Friday, February 22, 2008


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 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.


34x18 said...

Great piece, I tune here before cruising any other 'news' website, thanks for the continued insight & reportage.

As for Levi, why not sever your ties with Astana and go it alone with Trek, like Ulrich and Bianchi? I don't believe that Levi is an Ulrich and can ride the Tour alone, but lets face it, Astana is not getting in. His only shot, is making like a Republican candidate running from Bush, and get as far away as possible.

Holden said...

Interesting post. The argument you lay out applies really well to a team like Rabobank but the Astana ban is based not on the fundamentals of fairness or justice but rather hearsay and innuendo.

This may be the hellfire cycling has to endure on its road to cleanliness but the road will be smeared with innocent bodies. It's hard enough getting kids into the sport. If they look on and see that you can be wrongly accused or victimized by a teammate's misdeeds, they'll stick with futbol or basketball.


Art said...

Right now, Astana needs to make some very tough decisions in order to salvage their season. They either need to let riders out of their contracts and try to find spots on other teams, or sit down and have the, "Who do we need to fire?", talk with ASO. Unfortunately, the sponsors will never void the Levi's contract, because then the rest of the team would be out a star rider and still not be allowed to race.

geck said...

Great post,
i agree with anybody that the ASO's decision was unfair, punishing some unguilty people, only one team,...
but i think that it was right in the sense that the greatest fear of anbody involved in cycling must become doping.
until now,most sponsors, team managers, soigneurs,... didn't really deeply care if their riders dope as long as the results came. but if the fact that one rider doped ruins a whole team, attitudes MIGHT change.
so even if it is awfull to look at, this is roughly the right direction

mogley said...

word. there is no easy answer. and this is just the best of the worst decisions possible for aso, it's their baby.

i don't think anyone assumed that getting our dope addicted sport clean was going to be an easy route. so, man up. this is just the beginning.

the riders for astana took a risk when they signed with the team and they lost.

Anonymous said...

"As for Levi, why not sever your ties with Astana and go it alone with Trek, like Ulrich and Bianchi? "

It's not like Ulle just decided to make his own team. Bianchi was the remaining sponsor after Alessio pulled their sponsorship. It was still a D1 team. Follow racing long?

Anonymous said...

It is mildly amusing how conspiracy theories, payback, and national envy are now brought to the forefront, when cycling interested americans try to come to grips with Astana's exclusion from ASO events.
I have seen comments to the effect, that ATOC is now the true test of the season, and how TdF is now doomed.
Not because this is the first time ASO have decided to not invite a team, or certain persons, but because, good heavens, americans are impacted.

Levi is a grown up person, and he must have known, that signing with Astana was a calculated risk.
The conflict between UCI and the grand tours over the ProTour concept is not exactly new news either.

Anonymous said...

Unless you have any evidence or proof that the current Astana squad has committed any wrongdoing, they shouldn't have been excluded because of some French vendetta against Bruyneel. Whether your an American or not, arguably one of the best teams has been unfairly treated. Levi and the rest of Astana deserve to ride unless anyone here has any actual proof of wrongdoing, not continued hearsay or innuendo.

34x18 said...

"It's not like Ulle just decided to make his own team. Bianchi was the remaining sponsor after Alessio pulled their sponsorship. It was still a D1 team. Follow racing long?"

No, it wasn't Jan's decision, it was set of circumstances that lead up to that situation, which then a Bianchi team was formed to support Jan at the tour, otherwise there probably would not have been such an effort to put that team together. Bianchi actually wanted to continue that inception of the team surrounding Jan, but we all know the history... yeah, I have been following racing. Although I don't believe it will- this could lead to a similar situation of Astana disintegrating under the fire of sponsors and race organizers. From the ashes rises a 'new' team, Trek, and Levi is the star rider. Once again I don't see it happening myself, just a possibility... Besides - Levi is not an Ullrich.

Next time post under your name.

Anonymous said...

Sad truth of professional cycling today- nobody knows who is clean and who isn't. This is about Armstrong and lingering suspicions about him. How did he beat so many dopers over and over? Guys like Pantani, Ullrich and Heras.

Padraig said...

Concerning Jan Ullrich and the Bianchi Team, the situation was really quite simple. Ullrich moved to Coast, and Bianchi was Coast's sponsor. The team nearly imploded when Coast pulled out as sponsor due to financial difficulties that I don't recall anything about. Faced with the prospect of Ullrich sitting out the Tour because of no team, Bianchi stepped up as title sponsor with a large cash infusion. They were gambling that the sponsorship would yield them their first Tour win in a few decades and didn't want to let the opportunity slip through their fingers. And as we know, their gamble almost paid off.

Anonymous said...

Wow. the last two paragraphs were the most eloquent and insightful statements on the current state of cycling I have read.

Your blog is interesting and inspiring. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Bruyneel never implimented a anti-doping program while at U.S. Postal/Discovery Channel when the house of Armstrong was on the throne and all hell was breaking loose in cycling... No, no, no... they wouldn't even talk about it, in fact, they closed shop, skipped town and to hell with it said the house of lord armstrong. Bruyneel is part of problem facing cycling. Go A.S.O.! Cycling at the highest level is a cut-throat mob like business. Bruyneel is not white as snow as like many make him out to be. TIME TO SNAP OUT OF THE GREAT DELUSION!

Let out of there Levi... go back to Gerolsteiner.