And then there were six. With Ant now joining the team, it’s getting a little crowded around the table at VeloVoices Towers. However, we managed to squeeze everyone in (except for Panache who joined us via Skype from our Washington DC office, aka the Peloton Pentagon) earlier this month to conduct a start-of-season round-table. Here’s part one of our discussion – part two follows tomorrow.
Tim: It’s good to be back, isn’t it? Let’s start with everyone’s favourite governing body. The UCI managed to tie themselves up in knots over the Katusha affair, but was anything about their decision even remotely defensible?
Sheree: It came like a bolt from the blue without sufficient explanation – far too late in the day, and it showed no respect whatsoever for the riders or the team’s sponsors. I feel so sorry for Joaquim Rodriguez and his faithful band of Spaniards. It typified all that’s wrong about the UCI.
Kitty: There are a couple of things that bug me about this. Firstly, Katusha had thought all along that everything was in order, so there was no warning that there might be a problem with their application. Then there’s the fact that these decisions are made so close to the beginning of the season – and this affects all the teams who are up for a licence – there’s no time to regroup, fight the decision or even to make a Plan B. As their decision has not been explained and it is only a matter of conjecture as to why they were refused, the lack of transparency makes this decision indefensible.
Panache: I agree with Kitty on the unfair nature of the selection process in general but which team would you have not selected over Katusha? Yes, they have WorldTour points, yes they seem to be well-financed and yes, they have the number one rider in the world. But they also have a truckload of ethical baggage. Multiple doping positives: Toni Colom, Christian Pfannberger, Alexander Kolobnev and Denis Galimzyanov. And links that are currently being investigated between Denis Menchov, Mikhail Ignatiev, Vladimir Gusev and Kolobnev – to the Lord Voldemort of doping himself, Italian Dr. Michele Ferrari. How about the possible selling of the 2010 Liège-Bastogne-Liège by Kolobnev to Alexandre Vinokourov? And finally the hiring of new team manager Viatcheslav Ekimov, a loyal lieutenant of Lance Armstrong. I can hear Don Henley singing Dirty Laundry, right now …
Sheree: I take Panache’s point but Katusha isn’t the only squad with a dodgy provenance!
Jack: I agree with both Kitty and Panache to an extent, but on the latter, suspicions – however strong – are not an excuse for their application being cancelled at such short notice. It was handled, like most UCI affairs, terribly.
Ant: It’s all very well making examples, but there’s no point if the example isn’t swift, decisive, consistent, and clear. I don’t think the UCI’s actions ticked any of those boxes and the result was a bungling mess. Right now the UCI needs to win the trust and faith of the cycling community and the way this was played out did little to do that. It almost seemed like the UCI using power for the sake of using power, rather than delivering a carefully considered punishment.
Kitty: Talking of people who have had a bit of a rough ride, does Levi Leipheimer have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting on another WorldTour team when his ban ends in March?
Panache: I don’t think he’s done yet. He is still very capable of winning one-week tours like the Tour de Suisse or the Tour of California. Expect him to go to a US domestic team after his suspension ends and then try to get on a WorldTour team next season.
Tim: I can’t see it, personally. He’s 39 and he’s damaged goods. With WorldTour points at a premium, I can’t see anyone holding open a space on their roster for him. It wouldn’t surprise me if he opts to retire.
Ant: I’m with Tim on this one. The current political climate in the sport is so delicate that certain teams are dropping people with dubious back stories faster than you can say ‘Motoman’. Even though there are still teams prepared to take a chance on damaged riders, Levi’s at the wrong end of his career for that now.
Sheree: I agree with Tim – hard not to. The loss of several American teams at the ProConti level further exacerbates his situation and mitigates against him dropping down a level. Yes, it’s pipe and slippers time for Levi. We won’t be hearing French commentators saying “Leeeveee Leeephymere” again.
Jack: Like Tim, I can’t see it. He rode a couple of decent races last season, but I don’t think he’s good enough to be competitive at the top level any more. Plus I wonder how much hunger he will have after his ban.
Kitty: And what do we think of the way Leipheimer was dealt with by OPQS, or the way the other banned riders have been treated by Garmin-Sharp?
Panache: When the news first broke about Leipheimer being sacked, I wanted to rename OPQS to Omerta Pharma-Quick Step, that’s how disgusted I was. So I think Garmin is doing it right and that Patrick Lefevere is encouraging the omerta by sacking Leipheimer for cooperating with USADA. Why would other riders want to come forward and discuss what they have seen or been a part of if they know they are going to be sacked? The policies of OPQS and Sky discourage openness and clean cycling.
Jack: Panache is exactly right. We can’t punish people for speaking out, or pretend that doping never happened. It’s entirely counter-productive. Garmin said that as well as making the decision to dope, their riders “made the choice to stop.” By having these people in the peloton, doping will be discouraged.
Ant: I was going to sidestep this one as I’ve not quite come to terms with the reality that a large number of my heroes were cheats and I’m aware that it has led to me having some very varied and contradictory points of view. But what I will say is that Panache has brilliantly summed up the biggest issue faced by those wanting to clean up the sport, compromising punishment to the extent that it doesn’t stunt honesty.
Sheree: It’s the inconsistency in approach that gets me. Lefevere claims he was told to get rid of Leipheimer by his board. This was a not dissimilar situation to Bobby Julich, whose doping history was an affront to those upstanding pillars of the community who run Sky. The phrase ‘people in glass house shouldn’t throw stones’ springs immediately to mind. With the exception of Garmin, it feels like ‘do as I say, not do as I do’.
Tim: While I understand the need on the teams’ part to be seen to be taking decisive action, there’s a difference between quick action and positive action. OPQS and Sky botched their chance to be seen as supporting the wider battle against doping. Summarily sacking people who voluntarily come forward to break the silence was nothing more than a PR statement with little underlying substance to it. Very disappointing.
Jack: We’re all looking forward to the season’s big races, aren’t we? The 100th Tour, the promise of an even tougher Vuelta and of course the Classics. But which non-WorldTour race are you most looking forward to and why?
Ant: I have a soft spot for the Tour du Loire et Cher because I used to ride around there quite a lot as a kid, but the one that gets my attention is Strade Bianche. It’s nice and early in the calendar, just when you’re looking for indications as to how the season might shape up, and it’s in a beautiful part of the world.
Tim: I look forward to all the smaller early season races for similar reasons, as it reveals what and who many of the teams are prioritising for the year, as well as giving raw talent a chance to shine. If I had to pick one it would be the Tour de Langkawi, partly because it takes place in Malaysia, which is where most of my family are from, and also because it is a springboard for both sprinters and climbers on smaller teams. Sprinter Andrea Guardini won 11 stages here over the past two years for Farnese Vini and has now stepped up a level to join Astana, while Androni Giocattoli teammates Jose Serpa and Jose Rujano, who finished one-two in the GC, have also bumped back up to WorldTour teams for 2013, with Lampre and Vacansoleil.
Kitty: Strade Bianche because (a) I might actually be going and (b) I think it’s a beautiful, elegant race that has proved that a new race doesn’t have to be a disaster like the Tour of Beijing.
Panache: I’m looking forward to the Air Force Cylcing Classic, which brings some elite domestic pros to my backyard. But Kitty is right: Strade Bianche is the crème de la crème of non-WorldTour events. (Although, Kitty just wants to see Fabian all dusty and dirty again. She’s hoping to be at the finish line with a cool, wet washcloth.)
Kitty: I bought a new one just for him …
Sheree: As you know I love the readily accessible smaller races on French, Spanish and Italian soil. You get to see some of the stars of the WorldTour teams, particularly their younger riders, plus up and coming talent in the ProConti and Continental ranks.
In part two of our round-table tomorrow, we get down to discussing specific teams and riders.