Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Past and the Future of Cycling

An interesting, depressing, and exhilarating crossroads of time and space occurred in France today.

Before today's 12th stage began, cycling's past reared its ugly head in the form of another doping scandal. Ricardo Ricco, the erstwhile leader of the King of the Mountains and Young Rider classifications, as well as the winner of two mountain stages so far this year, was revealed to have been doping during the individual time trial. He was expelled from the tour and taken way by police. His Saunier-Duval team withdrew, saying that they could not in good conscience go on with their leader expelled for cheating.

After all the depressing excitement of the morning, the past gave way to the future in the form of an up-and-coming present star. Mark Cavendish, riding for the Columbia High Road team, won his third stage of this year's tour. Columbia is, as previously noted, one of the guaranteed clean teams (along with Garmin-Chipotle), who constantly test and retest their riders to make sure they are not cheating. So, in spite of the morning's events, eerily reminiscent of last year's doping-plagued Tour, there is still hope for the future of cycling, in the form of string team controls through organizations like the Agency for Cycling Ethics (ACE), which oversees both Columbia and Garmin-Chipotle.

David Millar, who served a two year ban for doping, has since become the leading anti-doping crusader in the peloton, and now rides for Garmin-Chipotle, is rarely at a loss for words. Last year, when the situation was at its worst, he broke down and cried. Today, he had this to say (from the AP via

"It's just amazing. It's irresponsible," British cyclist David Millar said. "This guy does not have any love or care for the sport.

"The unfortunate is that we are learning that things that look too good to be true are too good to be true," Millar added.

And standing above everyone in the Tour right now is Cadel Evans, the Australian who rides for Silence-Lotto. Silence-Lotto is not one of the ultra-clean teams (I am not leveling accusations at the team; I am just saying that, as far as I know, they are not associated with ACE), but I have never heard any accusations against Evans, and as far as I know, he is as squeaky clean as anyone.

So we have more bad news on the doping front, as a big name and a major contender is exposed and expelled. But we have good news as well, as a clean team's rider wins his third stage, and an ostensibly clean rider leads the GC race. Fingers crossed that we have seen the end of the big-name expulsions, but I'm not holding my breath. I just hope that some day soon we can have a Tour without the specter of doping hanging over it.

Maybe next year.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Taking the High Road and Starting Fresh

We are five days into the 2008 Tour de France, and it seems like every other commercial shows disgraced cyclists Michael Rasmussen and Jan Ulrich riding, and Floyd Landis being awarded a yellow jersey. What makes this commercial noteworthy is that all of the scenes are run in reverse, so it shows the riders moving away from the finish line and Landis removing the maillot jeune. The end of the commercial has a single rider, I believe from the disgraced (and this year banned) Astana team filling the screen and locking into the starting gate and saying "A New Stage Begins."

Today, the new stage took off. A member of the new Team Columbia High Road, Mark Cavendish, won the 232 KM stage from Cholet to Chateauroux. And after today's stage, Garmin Chipotle and Columbia High Road hold the top two places in the team time competition. On top of that, it was Garmin Chipotle rider William Frischkorn who started a breakaway in stage three that led the race for over 200 of the 208 KM. Frischkorn finished second in the stage, as the breakaway group maintained over a two minute lead on the main field of riders. Columbia High Road and Garmin Chipotle, the team formerly known as Slipstream before securing corporate sponsorship, are committed to racing clean. The teams pay for testing by the Agency for Cycling Ethics, and their riders are tested far above and beyond the requirements for the UCI or the ASO, the international governing body for cycling and the organization that puts on the Tour de France.

The early success of Columbia High Road and Garmin Chipotle give hope for both the present and future of cycling. Riders can be unquestionably clean and still have great success. For another example, Garmin Chipotle rider David Millar, who in the past served a two year ban for doping violations and has since then become the leading critic of doping in the peloton, is only 12 seconds behind the leader in the overall general classification.

Maybe this year the Tour will not be tainted by the dark cloud of doping, and can instead be a celebration of cycling, competition, and the toughest test in sports. As for me, I'm rooting for Millar and Cavendish and Frischkorn, because they do it right, honestly, and in line with the spirit of the event.

Monday, July 7, 2008

License to Pray

South Carolina is on the verge of issuing Christian license plates. The plates would have a big yellow cross and the words "I Believe" on it. The state legislature passed the authorizing legislation unanimously, and the governor allowed it to become law without his signature.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a multi-religious group currently led by a mainline Protestant reverend, opposes the plates as unconstitutionally promoting Christianity over other religious and over non-religion. License plates with other religious symbols can be requested, for a $4,000 fee, but cannot have any text and face other restrictions that the "I Believe" plates would not.

Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer, one of the leading supporters of issuing the plates, has said that issuing them is a free speech issue for Christians. Bauer went on to say that opposing the plates is equivalent to being prejudiced against Christians.

To stop the program, a Federal court will have to step in. I hope for the love of all that is holy (or unholy, I do not want to discriminate on religious grounds), that the court smacks the South Carolina legislature and Lt. Governor Bauer across the back of their collective head and screams (with more appropriate legal jargon) "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU THINKING?!?!?!"

As for me, I just have one question for the ardent Christians of South Carolina. When did religious bumper stickers go out of style?