Thursday, February 14, 2008

Amaury Sport Organisation: Delusions of Grandeur

Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) has forced Alberto Contador into an impossible situation. Renege on your contract with Astana, find another cycling team or be excluded from defending your Tour de France title. An absurd proposition, demeaning, disgusting, revolting. Prudhomme should say simply this: Astana quit as a UCI Pro Tour cycling team sponsor and release your riders to more deserving teams. Betray your riders, your affiliates, your director sportif, your honor.

Astana has more integrity as an organization than ASO will ever have. Prudhomme must understand that Astana is not in a position to simply abandon people. Trek bicycles and Bontranger parts have invested millions of dollars in building specialty frames and in providing parts for Astana. Trek has invested money into research and development based upon new bicycle designs that need to be tested in Grand Tour races, refined, and then sold to the general public. Trek also needs exposure of its products to a large European and United States television market during the Tour de France. These commitments can not be abandoned at a whim because ASO insists that Astana surrender as a sponsor. ASO has finally descended into ego maniacal madness.

ASO Goal: Emerge As A Monopolistic Cycling Super Power

ASO has a goal to emerge as pre-eminent, supreme, qualified to include or preclude professional cycling teams from Grand Tours based upon "arbitrary and capricious" reasoning. After ASO has bought out Unipublic and destroyed the UCI Pro Tour, Prudhomme and Clerc fantasize that they will be adorned in papal regal purple. Like tyrants with absolute power and no oversight ASO will arrogantly treat cycling teams as supplicant petitioners. Teams will be required to vociferate absolute allegiance to the Tour de France. Applicants will be forced to sign pledges not to embarrass ASO. Team director sportifs will be required to kneel and kiss Prudhomme's signet ring. All professional cyclists will have to be issued special ASO racing licenses to compete. Team sponsorships will be issued or denied at the whim of ASO at any time regardless of rider or team commitments. ASO will develop a biological passport, AFLD will study test results for irregularities ensuring "independence" and "transparency." Politically incorrect riders will be disqualified for "positive" tests for performance enhancers, blood manipulations, or irregularities in ASO profile data. Confirmation testing will be done at WADA accredited lab Chatenay-Malabry. Forced confessions of intent to commit fraud on ASO and the Tour de France will immediately follow the leaked l'Equipe "scoop." Also, the riders' name will be removed from Tour de France history. It will be ugly.

Astana Should Not Be Excluded From The Tour de France

Astana has had problems. In 2006 Astana could not field a Tour team because several riders were involved in Operation Puerto. In 2007 Astana team leader Alexander Vinokurov tested positive for homologous blood doping and Astana withdrew from the Tour. Astana's history for the past two years has been a stellar example of how not to run a UCI Pro Tour cycling team. But Astana has changed personnel and has made a commitment to clean cycling that should be emulated by other cycling teams. Astana has hired Dr. Rasmus Damsgaard, a man who pioneered internal team anti-doping measures for CSC. Dr. Damsgaard seems to evoke the "no tolerance" principal in cycling and his commitment to "clean cycling" seems genuine. If I were Astana, I would love to have Dr. Rasmus Damsgaard run the anti-doping program on my cycling team.

The inclusion of Dr. Damsgaard signals a very serious anti-doping reform of Astana. Even better is the monetary commitment. Johan Bruyneel says, "we are spending 460,000 euros on internal anti-doping efforts for 2008. What more can we do?" May I make a suggestion Mr. Bruyneel? The Amgen Tour of California will do a great deal of blood and urine testing at great expense to establish baseline values for the UCI biological passport. Make sure your defending champion Levi Leipheimer passes these tests. Same goes for your other riders.

Mr.Prudhomme: Ponder This

Mr. Prudhomme should rush to the nearest microphone and apologize to the cycling community for suggesting that Alberto Contador renege on his contract, abandon his teammates, and cut and run to satisfy a fool who thinks he is Julius Caeser. This is not the sort of behavioral lesson that children who regard Contador as a hero and who want to emulate him should be taught. Next children will think it is okay to use performance enhancing substances. Anything goes, right? And where would Contador run to? Rabobank, Team High Road, Cofidis? Mr. Prudhomme if you exclude Rabobank, Team High Road, and Cofidis from the 2008 Tour for damage they have done to your race by past doping offenses, then what? Do you want to subject Mr. Contador to more humiliation? If you, Mr. Prudhomme, use the same criteria you used to exclude Astana for other team selections will you demonstrate to everyone that you are consistently stupid, or sadistic, or what? Will you, Mr. Prudhomme, staunch the rumor that you are nothing more than a prevaricating hypocrite? By the way Mr. Prudhomme, Andreas Kloden will stay with Astana and ignore your advice. Kloden would rather be a man with balls than ride in the Tour under your conditions. Levi Leipheimer will do the same. Tough.

A UCI Pro Tour Team Should Not Be Punished For The Sins Of Others

Prudhomme says if there are no anti-doping violations on team Astana this year ASO might consider an invite for 2009. That is not good enough. I would suggest that ASO abandon its delusional ideas of a European cycling monopoly which employs "arbitrary and capricious" rules and follow the sensible advice of UCI president Pat McQuaid. Invite all eighteen UCI Pro Tour teams to participate in the 2008 Tour de France. No need to punish innocent riders for the sins of others.


ZENmud productions said...

You provocative guy, you


surely it can't be as bad as all that, or could it??


The Yorkshireman said...

On the other hand, especially given the astonishing degree of unprofessionalism he has shown since taking office, it is surely time for Pat McQuaid to resign. His only real talents appear to be for megaphone diplomacy and hypocrisy. He argues that the organisers of the Tour of California have the full right to decide who rides their events, but denies that the ASO have the same right. He backed the organisers of the Giro when they excluded Astana, but attacks the ASO for refusing to invite Astana to ride the Tour de France. He argued that it is wrong for the ASO to fail to invite Astana on the basis of their past record, and then went ahead and banned Frank Vandenbroucke from all 'ProTour' events on the same grounds! He has argued that the ASO are 'blackmailing' riders, claims he has the interests of the riders at heart and says that he will do everything to defend the supposed 'right' of Contador to ride the Tour (regardless of his implication in the Puerto affair), and yet he has also threatened to ban any rider who takes part in the Paris Nice from all races held under UCI rules for up to 6 months!

To his disgrace McQuaid has also repeatedly resorted to narrow-minded, anti-French rhetoric. Perhaps McQuaid is simply a xenophobe. This might explain his claim that cycling's doping problem is due to the existence of "mafia Western European nations" whose values should be compared with those countries belonging to some mythical, whiter-than-white "Anglo-Saxon culture". This claim has a certain irony given that in the case of Astana it is "Anglo-Saxon'" McQuaid who opposes the implementation of more robust anti-doping measures! Xenophobe or not much of what McQuaid says, (such as his fatuous claim that the refusal of the ASO to invite Astana to ride the Tour "was a decision made in France by a French organisation purely for the French public") gives every appearance of being calculated to gain support from those who themselves harbour anti-French prejudices. For example, those who seriously believe that the refusal by the ASO to offer an invite to Astana is part of a supposed 'plot' by the ASO (or should that be 'The French'?...) to 'stop Leipheimer winning the Tour'. (These are probably the same people who believe that Landis was clean but was 'framed' by 'the French', an absolutely ludicrous suggestion given that the ASO needed the Landis doping scandal about as much a bullet in the head!).

(Those who believe that all 'the French' are interested in is 'engineering' a French win or that the ASO are not genuinely concerned about doping should perhaps think back to the way Jean-Marie Leblanc of the ASO fought to have Richard Virenque - France's biggest prospect for a Tour win since Bernard Hinault - excluded from the Tour in the wake of the Festina scandal. Back in 1999 Leblanc said that Virenque's presence is the Tour was "incompatible to the image and reputation of the event we want to preserve." When the UCI once again sided with the dopers and insisted that he be given a place Leblanc's response was "If Virenque won the Tour, it would be a very serious setback for our race".)

In reality the McQuaid/ASO split is about 3 main issues, all one way or another related to the (in the words of Brian Cookson, head of British Cycling) "problematic and divisive" 'ProTour' concept. Firstly there is the desire of the UCI to dictate to the organisers of the sport's major events who gets to ride in those events. Relatedly there is the failure of the UCI to tackle (and even complicity in) the doping problem over the years, something which has led the sport to the brink. The result of this is that those with a financial interest in the sport can no longer risk another doping scandal and so, quite understandably, want to retain full control over who they invite to ride in their events.

Perhaps the biggest issue of all is number three. TV rights. The UCI clearly intends that race organisers should no longer have full control to the TV rights to the sport's major events on the basis that these form part of the 'ProTour brand'. In effect the UCI are telling organisers that the events they own and run no longer 'belong' to them and that the UCI is moving in with the intention of making a grab for the money to be made from the TV rights to events, in particular the Tour de France.

Even as the McQuaid/ASO battle rages, Hein Verbruggen (McQuaid's ever-present shadow) is reported as being in negotiations with several investment companies interested in buying of the rights to televised cycle sport. These include the British CVC Capital Partners group, the Belgian production company Woestijnvis and The Rothschild Group. (See ).

If it wasn't bad enough that the UCI sold 'ProTour' licences on promises they were in no position to honour, now they are playing a role in selling of the TV rights to events they don't even own or organise! McQuaid has lost all credibility having made threats he will be unable to follow up without damaging the careers of half the peleton. He is autocratic, seemingly uninterested in negotiation or compromise and sees any voice of dissent as being proof of 'disloyalty', demanding that the dissenter resign from any UCI related post. (As with his demand that AIGCP president Eric Boyer resign from the ProTour Council). He clearly does not have the support of the riders themselves and is increasingly isolated having now suspended any official contact with the AIGCP. On top of all this the UCI are now taking legal action against Dick Pound/WADA in response to the Pound's perfectly valid criticism of the UCI historically lax attitude to doping. The UCI's 'See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil' attitude to doping is well illustrated by the way Verbruggen dismissed the revelations of people like Graham Obree and Gilles Delion, with McQuaid showing much the same attitude as with his claim that organised doping no longer exists and that races are faster these days because "the wind is different'! (See ).

For the good of cycling it's time for McQuaid (and Verbruggen) to go and for the UCI to both stop acting outside it's remit and giving the impression that it believes that the role of the ASO is to act as a 'cash cow' for the UCI and the rest of cycling.

Jon said...

Frank Vandenbroucke has a long history of doping. When PEDs were found in his home he claimed that they were needed for his dog. Vandenbroucke has been given many chances by many professional cycling teams to change his behavior, he has failed. The UCI probably has no choice at this point but to suspend him for life from professional cycling.

I am most interested in your assertion that Richard Virenque was allowed to compete in Tour de France races after Festina because of an intervention by the UCI. Would you care to expound on this point with additional evidence?

I would also welcome more clarification of your assertions that the UCI is aiding "dopers."

Thank you for your feedback. Your comments are always welcome.