Paul Andrews

Posts Tagged ‘Team Astana’

This Day in Doping: Team Astana says move along, nothing to see here

In Bicycle Racing, This Day In Doping on October 16, 2009 at 7:45 am

Contador and Team Astana say they have nothing to hide. Quote: “This year’s Tour de France was remarkable for the fact that no riders tested positive during the race.”

Still haven’t heard from Lance on this, but then, he’s no longer with Astana…

This Day in Doping: From using to running, a sorry scene

In Lance's Chances, This Day In Doping on October 13, 2009 at 6:36 am

Confessed doper and former King of the Mountains winner Bernhard Kohl continues to name names. The latest: physician Marc Schmidt, team doctor, who “oversaw the doping practices.” Schmidt vehemently denied the charges. And the beat goes on…
Unconvinced that the 2009 Tour de France was as squeaky clean as it seemed, French prosecutors are opening an investigation into doping. And the beat goes on…

According to French daily Le Monde, the investigation involves a number of teams including Astana, home of 2009 Tour de France champion Alberto Contador of Spain and American seven-time winner Lance Armstrong. Sports daily L’Equipe backed up Le Monde’s claims regarding Astana, and added that some of the syringes being analyzed had been used by the Kazakh team. “These syringes, used by the team of race winner Alberto Contador, were sent to the Parisian forensics laboratory Toxlab of Professor Gilbert Pepin and are currently being analysed to determine their contents,” read an article on the L’Equipe website.

Meanwhile, Lance is in France, meeting with the President! His latest tweet: “Just finished lunch w/ President Sarkozy at the Palais de L’Elysee. He loves cycling!”

How one cyclist came back from the abuse scene. The inspirational story of Chad Gerlach, courtesy of Sacramento Bee and Bicycle.net.

And how another cyclist, alas, did not. The story of Sam Brown is chronicled in Rolling Stone. See Northshore forum comments queue as well…

This Day in Doping: Did Lance, Alberto & Astana get preferential treatment?

In Bicycle Racing, This Day In Doping on October 8, 2009 at 12:38 am

Team Astana, including stars Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador, got preferential treatment when it came to drug testing, two leading French newspapers have reported (linked by Bicycle.net).

This is part of an ongoing snit between the UCI, the international cycling governing body, and French anti-doping authorities over the rigorousness of dope testing during the Tour de France. The UCI undoubtedly considers the irregularities, including the infamous 45-minute delay at one point during the Tour, as trivial. If the AFLD is correct in its allegations, however, it raises serious questions as to the diligence of UCI procedures.

It’s hard to know — particularly based on a reading of press reports rather than original documentation — whose side to take, other than the truth’s, which will always remain in question. As we’ve said before, doping at this point is not an athletic issue or even a political issue. It’s a financial issue. Say they found doping on Team Astana and Lance and Bert got kicked off the Tour. Where would that leave the Big Money — TV and commercial sponsors — that makes the Tour possible? This is the main reason why the worst penalty a steroid-soaked baseball star can expect is an asterisk next to his records.

So cycling governance just muddles along, engaging in petty feuding and self-righteous posturing, while the doping continues.

Bert’s and Lance’s main transgression here may be that they’re not French. I mean, where was the AFLD (or equivalent) when Hinault and Fignon were ripping up the Tour?

BikeSnobNYC takes a swing at the doping scene as well, with his usual amusing speculation (every time Lance is tested he tweets? really? or does he tweet only when he knows full well that supposed irregularities will get reported?) thrown in for comic relief. Worth a read as always.

Meanwhile, doping is migrating its way down into the amateur ranks as well, and even the excuses are the same.

And back in Italy, yet another suspension.

Tour 2009 Wrap: Control while we roll

In Bicycle Racing on July 26, 2009 at 12:59 am

The Tour de France 2009 could have been a bell-ringer. It had as much if not more raw talent than most tours, especially in recent years, and the big gun of Lance Armstrong to draw international attention back to cycling. It was a killer course, laid out to maximize drama and intrigue as well as treat an international TV audience to cycling at its best.

But on a day-to-day, stage-by-stage basis, there was a lot more promise of action than real fireworks. When you think about it, the Tour was decided by a single attack: Contador’s predictable run-up to Verbier, giving him a decided edge. The Schleck brothers’ inspiring attempt to wrest control on Colombiere was heroic, but no one was going to beat Contador this time around. Otherwise the Tour strategy was mostly “defend and stay out of trouble.” Astana “controlled” the peloton, and Contador “controlled” the Schleck brothers. On the rare occasion when Contador did attack, he got criticized for breaking team strategy of a 1-2-3 podium in Paris.

You had to love the Schlecks, whose motto was “we will try till we die.” And they delivered. Their guts brought them no glory and their pain no gain. But their efforts were the standouts of the Tour, and their slogan beat to hell the Contador/Astana strategy of “We will control while we roll.”

I wish I could get behind Contador as a great champion. He certainly deserves it, but something about the guy just doesn’t make you want to stand up and cheer. Maybe it’s just too easy for him, or maybe it isn’t but he just makes it look that way. In any case, the Schleck brothers’ attacks will be the enduring memory for me from 2009. Perhaps because they were underdogs and fought and fought while Alberto just seemed to cruise, they proved themselves champions as much as The Pistol.

In the media and general public’s mind, though, 2009 won’t be remembered as much for any of the racing as for Lance’s comeback. Taking third (assuming the results stick for now and stay stuck in the future, unsullied by drug scandal) and reversing his reputation with the French were both huge triumphs for the Austin powerhouse. I call out Lance a lot for grandstanding about his 7 yellow jerseys and whining about drug testing, but I respect his gutsiness when the cards are down. And you have to love that black helmet and his black socks! There’s something to be said for ridin’ ‘n stylin’!

For all his comeback heroics, Lance never once attacked in the Tour of 2009. On the course, Astana helped him more than the other way around. And in that single fact, I find hope for next year’s Tour.

More than any other factor, team dynamics enervated this year’s edition. Any team with two Tour winners, a two-time runner up and a four-time Top Tenner is going to dominate. The problem is that all those favorites on one team means few or no real individual attacks. The team is going to come first, preventing breakaways by standouts like Contador and Armstrong and Kloeden and Leipheimer. Ditto for the same-team Schlecks: Having to watch out for each other, the brothers never seemed to really cut loose individually. Earlier in the race it was Frank trying to spur Andy on; going up Ventoux it was Andy holding back in hopes brother Frank could breach the gap.

Without these allegiances, the Tour would have been a far different race. Next year, it should be. Lance already has announced a different team. Let’s hope Contador does not follow him onto Radio Shack (he’s saying he won’t). These two make far more exciting rivals than partners. Lance will try to cannibalize other teams as well to surround himself with the best. But as long as AC and the Schlecks and Tony Martin and Bradley Wiggins and whoever else (Christian Vande Velde?) emerges as a potential star stay on different teams, we could have a barn-burner on our hands in 2010. Let’s hope so. A race as grand and glorious as the Tour deserves fiercer competition than we got this year.

Today’s Tour stage: Making sense of the senseless

In Bicycle Racing on July 18, 2009 at 11:24 am

How does that saying go? A friend of my friend is my friend unless my friend is Lance Armstrong?

As much as I beat up on Lance for grandstanding and truth-avoidance, I can’t point the finger at him for cheating Hincapie out of the yellow jersey today. If anything, it was Lance’s “friends” — Team Astana — who dictated keeping Hincapie within shouting range during the stage. I think Astana, or at least Lance and Bruyneel, really wanted George to take the yellow — by a few seconds. Not by a few minutes. And there lay the rub.

When the Hincapie group threatened to expand its margin over the peloton too far, their breakaway forced Astana’s hand. George may not be the best climber in the Tour, but he’s a good one. In this Tour, uncertainty rules. The prospect of giving a rider of Hincapie’s capability a multi-minute lead with the Alps looming was just too much for Astana and race favorite Alberto Contador.

Lance would have been happy for Hincapie to take yellow by a narrow margin. But the question was: How do you keep it “manageable?”

So Lance and Astana decided to goose the pace and stabilize the Hincapie group’s margin. For what Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen estimated at about an hour, Team Astana moved the peloton along with their machine-like power and efficiency.

That may have been all well and good for Hincapie, as long as the margin was enough to give him yellow. Unfortunately, it opened the door to a wild card, which in this case turned out to be Garmin-Slipstream.

Garmin is a strong team. I’m not sure why it would want to deprive Hincapie of yellow. Perhaps it had no reason at all. Perhaps it just wanted to put pressure on Astana after the latter’s long pull in hopes of pooping out the team a bit before tomorrow’s supposedly killer mountain stage (I say supposedly because so far in this Tour, that prospect has turned to mush time after time with a listless peloton).

Whatever the reason, Astana’s calculated pull turned out to be miscalculated by a matter of seconds. Hincapie, who could only watch helplessly as the pack closed in on the finish line, was so visibly distraught, vacillating between tears and anger, that you had to feel for the guy in the post-stage interview.

Lance on the other hand hummed and hawed his way through the post-stage questioning. The best excuse he could come up with was “blame Garmin.” That charge doesn’t stick, because Garmin could not have managed to close the gap if Astana had not done its earlier monster pull of the pack.

At least it was an interesting day in this so far undistinguished Tour. Maybe it will get even more interesting tomorrow. If Hincapie can use his emotions for a bit of afterburner on the final climb, he could be in yellow at the end of the day. If so, he’ll prove he really deserved the maillot jaune after all.

Tour offers first boring wet jersey contest

In Bicycle Racing on July 17, 2009 at 8:41 am

Funny to read now: Bicycle.net’s pre-stage analysis, where Stage 13 “may reveal just how far some riders are willing to go to fight for the Tour de France yellow jersey.” Um…let’s just say, not very far at all.

Cyclelicio.us: “Nocentini’s last day wearing yellow.” And I agreed when you posted, Richard. Based on everything we know about professional cycling and the Tour’s great history, yellow should have changed hands today.

Instead, the whole peloton was yellow…as in cowardly, as in yellow-bellied.

OK so yes, it was raining, and raining hard. And it was cold. We’ve all been there. Still, one has to wonder, seeing the peloton go through the motions day after day, if this bunch of shoulder-watchers just is not a competitive group. The pack’s excuse-making is just another reason for a champion to make hay. Would Hinault or Lemond or Merckx or any of the great names of the past have just sat in the pack and pedaled along when an obvious opportunity was at hand? Do any of this year’s riders deserve a nickname like the Badger or Cannibal? Only the sprinters seem to have nicknames, because they’re the only ones really putting out.

A great rider would have at least tested Astana today, throwing himself off the front on one of the 15-percent grades to see what happened. The other benefit to launching attacks when everyone else is sitting back: You up your fitness level for next time. The way things are shaping up, with no one even trying to assert himself, this year’s Tour could be decided more by chance — a random crash, bad weather, a flat tire — than true worthiness on the part of the winner.

Let’s just hope it doesn’t rain this coming week in the Alps. Otherwise the 2009 edition of the Tour de France will be just one big mass poor-mouthing about how this or that or the other prevented anyone from launching an attack. Cadel Evans was right: We got a buncha whiners on our hands.

Lance is back! and the Tour is boring again

In Bicycle Racing on July 12, 2009 at 7:52 am

With Lance out of the picture after 2005, I’d almost forgotten how boring the Tour de France can be. Year after year in his historic run-up of wins, Lance assembled the strongest team and then “controlled” the race, to yawningly predictable outcomes.

The past few Lanceless Tours got back to real racing, with no single rider controlling the peloton and no predictable winner just putting in the miles day after day. But with Lance back in the saddle this year, the racing has been timorous, uneventful and bland.

The turning point came when Armstrong announced his comeback and “chose” Astana as “his” team. Contador was already locked in and immediately threw a fit. We spectators can only rue that Alberto didn’t win his case and keep Lance off the team. With Lance and Levi and AC all “working together,” other race favorites have so far thrown in the towel.

Nowhere was this clearer than in Cadel Evans’ heroic attempt to goose the peloton in yesterday’s mountainous stage. A disgusted Evans later accused his fellow breakawayers of acting like “a bunch of whining three-year-olds” — scared of the main group, afraid to lay it on the line — and they were soon reeled in.

Today’s stage was stupefyingly unaggressive, with opportunities on two steep climbs for someone, anyone, to assert himself. Instead we had hour after hour of the “slack pack,” with no favorite even hinting at an attack. Even Twitter went comparatively quiet, with some tweets expressing frustration over the lack of action.

When two mid-list riders break away early and continue ahead to the finish, you know any of the race leaders are capable of the same or better. What a shame to deprive the world of real cycling while Lance and his bros “control” the race.

To be fair, the blame is not entirely on the 7-time Tour winner. The system enables and allows a dominant rider to vitiate any real competition by collecting other favorites around him. Somehow there should be a rule limiting a team to one race favorite apiece. Imagine what a different, and exciting, Tour this would be if Lance, Levi and Contador were all heading different teams.

The scoring system also could be changed to mix things up a bit. Mathematically it might be tricky, but a system that put sprinters, climbers, team results and TT specialists on equal scoring in the overall standings would add huge intrigue to the race. By segmenting each cycling discipline, the Tour loses diversity and day-to-day rejiggering of race leadership.

Maybe if this is Lance’s last year in the Tour, racing will get more interesting next year. It’s also true that we still have two weeks of racing to go, and in upcoming days the mountains could shake things up.

But for that to happen, the Astana dynamic will have to change. Someone will have to try to lay his body on the line, and get some others to join him. Someone will have to say to himself, other challengers and the cycling audience of the world, it’s better to have tried and lost than never to have tried at all.

Livewrong: Lance still making enemies on the Tour

In Bicycle Racing on July 6, 2009 at 2:25 pm

Twitter is all a-tweet with carping about Lance’s move today in the Tour. Lance rode off with a breakaway that opened a nearly 40-second gap on the peloton, which included most of the favorites. Good old Lance, you can always count on him to do the right thing in the clutch!

Lance of course is supposed to be “supporting” putative team leader Alberto Contador, as well as secondarily teammate Levi Leipheimer. Didn’t happen today. Probably isn’t gonna happen. As I’ve noted before, we all know who’s the leader of any team Lance Armstrong rides for.

I can see a conspiracy here, because team Columbia led the breakaway, and they’re American-based (San Luis Obispo), they speak English, and they have a notable Friend of Lance (George Hincapie) on the case. Maybe they slipped Lance a word on their strategy.

But Columbia couldn’t have prevented Contador and the others from joining the break. Plus the weather conditions facilitating the break — variable side and head winds — weren’t predictable enough to warrant a nefarious plot pre-stage.

Finally, we’re only talking half a minute here. Yes, seconds matter in the Tour, and yes, Greg Lemond beat Laurent Fignon by 8 seconds in the closest Tour on record.

But this early in the race, 30 seconds matters little. We’ve got a long way to go to Paris.

In reality, Lance probably took advantage of a random opportunity. But if you want my real take on conspiracy theories, it’s this: Nothing draws media attention like a little internecine spat at the start of the Tour. And no one is a bigger media magnet than Lance. Put the two together, and you’re guaranteed the big bucks that come with worldwide marketing hype.

There’s a chance Lance will take the yellow jersey after tomorrow’s time trial, but that’s only if the whole team really works to promote Lance. If there’s a less-than-100-percent effort from some high-profile team members whose initials may be A.C., we’ll know the gloves are off internally in Team Astana. But I doubt that will happen. Instead, look for an all-out effort, Lance getting the yellow for a day or two, and then things going back to normal with Alberto asserting himself as soon as the mountains loom.

My theory meshes with the report from a French rider that Contador let the break happen deliberately. Contador’s/Team Astana’s strategy: Give Lance his day or two in the sun. It’ll get worldwide notice, juice interest in this year’s Tour, Lance will be happy, and in a day or two the race can get back to May the Best Rider Win (as long as it isn’t Lance!).

Other links:

Velo News: Was Lance sending Contador a message?

Universal Sports: “You have to pay attention,” Lance the Wise One tells his slow-witted teammate Contador.

Bike Radar: Contador deliberately let the break get away.

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