Monday, February 18, 2008
A Stain on Yellow
Astana is out of the Tour de France. No sooner than High Road was refused entry to the Giro, RCS reconsidered and gave the team a spot. And Operation Puerto has been reopened. Even Hollywood blockbusters don’t have this many twists of plot.
There can be little doubt that ASO and RCS want drugs out of cycling. And frankly, if it’s what ASO and RCS wants, then that is where the sport will go; the small race organizers don’t have much influence for good or ill.
Here’s what’s so fascinating about Europe: The complete lack of rationality in the administration of justice. Last year at the Tour (as if you don’t remember) Astana wasn’t the only embarrassment. Certainly Cofidis and T-Mobile brought some amount of embarrassment to the event courtesy Christian Moreni and Patrick Sinkewitz. But can anything in the entire 2007 season compare to Michael Rasmussen being fired from Rabobank?
So how is it that Rabobank will be at Paris-Nice and, ergo, the Tour de France? ASO clearly deserves the right to restrict invitations to only those teams that meet its standards. When asked about Rabobank, Patrice Clerc responded that the problems with Rabobank were limited to one rider and a director: Michael Rasmussen and Theo de Rooy, respectively, and not with the sponsor. Similarly, the problems at Astana could be said to be limited to a director, Mark Biver, and two riders, Alexander Vinokourov and Andrei Kashechkin. Umm, so how are they different again?
To be fair, the French are suspicious of Johan Bruyneel the way cats are suspicious of dogs. He’s the only team director with more than five victories to his name and the fact that he replicated his previous success with Armstrong with the second youngest Tour winner ever give them ample reason to worry that Contador could stand on the podium until his 33rd birthday—another nine years. ASO’s exclusion of Astana is as much about Bruyneel as it is Vinokourov et al.
Is refusing entry to Astana supportable? Maybe. But the only way it can seem a remotely just decision is if Rabobank is refused entry as well.
The problem with ASO’s inconsistent selection process is that it makes their choices seem arbitrary. If we were discussing rock musicians or starlets, irrational would be a selling point, but when it’s a corporation organizing the largest annual sporting event it’s a little scary.
The worst part is the irony. The stain on cycling caused by doping has tarnished the Tour, though not irreparably. However, if ASO uses arbitrary criteria to exclude teams, or applies objective criteria inconsistently, their disrespect for clean riders will cause a new problem that doping control can’t solve. There is no stain like crazy.
Photo courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International.