Astana’s exclusion from ASO events has resulted in an unsurprising backlash in opinion against ASO’s policies, or perhaps more accurately, it’s lack of them. It has also resulted in one rather surprising reaction. Levi Leipheimer’s www.letleviride.com is taking a novel approach to race selection: coercion.
Based on the theory that public support for the top American rider in the pro peloton can sway the organizers of the Tour de France into changing its team selections, Let Levi Ride supposes that support for one rider can overcome the disdain ASO feels for an entire team.
Coercion, of course, isn’t new to the pro peloton. David Walsh theorized that among dopers there are the draggers and the dragged. His need to find a culprit, a bad guy, on which to pin blame for the evil of doping is simpleminded. Not a single interview with a rider who has confessed to doping has ever turned up a bully who said, “Take this, or else.” However, many riders have copped to the belief that doping was so rampant that unless they took EPO, they would wind up unemployed.
It was this fear of unemployment that moved the majority of the peloton from occasional steroid, amphetamine and caffeine usage to rampant EPO use. The coercion riders felt was powerful enough to overcome the resistance of even some of the most ardently anti-drug cyclists.
Is it possible that Levi’s ploy could work? Could an outpouring of support from Americans for one American rider cause ASO—an organization pathologically opposed to further embarrassment—to rethink its exclusion of the architect of the last eight Tour de France victories? It doesn’t seem likely and any attempt to force the French hand seems likely to result in further outrage on the part of Tour organizers, let alone the French national psyche.
Americans’ outrage over Astana’s exclusion seems myopic to Europeans. Mistrust for Bryneel and Contador is so widespread as to be the starting point for all attitudes toward the pair. And in a land where a sacrifice of the rights of an individual in the quest for the greater good is seen as both fair and logical, the loss of one over-the-hill rider’s shot at not winning the Tour de France yet again isn’t considered tragic.
Coercion will change things in cycling once more. Each clean rider who misses a ride in an important race, or is sent home following a teammate’s non-negative result (as the riders from Cofidis were in last year’s Tour) is going to get pissed off. Is there an anger greater than that of the unjustly persecuted man?
And so the threat has changed for the pro peloton. With sponsors departing the sport, the threat now is that a rider could wind up unemployed not because he wasn’t fast enough, but because of his teammate’s misdeeds. The need for a real brotherhood among riders has never been higher. Men may go crazy one by one, but the road back to salvation can only be found in a community.