Sunday, March 2, 2008

Running Clean (?)

And now, for some thoughts on sports.

I'm torn over the what to think about the Tour de France banning the Astana team from this year's event. On the one hand, this is a totally different team, that just happens to have the same name, as the team that embarrassed the Tour last year. To lump Bruyneel and Leipheimer and Contador in with the likes of Vinokourov is fundamentally unfair to the new edition of the Astana team. It is like the Cleveland Browns today. They are not the Browns of 30 years ago. Those Browns are now the Baltimore Ravens. The new Cleveland Browns are an expansion franchise. Similarly this is an entirely new Astana team.

On the other hand, as a fan, I can see the Tour's perspective with crystal clarity. I was heartbroken when Vino was caught cheating, and the entire team was expelled from the Tour after having embarrassed cycling's biggest event for the second straight year. Bruyneel, Leipheimer, and Contador knew that they were joining a team with such a horrible name recognition when they signed with Astana. It is hard to have sympathy for them when they knew what they were getting into.

Beyond the fate of the Astana team and Contador's inability to defend his Tour title, there is the ongoing conflict between the group that runs the Tour and cycling's governing body. The two-wheeled racers should learn something from their four-wheeled brethren in the United States. The recently ended 10 year war between Champ Car/CART and the IRL seriously hurt open wheel racing and opened the door for NASCAR to jump to the top of American motorsports. An ongoing conflict between cycling's governing body and its marquee event will make the sport die fast and quiet.

If they want to survive, they need to come together. They need to make sure that no team, the "new" Astana or any other, do what the "old" Astana did. Cycling knows it needs to clean up, but it needs to do so fairly. Otherwise, you end up with enduring (and unfair) questions about Lance Armstrong's 7 straight wins, and the horribly embarrassing situation of Floyd Landis, the shamed and disqualified 2006 "winner" who continues to pursue his case before the International Court of Arbitration for Sport.

2 wheels, 4 wheels, on foot, on ice, I just like racing. And cheating in one of the greatest prizes in sports makes me heartsick more than the (fine, for now I'll still call it "alleged") cheating of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. I hope the Tour goes off without a hitch this year. Cycling, sports in general, and the world at large could use it. And so could I.