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Active Expert: Bruce Hildenbrand

8 Posts tagged with the tour-de-france tag

We Can Work it Out

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Feb 28, 2008

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.

 

Bruce

1,225 Views 4 Comments Permalink Tags: tour-de-france, bruce-hildenbrand, bruce_hildenbrand, uci, aso, indy_racing_league, champ_car, danica_patrick

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?

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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.

 

Bruce

1,120 Views 2 Comments Permalink Tags: tour-de-france, bruce-hildenbrand, bruce_hildenbrand, tour-of-california, rock-racing, team-astana, amgen-tour-of-california

Never a Dull Moment

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Feb 13, 2008

On the eve of the America's premier stage race, the Amgen Tour of California

(AToC), the attention shifted across the great pond where Amaury Sports

Organization (ASO) who own the Tour de France announced that Team Astana,

which has defending Tour champion Alberto Contador on it's roster, would not

be invited to any ASO-organized events in 2008.  ASO's decision is in response

to the doping incident at the 2007 Tour which saw Alexandre Vinokourov testing

positive for blood boosting.

 

Hey, it's my blog and I say that decision sucks big time.  After a very rocky

2007 which saw other doping violations, the Team Astana sponsors basically

kicked out all team personnel and questionable riders.  On paper, the name may

be the same, but the squad and it's management are completely different.  If

the sport of cycling is going to move forward from its current state, the

sport's governing body, the UCI, and the race organizers have to be willing to

give riders and their teams second chances.

 

Look, we are dealing with people's jobs and careers here. Decisions like this

have to be made fairly and consistently.  Team Rabobank arguably brought the

most disgrace to the 2007 Tour.  When was the last time the yellow jersey was

bounced from the Grand Boucle?  Rabobank hasn't been excluded from all ASO

events.  It just doesn't make sense to me.  Clearly, this is going to be a hot

topic of discussion for a while.  What are your thoughts?

 

So what does this mean for the upcoming AToC?  Thankfully, the event

organizers, AEG, don't appear to have any hidden agendas so we are going to

have nine of the top European professional teams, including Astana, and eight

US Domestic squads (well, Slipstream and BMC have European racing schedules)

putting on one heck of a show.

 

Defending 2007 AToC champion and Tour podium finisher, Levi Leipheimer is on

Team Astana.  If he and his mates are shut out of the biggest races in Europe,

that leaves the AToC to make a statement.  Personally, I hope that ASO see the

flaw in their logic (it's so big it is hard not to notice) and invites, Levi

and Alberto to the big show.  But, part of me likes the fact that Leipheimer

will undoubtedly be racing with a rather large chip on his shoulder at the

Tour of California because the guy has the legs and lungs to lay down a very

powerful statement.

 

Bruce

1,081 Views 1 Comments Permalink Tags: tour-de-france, bruce-hildenbrand, bruce_hildenbrand, team-astana, aso, amgen-tour-of-california

I recently wrote about the split between the UCI and the grand tour organizers

enabling the bosses of the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana

free to invite any team they wanted to their races.  Well, the Giro d'Italia

announced its invited teams and judging by the prominent names left off the

list, the free market in cycling has arrived.

 

To be sure, before the inception of the UCI's Pro Tour, there was a free market

in professional cycling, but things were so bad during the Pro Tour, it seems

like a re-birth of the free market.  By free market, I mean the ability of the

individual races to determine which teams get to ride their events.  If the Tour

de France want to invite only amateur teams from the state of Rhode Island it is

now their choice to do so.  However, if the perceived quality of the race

suffers and fans go elsewhere then the Tour bosses only have themselves to

blame.

 

That may not seem so far-fetched.  Back in the early 80's, in some people's eyes

the Tour de France was getting boring.  So, in an attempt to add some excitement

to the race, the organizers extended invitations to several amateur teams

including those from the US, Russia and Colombia.  Only the Colombians came, but

it ushered in the era of the Colombian climber and the likes of Lucho Herrera

and Fabio Parra won stages and stood on the podium at the Tour.

 

That's how a free market works.  You develop a product. You market it. If people

like it.  They buy it.  That may seem to be a pretty simple formula, but it

isn't.  Yes, the race organizers can be totally arbitrary in which teams they

include, but for credibility sake, they need to be objective with the criteria

they will use for determining who will ride.  In this year's Giro, the

organizers excluded several teams including Astana and the former T-Mobile

Team, now called Team High Road Sports, because of concerns over doping.

 

Hey, that is their prerogative, but what about Michael Rasmussen's Rabobank

team and Team LPR which included Danillo DiLuca who is serving a three-month

suspension for a non-analytical doping offense?  That just doesn't make sense

to me.  Oh well, hopefully, saner heads will prevail at the organization

which runs the Tour de France and there will be no seemingly arbitrary decisions

about who will toe the starting line in July.

 

Bruce

1,391 Views 5 Comments Permalink Tags: tour-de-france, bruce-hildenbrand, bruce_hildenbrand, giro-d'italia, uci, vuleta-a-espana, high-road-sports, astana

The Way Things Work

Posted by Bruce E Hildenbrand Jan 27, 2008

Congratulations to the Slipstream/Chipotle team for its second place finish in

the first stage of the Tour of Quatar.  Jonathan Vaughter's boys were a scant

two seconds back of Tom Boonen's Quick Step squad in the opening stage, a

6km Team Time Trial(TTT). You might all be wondering, what's the big deal about

second place in an early season race in a country most of us couldn't even

point out on a globe!

 

Well, unlike the NFL which owns all the events it sanctions, in cycling,

individual race organizers and corporations such as ASO own and promote the

races while the NFL-equivalent, the UCI, just exists as the sanctioning body.

OK, the UCI, with its Pro Tour, tried to become more than just the sanctioning

body, but we have all seen how that has worked out.  It is best to leave race

promotion to the professionals.

 

So, if you are a team, and you want to get into a race, you have to catch the

eye of the race promoter.  Winning big races is one way to catch the eye, but

if you can't get into the big races unless you prove yourself, then you have

a Catch-22.  Enter races such as the Tour of Quatar.  These early season,

predominately low-key, events are the perfect platform for up and coming teams

to show race organizers that they can play with the big boys.

 

And, it doesn't hurt that the Tour of Quatar is owned by ASO, the same company

which organizes the Tour de France, Paris-Roubaix and a whole host of the top

professional races.  So, if you are a team like Slipstream/Chipotle presented

by H30(say that fast three times) then the pressure is on in Quatar and they

delivered.

 

Also participating in Quatar is the BMC Professional Cycling Team which, while

not hoping for a slot in the Tour in 2008, is hoping for a wild-card invite to

some of the one day races, such as Paris-Roubaix, owned by ASO.  The boys in

black finished 12th just 12 seconds behind the winners and 10 clicks behind

their American counterparts.

 

Hopefully, ASO and other race promoters are taking notice and we will see more

American teams and US riders in the biggest and best races on the professional

cycling calendar.  Yeah, Paolo Bettini and Tom Boonen are exceptional racers,

but I want to be cheering for a homie when the season gets into full swing.

 

Bruce

1,222 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: tour-de-france, bruce-hildenbrand, bruce_hildenbrand, paris-roubaix, aso, tour-of-quatar, slipstream-chipotle-presented-by-h3o, bmc-professional-cycling-team, tom-boonen, paolo-bettini

 

Rumours circulating in the media indicate that Amaury Sports Organization(ASO),

the company which owns the Tour de France, may not invite Team Astana to the

2008 edition of the race.  That leaves defending Tour champion Alberto Contador

and America's best stage race rider, Levi Leipheimer, on the bench for

professional cycling's biggest show.

 

One of low points in last year's Tour was Team Astana's Alexandre Vinokourov

testing positive for non-homologous blood doping which resulted in the whole

team being sent home.  The fallout from the affair saw a complete overhaul of

the squad, which is sponsored by a group of Kazakstani government-owned

businesses.  Johan Bruyneel, who directed Lance Armstrong and his USPS/

Discovery Channel team to seven tour wins plus the win last year by Contador,

was brought in to rescue and rebuild the squad.  Gone are almost all of the

team personnel and any rider who had doping problems, including Vinokourov.

 

Unfortunately, Contador still has a shadow hanging over him with regards to

Operacion Puerto; the initials AC appear on a questionable document.  Contador

has declared his innocence, but in the world of denials by confessed dopers,

such as Marion Jones, the Tour champion's words seem to have had little affect

on the head honchos at ASO.

 

As I reported in an earlier blog, with the Tour de France dropping out of the

Pro Tour, the organizers at ASO now have complete control over which teams will

ride their race.  At the 2007 Tour, ASO chief Christian Prudhomme told me that

in 2008 the Tour would be run under ASO's rules and not the UCI's and now that

has happened.  Hey, ASO owns the Tour, they can decide to do whatever they

please.  Way back in 1930, Tour boss and founder, Henri Desgrange, didn't

invite the 1929 winner, Belgian Maurice De Waele, to the race supposedly

because he didn't like how he won the previous year.  I guess some people grow

on you as Desgrange invited De Waele back to the Tour the next year.

 

I think this sends a pretty clear message to Team Astana that the ball is in

their court and they need to take some pro-active steps to assure Contador's

innocence.  The question is, if Contador's words are not sufficient, what does

he and his team need to do to prove their innocence?  Hopefully, the Tour

bosses and Johan Bruyneel can come up with reasonable criteria so that everyone

feels like this issue has been dealt with fairly.  It would be a shame not to

have the defending champion and also our native son, Levi, excluded from the

Tour on scurrilous grounds.

 

 

Bruce

 

 

2,167 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: tour-de-france, bruce-hildenbrand, bruce_hildenbrand, team-astana, johan-bruyneel, alberto-contador, levi-leipheimer, aso

The Doping Problem

Posted by Bruce E Hildenbrand Jan 23, 2008

Good news on the doping front (when have we heard that, lately?). It appears

that the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), organizers of the Amgen Tour of

California(AToC) have teamed with USA Cycling and the United States Anti-Doping

Agency(USADA) to bring tight doping controls to the 2008 AToC. The controls

appear to be a manifestation of the "biological passport" adopted by the World

Anti-Doping Agency(WADA) at its recent summit in Madrid.

 

Briefly, the biological passport is a history of an athlete's drug testing and

biological parameters (haematocrit, testosterone levels, etc.) which will be

used to set a baseline physiology and also record of when he/she has been

tested to determine if an athlete is within those parameters or taking performance

enhancing drugs(ped's). Interestingly enough, during an interview I conducted

with then-USADA chief, Frank Shorter, way back in 2001, this exact subject came

up and Frank, the 1972 Olympic Gold Medalist in the marathon, was a huge

proponent of a testing passport.

 

One of the things I vowed to do with this blog was to keep the frequency of my

postings on doping to a minimum. To be sure, we need to have a dialog about

this subject because it seems, right now, to be plaguing our sport.  But there

are so many other interesting things to talk about. But, this recent development

is pretty darn big.

 

AToC race director, Jim Birrell, told me that in 2006 the total cost of dope

testing at the race was $2300. This year, according to the agreement, over

$100,000 will be spent in an attempt to insure a clean race. That's some

major coin and it represents, IMHO, a very serious and aggressive attempt to

re-instill the confidence in the fans of the sport that the riders are, indeed,

exceptionally gifted athlete's with a burning desire to be first across the

line.

 

Will money, which means increased frequency of testing and more tests, solve

the problem? After last year's Tour de France, I sent a proposal to the race

organizers to help restore credibility to their event. I proposed that they

include a new procedure during the time trials that as each rider crosses the

finish line, they are escorted to doping control to give blood and urine.

Unlike the road stages, where bunch finishes are common, in the time trials,

each rider crosses the line at about 1-2 minute intervals. With four or five

teams of sample takers each rider could be serviced in a prompt manner and

then sent on to their team bus.

 

However, proposals such as mine take major benjamins. But, if the sport is

going to survive, maybe that is the only solution. Some of the major

professional teams such as Slipstream/Chipotle, High Road Sports and CSC have

invested beacoup bucks to test their riders, out-of-competition.  Maybe it is

time for the other pro teams and also the UCI to follow suit and increase their

out-of-competition testing.

 

Whadda you all think?

 

Bruce(BEH)

1,103 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: tour-de-france, bruce-hildenbrand, bruce_hildenbrand, tour-of-california, slipstream-chipotle, team-csc, team-high-road-sports, aeg

In 2005, the UCI, the governing body of cycling, created the Pro Tour in an

attempt to form a season-long competition involving the premier European pro

races. Unfortunately, the organizers of the premier European races such as

the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana, known as the grand tour

organizers, were skeptical of the real reasons behind the UCI forming the

Pro Tour.

 

Over the past three years of its existence the Pro Tour has been a rocky road.

At the end of 2007, the UCI and the grand tour organizers agreed to remove the

grand tours and the other races put on by the grand tour organizers such as

Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Milan San Remo from the Pro Tour.  So,

instead of the original 30 races, the 2008 edition of the Pro Tour will have 16

races. Is this divorce and new version of the Pro Tour a good thing for

professional cycling?  I think it is and for a lot of good reasons.

 

First off, the UCI needs to prove that it can manage and promote a premier

race series on its own. Trying to latch onto races like the Tour de France,

Giro d'Italia and Paris-Roubaix, which are already wildly popular, is like

coming in to close a game with two outs, two strikes in the ninth inning with a

ten run lead. It doesn't prove the UCI's capabilities to deliver what they

promised with the Pro Tour, notably to grow cycling by increasing it's

popularity and sponsorship.

 

Secondly, the Pro Tour was an huge burden to the already established events

because its 20 team format severely limited the wild card invitations a race

organizer could offer non-Pro Tour teams. This caused a real have and have-not

situation. If you weren't a Pro Tour team, your squad was unlikely to get the

opportunity to prove yourself on the world's stage. A few teams, like

Barloworld at last year's Tour, got the chance and they stepped up their game

several notches and were one of the real bright moments in France last July.

 

This is great news for the two US teams, Slipstream-Chipotle and BMC Racing,

who are trying to gain a ticket into Europe's big races. Slipstream just

received an invite to the Giro. Would that have happened under the Pro Tour

system last year? BMC and Slipstream are also looking for a slot in the Queen

of the Classics, Paris-Roubaix.  With 2004 winner, Maggy Backstedt on his

roster, Jonathan Vaughter's Slipstream squad should get an invite. It would

be great to see the BMC boys alongside them at the start as well.

 

And for those of you used to seeing a US-based team at the Tour, the removal

of the Pro Tour restrictions means that Slipstream could be lining up at the

start come this July.

 

Don't get me wrong. I am not a Pro Tour hater. One of the things I really

liked about the Pro Tour is that if a team held a multi-year Pro Tour license,

it was guaranteed entry into the biggest races. With such a guarantee, a team

could approach a potential sponsor in, say 2007, with the promise that they

would be at the Tour in 2008. Unfortunately, there were just too many Pro Tour

teams and they basically sucked up all the spots at those same big races.

Again, this was the case of the haves versus the have-nots.

 

It's extremely early in the season, the first Pro Tour race, the Tour Down

Under in Australia has just started, but I have a good feeling that this new

arrangement is going to force both the UCI and the grand tour organizers

to bring their A games which will ultimately be the best for professional

cycling. What do you all think?

 

Bruce

1,190 Views 2 Comments Permalink Tags: tour-de-france, bruce-hildenbrand, bruce_hildenbrand, slipstream, chipotle, bmc-racing, pro-tour, giro-d'italia, paris-roubaix, uci, vuelta-a-espana