Friday, February 15, 2008
To the left is Levi Leipheimer, the cyclist I was hoping would win this year's Tour de France. Why? Because I have great sympathy for any world-class athlete named Levi. But the Tour organizers have dashed my hopes, announcing that Leipheimer's Astana team will be barred form participating in this year's race. That team also includes the 2007 Tour de France champion and undisputed wearer of Le Maillot Jaune, Alberto Contador, and the talented German rider, Andreas Kloeden. Kloeden wowed me in last year's Tour by riding heroically on a broken tailbone until his team pulled out when team leader Alexander Vinokourov was dismissed from the Tour for blood doping.
Vinokourov is no longer with Team Astana, and that team has also hired a new manager, Johan Bruyneel, who led Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador to victory in past Tours. I'm not sure why Astana should be excluded from the Tour when they've had such turnover. It's not like Astana is the only team that ran into trouble in last year's tour. What about Rabobank? But here's what I really don't get, and I will be grateful to anyone who can explain this to me. It seems like any team would kill to get Leipheimer, Kloeden and Contador -- especially Contador, who was just brilliant in last year's tour. What sort of contractual obligations might prevent these riders from jumping ship to a team with which they can actually compete in the main events in their sport?