Hopefully it is just because the pro cycling season is winding down and there is not much racing to report, but it seems that the only thing happening is more doping news. Recently, the French anti-doping laboratory (AFLD) completed it's testing of all the 2008 Tour de France samples. They were looking for CERA a new version of EPO that is time-released and appears to be more effective than the older versions. I guess you could call it 'new and improved'. Anyway, four cyclists have been caught using CERA at the Tour, Riccardo Ricco and Leonardo Piepoli were tossed during the Tour, Stefan Schumacher and Bernhard Kohl were found positive during the AFLD's most recent testing.
The problem here is that all these guys are big names. Between them they won a total of five of the Tour's toughest stages, the King of the Mountains jersey and third place overall. That's a very sobering fact and shows that while the fight against doping is starting to work, there are still riders taking drugs.
There are a number of ramifications to these revelations. First off, UCI President Pat McQuaid has recently revealed that the UCI is seriously considering raising the length of time of a doping infraction from the current two years to four years. McQuaid indicated that the four year ban would only apply to deliberate acts of doping and not to those testing positive for accidentally taking a banned substance such as something in a cold medication or supplement.
A four year ban is basically a life sentence for a rider not to mention that with the current glut of professionals, most banned riders, unless they are a legitimate Tour de France contender, would be too much baggage to a team.
Another development arising from the recent doping scandals is that the two German television networks ARD and ZDF which broadcast the Tour have decided to drop the Tour from their programming schedule next year. Also, the Tour of Germany, a race won by Levi Leipheimer in 2005, has folded citing lack of sponsorship in the wake of the recent doping positives.
And you thought the financial markets were in crisis.
What can you say about the ride of Carlos Sastre? When he needed to put it all together and defend the yellow jersey he did just that. Teammate Jens Voigt described Carlos as a 'peaceful warrior' and that is exactly what we saw. Unlike his pursuer Evans, who was all over his bike, mouth agape, searching for speed, Sastre seemed to be at ease and pedaled smoothly to keep the maillot jaune. It was a graceful show of strength and class and Carlos will ride into Paris a very deserved winner of the 2008 Tour de France.
Clearly, Cadel Evans did not have his best time trial. As all my fellow journalists spent the past several days reminding their readers, on paper, Evans had the cred to not only take the yellow jersey, but to also win the final time trial. Maybe it was fatigue, maybe it was nerves, but the Australian finds himself on the same step of the podium as last year. For many, this will be viewed as a failure, however, this was an extremely open Tour with a lot of attacks from a number of contenders. Maybe if Evans had attacked sometime during the Tour he would have found that extra minute, but he seemed to be content to follow and not lead banking on his prowess in the time trial which failed him in the end.
It is fitting that the rider who launched the biggest attack on the biggest climb should win the Tour. And it is also fitting that the team who schooled everyone in both the Pyrenees and the Alps should have the yellow jersey. Carlos and his team CSC Saxo Bank put on a racing clinic in the final two weeks. Look for Bjarne Riis coming to you soon in a late night infomercial. Buy the book and the DVD. Unlike all the other get rich quick schemes on TV, it will be worth it.
I just have to remind you all that I predicted that Sastre could hang on to the yellow jersey in the time trial citing the power of the yellow jersey and giving the Floyd Landis/Oscar Pereiro dual in 2006 when Floyd took over 4 minutes out of Pereiro in the first time trial, but when the yellow jersey was on the line could only manage a little over a minute in the finial time trial. I am by no means taking credit for Sastre's ride, but it just goes to show that sometimes statistics and calculators don't count for much, especially when the yellow jersey is on the line. As Obe Won once said "the power of the yellow is strong."
Chrsitian Vandevelde rode exceptionally well, finishing fourth in the TT and moving up to 5th overall. Save for the day to Jausiers in the Alps where he lost 2'30" he would be on the podium in Paris. It just goes to show that you can't have a bad day at the Tour on a critical stage and expect to be on the podium. Having said that, this is an incredible result for Christian and his Garmin-Chipotle team. As I said in an earlier blog (titled Christian Vandevelde) he has toiled as a domestique for many, many years and it is great to see him step from the shadows and become a bonafide grand tour contender. The boys at Garmin-Chipotle have more than enough reason to pop the champagne. Chapeau Christian!
How about the rest of the Garmin-Chipotle team in the final time trial. With Millar (3rd), Vandevelde(4th) and Ryder Hesjedal(13th) and Danny Pate(14th) in the top 15 these guys rocked! To be able to perform at that level in the third week of the Tour shows these guys are the real deal and totally deserved to be here. And those guys have also finished the Giro as well! Double chapeau!
During the time trial there was a camera and microphone in the Silence Lotto car following Cadel. Evans was getting a lot of information from his team director as to which side of the road was the most advantageous for the wind, reminders of upcoming tricky corners, etc. I am guessing that the riders on the other teams get the same information which helps them go as fast and safely as possible.
Can the Schleck brothers improve their time trialing or will this be their achilles heal? The two Luxembourgers rode so well in the mountains it is a shame that their time trialing abilities are so disparate with their climbing. If they were diminutive Spanish climbers I could understand why they come up short. On the other hand, Carlos Sastre is one of those smallish Spaniards. Hopefully, somebody can figure it out and make them faster.
Bernhard Kohl rode the time trial of his life to get the third step on the podium. It was an inspired ride and one that just might signal the arrival of another bonafide contender for the Tour. BTW, his Gerlosteiner team is disbanding at the end of the year. I hope Bernhard has an agent!
I hear word that a German-based super team is in the works. Both Kohl and his teammate double time trial winner, Stefan Schumacher, are good candidates for that squad, though Kohl is actually Austrian.
Team Columbia rider George Hincapie also deserves special mention. George crashed badly on the Galibier a few days ago and was sporting some really awful looking road rash on both his left arm and leg. He has been soldiering on toward Paris on a day-by-day basis. He finished 10th in the time trial to go with his other top 10 in the first time trial. He is one tough (and fast) dude.