Mergers seem to be all the rage in corporate America. Sometimes it's a good thing, sometimes not. In case you missed it, one of the most interesting mergers in the sports world is the recently announced union between the Indy Racing League(IRL) and Champ Car. Hey, that's open wheel car racing for those of you who aren't concerned about anything with more than two wheels.
It's been twelve years since Tony George took his Indy 500 and his ego and started the Indy Racing League. We already had a successful open wheel series, Champ Car, with all the top drivers including the Unsers, Andrettis and Rahals. But, Tony George wanted a bigger slice of the pie and since he owned the rights to the most popular open wheel race on the planet, the Indy 500 (sorry Monaco GP), he figured he had the juice to make it happen.
Of course, what did happen was that everybody lost. Champ Car has become a non-factor and the Indy Racing League turned into the 'oval racing league'. If Danica Patrick hadn't arrived a couple of years ago, the IRL would have put everyone to sleep and would have all but disappeared as well. Hopefully, the merger will take US open wheel racing off life support and we won't have resort to watching the good ol' boys swapping paint every weekend from some town where everybody knows the words to "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again."
What does this have to do with cycling? Well, our good friends at the UCI and their nemesis ASO are at it again. Maybe it is just a huge case of Euro-cabin fever, but just like same time last year, these two organizations are sparring over control of European professional bike racing. ASO owns the Tour de France, Paris-Nice, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and just about every other big race on the pro calendar. The UCI owns, well, uh, um, only the the World Championships and since they moved those from August to October nobody seems to care all that much.
So, what's at stake? It's all about the Benjamins. ASO, with it's rich TV contracts has them. The UCI, which can't seem to market the World Championships to save their life, doesn't have many Benjamin's at all. Let's forget all the polemics(that's a big word meaning politics), it really is about the green. ASO has it and the UCI wants it.
How is this similar to the IRL/Champ Car merger? I side with ASO on this one, but still I hope that both sides can work something out before the situation becomes critical and the teams and riders have to decide between the two. I suffered for 12 years while open wheel racing in the US became about as exciting as watching paint dry. If that happens to pro cycling, I may actually have to stop watching TV and go out and ride my bike.
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.