Whose Game Is It?

May 27 2010

Giro TrophyI had initially planned to write this earlier, since yesterday’s group sprint outcome was almost a sure thing, but I take nothing for granted with this Giro.

It’s a strange situation the race finds itself in now. Arroyo’s defense of the maglia rosa has been both spirited and intelligent, and the Spaniard, if he does manage to hold on through the two hellacious remaining mountain stages, plus a final “eff-you” time trial, will have proven himself a worthy winner.

That said, he’s being pursued full-gas by Basso and Evans, who seem pretty deadlocked in terms of fitness and performance. I’ll even mention Carlos Sastre, who, while he’s lost time in every major mountain stage, has pulled off unlikelier GC wins, and showed tremendous last-week form in ’09.

The thing is, there hasn’t been a real effort that’s set any one rider apart; no audacious stamp of authority. Basso made a compelling argument on Zoncolan, but that climb isn’t really typical of the mayhem to come. Plus, after only a day’s rest, Evans managed to pull back 30 seconds in an uphill TT. After 18 stages, there’s still a power vacuum atop the Giro GC.

Figuratively speaking, I think a week after its detonation the parties involved in the “Land Grenade” drama finds themselves in a similar position. Sure, Lance has fired off his usual denials and attacks, but they haven’t been especially effective in silencing or even reducing the questions Landis’ confessions raised.

Floyd’s recent detailing of how EPO is used to mask blood transfusions went a long way toward deflecting the notion, propagated by Armstrong, that Landis is on a destructive mission of revenge. Certainly, those tasked with doing the actual monitoring of test data have appreciated it.

That said, the Landis revelations haven’t been a slam dunk, either. They’re devoid of any proof, and even after the organization’s initial response was roundly rejected as limp and ineffectual, the UCI is still mopping its brow about appearances—regardless of whether Floyd can substantiate his allegations. I think it’s pretty clear the cycling authorities won’t be the ones to make this particular race.

It might be easy to just write Floyd off as the next Jesus Manzano at this point, but consider the reponses of Jonathan Vaughters and Michael Berry. Vaughters, who is alleged to have done some IMing on the subject with Frankie Andreu, and who is a top contender for the anonymous “other Postal rider” who confessed with Frankie Andreu, didn’t exactly pull one off the denial wheel in his official statement defending Dave Zabriskie:

“I’m going to stay focused on keeping this team, and its tradition, and doing what we’ve always said we’re doing, standing for fair competition and clean racing…I think Dave is going to focus on winning this race clean, along with the rest of our team.” [source]

Not exactly, “Dave has always been clean, and Floyd is bitter and steals from innocents and wants to destroy cycling”, is it? Similarly, Michael Barry’s reply was a bit of a one-off. While he does seem to characterize Landis’ allegations in general as “completely untrue”, this part absolutely blew me away:

“I did not share or use any banned substances such as EPO when I was riding with him and am dismayed at his allegations. Landis is either lying or has mistaken me with another rider.” [source, emphasis mine]

I readily admit this is my own interpretation, but if I were looking for a way to say “yeah, there was doping during my time at Postal, but I was able to do my job without it”, that’s the sort of delivery I’d use. Treading further out onto the plank of opinion, I think these “open” denials indicate there’s something Vaughters and Barry would like to see made public, but—likely due to the hyper-political environment of cycling—they’re unwilling to do it themselves.

Floyd Landis up closeSo who’s going to make the big move to seize the proverbial Landisgate crown? Sure, any attack comes with risks—Armstrong is a herd of 600-pound gorillas outside cycling, and a veritable Berlusconi within it—but to belabor the metaphor, Armstrong comes into the closing stages with a GC lead. If someone else wants to win this, they’ll need to attack.

The media, traditional dispatcher of tyrants, may or may not make the move. VeloNews and Cyclingnews, whose pages cannot be refreshed without triggering another animated advertisement featuring the Texan, seem unlikely candidates. However, Lionel Bernie of Cycling Weekly has been putting his time since quitting Twitter to exceptionally effective use, amassing a pile of facts, and following the various threads surrounding the case until they end, with increasingly suspicious regularity, in “no comment”.

Ultimately, it may be the United States Government who decides this one. And if past experiences is any indication, those final stages will take a long, long time to play out. I’m just thankful that whatever happens in the Giro, it will be decided by lunchtime (EDT) on Sunday.

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