Bob Stapleton has been on an e-ticket ride in this year's Tour. The head of Team T-Mobile has experienced the full range of emotions, from a stage win to the yellow jersey to the team leader crashing out to a doping scandal. And the Tour still has four days to go! It would be easy to understand if the California resident hopped a plane in Paris and didn't look back. But then, you don't know Bob.
Unlike most team managers, Stapleton didn't come to the sport of cycling as a former professional racer. Though he can definitely ride a bike, including conquering such Tour landmarks as the Col du Tourmalet, Bob is a businessman first and rider second. In the '90s, Bob and two friends, Don and Tim, founded a small cellular telephone company Voicestream which quickly grew into a major player in the American cell phone market. T-Mobile of Germany bought VoiceStream to form T-Mobile USA and Bob suddenly found himself with both a lot of time and money.
Stapleton got his start in team management directing the efforts of the professional women's T-Mobile team, but when the men's professional squad was rocked by major doping scandals last year, T-Mobile corporate HQ asked Bob to step in and straighten things out. T-Mobile wanted someone outside the sport's traditionally inbred culture to make the changes necessary to clean up the team's image.
Bob was instrumental in implementing a comprehensive in-house medical control program and has been working hard at bigger-picture issues such as selling the sport of cycling to new corporate sponsors. However, admissions of doping by such ex-T-Mobile riders as 2006 Tour de France champion Bjarne Riis and super sprinter Erik Zabel have made it seem like three steps forward and two steps back for the soft-spoken Californian's efforts. With rumors that T-Mobile might be pulling its sponsorship of the team, here's hoping that Stapleton gets a fighting chance to clean up the team and the sport. Cycling needs more guys like Bob.
It has been such a crazy last 24 hours at the Tour, I should probably explain yesterday's remarks made to me by Christian Prudhomme that next year the Tour will follow the Tour's rules. Basically, the Tour organization wants complete control over which riders it will allow to participate in its race. If any rider is suspected of not being clean, organizers want to be able to exclude that rider from participating, something they cannot presently do under the guidelines with which the UCI governs the sport of professional cycling. For example, it has come to light that Vinokourov was one of the so-called "men in black," a rider who was suspected of using doping products. If the Tour had been following its own rules and not the UCI's, they could have excluded him solely on suspicion and the current scandal would have been avoided.
As for today's race:
Levi was the man. He did everything he possibly could within himself to distance himself from Cadel Evans and try to climb onto the Tour podium. It was an incredibly gutsy performance. Let's hope he can uncork a great performance in the time trial and take that podium position from Evans, which he so deserves.