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.
With only two days to go before the start of the third Amgen Tour of California, the streets around Palo Alto are awash with pro racers getting in those last, critical pre-race miles. So much is going on surrounding the race, you almost need 25 hours in a day. Here are the latest happenings:
At a Trek Bicycle-sponsored meet-and-greet with Levi Leipheimer on Thursday night,the Tour podium finisher in 2007 announced that his Team Astana would be mounting a grass-roots campaign to lobby ASO to give his team a much-deserved slot in the Tour de France. Look for some announcements and a website launch
in the next few days to allow fans to send their thoughts to ASO. This is your chance to be heard, don't pass it up!
The team rosters are being finalized as we speak. Some of the big names are Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner from Astana; Fabian Cancellara, Bobby Julich, Jens Voigt and Stuart O'Grady from Team CSC; Tom Boonen and Paolo Bettini from Quick Step...heck, there are too many big names and great riders to list, so my apologies to everyone I didn't mention.
Which brings me to my next observation. This is undoubtedly the best field of riders for a Tour of California. And the teams have come here to lay down some serious smack. Jens Voigt told me that they have been riding hills, hills and more hills at their team training camp down in Thousand Oaks. Team High Road Sports have been doing 5- to 6-hour rides everyday; some riders had 34-plus hours on the bike last week! Whoa! That is some serious saddle time for this early in the season.
I hope you all out there get chance to see at least one, and hopefully two or more, stages of the race. If you can't be here in person, Phil and Paul will be making the race call, daily, on Versus.
OK. One last thing. I am going to go out on a limb and make a prediction for the prologue. This might not seem like much of a guess, given his propensity for winning these type of races, but I think Fabian Cancellara will
win the prologue. I just did a lengthy interview with the two-time World Champion and he is not only very fast, but a nice guy to boot! Go Fabian.