Paris-Nice, Milan-Turin, ProTour Debate Goes On

Mar 6 2006

Man, I gotta stop taking these weekend junkets around New England; it’s cutting down on productivity. It is, also, however, streamlining my posts dramatically. For example, I have to cut right to the chase that Tom Boonen used his sprint win in Stage 2 of Paris-Nice to wrest the GC lead from defending champ Bobby Julich. Boonen bankrolled today’s wardrobe change with a suprisingly strong ride in yesterday’s prologue, only 3 seconds down of Julich, and ahead of such short TT specialists as Brad Wiggins and Rik Verbrugghe. Having covered Paris-Nice, I can now hop south to Italy, to another event where riders are forced to use the cold parts of the country for racing, when perfectly acceptable warm parts are going unutilized. ’03 World Champ and red-headed stepchild of fortune, Igor Astarloa, from the Barloworld sqaud, put the jets to a trio of Pro Tour Italians in the 91st installment of the Race from Milan to Turin. Stephano Garzelli finished just behind Erik Zabel as the bunch rolled in 7 seconds later, probably because he was busy trying to figure out what the hell was on his head.

Sure, there were other stories from the weekend to report (Santos Gonzalez’ GC win at Murica, the exciting crash (scroll to “Injured Breschel”) at West Flanders, etc) but I don’t have space. Instead, I’m going air my greivances about the ProTour. I mean, it was founded and sold to the cycling world on pretences that it would revolutionize cycling, right? I was told the ProTour would guarantee that the “best” riders went up against the other “best” riders more often; that it would offer riders some shelter from the volatile financial foundations that saw pro cyclng teams pop up and wilt like dandelions. But has any of that really happened? We can count on NOT seeing Tom Boonen and Alessandro Petacchi go head to head this week, as one will be at Paris-Nice, the other, Tirreno-Adriatico. Both events are ProTour races, but they overlap, forcing some of the “best” riders not compete against each other. Then there’s the “best” riders not in the ProTour – they have to wait for wild card slots to win races, while in every flat Tour stage, I spend two hours watching another Bouygues Telecom no-name get pulled back into the field with 5k to go.

And as far as creating stability among the teams goes? Well, let’s see; there was the Fassa Bortolo thing, where a sponsor allegedly committed to 4 years of sponsorship, but pulled out after only one; then there was the Sony Ericsson fiasco that left a fistful of quality riders suddenly unemployed; and now there’s fact that non-ProTour teams want to fold (scroll to “Unibet Protests”) as soon as they miss out on Grand Tour wild cards. Doesn’t really sound like improved job security to me. But maybe you’re a fan of the ProTour’s expanded ethical charter, designed to stem drug usage. Since it was first put down on paper, Tyler Hamilton, Santi Perez, Aitor Gonzalez, Danilo Hondo, Roberto Heras and dozens of lesser known riders have come up positive for various forms of doping. Seems to have failed about as thoroughly as the other goals have, doesn’t it? It really makes me wonder just what exactly the UCI is going to say to the Grand Tour Organizers today, to try and keep them from pulling out of the circuit.

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