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