USADA has handed down an eight-year suspension for Tyler Hamilton. The Rock Racing rider tested positive in February tested positive for testosterone or its precursors in February. When the announcement for the non-negative result was announced, Hamilton declined the B sample test and immediately admitted he had taken the steroid DHEA as an alternative to prescription antidepressants in an effort to combat depression.
Hamilton retired immediately. As noted by USADA’s CEO Travis Tygart, Hamilton’s eight-year penalty is effectively a lifetime ban for the 38-year old cyclist.
For his part, Hamilton said he was disappointed by the ban, “The eight-year suspension is unfortunate and disheartening. At this time, however, my focus remains on my mother, my family, battling my depression and getting better. This has been an extremely difficult and trying period, but I am determined to get through it.”
The length of the ban is irrelevant to all but those closest to him. Even if the planets had aligned to dismiss consideration for the principle of strict liability, he would likely still have received a ban of two years. Did Hamilton really think he would have had the legs of Joop Zoetemelk or even Kent Bostick at 40?
“Although we believe the sanction is exceptionally harsh and completely disproportional to the transgression, Tyler has chosen to focus on getting better instead of fighting a pointless battle against the anti-doping regime,” said Chris Manderson, Hamilton’s counsel.
Hindsight is blah, blah, blah. If we set aside the anger we felt when we heard he tested positive—the first time—and apply honesty to our recollections of Hamilton’s career, most of us will recall the jubilation and shock we felt when we heard that an American had won the Gold Medal in the ITT at the 2004 Summer Olympics. When we learned it was Hamilton, surprise was added to our jubilation.
Hamilton gave the United States its first victory in a Monument—Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Who can forget his performance in the 2003 Tour de France following his broken collarbone, not to mention his epic breakaway through the Pyrenees on his way to winning stage 16 in Bayonne? And what of his second place and stage win at the 2002 Giro d’Italia, despite a broken shoulder?
Should we excuse his doping? No. The wheels of justice have turned and by at least one objective measure things are as they should be. Should we turn our backs on his earlier results? Depends on your point of view. Most cycling fans will admit that at his best, Hamilton was surrounded by other riders who were engaged in similar levels of doping and so he was most probably playing on a relatively level field. And if that sounds like a tacit acceptance of his doping on some level, then consider this: Even after throwing out his results you are left with a guy who rode through broken bones and molars ground to expose nerves. In the annals of hard men, those stories earned him a permanent seat at the bar.
Hamilton’s end as a rider is sad and ignominious. But given what we know of the time in which he competed on the international stage, he did achieve memorable results. The inspiration we felt to see his courage is worth remembering.
Image courtesy of John Pierce, Photosport International.
La Gazzetta dello Sport has gotten the admission of the year. Alberto Contador has declared that in addition to the Schleck brothers, Carlos Sastre, Denis Menchov and, of course, Cadel Evans, he will have to face down his own teammates, Levi Leipheimer and Lance Armstrong.
“I will have to deal with [Denis] Menchov, [Cadel] Evans, the Schleck brothers, [Carlos] Sastre and my teammates Armstrong and Leipheimer,” he told the legendary pink rag.
It’s a stunning setback for Bruyneel and for Contador, too. One of the most important keys to Bruyneel’s success in Grand Tours has been his ability to unite nine riders with a single mission: first place in general classification. He never brought sprinters or time trialists with individual goals for stage wins.
With the admission that not only is Armstrong a rival, but Leipheimer as well, Contador has shown his hand before betting has started. He has revealed exactly how threatened he was by Leipheimer at last year’s Vuelta and he has also shown the rest of the peloton that Astana won’t be nine musketeers, but instead six trying to work out for whom they will work.
How many riders will work for Armstrong rather than Contador? What of Leipheimer? Can he expect any riders to side with him? At least when La Vie Claire faced the Hinault/LeMond rivalry they were a team of 10.
Hinault understood an important lesson about rivals that Armstrong learned well and Contador doesn’t remotely understand. Make your rivals doubt. Make them doubt themselves. Make them doubt each other. Make them doubt your words.
Hinault never said he considered LeMond his rival, but he raced the ’86 Tour as if no other guy could beat him. And while Armstrong would acknowledge each of the favorites for overall victory at the Tour, he always pointed to one primary rival—usually Jan Ullrich—as the rider to beat. What it told the other riders was that they must not only beat him, they must beat Ullrich as well. He sowed doubt to cause most riders to believe they could finish no better than third.
So now Sastre, Evans, Menchov and the Schlecks all know an important truth: Astana is divided. Armstrong can tell the world that he will ride for the strongest rider all day long, but Contador doesn’t believe he can count on him or Leipheimer for support.
Where does that leave Andreas Kloden? As a former second-place finisher, Kloden deserves as much respect as the Schlecks or Menchov. Can he be counted on to serve as a loyal lieutenant or could he go rogue as well?
Horner is Astana’s smartest rider, tactically speaking. He knows where his bread is buttered and can be counted on to do whatever Bruyneel tells him, but if he can credibly ride in support of Contador and Armstrong, such as by making pace on a climb, he’ll do whatever he can to serve the team’s best interest.
What’s the worst thing you could tell your opponent on the start line? I’m scared. Contador has done just this. If he had kept up the charade, at least the other teams would have been left guessing. Now, each rider and director knows if Armstrong goes up the road Contador is as likely to chase as anyone else.
Image courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International.
I can’t let this one go. The UCI has declared that they can’t complete disciplinary proceedings against Tom Boonen in relation to his second cocaine positive in time for the Tour de France. As a result, they have declared that Boonen is permitted to race the Tour de France.
They can’t complete it in time? What? This isn’t the restoration of a 1968 Camaro or the design of a web site. It’s a disciplinary proceeding. And the relevant facts are known. Hasn’t anyone heard of midnight oil?
No matter what your personal feelings on Boonen’s positive are, this is the wrong message to send. When I was in third grade, we would have called this wishy-washy. Is the UCI uniformly hard on drug use or not? If they don’t really see a problem with recreational drugs out of competition, that’s their choice, but they shouldn’t have made a fuss last time.
Given that most of the world can’t differentiate between performance-enhancing and recreational—which is like not being able to tell the difference between the Space Shuttle and Disneyland—a firm stance against recreational drugs would be understandable for the UCI and WADA. To most folks, drugs are either medicine or illicit. And anything that isn’t medicine isn’t tolerated in lots of places, The Netherlands notwithstanding.
What is so surprising in this is that the UCI didn’t like the Amaury Sport Organization deciding independently which teams and riders could and could not compete in the Tour. And yet, by delaying any action on Boonen, they are in effect forcing ASO’s hand, asking Prudhomme et al, to decide what the race is willing to accept.
Meanwhile, Bernard Kohl is passing the buck as well; he is concocting fictions that would make for a promising Hollywood script. He says he was cooperative from the outset, but CyclingNews reported October 15, 2008 Kohl wanted his B sample tested.
Worse yet, he asserted that the entire Top-10 of the Tour de France general classification must have doped, only to retract the statement and say l’Equipe invented the entire interview. Right. Shaun Palmer did the same thing years ago when Specialized wasn’t thrilled after he told a journalist he did recreational drugs and watched porn. The French rider’s union, CPA, has decided to sue Kohl. As Cedric Vasseur said, “He might think everybody else was doped as well but he has to prove it.”
Kohl’s idea of cooperation is suspect. The one thing he has said—retracted or not—that is truly helpful is his insight into how sophisticated dopers would use the information found in positive tests to guide their manipulation of blood and the biological passport.
If Kohl were truly a man of substance, he’d admit his part and wouldn’t try to accuse everyone else of doping as a means of excusing his poor decision.
Image courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International.
The ongoing turmoil at Astana has, surprisingly, overshadowed the Tour de France dress rehearsal race Dauphiné Libéré. The battle for supremacy in Provence is a repeat of the ’07 Tour showdown between three-time Grand Tour champion Alberto Contador and no-time Grand Tour champion Cadel Evans.
Even if Evans wins the Dauphiné Libéré it won’t spell any great portent for the Tour. To stand on the podium again Evans will have to face Contador, Armstrong, two Schlecks and a Sastre with more confidence than he had this time last year. Cough.
While Evans is busy sizing up his competition, Johan Bruyneel is sizing up his team and the course, the same as he does every year. Bruyneel has never raced the competition. He races the course with the whole of his team, the way a chess Grand Master uses every piece on the board to apply pressure on his competition; the guy who plays only his queen never gets far.
Bruyneel’s challenge is to reach July 4 with a serene and happy team. Does he need to choose a leader? Not by a longshot. He just needs Contador and Armstrong content in the belief that if they have the form, the troops will rally behind them. Bruyneel can’t buy Contador off to serve Armstrong the way he bought Roberto Heras. Heras was hired to work for Armstrong expressly because they didn’t want to have to race him at the Tour.
Of course, Bruyneel is having to fight another battle within his team and this one won’t be won through pure diplomacy. He needs a sponsor. Astana is paid up enough on its guarantees to race the Tour. It isn’t paid through the end of the year. What’s more, the fact that it is no longer in arrears can be credited to a defacto new co-sponsor. While speculation is running high, all that has been announced so far is that the payment was made by an American company doing business in Kazakhstan; such a revelation was meant to do nothing so much as titillate.
Here’s what’s important about that payment: It is very likely that it was simply a down-payment on a cycling team. Why bail out a cycling team sponsored by a nearly insolvent Asian country? What could there be to gain?
Now, what if “an American Company Doing Business in Kazakhstan” simply threw down some cash to make sure the team doesn’t get suspended while it takes its time to negotiate a contract, get kits, vehicles, web site, etc. designed and put in place a team liaison. That way it doesn’t have to rush its preparation and sponsorship announcement. My money says that “an American Company Doing Business in Kazakhstan” will very likely be the team’s sponsor come July 4.
After a quick re-reading of Machiavelli, here’s the supposition I find most intriguing: What if Bruyneel and Armstrong’s plan following the 2005 Tour was always for Armstrong to take some time off, take a break from competition, let the doping scandals blow over, fold Tailwind Sports so that there would be no existing entity to investigate, while Bruyneel set up shop with a new team so that Armstrong could return from competition with a more conspicuously demonstrated commitment to racing clean? Bruyneel got a few different offers after Discovery closed up shop; is it possible he deliberately selected a team that he knew would be ripe for picking once Armstrong returned from competition?
Even if Armstrong hasn’t got the chops to win a Grand Tour again (and remember Hinault proved in ’85 you can win the Tour and not be the strongest rider there), he remains the most useful rider Bruneel has in his stable. Can Contador attract a multi-national as a sponsor? As if. Armstrong could be backed up by a team of Troll dolls and still pull sponsors at top dollar. And as evidenced by the way Danilo Di Luca chased Armstrong on a descent at the Giro d’Italia, Armstrong is respected and feared enough that the other riders aren’t willing to give him much room to wiggle.
To most of us, Astana looks like a pretty chaotic scene. Unknown leadership, unpaid riders, no clear plan (other than to win), questionable sponsor future, not to mention a good old-fashioned whiff of controversy give the appearance of an operation in disarray. Were I to bet, I’d say Bruyneel has a sponsor signed. Signed. Contador has been assured the team will ride for him. And Armstrong has a long leash. Prove he’s stronger and the team will back him to the finish.
Pulling a rabbit out of a hat used to wow audiences. If Bruyneel pulls a Tour de France win out of a team that ought to be imploding, it will be a far more impressive trick.
Image courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International.