2011: A Record Year for Drama?

Jan 27 2011

Contador InterviewDid I not mention a little something about there being plenty of room for forthcoming drama at the head of my last post? Good gravy, it’s been a busy week—and it’s only Thursday.

Leadoff: Alberto Contador gets a one-year suspension from the Spanish Federation, or RFEC for those of us who don’t like typing. The RFEC hasn’t announced it yet and won’t make it official until 9 February, Contador’s not talking about it until the 28th, though it’ll all be shuffleboard on the Lusitania if the ban ends upbackdated until last July.

If you’d think this might cause some conflict amongst late-season race organizers you’re clearly not Vuelta organizer Javier Gullien:

“We’d love it if Contador could race the Vuelta.”

Outside organizers, near universal-dissatisfying with the announcement has spun off all sorts of substories; lack of monetary clawback, impotent dissastifaction from the UCI (not that they’ve done anything about it in the areas they do control), calls for a Clenburterol threshold, and even messages of support.

Personally I don’t have much to say on it other than that, when I said I’d hoped the B-sample would come back clean (or conversely, massively and incontrovertibly positive), this was what I was trying to avoid. People seem to think positive tests are bad for the sport; the same logic would also say that indicting CEOs is bad for the economy.

No, the real damage is done when the sport can’t properly enforce its own rules. In the past, the standard for a one-year suspension via the Frogman Defense has been impressively high [pdf]; even if the REFC has no appreciation for stare decisis in the Contador case, they could at least pretend that it’s not a negotiation.

The impact of such an absurdly arbitrary judicial process is compounded because chaotic and whimsical decision-making elicits a reaction piece from pretty much everyone. I get the sense that all parties involved think they’ve put this to bed without losing too much face; it’s obvious to everyone else that they created a story that will never die.

Speaking of unending storylines, a certain seven-time Tour de France winner hasn’t been his usual media-savvy self lately. Armstrong recently took his ball and went home after a relatively tame question about a tweet, and two of the most prominent members of his inner circle couldn’t manage a compelling answer for why Armstrong teammate Yaroslav Popovych hadn’t been suspended while he’s an active target of a doping investigation. Hardly the work of a group that’s “not worried” or planning to bow out in style.

Trent LoweIf the Contador suspension sticks, and if Armstrong ends up getting indicted before (or even during) July, how thoroughly must the ASO be regretting last week’s snub of Carlos Sastre? He is, after all, the last Tour champ standing, and ironically enough, the only active Tour winner whose team was not invited to the race.

Of course, you could have it worse than the ASO—you could be Trent Lowe. To all the other young cyclists out there, a word of advice: don’t get into a public dispute with Jon Vaughters, and if you do, don’t bring a knife to that particular gunfight. We all laugh at Fabiani, but Foghorn has a fairly impressive set of palmares—what you’d expect as part of the the gold standard for legal teams in all of sports.

While I like Vaughters, it’s best to remember that there are shark teeth behind those sideburns. The very existence of Garmin-Cervelo—a (hopefully) clean and very American team in a European and still-dope-riddled sport—is a tribute to the man’s business savvy. But along with this comes a tremendously limited tolerance for inefficiency; while there are plenty of former Vaughter inefficiencies out there, most know better than to mix it up with the Turtleneck.

So if this January indicates nothing else, 2011 is going to be a banner year for Toto.

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