testimony of Greg LeMond and Joe Papp as ways of showing a non-analytical positive.
And whichever way the panel’s decision goes, expect that it will be appealed. The biggest question I have now about when the winner of the 2006 will be formally declared is this: Will it occur in 2007 or 2008? If the case goes to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, I have a hunch that the final decision won’t occur until sometime in the early part of 2008. I hope I’m wrong, but it took about 18 months in the Hamilton case. It could take that long for Landis’ case, too.
If the decision comes down soon, it will easily push any articles about Contador’s win off the front pages of most sports sites, which would be a shame. Contador deserves his moment in the sun, his moment to bask in the glow of an accomplishment that few cyclists ever achieve at any age. As with the previous two winners, Contador’s story is one of overcoming a great medical problem, returning to competition and proving to be a true champion. It’s as inspiring as Lance Armstrong overcoming cancer, or Floyd Landis overcoming his hip condition. Or even, to give the devil his due, Greg LeMond’s story of coming back after being shot while turkey hunting and almost bleeding to death.
The next few days may prove to be very interesting. Or not. It all depends on when the arbitrators announce their decision.