A few reflections on developments in professional cycling since the Tour de France 2007 concluded - Post 1
LIGHT AT THE END OF THE DOPING TUNNEL? Believe it or not, the revelations of a few dopers in this year’s Tour de France (Alexandre Vinokourov, Cristian Moreni, Iban Mayo) went a long way to drain doping of its viability even for the stealthiest of cyclists. It’s become harder and harder to dope under the radar (Michael Rasmussen left the TdF "guilty by avoidance" of pre-race anti-doping tests). Doping’s also become unacceptable to more and more cyclists and teams. High profile doping exposures have toppled some once-thought great riders (Ivan Basso, Tyler Hamilton, Jan Ullrich). I won’t be surprised if a few more recognizable riders are implicated and banned. In the long run, cycling is cleaning up its act in a strong move toward integrity. Let's see some American-oriented professional sports do the same (MLB, NFL, etc.)!
DISCOVERY CHANNEL TEAM SUNSETS. Can you believe that the team that Lance Armstrong built, that won the Tour de France 9 of the past 10 years, that won the Tour de France this year and placed two riders on the podium in Paris, will call it quits at the end of this season? Tailwind sports had U.S. Postal Service as its main sponsor until four years ago, when Discovery Channel picked up the $45 million + per year tab. Discovery Channel announced in February that it is ending its sponsorship and team leaders have been unsuccessful in finding a new American or international sponsor. Can this be chalked up to a year's worth of ugly revelations of doping among top pro cyclists? I think so. So, the only American-based team in the elite Pro Tour cycling circuit is gone. Sigh! So, 27 of the world’s best cyclists, including a number of Americans, will be looking for jobs come October...or sooner.
HELLO, SLIPSTREAM! The good news is that another American-based team is on the horizon. Former top-notch cyclist Jonathan Vaughters, a Tour de France veteran, has been coaching and building Team Slipstream to European-level respect. He’s signed American Tour de France veterans David Zabriskie and Christian VandeVelde, along with Scotsman David Millar. Other internationally-respected riders are lining up. Importantly, Team Slipstream has established model anti-doping procedures and ethical guidelines that will likely become a model for all of professional cycling--something that is critical for the future of competitive cycling. Team Slipstream may eventually fill the void left by Discovery Channel in ProTour competition. We may even see Slipstream at next year’s Tour de France!
VUELTA a ESPANA, ANYONE? Anyone up for one more cycling epic this year? The Vuelta a Espana (Tour of Spain) begins September 1st. The triple crown of road cycling includes the Giro d'Italia (Tour of Italy), the Tour de France, and the Vuelta a Espana. All are three-week epics that include the elements of bike racing we witnessed in the Tour de France—grueling time trials, breathtaking breakaways, epic climbs, harrowing bunch sprints, terrible crashes, incredible beauty, and great fans. All are ultimate tests for the complete cyclist, pushing the limits of human capability. Unfortunately, the Giro and Vuelta are somewhat less of an international field; they tend to feature and favor sons of their own respective nations
HOW TO TUNE IN TO THE VUELTA. Also unfortunately, the tours of Italy and Spain are not available on American TV. But the Vuelta a Espana can be followed with online TV (http://www.cycling.tv/) and by live minute-by-minute updates on http://www.cyclingnews.com/ or http://www.velonews.com/. I don't think I'll blog the Vuelta daily, but I hope to offer a few updates and highlights, particularly if an American is among the contenders (okay, that's my bias).
CAN THEY STILL WIN ALL THREE? Historically, the greatest winners of the Tour de France also raced--and won--the tours of Italy and Spain, riders like Bernard Hinault and Jacque Anqetil. But not recently. As the demands of today’s racing have increased (speed averages, degrees of difficulty), the toll of riding all three epics prevents most top riders from attempting all three. Lance Armstrong never attempted to win the tours of Spain or Italy, focusing, instead, only on the crown jewel of cycling. I wonder if Alberto Contador, a son of Spain and this year’s Tour de France winner, will try to ride and win the Vuelta? Find out more about the Vuelta here or check back here on tdf-bikehiker for links to the Vuelta a Espana.
SEPTEMBER: MY OWN RETURN TO BIKING. Personally, I just hope to be back on a bike in September. All summer, I have been jealous even of kids on banana-seat bikes in our neighborhood. But an MRI on September 5 will determine whether or not my torso torture chamber--er, brace (helping to keep me still while 17 fractures suffered in really bad MTB accident in June)--comes off and I am cleared to move toward physical re-conditioning. I have a goal of riding the Hilly Hundred in October, so that will just give me about a month to tune up. The Hilly is not a race, of course, but it is 100 miles of plenty of heart-pumping climbs around southern Indiana. It's a fun ride over two days and manageable by most half-serious cyclists. Get in on it at http://www.cibaride.org/.