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As reported earlier, Rock Racing started only five riders in today's first stage, the 2.1-mile prologue, in the 2008 Amgen Tour of California(AToC). AToC organizers excluded three of Rock Racing's riders supposedly because they had open doping investigations. Rock Racing has maintained that there are no open investigations, but race organizers held firm. Frankly, it is not clear to me that there are any open doping investigations. I haven't seen any public mention that there are any open investigations and none of the Rock Racing riders have been privately notified that they are under investigation.


What is interesting to me is the parallel between what happened earlier this week to Team Astana. In the Astana affair, Amaury Sports Organization (ASO) issued a statement that Team Astana will not be invited to any ASO events, which includes the Tour de France. ASO cited the past history of doping on the team as their reason for the exclusion. However, Team Astana is a completely different team in 2008. Gone are all the riders implicated in any 2007 doping infractions as well as the whole team management.


So, if all the problem riders and team personnel are gone the team should be clean. The only rider on the team with a potential problem is Alberto Contador who has been linked to the same Operacion Puerto affair that AToC organizers used as a reason to exclude the three Rock Racing riders.


I think the decisions to exclude three riders from the AToC and Team Astana from the Tour are unfair. If you are upset that Levi may not get to ride in France, I think to be consistent, you have to also be upset that Tyler, Oscar and Santiago aren't riding the AToC. Would it be fair to allow Team Astana to ride the Tour de France if they don't bring Alberto Contador? How do you all feel about this? Do you all agree that both decisions are unfair?


On to the racing news, which I hope will shortly eclipse all this talk of doping. My pre-race prediction (and I made that prediction on Thursday), Fabian Cancellara, obliterated the competition winning by a substantial four-second margin in the short, 2.1-mile prologue time trial. Levi Leipheimer, who won the first two prologue time trials in 2006 and 2007, finished fourth, six seconds back.


No big surprises in the race for the overall. All the overall contenders finished within 20 seconds of each other. With several big climbing stages and a 15-mile time trial yet to come, the race is still a dead heat. Cancellara could hold the jersey for the next two days which offers only moderate climbing and flat finishes.  However, come stage 3 on Wednesday, when both Mount Hamilton and Sierra Road are on the agenda, look for the 2006 Paris-Roubaix Champion and two-time World Time Trial Champion to hopefully transfer the jersey to one of his teammates such as Jens Voigt, Stuart O'Grady or Bobby Julich.



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The storm surrounding the Rock Racing Team's roster for the Amgen Tour of

California(AToC) has subsided a bit with the announcement from team owner

Michael Ball that the squad will start only five riders on Sunday, leaving

Oscar Sevilla, Santiago Botero and Tyler Hamilton on the sidelines.  The

team will be composed of Michael Creed, Doug Ollerenshaw, Victor Hugo Pena,

Freddie Rodriguez and Super Mario Cipollini.  The entire team voted to start

with the shortened roster.


At issue here is whether the three Rock Racing riders are part of any active

doping investigations.  At a press conference on Saturday, Michael Ball

provided documentation, a letter from the Federacion Ciclismo de Colombia

indicating that Botero is not under investigation, a letter from Real

Federacion Espanolo de Ciclismo indicating that Sevilla is not under

investigation and also a letter from UCI president Pat McQuaid indicating

that Oscar Sevilla is not currently under investigation.  Ball maintains

that Tyler has never been informed that there is a pending anti-doping case.

Furthermore Ball contends that Hamilton cannot be sanctioned for anything

stemming from Operacion Puerto because according to the rules it would

'pre-date the case for which he has already served a suspension'.


Race organizers maintain that there is an open investigation involving the

named riders citing that the Operacion Puerto case was been re-opened on

February 14th.  However, Sevilla, Botero and Hamilton have not been explicitly

named in the new investigation.  Given that they were all named in the 2006

Operacion Puerto it can be assumed that they will be named and investigated,

but at this time it is only speculation what the prosecutors in Spain are

doing.  Is that enough evidence to assert that the three riders are currently

under investigation?


Obviously, this is a very touchy situation for both sides.  There is enough

gray area here to feel that both sides have made a case, however, since it

appears that the race organization's ousting is based on the re-opening of

the Operacion Puerto case, it would be prudent to verify that the case has

indeed been re-opened.


One thing that is interesting in this whole sordid affair is that the USADA

recently told AToC race organizers that it cannot comment if there are any

active investigations on riders.  This is to protect a rider from being tainted

undeservedly or any unwarranted actions if the investigation finds no illegal

activity.  So, how does the race organization know of any active investigations

if the national doping agencies will not comment?  We are treading very closely

to stripping all rights riders have to fair and impartial treatment.



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