Killing a few moments yesterday waiting for a phone call to be returned, and I bopped over to VeloNews to catch up on my race-junkie interests. This past December, I let my print subscription lapse for the first time since 1993 or thereabouts. The only stuff I was reading was cyclocross reports and tech stuff. The issues had been mocking me as they lay mostly unread before crawling into the recycling bin, so there ya go.
Arriving at VN.com, the lead article pretty much reawakened my current frustration with the sport - ASO (parent company that runs the Tour de France, among many other races) had decided to snub Astana from this year’s Tour. If you follow pro cycling, you know that Astana, which grew out of Liberty Seguros, which grew out of ONCE has had a rough time of things. To start, that is a slightly suspect lineage, if you are concerned about doping in the sport. Indeed, Liberty had started the Tour 5 riders short in 2006 due to Operacion Puerto implicated riders.
More recently, Astana had - shall we say - a little series of run-ins with the cops.
In 2007, Alexander Vinokourov, Matthias Kessler and Andrej
Kashechkin all tested positive for various transgressions, with Vinokourov being an extremely high-profile example at the Tour itself. He was also the team leader, which kinda set a bad example for the kids.
So, Astana tried to address it, gutted its team management like a salmon, heaved a ton of riders overboard, dressed its lines, swabbed the decks and showed up in port all glittery for the 2008 season. At the helm was Johan Bruyneel, who some may remember as the Director of a team that had some recent sucesses… Riders included a number from the now-folded Team Discovery, such as Alberto Contador, who won the Tour last year after Michael Rassmussen’s sudden egress, Bay-Area-centric Levi Leipheimer, who also managed a podium spot in Paris and Andreas Kloden, who has just needed a minor shard of luck to end up in the mix.
But, not this year, according to ASO. And they’ve barred the team from the other races they manage.
Lemme say that a slightly different way:
Despite the fact that Astana had reorganized and dumped anyone remotely attached to improprieties during the first two years of its existence, ASO is preventing both last year’s Tour winner and third place finisher from competing in the 2008 Tour de France - despite any specific issues with the new management or riders.
And, I do know it’s even more complicated than that, as the ASO and the UCI are in a big hissing match over the whole Pro Tour Teams issue. This may be one small negotiating step. It’s just hilariously petty and convoluted. And the riders and fans seem to be getting the short end of the stick.