Again Lance Armstrong dominates the news. If he?s not your cup of tea, scroll further down for comment on some other issues affecting cycling this week
|WHY CONTADOR MUST LEAVE ASTANA|
It?s official. Lance Armstrong is joining Astana, which means that Alberto Contador must leave, for the sake of his own self-respect.
Whether you like the Spaniard or not and whether you are convinced by his insistence that he is not the rider named ?AC? alleged to have been a client of Dr Eufamiano Fuentes, Contador must not allow himself to be turned into a glorified water carrier for Armstrong.
Contador has won three grand tours in the space of little over a year and is the most complete and accomplished stage racer in the peloton at the moment. There is simply no way he can co-exist with Armstrong in the same team.
The bottom line is that Bruyneel knows that, in terms of media coverage and public interest globally, an Armstrong victory is worth ten for Contador.
And so, if push comes to shove, and Armstrong has a chance of victory, then he will be The Boss, and Contador will be reduced to pace-setting at the bottom of mountains.
That is not good for cycling and so Contador should act quickly and move on. There certainly won?t be a shortage of takers, even if not all of them can match his current Astana salary.
From his point of view, Contador has already missed one Tour de France, now he runs the risk of being relegated to the role of super supporter.
|A STRANGE ALLIANCE|
It is an odd fit. The Texan and the Kazakhs. It?s as if the film American Flyers never happened.
Made at the height of the Cold War, during an era when the US and Soviet nuclear programmes ramped up and Ronald Reagan took the conflict into space, the film featured Kevin Costner and a bunch of clean-cut all-American heroes racing against bearded, untrustworthy-looking Ruskies.
Twenty three years later and middle America is now supposed to embrace the fact that their cycling hero, Lance Armstrong, is going to race under the flag of a former Soviet state ? and one that has regularly been criticised by Amnesty International ? Kazakhstan.
It?s a very strange alliance, but of course, Armstrong didn?t have much choice because he didn?t have time to put a new team together.
But whether American fans will support the Kazakh squad in the same way they supported US Postal Service or Discovery Channel remains to be seen.
People will no doubt support Lance, but surely the ?real? American teams are Team Columbia and Garmin-Chipotle. And that is why Armstrong has put in place a Trek-sponsored team of under-23s, pinching Taylor Phinney from under Jonathan Vaughters?s nose.
Maybe Armstrong has seen how popular Garmin have become, with a squad containing plenty of young American riders, a quirky image, a real team ethos ? as opposed to the all-for-one Armstrong idea of team-work ? and a clean, transparent programme, and realised that Astana, Bruyneel and he needed some of the same.
|A ROTTEN PAST|
Astana will now attract lots of new fans, but perhaps they should be aware of the team?s filthy back-story before embracing them.
The squad used to be Liberty Seguros, run by Manolo Saiz. Liberty Seguros stood by the team when their rider Roberto Heras, one of Armstrong?s former team-mates, tested positive for EPO and was stripped of the 2005 Vuelta a Espana title.
But they couldn?t stick around when Saiz was arrested in Madrid with a briefcase full of money bound allegedly for blood-doping doctor Eufamiano Fuentes.
That kicked off the entire Operacion Puerto affair, which has cost cycling sponsors and credibility.
The team?s star in the summer of 2006 was Alexandre Vinokourov and, with his hopes of riding the Tour de France in jeopardy, a consortium of Kazakh companies were persuaded by the government to step in and save the team.
Come Strasbourg and the start of the Tour, too many of the newly-branded Astana riders had been implicated in Operacion Puerto and, because they were reduced to only five riders, they were unable to start. Vinokourov was not one of those riders.
In 2007 Eddy Mazzoleni finished third in the Giro d?Italia but was implicated in a doping investigation in Italy and retired.
At the Tour, Vinokourov tested positive for a banned blood transfusion after both his stage wins and the team was asked to leave the race. Manager Marc Biver, who had replaced Saiz and declared a fresh start, also left. A week after the Tour, Andrey Kashechkin was visited by out-of-competition testers and he was also positive for a banned blood transfusion.
The newest fresh start came in 2008, with Johan Bruyneel (who raced for Saiz at the ONCE team in the 1990s) taking over as manager and Rasmus Damsgaard being hired as the team?s independent anti-doping controller. However, that was not enough for ASO, who barred the team from all its races including the Tour de France.
The only blemish this season has been the sacking of Vladimir Gusev for an unspecified anomaly detected during an in-house test.
So, what do we have now? A Luxembourg-registered (not Swiss-registered as some media have stated) team backed by a consortium of Kazakhstan-based companies.
A lot of people criticise those of us who supposedly ?dwell on the past?, but if cycling is going to continually look backwards, then what choice do we have? Unresolved issues do not become resolved simply by the passing of time.
And so the history of the Astana team is relevant to Armstrong?s comeback, just as the contempt Bruyneel showed for the sport by trying to tough it out after signing Ivan Basso is relevant.
|ARMSTRONG AND ASO?|
There is no guarantee that ASO will invite Astana and Lance Armstrong to the Tour de France in 2009.
One way to ensure a place is for an Armstrong-backed consortium to buy ASO ? as has been rumoured.
There has been all manner of speculation about Marie-Odile Amaury?s thoughts and motives, but selling the race to an American-led group would be akin to selling the family silver.
Surely the French government would step in to prevent any sale. Surely the French would defend their institution and prove that not everyone wants to sell up to the highest bidder
But the wider sporting point is that the event would lose all credibility immediately if one of the athletes competing owned a share of it.
As for Armstrong, what on earth does he need to buy the Tour de France for?
After all, nobody ever got to the White House on the back of obscure sports administration.
|MAY DAY, MAY DAY|
Lance Armstrong says he will kick off his comeback at the Tour Down Under ? or Tour of Australia as his less-than-clued-up spokesman called it.
And he wants to ride the Tour de France and possibly the Giro d?Italia.
But we?d like to know if Armstrong has any intention of racing in the month of May. We?d certainly like to see him do so.
|TRANSPARENCY IS SEE-THROUGH|
During his New York press conference, Lance Armstrong confirmed that Don Catlin will conduct his anti-doping programme.
Catlin founded the Olympic Analytical Lab at the University of Los Angeles and is at the forefront of the anti-doping movement.
He is widely respected and has an impressive CV when it comes to the fight against doping as this article on the USA Today website shows.
But what does that mean for Rasmus Damsgaard?s programme at Astana?
Will Damsgaard continue to monitor the team? Or will Damsgaard monitor everyone but Lance?
Armstrong says his blood test results will be published on his own website, livestrong.com
But is that transparency?
Transparency does not mean hiring your own film crew, it means being open to all sections of the press, even the ones you do not like or agree with.
As soon as you pay a penny to the media, that is not journalism, it is PR.
|WHEN IS A PRO NOT A PRO?|
The under-23 road race at the World Championships has thrown up something of an anomaly.
Earlier this season Daniel Martin, the Irish superstar-in-the-making won the mountainous Route du Sud stage race.
And South African John-Lee Augustyn completed the Tour de France. In fact, he was the first man to cross the summit of the highest mountain in the race the Bonette-Restefond. You may remember his spectacular crash on the descent.
But, because they are both under 23 years of age and do not ride for ProTour teams, they are eligible for the under-23 road race at the Worlds.
So, they will both line up against the largely amateur field in Friday?s race.
This is not a criticism of Martin or Augustyn ? both are eligible under the rules to race. But the rules should be changed.
The situation isn?t without precedent. Last year?s under-23 champion Peter Velits had spent the season racing for the Wiesenhof team and had spent the two years prior to that racing for the Konica Minolta squad.
The days of the pro-am split in cycling are gone, but surely riders who have spent a season or more gaining experience and strength in the full professional ranks should not be allowed to compete at under-23 level.
When asked about it by CW UCI president Pat McQuaid didn?t disagree.
?It?s something that should be looked at, and which I have looked at, when the ProTour was set up. But the examples you give are very good, because there are some very high-level riders from pro continental teams riding very high-profile events. Garmin would be one of them, and Dan Martin?s in there, and he?ll be riding a development race [at the Worlds].
?Age indicates that he should, but the fact that he?s in a high-level team might mean he shouldn?t.
?Then there?s a question of a rider of 22 or 23, what races should he be doing in any case? I hope we can look at all this in a different light as the agreements come together between. We need a ProTour, we need ProTour high-level teams. I honestly believe that, teams that can represent the sport around the world.
?We also need teams to help us develop the races as well. It was always the idea that these teams should have development squads. Rabobank is probably the one that does it the best, Milram and Euskaltel.
?But the riders at the top level, they should remain at top level.?
It always makes me laugh watching the World Championship time trials.
You?ve crossed the line and done a very decent time, good enough for the top three, and some bloke in a blazer ushers you over to sit on a plastic garden chair that looks like it was bought from a DIY superstore.
There you sit, sweaty and thirsty, in gold, silver and bronze order while a television camera films you for our general amusement.
And then, when someone else rides their way into the provisional top ten, you have to shuffle round.
What does this serve other than demean the riders, who always look more than a little uncomfortable.
Presumably it?s so the cameras are on hand to capture the look on a rider?s face the moment victory or defeat is concerned.
But couldn?t they at least get them some more comfortable chairs?
The Vuelta a Espana was not a thrilling spectacle ? but it may have been had time bonuses not been on offer.
It transpires that winner Alberto Contador and his second-placed team-mate Levi Leipheimer would have been split by tenths of a second had there been no bonuses on the finish line.
In other words, they rode round Spain in the same time.
That has led to a certain amount of debate suggesting that Contador was not the worthy winner.
But to argue the point is to ignore the fact that had there not been bonuses, Contador would have raced differently.
After all, to win a bike race, even a three-week tour, you do what needs to be done.
And there can be no doubt that if the gap between the two Astana riders had been closer, Contador had gas in the tank to stretch the gap.
Every now and again CW gets complaints over the choice of who appears on the cover.
Last week was one such occasion, with more than one person suggesting that the choice of Lance Armstrong was somehow out of step with the magazine?s I Support Drug-Free Sport campaign.
Was there a bigger story in cycling last week? Of course there wasn?t, and so Armstrong was a logical choice.
A few years ago Richard Virenque featured on the cover with a headline ?Saint or Sinner?. It was a rhetorical question because inside the editorial clearly came down on the side of ?sinner?. In fact, the comment was particularly savage, yet there were plenty of readers who felt that we were condoning Virenque?s drug-taking by printing his photograph.
I wonder if the heavyweight newspapers get similar complaints when they published photos of Slobodan Milosevic or Saddam Hussein to illustrate the big news stories of the day? Do they get emails saying: ?Dear sir, it?s disgraceful that you are condoning genocide by printing a picture of Saddam Hussein on your front page yesterday.?
PREVIOUS WEDNESDAY COMMENTS
September 17 ? Let?s leave the dirty generation in the past
September 10 ? The Armstrong Edition
September 10 ? The Armstrong-free Edition
Bonus comment ? Why Sevilla, Botero and Hamilton must not start Tour of Britain
September 3 ? Want to be national TT champ and ride the Tour of Britain? Tough, you can?t
August 27 ? Defending Great Britain
August 20 – Gold, gold, glorious gold
August 13 ? Gold rush starts
August 6 ? Team LPR in the Tour of Britain
July 30 ? Assessing the Tour
The Tuesday Comment – January to July 2008