Oops! One day I am writing about how I like the Team Astana jerseys and how they look good at the front of the race, and the next day, the whole team has been tossed from the Tour in the wake of Alexandre Vinokourov testing positive for non-homologous blood doping after his win in the time trial in Albi. This is the same offense for which Tyler Hamilton tested positive in 2004; the fact that the doping lab was able to turn around the test in just two days, undoubtedly indicates that the Kazakh rider was being closely watched.
Based on the result of Vinokourov's test, Tour officials asked Team Astana to leave the Tour and they accepted.
The news of Vinoukorov comes on the heels of the morning's press conference where yellow jersey-wearer Michael Raasmussen clarified his situation with the Danish Cycling Federation. As a member of the Danish National Team, Rasmussen is required to be available for out-of-competition testing. This year, he has missed two such tests--which would normally mean that he is disqualified from racing. However, Rasmussen holds a Mexican racing license, an option he has because his wife is Mexican. Rasmussen admitted today that he has not had an out-of-competition test from the Mexican Cycling Federation in two years.
When the Tour organizers heard this new information, their response was quick. "Michael Rasmussen should not have started the Tour. We should have refused him entry into the Tour," noted Tour bosses Christian Prudhomme and Patrice Clerc. But, they were quick to add, "this sport deserves all we can do to save it."
Oh me, oh my! This news is too fresh to completely understand all the implications, but having arguably the two highest-profile riders at the Tour tainted by doping is a sad, sad day for the sport.
ps - after the Tour press conference, I talked with Christian Prudhomme one-on-one and he told me that next year the Tour de France would be run under the Tour's rules, indicating that they would not follow the rules of the Union Cycliste International(UCI) which currently governs the sport of professional cycling. This particular issue has been a bone of contention during the long-standing fued between the Tour organizers and the UCI.
Does the peloton really need race radios? Every rider wears one; they are used to communicate with the team director in the support car. The excitement generated by the likes of Vinokourov, Contador and Rasmussen at the Tour belies the fact that a lot of pro racing has become boring. The riders have become robots, pedaling along waiting for the orders from the team director to attack or chase. Most of the directors have satellite TV in their autos, so they can follow the race and react in an instant. The result is almost always predictable. There are few surprises.
Personally, I would like to ban race radios. Lest you think I am flip-flopping, I first wrote about my dislike of the radios way back in 1993, when they were first introduced by Motorola with its Peloton Communication System. Motorola sponsored a European professional team back then. One of its riders was a 21-year-old Texan named Lance. Unfortunately, Motorola management did not appreciate my stance and when I visited the team on the first rest day in Grenoble, I was politely asked to reconsider my opinion. Well, it has been 14 years and I still don't like radios.
The teams will argue that the radios make riding in the pack much safer. If a rider has a problem he can contact his director over the airwaves rather than go back between all the team cars risking an accident. Yes, this is one valid reason, but the riders still have to go back to their cars to pick-up/drop-off equipment and fetch food and water. So, I am not convinced that it is critical to reduce trips back to the cars.
A lot of the riders don't like the radios either. Back in the day, part of being a pro was reading the race. You had to be at the front to make sure none of the danger men slipped away. Conversely, if you were pretty crafty, you might be able to attack and get away with little notice. Now, information on who is up the road is right there on the TV in the director's car. So, riders just sit in the pack waiting to be told what to do. It's all about horsepower below the waist and not above the neck. How do you all feel about race radios in the peloton?