Monday, January 21, 2008

Crystal Ball

So will Team Slipstream go to the Tour de France? They’ve been invited to the Giro d’Italia, Taylor Phinney just won Gold in the pursuit at a World Cup race, and Julian Dean has repeated as the National Champion in the road race.

With all due respect though, so what? Not that they aren’t good enough to go—that’s not it. No, the fact is, while those things are nice, they aren’t exactly bona fides. No, if you want to go to the Tour de France, you need wins in the spring, preferably in ASO-owned events. It’s a simple and fair formula: If you want to kiss the girl, buy her flowers.

It doesn’t hurt that Magnus Backstedt has won Paris-Roubaix, or that David Millar and David Zabriskie both won time trials at the Tour and wore the maillot jaune. Each of those is great but, well, what have they done lately? And by that, the question is, what, exactly, did they accomplish last season? It’s quite a demand.

Don’t worry: the question is irrelevant. Unless the team utterly tanks this spring and gets dropped en masse from each and ever race they enter, Slipstream will be at the Tour come July. Here’s why:

Even if by a miracle of psychosis most folks believed that the athletes caught up in the recent drug scandals were all completely innocent of all the accusations, a belief comparable to thinking that evolution was just a cute idea, the fact is any reasonable person must conclude that the mere specter of doping has clouded our opinion of sport. Name a sport—other than curling—that hasn’t had some whiff of the illicit. If you have come up with one, you are a better person than I.

Put simply, the Tour de France has been injured by athletes accused of doping to win the largest annual sporting event in the world. Let’s try not to be surprised.

Supposing you were the director of the Tour. What would you do?

The way I do the math tells me that I would seek out any and every team that has garnered publicity for running a clean program. If media attention can be considered a reliable yard stick, CSC, High Road and Slipstream are running the most noisily clean programs in the sport. It is notable that WADA’s Anne Gripper, in speaking with the members of Slipstream at the team’s intro in Boulder recently, actually wished the team good luck. Given the extraordinarily adversarial relationship of WADA to most athletes—and vice versa—Gripper’s attitude toward Slipstream is refreshing, and largely attributable to the program’s transparency; Vaughters is the world’s first NASCAR crew chief inviting officials to look under the hood of his car … every other week.

Slipstream needs an invitation to the Tour de France because Vaughters made a wildcard invitation one of the team’s biggest goals of the season. He could just as easily have said he wanted to win the Eneco Tour. His choice. However, the Tour de France can’t survive another five years like the last two. Even three more years of embarrassing revelations about the yellow jersey—whether true or not—will see even the event’s most die-hard sponsors flee. The Tour de France needs Team Slipsteam to help restore its prestige, even as Vaughters’ young unit looks to confirm its legitimacy.


Anonymous said...

you know... i'm over the whole concept of grand tours as bike racing. i mean, yeah ... they're impressive.... but i'll take any one-day race over them.

the tours have become like a sitcom.. and i'm not talking about the comedy of doping scandals but rather the formulaic riding and tactics.

the only way i can think to shake it up is to ban team radios...

so the tour? yeah, i get it... but lets talk classics and demi-classics and 'real' bike racing.

i know i'm over simplifying... but its what i feel. tours.. neh.... one days.. yes please. i'd be fine if the season ended when summer begins.

Anonymous said...

Slipstream is the shizzle.
The argyle had me at hello.

bikesgonewild said...

...i think you're right, the tour needs team slipshizzle (sorry, anon 1:26pm) even if ultimately they don't have a great year...

...landis makes an interesting point about how some people will perceive that anyone beating slipstream will be doped, but vaugthers is working hard w/ in his own framework to bring validity back to a sport whose public image is at an all time low...

...hell, even people close to the sport, while they know what has to happen, aren't unilateral in their thinking, so we're still in for plenty of confusion yet, but in the long run it's a great step in the right direction...

...johnny v & the slips rock...go, johnny, go...

Anonymous said...

Let's face it, Slipstream stands a very realistic chance of getting to ride the tour based on a powerfully run, integrated marketing campaign. It pains me to think that this is what the sport has come to. Hopefully their spring results in the important races will show me and the cycling world that there is more to this program than deep pockets and a well oiled marketing and PR department.

Anonymous said...

This issue is covered in some depth in the new Cycle Sport.

Vaughters has very cleverly lowered expectations for the team to fans, sponsors and ASO. First of all, he blames the rise of doping on the idea that, by teams and sponsors, that it's win or fail.

His position is that if Slipstream can
1) stay absolutely clean
2) animate some ASO races and maybe win a couple stages, and
3) continue to figure out ways to positively publicize themselves and sponsors other than winning races, the team will be a success.

If the fans, sponsors, media and ASO all bite and they make the Tour, I think we'll owe JV some congratulations for changing the equation.

And yes, let's ban radios.

Anonymous said...

What if you used your squeaky clean program and a bunch of positive (well, negative in this case) headlines applauding your clean program as a ploy to cover up the fact that you are harboring the world's dirtiest athletes?

I'm not saying Zabriskie or Phinney is cheating (maybe Magnus and David), but when you hide something wouldn't you want to put it in the place that everyone would least suspect?

P.S. I can't believe your related NASCAR to Professional Cycling. I mean, a Mario Andrett/Formula Racing analogy would have been much more prudent.

Anonymous said...

none of this is about vaughters being a saintly purveyor of the good truth. its about vaughters assessing the situation he's in and making the correct moves with the correct sincerity, and correct resources to deliver the sport to sponsors

you can't sell something if the packaging is fugly.


ants said...

I have just one rather selfish reason for hoping Slipstream make it to le Tour... Being able to cheer for a fellow countryman (I am praying he does not crash badly again...) It raises the profile of the cycling in a country that pays little notice to anything other than Rugby and Cricket - even though we now have a uci golden bike event...