Het Volk (aka Omloop Het Nieuwsblad) is less then 3 weeks away but with several key off the bike stories about to come to conclusions expect the cycling media to be filled with chaos as well as cobbles.
The first merde to hit the fan will be the result of Anti-Doping Denmark’s multi-year investigation into Bjarne Riis and his team. ADD has talked with many of riders and staff who worked with Riis over the last couple decades and most indications are that the report will not be good. Riis is very aware something bad is coming his way.The investigation has been a significant source of stress for him and was the primary reason he sold his team to Oleg Tinkov.
There is ample evidence Riis not only participated in but also enabled doping for many years but the case is far from a slam dunk. ADD faces some significant statue of limitation hurdles if it decides to sanction him. Regardless of his history Riis has always been solid tactician. The wise move would be to talk with ADD and CIRC, as both Brian Cookson and Lance Armstrong have suggested, and negotiate a reduced sanction……or he could go down with the ship and roll his dice at CAS.
USADA to play a key roll, like they did in the Leinders case. Many of the key witnesses, Hamilton, Julich, Zabriskie, Vande Velde, are Americans who were originally questioned by USADA. Hamilton has some of the more damaging testimony, saying Riis introduced him to Fuentes and encouraged him to do transfusions. The others tell a different story. Zabriskie and Vande Velde both have said that, unlike USPS, there was no team doping program at CSC. The full extent of Julich testimony is not yet known. USADA playing a key roll in sanctioning Riis, like they did with Leinders, Ferrari, del Morel, Celya, Marti, Bruyneel, etc, may finally quite some of the “Witch Hunt” babble.
February also brings the end of Lausanne Universities’ audit of Astana, which is certain to be dissected like the Dead Sea Scrolls. Dan Wuori wrote an open letter to Brian Cookson that reflects the opinion of many fans; Astana has to go. While I agree with much of what Dan wrote I know that after McQuaid lost to Katusha at CAS Cookson’s options were limited. Cookson will need some Danny MacAskill level skill to emerge from this mess with a solution fans will be happy with.
Even to jaded followers of cycling the reports from the Padova doping investigation were disturbing. The number of riders and teams involved was significant but much of the evidence was from 4+ years ago. A key exception was Ferrari supposedly attending a 2013 Astana training camp. Since La Gazzetta’s report several riders and staff have come forward to say Ferrari was not there. I have spoke to several people who were at the camp who also say they never saw him. The UCI has the complete 550 page report, if it includes recent photographic evidence of Ferrari, Vino and Astana their time as a World Tour team is over.
There have been rumors that Vino followed Cookson’s advice and met with the CIRC. “Met” is nice word. “Talk” is something completely different. Most who have engaged with Vino will tell you that his communication is mostly grunts, mumbles and shrugs. I am sure Vino has some great stories of Godefroot, Pevenage, Ludwig, and Saiz but sharing them with the CIRC or the University of Lausanne? I doubt it.
If Vino does talk I hope he tells what actually happened in the 2007 Tour when he tested positive for blood doping using someone else’s blood, rumored to be his fathers
“On the way home in the car I heard on the radio that I did a transfusion with my father’s blood,” Vinokourov said. “That’s absurd, I can tell you that with his blood, I would have tested positive for vodka.”
Pushing big money sponsors out of the sport is not easy, especially when the team also includes the reigning Tour de France Champion. It is possible the audit results in Astana keeping it’s license but with a mandate they must purge some of the key staff. Hard to image Astana without Vino…what kind of water will they serve at the team dinner table?
The report from the CIRC is also on the spring schedule, due early March at the latest. As with anything in cycling expect delays, leaks, and lots details about events that had been rumored for years, but what about the results? Some banned for life riders went to the CRIC multiple times in hopes of getting a reduction in their ban, only to be told thanks but no reduction……..Oh well, more time to work on your golf game
Since I wrote this post on the price of oil and it’s effect on cycling there has been little improvement. Tinkoff Credit Systems stock is still a mess and Oleg has been telling people “Don’t believe the propaganda”. Banks run on confidence so it is understandable that Tinkoff is trying to deflect negative attention but Russia’s GDP is shrinking and Tinkoff Credit Systems percentage of non-performing loans has doubled on one quarter. These are facts, not propaganda.