Monday, July 24, 2006
Well, it was a fun Tour. Maybe not as much fun as a hurling match in Ireland, but then I'm sure you could probably have persuaded Tom Boonen to whale Robbie McEwan upside the head with a hurley if the rules of cycling had let him...
Possibly the most interesting story is the one that nobody wanted to mention - what's going to be the fallout from "Operacion Puerto"? Is this the end for Ullrich? Basso? Does it go further, and will the tour committees finally have to accept that the sport is permeated with riders trying to get that extra edge on the competition?
These guys don't ride for the fun of it. This is their livelihood. If you knew that your company's competitors were bribing congressmen and county commissioners and building inspectors in order to shut you down, and the cops were turning a blind eye to it, what would you do? It's happened in every sport since the first Olympian tried shaving his discus to get a little extra loft. If the officials don't control the competitors they will take actions that, while in their own best interests, are contrary to the best interests of the sport itself. You wind up with beanball wars, referee-bribing, point-shaving, steroid-bloated sluggers...you know what I mean.
I love cycling. But the sport needs to figure out what it wants. If it wants the fastest riders possible...then call off the dogs and let 'em dope. May the best team doctor win.
But if the idea is to have the champions of today carry on the traditions of Meryx, Indurain, Hinault...well, the riders can't afford to be honest if they think another rider can cheat with impunity. The race officials must test completely and systematically. Perhaps the willingness to suspend this year's projected Tour winner, Basso, was the first sign that this realization has arrived...
So why start this rant off with a picture of Jose Azevedo of Team Discovery?
Well, the other interesting thing about this Tour was the Wreck of the Blue Train.
For years I wondered if Armstrong was a great champion because Postal/Discovery was a great team, or was the team a great team because Armstrong was a great champion.
Well, Lance Armstrong WAS a great champion. And, at least this July, George Hincapie was not. I'm not sure if Discovery missed its old captain that badly, or if it was a mixture of bad luck and poor form, or what the heck happend in that big blue motor home. But I bet that nobody comes to the start next year with that old frisson of fear at the distant sound of the approach of the Blue Train.