The Amgen Tour of California - Another Year of Drama
Is there a dark shadow following the Amgen Tour of California?
The Amgen Tour of California can't get a break. Sure, the first couple of years it was nothing but sunshine and great weather. But lately there's been a dark shadow following this race.
The 2009 edition suffered with lousy weather, which kept riders on their team buses until the last moment. I remember seeing a photo of riders from the OUCH team wearing dish washing gloves as protection against the elements. That was foreshadowing for what was to happen the following year.
2010 I was standing on top of a climb somewhere in California, waiting for the peloton to pass me by when I received an email I was cc'ed on. It was the infamous Floyd Landis email in which he accused his former teammate Lance Armstrong and former director Johan Bruyneel of leading an organized doping ring during his time on the Postal Service squad. Suddenly the race was knocked off the center stage and replaced by the accusations that could potentially take down someone the general public considered a hero for battling back from cancer and winning the Tour de France seven times.
This got awkward fast with Armstrong who was racing in California and was instantly pounced upon. Unfortunately (or perhaps for him fortunately), he crashed out the following day and quickly got out of the state, thus avoiding what would have been a media circus. However the damage was done - the Landis email and its accusations consumed the press. Another phase of an ongoing doping investigation into professional cycling was starting.
In what seemed like déjà vu, the 2011 edition of the Amgen Tour of California again faced a doping accusation. It was another ex-Postal teammate, Tyler Hamilton, who went on national television on the day of the final stage of the Tour of California accusing Armstrong and Bruyneel of supplying doping products to the team. The last thing you want as a race promoter is a doping scandal that involves two of the biggest names in the sport. It tends to make both current sponsors and potential sponsors skittish. Oh, did I forget to mention that before that negative PR storm hit an actual storm rolled through stage 1, canceling the day's race. Yeah, that was bad.
Fast forward to this year's Amgen Tour of California and things were looking pretty good. The weather forecast didn't predict any of the monsoon-like conditions we'd had in the past. The course was considered to be the toughest ever, making the race actually interesting from a sporting standpoint. Dare to dream, the race still might be decided later in the week and keep us on the edge of our seat. Also, the 2011 first and second place finishers were no longer teammates, setting up what could be a great battle on the mountains of Southern California. And of course there was the 2011 third place finisher Tom Danielson who had been seriously training for California, but with the larger goal of the Tour de France. Yes, things were looking good.
You're probably well aware that the investigation by the federal government into Armstrong and the alleged doping within the Postal team suddenly ended in February. While the chance of any criminal charges were now gone, WADA (which has no criminal jurisdiction in the matter), looks to be pressing forward. At stake for Mr. Armstrong are a few of his Tour de France titles. If WADA discovers there were some doping shenanigans they can yank those titles away. Who they'd award the new Tour de France titles to I have no idea. Jan Ullrich? Joseba Beloki? Alex Zulle? Choose someone at random?
Just when you thought that the Feds dropping the case was the end of the doping accusations the word coming out of California is that after landing in the States Bruyneel was subpoenaed. Welcome back Johan!
At this point the subpoena is nothing more than a strong rumor. The RadioShack-Nissan PR machine said in a quote that Velonews tweeted, "Maertens (public relations person for Team RadioShack-Nissan) on Bruyneel subpoena rumor: if we say it's true, it's a story; if we say it's not true, it's a story, so we just will not comment." Is it a wise decision to stonewall like that?
To me it seemed like the absolute worst thing to do in a situation like this is to say, "no comment." The reason is because now you no longer own that conversation and a reporter can make his own conclusions. I decided to ask a public relations person who works for many professional athletes, including cyclists, for a professional opinion.
"It's all about public perception," my PR expert told me. "A ‘no comment' means you're guilty."
And that's what it's all about - public perception. At this point it looks like the RadioShack-Nissan management has something to hide. They should either cop to it and say something to the effect of, "Yes Johan was served and is cooperating fully" or go with John Travolta's lawyer style of full denial, "No, he wasn't served - it's a complete lie, we're suing everyone!"
Right now I assure you reporters are digging into this "no comment" and the truth will come out one way or another. My advice to Mr Bruyneel: just come out and state the truth. If you don't, it will come back to bite you in the butt.
Regardless, the Amgen Tour of California will roll on, probably not with Bruyneel in the team vehicle as he's not on the UCI list of team directors. I'm guessing he's using the ambiguous "consultant" title to get himself into the car without breaking any UCI rules. But let's push this controversy to the side - there's great racing this week.
This week cycling fans get double the racing each day. In the morning there's the Giro d'Italia, a grand tour I'm very fond of, and in the early afternoon the aforementioned Amgen Tour of California. If you employ a cycling fan, expect work productivity to plunge dramatically this week. And if you missed any of the Giro race action because of pesky work, remember RoadCycling.com has highlights from that day's stage for your viewing pleasure here (U.S. only).