Friday, May 30, 2008

Justice, ASO Style


Each day Alberto Contador wears the pink jersey at the Giro d’Italia he proves his mettle as a Grand Tour rider. Contador is putting on an impressive display of talent and determination (Andreas Kloden’s disappointment at being unseated as the team’s leader notwithstanding) after arriving at the Giro in something other than peak form. It’s a rare rider who can ride into better shape as a grand tour progresses.

To say Contador will arrive in Milan to take his second Grant Tour would be putting the pack before the breakaway, but his chances do look good. Contador’s transfer to Astana to follow Johan Bruyneel raised eyebrows or didn’t, depending on your outlook on the refugee of Operacion Puerto. Bruyneel retained the services of Rasmus Damsgaard and since doing so there hasn’t been a single whisper about the team’s, uh, cleanliness. No accusations, no positive tests, no non-starters, just a string of wins in every stage race they have entered this season save the Tour de Georgia.

The message Astana has been sending is that by being not just competitive, but consistently the most competitive team in stage races during the 2008 season (as evidenced by their victories thus far), they deserve to race the Tour de France.

Someone might want to phone Johan Bruyneel.

The Amaury Sport Organization’s problem with Astana seems to be as much about Bruyneel as it does the previous management of Astana. While Mssrs. Prudhomme and company haven’t said as much, their concern about Lance Armstrong—and by extension his methods and his team—hasn’t abated. If anything, Contador’s win last year was all the confirmation they needed that Bruyneel’s team must be up to something other than fair play.

Their ongoing suspicion of Astana—whether warranted or not—makes a tragic statement about ASO’s regard for team-retained longitudinal testing programs. It’s unlikely they know something about the possible fallibility of these programs that the rest of the world doesn’t, so if they are, in fact, suspicious of the programs themselves then we are entering a new era marked more by cynicism than proactive science.

Trust is a human contract that the PRO peloton has killed more convincingly than Nietzsche’s announcement that God is dead. ASO wants its race to be won by a rider utterly beyond suspicion, though how that can be accomplished is a matter that could be debated until the start of the ’09 Tour. One thing is certain: They don’t trust anyone riding in azure and yellow.

It’s clear that Astana’s riders and management believe that by demonstrating the team’s competitive worthiness that they will have earned the right to race the Tour de France. Leipheimer has illustrated the team’s naivete by saying, “We deserve to be in the Tour de France.” For those who aren’t clear on the concept (Leipheimer included), the Tour de France is a private company and rather like a restaurant, they have elected to retain the right to choose whom they will serve. Think of it as a ‘no shoes, no shirt' clause for the doping set.

Should Alberto Contador arrive in Milan the color of a flamingo, many people will believe that Astana's performances justify an invitation for the Tour. To ASO, the exact opposite will be true: Without having more thoroughly cleared up suspicions and concerns before winning yet another grand tour, ASO will believe its actions to be completely just. Moreover, winning the Giro despite the team’s lack of preparation will be proof positive to the Tour de France that Astana must be doing something shady.

Image courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International

21 comments:

Kris said...

Shame on the ASO for turning their back on the strongest team in the PRO circuit. Their bias and suspicions and based solely on personal opinion and Contador's negative involvement with Puerto. Why doesn't the ASO simply say, we want Astana to ride, but because Johan runs the show we will not accept them.

Thanks for the write up.

Kris in Belgium

bikesgonewild said...

...how bloody appropriate, padraig, to parody nietzsche's pronouncement that "god is dead" when refering to the aso, astana contretemps...

...in response to old smiley face schopenhauer's theory that man had a "will to live" nietzsche contended that man rather had a "will to power"...a need to promote one's power over others...

...while the PRO peleton indeed broke their trust w/ the sporting public, i remain firmly convinced that the basis for the aso's disenchantment w/ astana is routed more through christian prudhomme's business sense than an altruistic need to assure the public...

...while prudhomme may be new to the job, the 'august' gentlemen that ran the tour de france for years knew about drug usage in their race...

...it's about spectacle & our tolerance of what we'll accept as spectacle has changed...

...so while there is little public display as of now, the rift between the aso & the uci is far from healed...huge sums of money, control & prestige are still up for grabs & that is the bottom line...

Uli said...

ASO does know a lot more about Astana (and DSC/USPS for that matter) than they are able to say for legal reasons.

As a sidenote, my former DS Holczer was relieved to see Leipheimer's contract finally come to an end. A ticking time bomb.

Thumbs up to ASO.

Anonymous said...

I am consistently surprised when people question the ASO decision to leave the dirtiest team in Pro cycling out of the tour. It appears you are unaware of what Astana is and has done. Here is a refresher.

-The team is not run by Johann "The Hog", although the fact that you have him on the team only hurts their case. The team is run by the person who founded the team Nikolay Proskurin.

-In case you don't know Proskurin he is the same guy who brought 6 Operation Puerto riders to the 2006 tour. The same guy who had 5 guys test positive last year. He is the same guy who has accused the ASO of a conspiracy when Vino and Kash tested positive. He says he will have some evidence of this in a few weeks. He also said that the ASO violated Kash's human rights.

-The other founder of the team is the head of the Kazakh federation. When Vino and Kash tested positive for what could only be organized doping he only gave them one year suspensions, even thought the rules called for two. This is another example of which side of the doping issue Astana falls on.

-When Stapleton came in to T-Mobile many of the dopers left, either by choice or were forced out. One of the doctors who ran the Telekom in house doping program is Andres Blum. He has worked, and continues to work, at Astana. Even after the mountains of evidence came out againset him.

-Vino is still close with Proskurin (They go fishing all the time says Vino) and trains with members of the team. Kash trains with the junior team. all this while Astana says they are a new team with no connection to the old team.

-Kloden is a ticking time bomb, as is Contador. His name is all over OP and Kloden was sent 1000 DM of "Vitamins" by the doping doctors.

It is ASO's race, they can invite whoever they like. Do they want to take a risk with their product and invite he team that has done more then any other team to embarrass pro cycling and the ASO over the last 3 year?

Frenchy aka Bike Boy said...

I agree with Uli: the ASO knows way more than we might think. There has been alot of smoke sorounding the Disco/Postal team for too long, coupled with the relationship that Lance (who pulled the greatest sporting fraud of all time) had with a certain Italian doctor, the ASO is certainly within their rights to be prudent as to who to invite and not invite.

Henry said...

yes, fundamental problems with

- trust
- the battle for power and money
- changing tolerance for "spectacle"

in an environment of
- hostility (ASO v. UCI; maybe some nationalism)
- of varying degrees of scientific certainty
- of innuendo and rumor (l--o-o--kin thru a glass darkly)

I'd prefer ASO and whomever else to either demonstrate what they suspect or drop it. Seems to be no shortage of trust that the "ASO knows alot more than we think."

I'm less sanguine about experts who ask us to trust that they have privileged info that we cannot know.

But the TdF is the ASO's party, so they'll call the tune.

Jason said...

Sucks that yet again during a grand tour we have to think and wonder about the doping. Tis part of the sport forever now I guess.

It is sort of unreal that one could go from being on holiday one day to being in pink at the Giro. He's either super strong or super doped. His lead is shrinking fast after today's stage.

Anonymous said...

"I'd prefer ASO and whomever else to either demonstrate what they suspect or drop it."

I do not understand this statement. Astana has demonstrated repeatedly that they do not care about doping. 5 Astana riders tested positive last year, 6 of their riders were on the OP list. ASO has plenty of experience with getting embarrassed by Astana, no need to let it happen again this year

Chris H said...

I agree with Jason.

It doesn't help Astana's cause that Contador was "sipping beers on the beach" ten days before the start of the Giro and is now in pink.

He may not be doping, but he sure has a lot of people thinking something isn't on the up and up by coming into a Grand Tour unprepared and finding himself in the lead.

Anonymous said...

Of course, he had already won 2 short stage races by the end of April this year...may have been on the beach 10 days before, but clearly hadn't spent all winter there lounging...

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 1: Thank you for the insight.

BKW: As always, excellent writing...

In regards to Contador's form...he's not exactly blowing the field away...this is not Lance riding away from everyone in a TT or on EVERY climb of the Tour...Contador looks to be suffering, but hanging in there...by a thread. He still looks human to me...but I have been fooled before...

frilly said...

I agree with anon 4:10 and 5:56. Contador has been training since December and has done extremely well in all of his races except Mallorca. Up until today, he had 41 seconds on Ricco. Not exactly lighting it up.

The guy is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't, so he might as well go for it all the way.

Anonymous said...

The fact is none of us know the truth. The fact is, Astana, Brunyeel and some of those associated with them all have some form. The fact is that ASO run and own the race. Cycling has lost enormous credibility over the last 2-3 years. And rightly so! With it, ASO has seen the goodwill of its asset (the TdF) diminished. ASO can do what they like with the race just as the organisers of the Giro did until they all pulled a heart muscle. I am not saying anyone is dirty, its just that when you own something which is very valuable, you can take whatever steps are necessary to protect that. Why is ASO's ownership of the TdF any different to any of us taking whatever measures we consider necessary to protect our property?
Aussie Joe

Anonymous said...

Oh yes . . . and on the title of this blog "Justice, ASO style", it is with regret I think that Padriag uses such a nascent title. Justice according to what and to who Padraig? If Astana is that aggrieved, they should sue ASO, bring to light all of the relevant facts and have an independent tribunal determine whether any of their rights have been infringed. Some may say (but I wouldn't) that the fact that Astana don't do that leads to an irresistible inference against them. Sorry to be so opinionated, I otherwise get a real kick out of BKW!
Aussie Joe.

oldFonzie said...

I have to agree with posters here that Astana has dirt that we are just better off not knowing about.

One could guess this is why Lance folded Tailwind. But every team was drinking dirty soup. Regardless, I have trouble dismissing any of them (champs of the EPO years 88-2006) as dirty cheats because I know you don't win races on EPO alone. And besides, much of this cheating was promoted by the race organizers and UCI. If Astana has to sit out a year to show that ASO is working to be clean, I am okay with that. Especially if we do get clean racing.

What Disco/Astana didn't do was clean up their image. Just like when a trading house flops, they change their name, their colors and their logo. Rabobank couldn't and so they did their meaculpa while in Yellow: it was a bold move to save their image but they are Dutch bankers and know the drill. The rest had to do makeovers.

It was unfortunate that the Disco/Astana merger had to do it's makeover in the wrong direction. It would have been great to see them emerge a nice Wisconsin Trek team -- go all Holsteins and cheese and play down the Kazakhstan gangster side rather than destroy the good will and image imported from the Armstrong years.

For Trek, this scandal is far more damaging than anything Greg LeMond could have done. And it's a darn shame. I truly believe they have changed, have a great bike and I am happy to see them in the Giro. And what a race it's turning out to be!

Anonymous said...

Great post. Hopefully the truth some day will come out about every one's OP involvement. I think ASO new that the result from the last TT in the TDF last year was shady too....

bikesgonewild said...

...henry...while a lotta folks seem to have lotta information (which i'm not denying) about past doping aspects regarding cycling, i believe they are missing the whole & much bigger picture...

...i was glad to see your input...

...& frilly, i quite agree...contador was in great early form & while he had some serious dental problems attended to by surgery, its not like the man was lying around on the beach guzzling beer by the case...man took a break & rode himself back into racing shape over a three week period...

...w/ a 4 second lead going into the time trial, he's riding smart but he's certainly not dominating...

Fer rilla said...

I think the commentator on Eurosport said it spot on during Saturday's stage..."It's awfully hard to come to this race directly from vacation, and win, but seemingly it appears Contador is going to do just that".

I sensed a little bit of skepticism in his voice, and, don't doubt him. In hindsight, if he weren't there, the fight would have been a heck of a lot closer. It was a pretty exciting race nonetheless, and I'm really surprised the Italians didn't attack Contador a bit more.

Astana is like that bully in school. You see them walking up, and say "oh man...i gotta give my lunch money AGAIN!?"

Ed O'Shea said...

Most people are commenting like Contador was loafing on the couch, got off jabbed himself with some roids and jumped over to the Giro for the big win. C'mon get off the wagon guys, it's time to get back to some bike racing.

Big bad Astana has the smarts to beat the entire world of cycling? I seriously doubt it.

You want to combat doping? Get a testing program that is respected and PRO and anyone caught doping gets a LIFE LONG BAN, period! Enough of this french lab in the basement of an ASO's friends cousins brother, BS.

All this whinning and bitching has all but killed cycling for me. If the french want to take thier ball and go home then F'uk'em! Let them fall into mediocrity. But they are quickly following the NHL exemplar. And loosing fans at breakneck speed.

Maybe we should just merge the UFC and the UCI? Then we could get some results. A couple of these riders and UCI/ASO moe's need a chin check or two!

Good for Contador, I'm glad for him. As for the ASO, they can go shit in thier fists! Thier a bunch of hacks anyway.

Anonymous said...

I think some of us are missing the even bigger picture here. Astana was used as an example. ASO wants future teams to know that if they get caught, even if they take on two of the three podium spots from the year before, they will not be let back in. It was a great opportunity for ASO to get back at Bruyneel and use Contador as an example to say they are not afraid. Some might question why not Cofidis, well the impact of keeping them out isn't as big. The fact that Cofidis is a French team might have a little to do with it, but I think the main reason is that keeping them out was just not worth the effort.

Anonymous said...

What most are missing here is that ASO's decision was not based on doping. True they said that in the public, but in reality it was the spat between UCI and them, otherwise we would not have any other dope riddled team in the Tour.

I'm fine with ASO's decision, but I ain't watching this years Tour, first time in 12 years...
A GT without the best teams aint worth watching, no matter which one of them it is. The Tour is not the biggest and best for me, Giro this year was one of the best GT's for a long, long time. And Contador winning it was simpley stunning, since he clearly was not at his best form.
Johnny, Germany