Something about the previous post must have really struck a nerve, as the discussion has been quite vigorous over the last few days. Last I checked, there were 140 comments. By the time I’m done with this post, who knows, could be more. Kudos to those who’ve been participating, and even more so to the intrepid souls who’ve kept reading and following the thread. Even if I didn’t have a day job to interfere with reading all the posts, it would still be a challenge keeping up.
Tonight’s subject is Pat “Don” McQuixote, our erstwhile chief banana of the UCI republic. Larry pointed out, in a comment over at TBV, McQuaid/Quixote’s latest pronouncement, which is either an idle treat or wishful thinking. From an Associated Press article published at ESPN.com:
“We need to take action, which we’ll do as a consequence of their decisions,” McQuaid said in a telephone interview. “The reason goes completely against sport. … There is no way that UCI can allow it.
“It’s up to our legal department to study the situation and then begin discussions with ASO before action can be taken.”
McQuaid said organizers of the three major cycling events — which also includes the Giro d’Italia and Spanish Vuelta — were unfairly singling out Astana when other teams had also made doping headlines last year.
Certainly, with news that RCS, promoters of the Giro, will not invite Team Astana to their other races, it appears that Astana has become the ping-pong ball of the cycling world that Unibet was last year. At least, where the organizers of the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia are concerned. McQuaid/Quixote has his facts wrong about the Vuelta, at least at this point in time, as the organizers have already publicly said that Team Astana are welcome to race in Spain’s Grand Tour later this year. So, practically speaking, Unipublic isn’t jerking Team Astana around. Now, if the rumored acquisition of Unipublic by the ASO occurs, Astana’s entry into the Vuelta may not be assured.
Is it sporting to deny the winner of a race the opportunity to defend his title? Well, assuming that the person in question has done nothing wrong, and has no outstanding doping case being prosecuted, and has no suspension in place, it’s odd (at the very least) to deny that individual a chance to race. In Astana’s case, Alberto Contador will not be able to defend either his Paris-Nice or Tour de France titles. And, Andreas KlÃ¶den won’t be able to defend his Tirreno-Adriatico title next month, as RCS is not going to invite the team to any of their races this year, either.
Could it get any worse for the team? McQuaid/Quixote notes:
“The decision is completely arbitrary and selective,” McQuaid said. “They give reasons of being concerned about the image of the Tour — but everybody is concerned about the Tour, teams included. How can you have the best riders in the world not take part? It’s a joke. It’s absurd.”
OK, it is arbitrary. Or at least, it seems that way. But the Tour is ASO’s party, and they make the decisions about who will or won’t be invited. As I pointed out recently, although others may disagree with the decision taken by the ASO, they haven’t broken any rules. Who gets to decide which teams race at the Tour? ASO. Most definitely not the UCI — at least, under the present rules.
What’s going on here has, in my opinion, less to do with who’s on the team at the current time and more to do with the on-going power struggle between various factions. Right now, ASO holds the upper hand, as the Tour is no longer an official UCI ProTour race. So selection for inclusion in the Tour is not automatically guaranteed, no matter which team you’re talking about.
It is, however, absurd not to let the previous year’s winner contest a race, assuming he or she wants to. But that’s the ASO’s choice. Just like it’s the choice of fans whether they will show up, watch events on TV, or purchase the products of those who sponsor such events. Pat McQuixote can have the UCI’s lawyers study the situation all he wants. In the end, they will not be able to prevail.
If Pat McQuixote really wants to get ASO’s attention he might be better advised to organize a boycott of ASO races by the ProTour teams and by the fans. He’s got more chance of getting something like that off the ground than Astana does of racing at an ASO event this year. If you want to get the organizer’s attention, you’re going to have to hit them in the pocketbook, Pat.
The politics and power struggles behind the scenes are doing our sport no favors. Denying entry to the reigning champion’s team looks bad, from my perspective. But that’s the ASO’s decision, and RCS appears to have followed suit. If there’s a backlash against them, perhaps that will cause them to change their minds. I wouldn’t bet on it, however. Once certain types stake out a position, they are often loath to waver from it. And it’s not like too many others in the cycling world are sticking up for Bruyneel and company. As Cycling Weekly notes:
What is telling, though, is there are not [many] voices from the peloton speaking out in support of Astana. There is no rallying call from other team managers. It could be that they don’t wish to align with the outcasts and jeopardise their own places, but it could also mean that they’re content to see Astana take their medicine.
In other words, McQuixote will have a hard time mounting a boycott by the ProTour teams, who are either cowed by ASO’s power, or sitting back and watching Astana take the heat for sins of the past. The other teams may also wish to stay out of the crossfire in the struggle between two of the biggest race organizers in professional cycling and the sport’s governing body.
It will be some time, I’m afraid, before the powers that be settle their differences. In the meantime, expect that each year, some hapless team will become the pawn/whipping boy as the various forces struggle for the heart and soul of professional cycling. Some of what’s happening has to do with the ongoing doping wars within cycling. But some of it has to do with something much more fundamental. Money and power.