When I was putting together ideas for this column earlier in the week, I was set on writing about the changing fortunes of riders from different generations. Thats how it started out, but my ideas took a tangent when a new (and hopefully final) installment began in the saga pitting anti-doping authorities against seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, his team manager, team doctors and trainers. But, as it happens, my early plans for the column werent too far off the markthere have been changing fortunes for many people in cycling this past week, most of them associated in some way with the RadioShack-Nissan-Trek team.
The week opened in a strange way at the Critrium du Dauphin when a gust of wind swept RadioShack team leader Andy Schleck off his time-trial bike and dumped him on a French back road. He was in all sorts of pain but struggled on for two days before he was forced to quit the race partway through Saturdays mountain stage, when he climbed into his team car with RadioShack team manager, Johan Bruyneel. Both would be in the news later in the week, and not in ways they wanted!
While Schleck was flying home to Luxembourg for an MRI on his injured back, another expected Tour de France favorite, Brad Wiggins, and his impressive Team Sky were so impressive they were compared with dominant teams of the past, including Armstrongs U.S. Postal Service squad. And the inevitable rumors began circulating on the Web of organized doping within this newly unbeatable team. The rumors are unjust of courseSky has developed perhaps the most stringent training program in cycling historybut allegations against the team will probably continue if Wiggins and company take their Dauphin form into that much bigger media circus known as the Tour de France.
As the Dauphin ended, hoped-for success didnt quite materialize for RadioShack-Nissan in the opening stages of the Tour de Suisse. First, an astounding time-trial by Liquigas-Cannondales Slovak phenom Peter Sagan, 22, enabled him to defeat RadioShacks Swiss legend, Fabian Cancellara. The next day, Cancellaras teammate Frnk Schleck, his anger fueled by the medias scathing criticism of him and his brother for their poor 2012 seasons, attempted to restore the family (and his teams) waning reputation with an impressive attack on Mondays mountaintop stage finish at Verbier.
However, befitting of RadioShacks bad week, the elder Schleck, later admitting he attacked too soon, was caught in the final uphill turns and passed before the line by the surprising Portuguese rider Rui Costa of Movistar. Then, at the end of this week, Cancellara was beaten again (and again by two seconds!), this time in a much longer time trial, by the unheralded Swede Fredrik Kessiakoff of Astana, while defending Suisse champion Levi Leipheimer disappointed his Omega Pharma-Quick Step team with a below-par performance that left him in seventh overall entering the races final weekend.
The one bright spot for American cyclings older generation seemed to come on Tuesday when Leipheimers and Armstrongs erstwhile teammate George Hincapie, 39 next week, grabbed the headlines by announcing his plans to retire in late Augustafter riding what will be his record 17th Tour de France. Unfortunately, Hincapie would be mentioned in less-flattering context the next day, when his 11 seasons working at U.S. Postal for Armstrong and Bruyneel were brought into the media spotlight after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency revealed its plans to go ahead with an inquiry into the American teams alleged doping conspiracy.
But before that revelation, Bruyneel and his current team, RadioShack, made waves in other directions. First, the London-based Belgian team manager revealed that his 14-man long team for the upcoming Tour didnt include the ever-popular Chris Horner. At first, a team spokesman said the 40-year-old Californian had an injured back, even though Horner had been tweeting about 600-mile training weeks. Later, in a phone interview with my old VeloNews colleague Andy Hood, Bruyneel revealed that Horner ruled himself out of the Tour team by not starting the Tour of Switzerlandeven though the U.S. veteran also missed the Swiss race last year to focus on training for the Tour.
It was ironic, and perhaps fitting, that later the same day, Andy Schleck was in a Luxembourg hospital when he got the bad details of his MRI, showing a fracture and bruising in the sacral section of his pelvis that will keep him out of competition for six weeks. So, no Tour de France for the younger Schleckand, after the initiation of the USADA investigation into the actions of Bruyneels former teams, theres an outside chance that Tour de France organizer ASO will decide to exclude the entire RadioShack-Nissan team for contravening its moral conduct rules.
Its much too soon to predict the outcome of USADAs actions, but they have already had a wide impact. The European press, led by French newspaper Lquipe, has concluded that Armstrong, Bruyneel and their colleagues will be found guilty of running a doping conspiracy, using headlines such as Caught by his Shadow and The Fall of the House of Bruyneel. But whether there will be a lifetime ban from competition for Armstrong (including his much-vaunted bid to become world Ironman champion in Hawaii this year) and a ban from cycling activities for Bruyneel (and the probable transfer of the Schlecks to another team) is far from certain.
As an older generation of athletes and officials becomes mired in their collective past, so a new one began to emerge from the fog of an Italian mountainside this week, headed by a member of Armstrongs own development team, Bontrager-Livestrong. The teams phenomenally promising climber Joe Dombrowski, just 21, took the pink jersey in the under-23s Giro by winning the stage to the summit of Monte Terminilloand though he lost the lead because of a puncture in Tuscany, Dombrowski may get it back this weekend when a stage finishes atop the mighty Passo di Gavia, where, in 1988, Andy Hampsten scored one of the greatest triumphs of a former American generation.