August 16, 2006
Teams ask UCI to dump Phonak, Astana immediately
Phonak and Astana continue to compete, although Phonak's owner announced yesterday that he'll shutter the team at the end of the year. Astana is being managed by 3 men appointed by Manolo Saiz, whose Active Bay Cycling still owns the team's license, despite efforts by Alexandre Vinokourov and the team's new Kazakh sponsors to buy Saiz out.
With Phonak's Floyd Landis returning a too-high T/E ratio at the Tour, and facing possible revocation of his Tour title, team managers met in Brussels on Wednesday and asked the UCI's License committee to suspend both Phonak and Astana immmediately, with a ruling by Monday.
Of the ProTour's 20 teams, 17 had representatives at the meeting -- all but Phonak, Astana, and AG2R, whose Francisco Mancebo was among the riders held out of this year's Tour.
VeloNews reports that the AIGCP, the International Association of Professional Cycling Groups, also demanded that the UCI reveal all the names implicated in Operación Puerto by next Tuesday.
July 03, 2006
Vinokourov: That was my last chance at Tour victory
Eurosport | Vino's Astana to buy out Saiz Alexandre Vinokourov says he will never win the Tour de France -- as a rider. "It was without a doubt my last chance to win the Tour - and it's been stolen from me," Vinokourov told Marca. Instead, Vinokourov wants to lead the consortium of companies that stepped in when Liberty Seguros quit sponsoring the team to create the peloton's first Kazakh squad. He wants to buy out the ownership interest of Manolo Saiz, so his Active Bay company's license would be held by a new Kazakh entity. And in two years, Vinokourov says he would take over as sporting director. Vinokourov, Andrey Kashechkin, and Assan Bazayev are all Kazakhs, and Vinokourov's reputation at home is what drew the consortium into sponsoring the team. Vinokourov believes the Astaná group might have been able to avoid being eliminated from the Tour:
"We made a mistake when Astana took the place vacated by Liberty Seguros back in June. We thought we had done the most we could at the time, but we really should have already bought out Saiz straight away. "That was the only thing which would have saved the team for the departure. But I can't think of everything, and my mind was preoccupied by my Tour preparations."
July 01, 2006
Why the 9 riders were suspended
What made T-Mobile so quickly sever its relationship with Jan Ullrich? What's been shown to teams so far is the 38-page summary of the 500-page Spanish Civil Guard report, and it turns out that Spanish Civil Guard authorities had phone and SMS records that appear to show a chain of communications between someone calling himself “Rudicio” and Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes.
Late on May 17, Fuentes got an SMS message from “Rudicio,” trying to set up a conversation. The next day, around noon, he got a call from the same number, and told the caller he was busy, and could talk that evening. “But there's a time trial,” the dossier quotes the caller as saying. Ullrich's longtime trainer is Rudy Pevenage, and on May 18, Jan Ullrich won the Giro time trial.
Additionally, the codename ‘Jan’ (and I hope we somehow find that these guys weren't so dumb as to think ‘Jan’ is a good codename for someone named, um, ‘Jan’) is 4 times listed in a lab document concerning stored blood, human growth hormone, insulin-like growth factor, and testosterone patches.
At Ignacio Labarta's home, police found documents on Francisco Mancebo's annual training regimen, with symbols the police recognized from other lab documents as relating to blood transfusions and medicines, and which the Civil Guard claims identifies Mancebo as client number 17 on the numbered blood bags.
Oscar Sevilla, Santiago Botero, and Jorg Jaksche were allegedly seen arriving with Fuentes and Labarta at an apartment where “four bags of blood were refrigerated.” I don't know if they mean the four bags were found when the raids went down, but I assume that's the implication.
As for Basso, the case against him seems more circumstantial: Investigators claim Labarto referred to him, and José-Enrique Gutierrez, on the phone with Fuentes as Fuentes clients, and the Civil Guard then made the link with the codename “Barrillo,” Basso's dog's name.
Manolo Saiz apparently established the relationship between Roberto Heras and Dr. Fuentes. When he was questioned May 24, Saiz told Spanish officials that Heras insisted on using Fuentes as his team doctor, over the objections of Saiz. That seems a little strange, given that Heras is out of the sport, but Saiz was still involved with Fuentes.
Finally, officials claim they found references to Joseba Beloki in a lab document with notations for HGH, IGF-1, testosterone patches, EPO, anabolic steroids, and blood transfusions.
Posted by Frank Steele on July 1, 2006 in Doping, Francisco Mancebo, Jan Ullrich, Jorg Jaksche, Jose Enrique Gutierrez, Joseba Beloki, Manolo Saiz, Santiago Botero | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack
June 30, 2006
It's official: Vinokourov, Astaná-Wuerth out
Astaná-Würth is out of the Tour. Active Bay, which manages the team, announced the withdrawal this afternoon, when it became apparent they wouldn't have enough riders to take the start tomorrow morning in Strasbourg.
“This measure does not concern the team's riders of the Tour de France that are not included in the dossier: Alexander Vinokourov, Andrey Kashechkin, Carlos Barredo and Luis León Sanchez. Nevertheless, the withdrawal of the riders that appear in the above-mentioned dossier implies that the Tour of France team will not have the minimum number of riders demanded by the UCI rules, which means the team will not be able to take the start tomorrow morning in the Tour de France.”
Posted by Frank Steele on June 30, 2006 in Alexandre Vinokourov, Andrey Kashechkin, Doping, Jorg Jaksche, Joseba Beloki, Manolo Saiz, Top Stories, Tour de France 2006 | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack
Where the investigation stands
Spanish sports minister Jaime Lissavetsky is sending the Spanish Civil Guard's report on its Operación Puerto investigation to the Spanish Cycling Federation and the UCI for action.
Because sports doping is not a crime in Spain, riders won't likely face charges, but there may be sanctions by national federations or the UCI. They may yet be called to testify against the doctors and lab employees under investigation:
"The sportsmen cannot be held criminally responsible," he said. "I do not know whether or not the judge will ask the cyclists that figure in the Civil Guard report to appear before him."
I've seen a couple people wondering why riders weren't caught by doping tests. There are a couple of possible reasons.
First, the most innocuous possible reason is that these riders might not have been using banned substances, but only banking their own blood for later re-injection. This is what was originally called “blood doping” or “blood boosting.” Until we can see what evidence is in the 500 pages, we don't know.
Even blood doping leaves some physical evidence, but it's only visible in multiple tests over time, as riders' hematocrit level fluctuates with reinjections and training. In Tyler Hamilton's case, for instance, at his Liege-Bastogne-Liege victory, his hematocrit was barely under the legal limit, at 49.7, and his “off score” was also pegged at 132.9, with a limit of 133. These numbers don't constitute evidence of doping where the UCI is concerned, but they can get a rider put on a watch list.
Second, riders have a pretty good idea when they'll be tested. There's not a lot of out-of-competition testing, and not that many riders will be tested randomly at any given race. And there are still substances for which there's no reliable test.
I have little doubt that there will still be plenty of dopers in the Tour this year. They were smart enough or lucky enough not to use the services of this particular lab in Madrid.
June 29, 2006
Basso, Ullrich, Mancebo among riders in Puerto report
Spanish radio network Cadena Ser reports that both Tour de France favorites are named in the Operación Puerto evidence files, unsealed by a Spanish judge today.
Phonak riders José Enrique Gutierrez and Santiago Botero, withheld by the team from competition until the case was cleared up, and former Phonak rider Tyler Hamilton are also listed.
Roberto Heras, suspended from Liberty Seguros (now Astaná-Würth), and AG2R's Francisco Mancebo, have also been named, with about 50 other athletes (not all cyclists) likely to follow as the press gets the evidence files.
Tour organizers had pressed for the names of implicated riders to be released. Now they may be wishing they hadn't.
The story at El Pais (in Spanish) doesn't mention Basso, but adds T-Mobile's Oscar Sevilla, suspended Phonak rider Santago Perez, Astaná-Würth's Joseba Beloki, Angel Edo and Quiquie Gutierrez (?).
De Telegraaf claims that Rabobank's Juan Antonio Flecha and Denis Menchov (in Dutch) are also named in the 500 page report.
Posted by Frank Steele on June 29, 2006 in Doping, Francisco Mancebo, Ivan Basso, Jan Ullrich, Jose Enrique Gutierrez, Manolo Saiz, Roberto Heras, Santiago Botero, Top Stories, Tour de France 2006, Tyler Freaking Hamilton | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
June 27, 2006
CAS will rule on Astaná-Wurth by Friday
The general secretary of the Court of Arbitration for Sport will take up Astaná-Würth's case, deciding by Friday whether the team can start the Tour de France on Saturday, and whether Kazakhstan's Alexandre Vinokourov will spice up this year's Tour.
Tour organizers apparently are basing the “disinvitation” on a UCI rule allowing a team or rider “may be excluded from a race if he/it seriously blemishes the image of cycling or of the race.”
As for the UCI itself, spokesman Enrico Carpani expressed his frustration with the way that Operación Puerto is playing out in the Spanish press:
“We cannot start any disciplinary procedure against riders or teams on the basis of a newspaper report,” Carpani said. “If the secret of the investigation is lifted, we will be able to intervene, but not with the situation as it is now. We need concrete proof, and names, by the Spanish judicial authorities to have the legal basis for further action, including possible sanctions.”
June 26, 2006
ASO withdraws invitation to Astaná-Wurth
Two Spanish newspapers report that Tour de France organizers faxed Astaná-Würth co-manager Pablo Antón and the UCI that the team is not welcome at Saturday's start in Strasbourg.
Antón said he would appeal immediately to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne. His team is participating in the Tour under the auspices of the UCI ProTour, and as recently as Thursday, the UCI maintained it doesn't have sufficient evidence to exclude the squad.
Apparently, Tour organizers decided to withdraw the invitation late Monday, after the story in El Pais that claimed 15 members of the team were involved in the blood doping operation of Eufemiano Fuentes in Madrid.
I can understand the Tour's reluctance to have a team under a cloud in the race, but I don't think it's right to exclude a team on the basis of a newspaper story, even a well-sourced and believable one. When this story first hit, there were reportedly 200 riders involved — that's already been whittled down to 58.
Spanish newspapers speculate Ullrich linked to doping scandal
El Pais claims Spanish officials seized records that refer to a client called “Jan” who may also be referred to as hijo Rudicio, or Rudy's son. Ullrich kept T-Mobile's director, Rudy Pevenage, as a private coach even when the team hired Mario Kummer as director. Pevenage has returned to the team this year as the Tour de France sporting director.
A log of the contents of a laboratory refrigerator notes three units of blood labeled “JAN” as of June 26,2004. When Jose Luis Merino Batres was arrested, he had what appeared to be a customer key in his possession, noting:
1 - Hijo Rudicio. 2 - Birillo. 4 - Nicolas. 5 - Sevillano. 6 - Sancti Petri. 12 - Guti. 13 - Serrano (alcalde). 14 - RH. 16 - Vicioso. 17 - Porras. 19 - Oso. 20 - Bella (Jörg). 24 - Clasicómano (Luigi). 25 - Amigo de Birillo. 26-Huerta. 32 - Zapatero. 33 - Clasicómano.
The story claimed a survey from last month, May 2006, showed 6 total bags labeled “1,” with one dated May 2005, two dated September 2005, one dated December 2005, and one dated February 2006. El Pais further claims the office desk planner has patient 1 receiving 3 units of blood and half a unit of red blood cells on May 1, 5 days before the start of the Giro. Patient 1 was scheduled for another transfusion last week, on June 20, 10 days before the Tour.
However Ullrich said in a team statement: "That has nothing to do with me," and his T-Mobile sporting director and mentor Rudy Pevenage added: "We have done nothing wrong."
June 25, 2006
Spanish riders nix national championship after doping story
Juan Manuel Garate will wear the Spanish national champion's jersey for another year, but he barely had to turn a pedal in anger.
The riders banded together and decided not to race, in reaction to the ongoing furor over Operación Puerto. Today, El Pais published a story (en Español) saying 58 riders are implicated in the investigation.
The new story provides more detail on the investigation, but still doesn't name any riders. It does claim that 15 of the riders were part of Liberty Seguros (now Astaná-Würth), and that others rode in last month's Giro d'Italia. El Pais quotes unreleased court documents that riders paid up to 40,000 euros a year for treatment.
Because doping in sport isn't a crime in Spain, prosecutors are apparently working toward charging those involved with “crimes against public health,” which might depend on how the doctors conserved the blood. Riders involved could, of course, also face sanctions from the Spanish cycling federation or the UCI.
The story also clarifies that Manolo Saiz was not carrying blood when he was arrested, but Synacthen.
The Spanish pros decided unanimously to skip the race, coming to a halt after less than 1 kilometer. CyclingNews quotes an unidentified cyclist that “we are not prepared to undergo this orchestrated harassment.”
June 13, 2006
Comunidad Valenciana excluded from '06 Tour
No great surprise, but the other shoe fell today. Comunidad Valenciana, a Spanish team whose assistant director is one of the key people allegedly under investigation in Operación Puerto, was kicked off the 2006 Tour de France by organizers.
As a wildcard invitation, CV's participation was solely at the discretion of the Amaury Sport Organisation, the Tour's parent company, and ASO wants nothing to do with a team under investigation. José Ignacio Labarta's resignation June 1 didn't appease race organizers.
The harder case is Astaná-Würth, where the team is riding in the Tour by virtue of its ProTour license, and so can only be kicked out by the UCI. The team's former director and co-owner, Manolo Saiz, resigned June 9th. He is reportedly not an organizer of the doping ring under investigation, but is suspected of being a customer of the ring.
Of Saiz, the organizers say:
Concerning his team and because of this year’s system, except for invitations, the participation is decided by the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) through the attribution of licences by a special commission. Therefore the Tour de France awaits an upcoming decision of this commission concerning the presence in its event of a team in which one of the main shareholders is blamed in a doping issue.
Finally if riders or members of the team staff are accused by the Spanish justice before the start or during the event, the ethics code decided by the sporting groups envisaging the withdrawal or retiry of people concerned, will be strongly applied.
Procycling reports the UCI decision on Astaná is expected tomorrow.
There are going to be a lot of riders having trouble sleeping for the next two weeks.
May 25, 2006
Bombshell: Liberty Seguros ceases sponsorship of team
procycling | Liberty Seguros pulls plug on Saiz! The Spanish arm of Liberty Mutual will stop sponsoring one of Spain's premier cycling squads, after the team's director was arrested in connection with a blood doping probe. Six riders from Liberty Seguros are still contesting the Giro, but ProCycling quotes a release from the parent company that they are ceasing sponsorship as of today. The Boston-based company had modified its sponsorship after team rider Roberto Heras tested positive for EPO during last year's Vuelta a España, and cited the tighter anti-doping terms in ending its sponsorship:
"The implications of Manolo Saiz's detention are highly alarming: they damage our name and cycling's name," the statement continued.
Among the team's riders are Alexandre Vinokourov, Alberto Contador, Davide Etxebarria, Andrey Kashechkin, and Allan Davis; the fate of the riders' contracts is currently up in the air. Also: VeloNews.com | Liberty pulls plug on sponsorship VeloNews quotes from this L'Equipe story (in French | Google English translation) that a Spanish radio network is reporting that Jan Ullrich was among Fuentes' clients, along with about 200 others, after claiming Tuesday that Basso was. Both riders have previously worked with Luigi Cecchini, mentioned in some stories as a friend and collaborator with Fuentes. Like Basso, Ullrich denies receiving medical support from Cecchini, but says the doctor has assisted with his training. In any case, Ullrich said on the T-Mobile web site: “I have never worked together with Fuentes.” VN also reports that Vinokourov says, characteristically, that he's riding the Tour, team or no team. cyclingnews.com | Liberty Seguros terminate contract
Posted by Frank Steele on May 25, 2006 in Alberto Contador, Alexandre Vinokourov, Andrey Kashechkin, Doping, Jan Ullrich, Jorg Jaksche, Joseba Beloki, Luis Sanchez, Manolo Saiz, Top Stories | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack
May 24, 2006
Saiz released, Spain pledges doping crackdown
Manolo Saiz has been released, but will likely be called before a judge during the investigation, Eurosport reported today. EFE reports that Saiz is suspected of being a client of the doping group, not an organizer (ProCycling story in English | AS story en Español). El Pais also reports that 200 bags of blood were found in the raid, and that investigators had pictures of former ONCE doctor Eufemiano Fuentes handing off doping supplies to Saiz.
Fuentes remains in custody in the case, as do Ignacio Laberta, assistant director of the Comunidad Valenciana team, former mountain biker Alberto León, and hematologist and lab owner Jose Luis Merino.
Apparently, the group had been under surveillance for 4 months or more, and investigators are reportedly looking through images to identify athletes who have visited the clinic, after which they'll try to match athletes to identifiers on the blood bags or through DNA testing.
Meanwhile, ProCycling quotes “reports in the Spanish press” in a story suggesting that Giro leader Ivan Basso may have been working with Eufemiano Fuentes. Basso denied this, saying of Saiz:
“We are good friends. But it’s too much to say, without any proof, that doctors within his circle have been involved in my preparation.”
Another interesting angle ProCycling picks up from a story in AS is: “the three-month investigation has been focused on the Canary Islands. They also report more people are likely to be detained in the coming days.”
May 23, 2006
Manolo Saiz, Liberty Seguros physician arrested, suspected of doping
There's a report out of Spain that Liberty Seguros DS Manolo Saiz was arrested today in Madrid, along with team doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, in connection to a doping case.
At least three others have reportedly been detained, and the investigation apparently centers on blood boosting, the process of extracting blood for later transfusion to riders, boosting their red cell count to as near the 50 percent UCI hematocrit limit as possible. Saiz formerly led Team ONCE, the Spanish powerhouse.
Jesus Manzano, formerly of Kelme, in 2004 told Spanish daily AS that blood boosting was widespread, and often involved transfusing one rider's blood into another rider. Phonak's Tyler Hamilton and Santiago Perez have both since been suspended for having traces of another person's blood in samples they provided.
Liberty Seguros lost Roberto Heras to a positive EPO test during last year's Vuelta, and are expected to be led at this year's Tour by Alexandre Vinokourov. No riders have yet been named in the investigation.
July 26, 2005
Vinokourov to Liberty Seguros
Alexandre Vinokourov, whose aggressive riding animated the 2005 Tour, will join Manolo Saiz' Liberty Seguros squad.
The team's previous Tour leader, Roberto Heras, had a disappointing Tour in 45th, and Saiz said publicly during the Tour that Heras would ride the Giro and not lead the team's Tour squad next season.
Vinokourov will bring along a fellow Kazakh, Sergey Yakovlev, from T-Mobile.
"They have the best riders in the mountains and are among the best in the team time trials. It was almost a natural choice," he said of Liberty Seguros.
"We have discussed my programme for 2006 - I've had the guarantee I will be able to fully focus on the Tour de France."
June 29, 2005
Beloki: "What I want out of this Tour is to feel good again"
One of the wildcards in this year's Tour is Joseba Beloki, 2nd in the 2002 Tour and 3rd in 2000 and 2001 before the crash (and the writer's guild says I have to call it "horrific") that took him out of the 2003 Tour on Stage 9.
Beloki did exactly nothing during 2004. He rode for Brioches La Boulangère, and just didn't seem to fit. He also complained that team doctors wouldn't let him take his asthma medication, Pulmicort, even though Beloki said he had used it since childhood.
This year, he's reunited with Manolo Saiz, the director he raced for at ONCE, at Liberty Seguros, and says he expects to ride in support of Roberto Heras:
"I have an important role to play. I think that Heras is very strong on the mountains, and I will try to be as close to him as possible," Beloki said. "If possible, I'll try to create a surprise and get as far ahead as possible, which would be good for everyone."
December 01, 2004
Beloki back with Saiz at Liberty Seguros
Spain's Joseba Beloki is going home, to the Liberty Seguros team managed by Manolo Saiz.
Beloki finished on the podium at the Tour de France in 2000 and 2002, second in 2002, while riding for Saiz at ONCE. In 2003, Beloki broke several bones in a crash during Stage 9 of the Tour, and hasn't returned to form since.
"My aim is to be the rider that I once was during the Tour," he told Spanish sports daily Marca.
"After many days of uncertainty and anxiety about my future, at last I'll be able to sleep well."
One effect of the new ProTour is that it's less of an issue that Liberty Seguros already has a leader in Roberto Heras, because the team will have to contest more races to be competitive in the new series.
October 29, 2004
CSC signs 6 riders, Jaksche to Liberty Seguros
VeloNews | Vande Velde, Zabriskie to CSC Team CSC announced its 2005 squad, and Bobby Julich, fresh from his bronze in the Athens time trial, is still in the saddle, while Americans Dave Zabriskie (ex-US Postal) and Christian Vande Velde (ex-Liberty Seguros) join Bjarne Riis' squad, whose Tour GC threat remains Ivan Basso. Germany's Jorg Jaksche returns to DS Manolo Saiz, for whom he rode from 2001-2003. He'll ride for Saiz' Liberty Seguros squad next season.
Team CSC in 2005: Ivan Basso, Michele Bartoli, Fabrizio Guidi, Giovanni Lombardi and Andrea Peron (I); Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Nor); Lars Bak, Michael Blaudzun, Matti Breschel, Thomes Eriksen, Lars Michaelsen, Jakob Piil, Nicki Soerensen and Brian Vandborg (Den); Handbook Calvente and Carlos Sastre (Sp); Vladimir Goussev (Rus); Tristan Hoffmann (Ned); Peter Luttenberger (A), Andy and Frank Schleck (Lux); Jens Voigt (G); and Bobby Julich, Christian Vande Velde and David Zabriskie (USA).
July 22, 2004
Heras drops out before Stage 17
Liberty Seguros leader Roberto Heras, who many saw as a race favorite with the preponderance of climbs in the last week of the Tour, didn't take the sign-in this morning.
"We haven't been able to get him back to full fitness," said team chief Manolo Saiz before the stage start.
"We've had to take a decision that isn't to our liking, but we're professionals and life must go on."
Alessandro Bertolini of Alessio-Bianchi also didn't take the sign-in, and Laurent Lefevre of Brioches La Boulangere signed in but didn't start the race.
July 18, 2004
Saiz: Bruyneel 'disrespectful'
There have been a few stories about the generational change that's happening in the peloton as a younger generation of riders like Thomas Voeckler, Fabian Cancellara, and Tom Boonen have made their mark on the 2004 Tour.
There's also starting to be a generational change among team directors, as a number of teams are being run by guys who were riding the Tour themselves well into the '90s, like Johan Bruyneel, Bjarne Riis at CSC, Bruno Cenghialta at Alessio-Bianchi, and Erik Breukink at Rabobank.
One of the sport's grand old managers is Manolo Saiz, now of Liberty Seguros, who also managed the ONCE team through its heyday, but who has never won the Tour. Saiz has taken exception to some recent comments by US Postal director Johan Bruyneel and CSC director Bjarne Riis.
Bruyneel, subject of a long profile in Friday's Washington Post, came in for it for suggesting that José Azevedo, formerly with ONCE, is actually an improvement over Roberto Heras, now with Saiz at Liberty Seguros.
“I find it disrespectful to talk about Heras, a rider who helped Armstrong to win three Tours de France, in those terms,” said Saiz, who managed Bruyneel in his riding days at ONCE. “It is also poppycock: Azevedo rides three kilometres a day, he finishes off the job of the other US Postal riders on the climbs. Talk to me about George Hincapie or Viatcheslav Ekimov. That I can take. They ride all day on the flat then lead Lance up the climbs, too. They are real domestiques. Or talk to me about Armstrong: he is someone I have real respect for.”
Riis claimed that his CSC team is one of a very few teams who came to the Tour prepared. They're currently leading the team competition and their Ivan Basso has a stage win and high GC placing.
Liberty Seguros, on the other hand, is 13th in the team competition, with Roberto Heras in 35th their best-placed rider, and without a stage win. Riis, in other words, hit a nerve:
“Of Riis, I would say that it’s easy to talk when things are going well,” Saiz continued. “If Ivan Basso loses 20 minutes tomorrow, then we will see if Riis is still a genius. How long has he been a directeur sportif? If I want advice on managing a team I’m happy to listen to someone like Giancarlo Ferretti, who has been doing the job for 20-odd years. Ferretti knows that miracles don’t happen overnight. All it takes is a fall or an injury to one of your riders to bring you down a few pegs.”
And what of Heras?
“I have no answers,” Saiz admitted. “Roberto doesn’t have any physical problems that we know of. His preparation was almost the same as the one which took Joseba Beloki onto the podium of the Tour in 2000, 2001 and 2002. The only difference was that Roberto had one more week to rest in June. Now it’s my job to keep my team’s morale up until the end of the Tour.”
July 02, 2004
Saiz: 'Selfish' Armstrong has 80 percent chance in Tour
Manolo Saiz is the director of Liberty Seguros, and for years directed the powerhouse ONCE team that included at times Alex Zulle, Joseba Beloki, Laurent Jalabert, and Abraham Olano. This year, he'll try to put Roberto Heras on the podium's top spot, but he gives Armstrong an 80 percent chance of taking his sixth consecutive Tour.
That doesn't mean he's happy about it, however. Saiz is typical of many around the sport who think a "true champion" is one who beats all comers all year round. Their archetype is Eddy Merckx, the Belgian who did just that, but still won 5 Tours.
"As usual, [Armstrong] will pack a season's worth of racing into 23 days.
"Listen, I've got heaps of respect for Armstrong on a professional level. He's an authentic champion, and a great one at that. But he's always had a selfish approach to cycling. He's taken a lot from the sport, but he hasn't given much back in return."
So who's the best Tour rider ever?
"There's no comparison," he said, using Merckx as an example. "Merckx gave everything he had to the sport. The whole season. That's what separates the European idea of cycling from the American idea. It's not a judgment, just an opinion. But for all those reasons, that's why I hope he doesn't become the first rider to win the Tour six times."
And what about Roberto Heras, Armstrong's teammate in last year's Tour, now leading the Liberty Seguros team Saiz manages?
"[N]ow he's going to have to prove he's worthy of being the team leader, that he can attack and take the race by the scruff of the neck. I believe he has the ability, and I can see that he is concentrated and motivated. He has a solid team around him. It should be a great challenge."