We have great racing and more cycling drama
What a week of racing with the UCI stirring up the drama.
This was a powerful weekend of racing. Saturday was the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad - a tantalizing tease of the cobblestone classics that will populate the April calendar. While Garmin-Barracuda's Sep Vanmarcke was the winner, no one had picked him as a favorite before the start. Yet team manager Jonathan Vaughters disclosed in an interview late last year that the young Belgian was a man to look for in the future. I just didn't realize it was that soon.
What was expected was the throw down on the Taaienberg that started the elimination process. With 30 kilometers remaining, Vanmarcke's acceleration reduced the group to himself, Tom Boonen and Juan Antonio Flecha. In the final 500 meters the Garmin-Barracuda rider positioned himself perfectly to take the sprint from Boonen.
Curiously BMC - a team that, on paper, has the strongest classics squad - was not a factor. Philippe Gilbert punctured, which then placed him in a bad position on the Taaienberg. Speaking to dhnet.be Gilbert said he just didn't have the legs and complained about the lack of race radios as the riders didn't know his teammate Thor Hushovd had been dropped from the breakaway group.
At the end of the day BMC scrambled for a fifth place with Greg Van Avermaet. Not the result they were looking for, but they did manage to make lemonade out of lemons. And to be fair to BMC it's only February - still a lot of 2012 season in front of us.
The following day Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne ended like we all thought it would - with a bunch sprint. What was really remarkable was that Team Sky started their leadout for reigning world champion Mark Cavendish about 40 kilometers from the finish line. Now, that's confidence.
Even more interesting, in a post-race team press release Cavendish said "I was ill all day and kept vomiting, but I was always kept at the front by the whole team. Then when the split went on the Oude-Kwaremont it was perfect as we had three in the front while the other guys stayed with me and we didn't have to do any chasing."
And for those who were watching the live Sporza feed, Cav was classic Cav by casually dropping an F-bomb into his post-race interview. I can't wait for the Tour de France where he's almost guaranteed stage wins followed by the post-stage presser. I recommend that networks who are sensitive to that type of language have the delay at the ready.
Of course what's a week in review without mentioning the UCI at least once? As I write this the governing body had a sit down meeting with Saxo Bank team manager Bjarne Riis regarding what's going to happen to his team's points accumulated from the now suspended Alberto Contador. As you know, Contador had his 2010 Tour de France and Giro titles stripped from him. And with that there goes his points, which help qualify his Saxo Bank team for the WorldTour. So does Saxo Bank get to keep the points or will they be removed, pushing the Danish squad out of the WorldTour?
I'll be the first to admit I'm lousy at guessing what the UCI, or in fact any governing body, might do. I swore up and down that Contador was going to escape any kind of punishment - not because I thought he was innocent - but because I've gotten rather jaded and assumed the fix was in with CAS and the UCI.
However, looking into my Magic 8-Ball I think Saxo Bank will keep the points earned by Pistolero. My reasoning is that while Contador earned those points, his team contributed to those victories. Remember, this is a team sport. Removing the points only penalizes his teammates, which had nothing to do with his positive clenbuterol result.
The UCI will give their ruling sometime this week, so stay tuned for more drama as someone will be offended no matter what. If Saxo Bank is removed another team such as Project 1t4i could move up and not have to be concerned with wildcard invitations. If Saxo doesn't get the boot, teams will cry foul as Contador's points from events that he has ultimately been stripped from are still being considered for WorldTour entrance.
The always interesting blog by Gerard Vroomen basically stated, "don't hate the player - hate the game." What I mean is that Contador was cleared by his Spanish federation, so he continued to race and earn points, as he could legally do so. The case slowly wound its way through CAS due to the numerous delays from both sides, arriving at the decision we have now. I can't recall a single quote from anyone involved in the case that were happy with the long delays, but that's the situation we're left with.
Then the UCI press released a statement claiming that cycling teams' budgets have increased 36.5% since 2009.
"This result shows that cycling is in a healthy position and resisting the effects of the current global economic downturn," claims the UCI report.
Really? No where is women's cycling mentioned. In fact the ladies are glossed over with the statement by UCI President McQuaid, "It is very pleasing to see that the men`s professional cycling is prospering in these difficult times."
The press release also states that UCI ProTeam salaries have risen from 190,000 euros to 264,000 euros in 2012. But not to be picky I would love to know the mean salary of the riders as an inflated salary of a couple of riders would drive up the average. That would be a more true reflection of a ProTour rider's paycheck.
It's also interesting to note something that Velonation made mention of. While it all seems like roses from the UCI's standpoint, Ben Atkins points out that several ProContinental squads were forced to downsize or in the case of Geox and HTC, disband. Atkins goes on to mention that Vuelta a Pais Vasco and the Clasica San Sebastian are facing financial problems and the 2012 editions might not take place. The 2010 winner Chris Horner tweeted that he hopes Pais Vasco finds a sponsor soon. That was followed by another tweet by fellow pro Allan Davis concerned about the future of the Tour of the Basque Country too.
This latest UCI press release seems like spin - focusing on a set of numbers that are to their liking - but further ignoring the real issues: distrust by the athletes and management, a public image of a group that cares mostly about lining their own pockets with euros under the guise of their separate race promotion entity Global Cycling Promotion (GCP), and generally acting like a mafia, in my opinion.
I've said it before and I'll say it again - in my opinion the UCI cronyism needs to stop and that means a regime change. McQuaid and those around him are too close to the money and wield too much power. From the Armstrong investigation to their move into race promotion, this power grab has turned a governing body into a despot.
Who can change this? I believe team managers can. But with any war, there will be a body count. Teams who buck the ruling body may find themselves excluded from races, team sponsors pressured, or if you really want to put on the tinfoil hats - riders might have problems with doping controls...
Regardless, we're only into the first month of this season's road racing and these issues will continue to crop up as the season continues.