Finally coming clean

Lance_floyd NEW YORK — Let’s just get it out of the way at the top… Lance Armstrong is going down and he is going down hard. It’s not unreasonable to believe that jail time could be involved for the seven-time Tour de France champion when the government concludes its investigation.

See, the United States federal government does not like it when a person lies to them. It is quirky that way.

But the thing the government dislikes the most is when it doesn’t get a cut of what it believes it has coming. You know, it wants to wet its beak with a tiny bit of the proceeds as tribute for signing off on that whole Bill of Rights thing. Freedom isn’t free, as they say. It costs a mandated percentage of your yearly income unless you make so much money that you can pay an accountant to talk them down.

Think about it… when Michael Vick went to jail for nearly two years it wasn’t so much as for the dog fighting ring he was operating as it was because he didn’t pay a royalty. He served 21 months in prison for felony conspiracy in interstate commerce, which is a fancy way of saying he didn’t cut the government a slice.

What does this have to do with Lance Armstrong? Well, everything, of course. If the guy was riding for a team sponsored by the United States Postal Service, a government agency, and used the equipment supplied to him to sell for performance-enhancing drugs, well, that’s trouble. In fact, it was alleged last year by his former wing man, Floyd Landis, that Team USPS funded its drug habit by selling its equipment. This was realized, according to the accusations, when Landis wanted a training bike and couldn’t get one.

That training bike was injected as EPO.

Regardless, that’s not what this is all about. When word came out that Armstrong’s closest teammates, George Hincappie and Tyler Hamilton, testified for the federal grand jury it was pretty damning. It meant that the United States feels it had been defrauded.

Continue reading

Nothing has changed except for everything

Floyd_lance Nothing has changed. Up is not down, black is not white and there are no dogs sleeping with cats. The earth still spins on its axis and righteous indignation is still the rallying cry for losers.

The truth—a very mysterious and sordid concept these days—is still very plain. Today’s revelations notwithstanding, a cooked case is still crispy and charred just so.

But yes, I still believe that if Floyd Landis and his failed drug test from Stage 17 of the 2006 Tour de France were presented on the same standards of the rule of law, it would have been thrown out of court. I also believe that if Landis were a baseball player, a football player, a golfer or any other pro athlete outside of cycling, he would be on the field right now. Like anyone else in elite sports, Landis probably was not-guilty though he was never innocent.

Maybe this is where that righteous indignation line can be reinserted. After all, everybody gets screwed at one time or another. There’s no sense whining about it and I still do not care if Landis was cocktailing HgH with winstrol and deer urine all while freezing his rest-day blood in a hyperbaric chamber. The fifth amendment of the U.S. Constitution still exists. We all own it, but not if you like to ride a bike, win races or have your blood tested at the Laboratoire National de Dépistage du Dopage in Châtenay-Malabry. 

Those guys…

Then again, a lot of us look pretty stupid right now.

The above section is what hasn’t changed. The part that has changed is everything else. One of the most incredible days of the Tour de France and exciting sports day I have ever seen is more than just a little tainted. Oh sure, Landis still says he did not use the synthetic testosterone he tested positive for (according to that French lab) during that fateful 17th Stage in 2006, but according to admissions published on ESPN.com by Bonnie Ford today, Landis used testosterone in previous editions of the Tour de France as well as HgH during the 2006 season.

In other words… never mind.

Oh, Landis came clean finally, unburdening himself in e-mails to cycling and doping officials and in an interview with Ford in which he claims to have started a systematic doping program in June of 2002 when he joined up with the U.S. Postal Service team. That team, of course, was the vestige of Lance Armstrong and his hand-picked manager, Johan Bruyneel, and it’s where Landis said he leaned all about the hows and whys of performance-enhancing drug use. It wasn’t just old fashioned steroids and syringes, either. Nope, Landis appeared to be more than just a dabbler.

He says he used EPO, a drug so effective it not only improves performance quickly, but it also has the potential to kill a guy if not used properly. He also admitted to using female hormones, diabetes medication and the tried-and-true blood doping, which is when a person removes some of his own blood and stashes it in a freezer only to re-inject it when seeking a boost. That’s some old-school stuff right there.

“I don't feel guilty at all about having doped. I did what I did because that's what we (cyclists) did and it was a choice I had to make after 10 years or 12 years of hard work to get there; and that was a decision I had to make to make the next step,” Landis told Ford. “My choices were, do it and see if I can win, or don't do it and I tell people I just don't want to do that, and I decided to do it.”

Certainly that’s not a statement we hear too many athletes make, let alone one who spent three years and approximately $2 million of his own money attempting to appeal his doping ban. Making the admission even more compelling is the fact that Landis says Armstrong—and many other of the top U.S. riders—were complicit and drug users just like him.

The accusations, of course, are where people start to take notice. It’s one thing to admit that you have done something wrong, but to point out the failings of others is something significant. There’s a word for people who do those types of things and that word is, “rat.” We’ll get to the rat thing in a moment.

Nevertheless, one rider who Landis says was a doper was Dave Zabriskie, who is currently leading the Tour of California. Zabriskie was a roommate and training partner with Landis in Spain. It was in Girona, Spain, the training base for Armstrong and Landis, where it is said one of the world’s most famous athletes kept his blood in a freezer for doping. It’s also there where Bruyneel is said to have schooled Landis on the use of steroid patches, blood doping and human growth hormone.

Kind of like your readin', ‘ritin’, and ‘rithmatic of doping.

The bombshell is the stuff about Armstrong, but that goes without saying. Armstrong has long been accused and suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs in order to become the most decorated cyclist in the history of the sport, but he always fought back tenaciously pointing out that like Mark McGwire or Barry Bonds, he never tested positive for drug use.

But no other rider has ever levied accusations against Armstrong, especially one as intimate to him as Landis. It’s one thing to hear whispers of Armstrong dumping Landis’ “rest-day blood” down a sink during the Tour de France to prove some sort of angry point, but it’s another completely to read the words of one of Armstrong’s closest teammates saying that he got drugs directly from him.

Landis told Ford that he gave Dr. Michele Ferrari, Armstrong’s personal trainer, $10,000 in cash for a season’s worth of doping. Six years ago Ferrari was convicted of fraud and lost his medical license in Italy, and Landis says the doctor personally extracted and re-injected his blood for him. Landis also said he and Armstrong discussed the efficacy of the then-newly developed test for EPO in 2002.

Floydwheelie “I didn't wish to take the risks on my own and especially since it was fairly clear that his advice was endorsed by Lance himself,” Landis told Ford. “And therefore Johan and the other guys that knew of it and were involved—working with him, they'd understand the risks that I was taking as well and therefore trust me.”

Trust. That’s an interesting word, isn’t it? Why, after all these years, does the guy talk about this now? After years of refusing to cooperate or name names—you know, steadfastly choosing not to be a rat—why is Landis ratting out the old gang? After all, before he had everything to lose and yet kept his mouth shut. At least we think he kept his mouth shut though Armstrong told reporters in California this morning that he had been receiving “harassing” messages from Landis for quite some time.

Still, this morning Armstrong never said, “Floyd is a liar.” He also did not say, “I didn’t do it.” Maybe that’s beside the point.

"It's our word against his word," Armstrong said instead. "I like our word. We like our credibility. Floyd lost his credibility a long time ago."

What about Armstrong or the cycling union? Do they have any credibility? Who believes any of them at this point anymore? Armstrong might like his credibility, but it's not like Landis is the only person saying the seven-time Tour champion is a doper.

That list is long and varied.

But really… why now? Landis says he doesn’t expect anyone to believe him and it’s almost impossible for him to become a bigger pariah than he already is. The money is gone, his wife left, and his book is nothing more than a bunch of paper with words on them that are meaningless. Worse, he had to call up his mom in Lancaster County and tell her the truth.

What good is that going to do now? No team is going to hire him, the money isn’t going to come back and divorce is like toothpaste already out of the tube. When Armstrong said this morning that Landis has no credibility, it’s difficult to counter. That’s especially true when Landis admits that he does even have concrete proof and there is no paper trail or smoking gun—just some names, dates and details.

Truth? Who knows?

“I want to clear my conscience,” Landis told Ford. “I don't want to be part of the problem anymore.

“With the benefit of hindsight and a somewhat different perspective, I made some misjudgments. And of course, I can sit here and say all day long, ‘If I could do it again I'd do something different,’ but I just don't have that choice.”

No, there’s always a choice. Just because the world is a rat race doesn’t mean a guy has to be a rat. Just because a guy likes to ride his bike and play sports doesn’t mean he has to prostitute himself. Life is full of choices and a man lucky enough to have the mind to make a conscious choice is hard to feel sorry for.

But that doesn’t answer the question…

Why? Why now?

No, nothing has changed, aside, of course, for everything.

Floyd and Lance… Together again?

When we last checked in with Floyd Landis, he was preparing for a three-point shootout with Utah Jazz guard, Deron Williams. Obviously, Williams won but that had less to do with the fact that he has shot better than 36 percent from long range during his NBA career and more to do with the fact that Floyd was a Mennonite from Lancaster County who wasn’t allowed to wear shorts when he was a kid.

Besides, everyone knows that Mennonite kids are like Hakeem Olajuwon in the low post. And this is just mean:

Of course Landis had to squeeze in the showdown against Williams between a full slate of races for the domestic bicycling racing squad, Team OUCH, in his first year back following serious hip surgery and his suspension during the 2006 Tour de France. Yet after just one season with OUCH (and a full year of serious training), Landis left OUCH for Rock Racing because he hoped to ride in more challenging races in Europe.

It was a bold move for a couple of reasons. One is that in eight races last year, Landis cracked the top 10 just twice and when racing against an international field in the Tour of California he finished a respectable 23rd.

Those results don’t exactly make the top teams clamor to sign him up, but it wasn’t horrible. Horrible, I imagine, is Floyd shooting three-pointers against an NBA All-Star.

Another reason the departure from OUCH was bold was because Rock Racing wasn’t exactly the most stable team around. Not only did it have a bit of an outlaw image with the black kits complete with the skull and bones insignia, but also because it ended up becoming a home for a few star-crossed riders like Tyler Hamilton and Oscar Sevilla.

In a sense Landis definitely fit in with Rock, but because the International Cycling Union denied the team’s request for a license to race in Europe in 2010 it appears as if he is in an all-too familiar position called limbo.

Still, even though he doesn’t seem to have many options for racing on the big races this summer, Landis put on a Rock Racing shirt and won the time trial at the Tour of the Bahamas in a record time. Better yet, he brought out the pre-suspension trash talk after the race that everyone always (not so) secretly loved.

According to the stellar site, Twisted Spoke, Floyd said: “I was on somebody else’s road bike with clinchers and no aero clothes. Take that [bleepers].”

So does the record ride and the salty talk mean he’s ready to take on Europe? Tough question. Cycling is not like American sports where athletes who serve drug-related suspensions are welcomed back after doing the time. The Europeans hold grudges not so much because of the actual deed, but mostly because someone had the audacity to be suspected of anything.

Due process? Nah, that’s for wimpy sports where there is an actual union protecting the athletes.

Floydwheelie No, Landis doesn’t have too many options, but that hasn’t stopped the speculation from making the rounds. He’s been mentioned as a good fit for American team BMC Racing, which projects to be a solid outfit for the Tour de France. However, the brass for BMC are the same guys (owner Andy Rihs and director John Lelangue) that ran Team Phonak the year Floyd simultaneously won and was forced to give up the victory in the Tour de France.

From Day 1, of course, Floyd has been linked as a possible grinder for his old pal Lance Armstrong and his brand new Team RadioShack. That might be nothing more than wild dreams from the press and/or fans of personalities that blend like car crashes, but after all the speculation runs its course, it always comes back to the same place…

Lance and Floyd together again?

It is almost too good to be true. Imagine if Lennon and McCartney decided to go back into the studio together after The Beatles broke up. That may be pushing it a bit, but Landis was Lance’s head hatchet man for three Tour victories. Moreover, Lance hasn’t ruled it out.

“I wouldn’t rule anything out,” Armstrong said. “He’s a great rider, a tremendous story.”

That could be nothing more than a politically correct answer because there is no indication that the two camps have discussed anything. Still, for some reason it always comes back to those two riding together for one last go-around.

We’re getting the band back together!

Again, who knows if it’s possible? Who knows if it will happen? But just know that no one has ruled it out as ridiculous. After all, by all accounts Lance is a loyal guy who remembers every slight and good deed. When the doping agencies put the screws on Landis and asked him to give up Lance, Landis refused to be a rat or lie. Instead of selling out anyone Floyd took it and paid with much more than money.

Certainly acts like that are worth something… right?

Climbing the mountains

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Call this just a brief interlude from the All-Halladay-All-The-Time business. Later this afternoon we roll up to Reading, Pa. to take a gander at Kyle “The Deal Breaker” Drabek before wading into to the deep end of the rest of the deadline comings and goings.

So first this, then Reading, San Francisco and points Continental.

First of all, I don’t speak French. From the sounds of the language, it seems a little easier to follow than Spanish, which is something I can piece together as long as the speaker goes slowly and uses some words I can attach some sort of context to.

Sometimes it works, but sometimes it goes terribly, terribly wrong. For instance, one time I tried to say, in Spanish, that I was hungry and it came out as, “I want a man.” That wasn’t what I meant at all, but hombre and hambre are two similar sounding words that mean two completely different things.

Anyway, there was a French commentator on the radio the other day commentating on the big bicycle race. To be more precise, it was the penultimate stage of the Tour de France where the riders climbed the otherworldly-looking Mount Ventoux. Reports indicated that there were one million people lined along the switchbacks of the mountain that probably helped to freak out the riders even more. If it wasn’t a serious climb above the tree line over terrain that looked like the dark side of the moon, or the oxygen debt mixed with the lactic acid buildup, the fact that the riders had already completed approximately 2,000 miles of the trip from Monte Carlo through the Basque country, into the Alps and Provence before finishing at the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

Helluva way to spend three weeks.

However, according to the translation of the French commentary, the word coming from Mount Ventoux was more awed than respect.

Lance Armstrong est courageux masculin.

Not sure if that’s correct vernacular, but that was the sentiment. The French were celebrating Lance Armstrong as if he were Charlie Lindbergh or Jerry Lewis and it was the strangest thing. After years of spitting at him as he rode by on his bike, and claiming that the chemotherapy treatments he had undergone when he nearly died from cancer was “performance-enhancing,” it appeared as if they finally warmed up to the 37-year-old Texan.

How could that be?

Maybe it was because Lance could be painted as a victim of sorts during the 2009 Tour de France. You know, because surviving cancer and rumors of doping wasn’t enough. This time, the seven-time winner of the biggest race in the world, overcame ambivalence from race directors eager to keep him in retirement and off the previously banned team Astana. Then there were the 11 doping tests during the 21 stages of the race that came after the charade of a claim that he attempted to dodge a drug-tester. That stuff was brie on a baguette compared to the surgery in which he had 12 screws fused into his collar bone after a wreck during a race in Northern Spain. That was the hardest part of the comeback.

“Lying in the ditch in that situation … You sort of ask yourself, ‘What the hell am I doing here?’” Armstrong told ESPN’s Bonnie Ford. “I don’t feel that way today, necessarily, although I’m still in a lot of pain and ready to get this behind me. It was a shock.

“To go as long as I have without having anything like this happen is basically a miracle. … It was bound to happen. It’s not good timing, but it certainly could be worse. And I look at it from a different perspective, too, just from the curveballs my health has thrown me in the past. Laying in that ditch with a shattered collarbone is a lot better than other health scares I’ve had.”

Fair enough, but it seems that really turned around the French was the hard-nosed ride up Mount Ventoux last weekend. Lance didn’t win that stage, but that was beside the point. The French seem to favor guys who are valiant in defeat than guys with talent who win. Though to call the Mount Ventoux ride a defeat is not totally accurate. Lance finished fifth, but rode in support for eventual Tour victor Alberto Contador. When Contador needed a boost or a helping hand, Lance was there to carve out a path. When Contador needed someone to run interference, Lance was there.

Lance was the highest profile domestique in the history of the race. He did everything to ensure Contador’s second Tour victory except fetch water bottles.

Here’s the thing about that – he didn’t have to. If Lance wanted to win the race, he surely could have. With a team as strong a Astana, the ’27 Yankees of cycling, all Lance had to do was find a way to get Contador to fall into line and get after it. Even after Contador inexplicably surged ahead during the early stages of the race to put a time gap between himself and the rest of his team, Lance let it slide.

How come?

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Well, as first reported by Bonnie Ford, Lance had a plan. Ever Machiavellian, Lance was busy breaking up the band in the middle of the concert. Next year the seven-time champ will likely be the main man on the newly formed Team Radio Shack. He’ll take team manager Johan Bruyneel with him and possibly even top American rider, Levi Leipheimer with him.

Contador? Well, he’s on his own. It appears as if the proclaimed top rider in the world will be the man on a new Spanish team. It’s not confirmed but since the cycling world leaks like a sieve it appears as if this is the way it’s shaping up.

Nevertheless, Lance will get to take on Contador mano-y-mano in 2010. Both men will be busy putting together the best teams (maybe Lance will get George Hincapie, the American who turned in the greatest 75th place finish in the history of team sports during the Tour), but don’t look for anything less than another great rivalry.

Maybe even some slippages in political correctness.

After the (spectacular) coverage on VERSUS was lauding Contador as the strongest rider in the world and a great champion of the race, ex-rider Frankie Andreu asked Lance if his soon-to-be former teammate had any weaknesses

“Yes,” Lance said. “He has some. But we’re not going to talk about them now.”

If only he would have fiendishly wrung his hands together, too.

’27 Yankees meet the ’09 Team Astana

image from fingerfood.typepad.com So last night I was up living the life and decompressing after the trip home from Atlanta that took me through Charlotte to Baltimore before finding my car intact at the BWI Marriott, and just skipping through the channels on ol’ tee-vee. That’s what I do late at night when everyone else is in bed and I’m knee-deep in baseball hours and too tired to read or write.

Anyway, the Versus channel had a show on called, Lance Armstrong: The Look Back, but when glanced at quickly on the scroll all it said was, “The Look.” That alone made it sound like a pretty good show. After all, Lance was known for flashing that Look in the peloton during his seven victories in the Tour de France, and the lead-in to the program showed that moment when he was riding toward his sixth victory when he turned all the way around in the saddle, stared right into the face of Jan Ullrich to challenge him before he rode off.

Actually, Lance did a little more than simply challenge Ullrich in the race. He just might have challenged his manhood, too.

Either way, it’s pretty clear what Versus is banking its coverage of the 2009 Tour de France on. Lance, indeed, is back and the cycling fans watching in the U.S. will get all of the details.

There’s certainly no surprise there. After three years away from the race – three of the worst years ever at the TdF (and they can only blame themselves) – the grand champ is back. Since his last victory he ran three marathons, hung out with Matthew McConaughey and one of the Olsen Twins, became a father again, had his shoulder put back together with more screws found in a three-bedroom apartment and got back into shape for the three grueling weeks of the most famous bike race on earth.

In a sense Lance retired from his retirement because it was way too busy. Why not just race a bike a couple thousand miles through the French Alps?

Nevertheless, there are reports that Lance is, indeed, the most intimidating and formidable rider in the ’09 race. No argument here. There’s The Look, the seven titles, the ability to endure ridiculous levels of pain, plus the dude is fit. Even at 37 Lance reportedly has been turning in the same type of workouts he did during the apex of his title run. In fact, he could be one of the best riders in the race…

That is if he didn’t ride for Astana.

Armstrong opened the 2009 Tour de France with a time trial in Monte Carlo that put him in fourth place… on Team Astana.

That sounds about right, too. Astana is loaded like the ’27 Yankees or an All-Star team. One stage in and the team already has four riders in the Top 10 and likely will move all four of those riders up even higher in the overall standings. A Top 4 sweep wouldn’t be far-fetched.

But for as strong as Astana is with Armstrong and American Levi Leipheimer and German Andreas Kloden, they are all just there to carve a path for Alberto Contador.

It’s Contador’s race and everyone else is just riding in it.

Contador finished second in the first time trial and that discipline isn’t even his top strength. The 26-year-old Spaniard is a climber with one TdF title under his belt from 2007 when Michael Rasmussen was booted out just days away from winning. Regardless, if Contador doesn’t win then something extraordinary must have gone wrong.

If Contador doesn’t win, Levi Leipheimer will instead.

*
Back to the Versus show…

The episode of The Look I caught was the epic Stage 17 of the 2004 Tour de France. That was the one where Floyd Landis and Lance Armstrong took on the world and won. It was where Lance stared down Ullrich, Floyd earned the nickname “Mofo of the Mountains,” and was famously had an in-race dialogue to go like this:

Lance: How bad do you want to win a stage in the Tour de France?

Floyd: Real bad.

Lance: How fast can you go downhill?

Floyd: I go downhill real fast. Can I do it?

Lance: Sure you can do it … ride like you stole something, Floyd.

In the end, Floyd couldn’t fend off the best riders in the world until Lance showed up with a mad sprint to the line to win the stage.

Take a look:

Send lawyers, guns and money

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Here we go again…

The French Anti-Doping Agency (AFLD) claims Lance Armstrong violated their testing protocol by not remaining "… under (the) direct and permanent observation" of the tester, the AFLD said in a statement.

Lance's statement, via Twitter, said it all:

"Was winning the Tour seven times that offensive?!?"

Apparently so.

Nevertheless, the Tour de France, the cycling union and the alphabet soup of drug-testing bureaucracies/agencies were lukewarm on their best days on the notion of a comeback by the seven-time winner of the Tour de France. If they had their druthers, it seems as if they would simply ignore the most-decorated cyclist ever simply because… well, that's the good question.

What did Lance do to upset these folks?

How are these for guesses…

Was it because he survived cancer?

How about never testing positive for any drug test?

Being the focal point of tons of rumor and innuendo?

Dating celebrities?

Running the Boston Marathon?

Being from Texas?

I know – his presence makes folks pay attention to the Tour de France and if there is anything the folks who run the race do not want is attention. After all, with attention comes questions and if there is one thing those folks do not want is to be questioned on their shady ethics, faulty tests and obvious biases.

Oh yes, Lance making a comeback is a bad idea. There is no doubt those folks high-fived when Lance crashed and busted up his collarbone last month during a race in Spain. If they didn't high-five, they did the French derivation of the high-five, which might be a smack on the rear or blowing smoke rings from a Gauloises.

So they look for loopholes. At least that's the way it seems. They want blood, hair and urine, even while on the way back from a training ride around Beaulieu-sur-Mer last month.

Lance's big wrongdoing was that he took a shower after that ride. Yes, imagine that – a French drug tester angry at an American for taking a shower.

Yes, we all know how the French feel about showering.

So yes, here we go again. Though AFLD president Pierre Bordry has not come out and said Lance is guilty of any type of infraction, the bureaucracy is considering whether or not to proceed with sanctions based on that shower.

Apparently the AFLD was unable to hire Norman Bates.

Just a slight delay for Lance

Lance Armstrong flew back to the United States on Tuesday morning. After a stopover in New York, the seven-time Tour de France champion made home to Austin, Tx. in time for an appointment with his doctor.

It was during that visit with his doctor that Armstrong learned his “clean” clavicle break wasn’t so clean after all. As of 8:20 p.m. eastern time on Tuesday, the great bike rider was getting a CT scan after learning about the not-so clean break.

“Bummer,” he tweeted on his Twitter feed.

Meanwhile, while the health and pending comeback of Lance Armstrong was all being documented in real time via “new media” (and the death of the “old media” had a bit more dirt shoveled on it with each tweet), somewhere near Paris tired old men waited anxiously for the next update.

Yes, when Armstrong “tweets” folks take notice. And no, it’s not just the fans, either. Take those tired old men in France for instance. When they read that the collarbone might be a little more damaged than expected, those “nefarious Frenchmen” might just have been moved to “twirl their moustaches and laugh heartily at his plight,” as the great Bob Ford once wrote about Lance’s ex-teammate, Floyd Landis, a few years back.

Yes, the cycling bureaucrats are feeling pretty good about themselves lately. When Lance hopped on that plane to go home, it meant there was an entire ocean between him and the nexus of the cycling universe. CT scans and doctor’s visits that elicit tweets that read, “bummer” gets that twirling in full flight. The next one might even be enough to cause a World Series-style victory celebration full of champagne spray and maybe even some high-fives. Why not? They already made him cut his hair for DNA-style drug tests.

Only in this case it might be real champagne instead of the sparkling wine those gauche Americans like.

Sacrebleu!

Continue reading this story …

USADA Rules Against Landis; Title Stripped

Floyd LandisWASHINGTON – After more than 14 months of waging a case to clear his name while facing inscrutable uncertainty about his future, Lancaster County native Floyd Landis finally has an answer.

Needless to say it was exactly what he did not want to hear.

“This ruling is a blow to athletes and cyclists everywhere,” Landis said in a statement. “For the Panel to find in favor of USADA when, with respect to so many issues, USADA did not manage to prove even the most basic parts of their case shows that this system is fundamentally flawed. I am innocent, and we proved I am innocent.”

A three-person arbitration panel, convened for the United States Anti-Doping Administration’s (USADA) hearing over Landis’ failed drug test following the 17th stage of the 2006 Tour de France, ruled 2-1 against the American cyclist. As a result of the ruling, Landis has been issued a two-year ban from sanctioned cycling races and has been stripped of his title in the 2006 Tour de France.

“The decision of the arbitrators clearly establishes that regardless of the evidence presented by the athlete of the errors of the laboratory, the conflicted and coordinated testimony of the anti-doping community, including heads of other WADA laboratories and experts who receive millions of dollars from USADA, will prevail over the evidence presented by the athlete,” Landis’s statement continued.

Yet, despite a dramatic, come-from-behind victory in the 2006 Tour de France, Landis is the first ever champion in the 104-year history of the race to lose his title.

Spanish rider Oscar Pereiro, who finished second to Landis in the 2006 Tour, will be declared the winner.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for all clean athletes and everyone who values fair and honest competition,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said. “This decision confirms for the overwhelming majority of American athletes who compete ethically that USADA is committed to protecting their right to participate on a drug-free playing field.

This is pending more legal wrangling, of course. Landis can appeal the USADA’s ruling to the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which Landis is “currently weighing his future legal alternatives in pursuing his case.” Landis has a month to make his appeal.

If he chooses to take his case to the CAS, Landis will again be fighting the positive drug following the remarkable 17th stage of the 2006 Tour de France in which he had an illegal testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio. Reports are that Landis’s T/E ratio was 11-to-1, which is significantly higher than the 4-to-1 allowed by rule.

Plus, during the 14 months of fighting the charges from the USADA, Landis says he has spent approximately $2 million (including approximately $1 million of his own money) in his defense. Following the presentation of his case at the public arbitration hearing at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif. in May, Landis continued to travel across the United States in attempt to clear his name with a presentation of his fight against the allegations as well as meet-and-greet sessions in support of his book, Positively False: The Real Story of How I Won the Tour de France.

Additionally, Landis published all of the information about his defense and the case on his Web site, floydfairnessfund.org.

It was during his travels across the country that Landis spoke about his defense, which centered on the contention that the testing, procedures and protocol of the French-government owned laboratory, the National Laboratory for Doping Detection (LNDD), that performed the drug test during the Tour were flawed.

In fact, Landis and his legal team pointed out over 200 procedural and protocol errors by the French lab, including some that were acknowledged in the USADA arbitration hearing in May. What’s more, the LNDD’s methods and procedures are viewed as so sloppy that the International Tennis Federation opted to have its drugs tests for French Open performed in Montreal rather than at lab mere miles away from where the tournament is held.

In the ruling, the majority of arbitrators did find areas of concern about LNDD, specifically in testing protocol.

“The Panel finds that the practices of the Lab in training its employees appears to lack the vigor the Panel would expect in the circumstances given the enormous consequences to athletes of an adverse analytical finding,” the decision said. “If such practices continue, it may well be that in the future, an error like this could result in the dismissal of a positive finding by the lab.”

But alas, in the end the arbitrators were not swayed by the evidence.

Instead, the three-man panel, which convicted Landis on a 2-1 unanimous decision, sided with the USADA’s argument that did little to challenge the cyclist’s assertions. In fact, USADA attorneys never directly asked Landis if he used synthetic testosterone, as positive tests after Stage 17 at the 2006 Tour show he did. The case of anti-doping agency, which is funded in part from U.S. taxpayer dollars, centered more on Landis’s character rather than the science involved in proving whether or not an athlete had used performance-enhancing drugs.

“The majority Panel’s decision is a disappointment, but particularly so because it failed to address the joint impact of the many errors that the AFLD laboratory committed in rendering this false positive,” Landis’s attorney, Maurice Suh, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, said. “To take each of these errors singly, is to ignore the total falsity of the result. The majority panel has disregarded the testimony of Mr. Landis’ experts, who are preeminent in their respective fields, without analyzing the impact of the errors on the final result. This is a miscarriage of justice.”

In its 84-page decision, the majority found the initial drug test to measure Landis’ testosterone levels was not done according to World Anti-Doping Agency rules. However, the majority agreed that the carbon-isotope ratio analysis (IRMS), performed after a positive T/E test is recorded, was accurate.

But some, like Suh, have claimed that the hearing was a matter of the “circus not the science.”

In that regard, the incomplete testimony of former American cyclist Greg LeMond and the acknowledged prank phone call from Landis associate Will Geoghegan, took center stage.

“This case is really just another sad example of the crisis of character which plagues some of today’s athletes and undermines the honest achievements of all of those athletes who compete with integrity,” Tygart said. “Hopefully, some of the good that comes from this type of case is that other athletes who might be tempted to cheat will recognize that there is no honor in doping to win.”

The hearing will forever be remembered for its soap operatic nature of the aborted LeMond testimony in which the three-time Tour de France champion showed up and revealed that he had confided to Landis that he had been sexually abused as a child. Then, the night before his scheduled testimony, LeMond received a phone call from Geoghegan, posing as an “uncle,” in which he threatened to disclose the former rider’s secret if he showed up to the hearing.

Not only did LeMond show up, but he also claimed Landis had admitted he had doped. However, as written in the decision, the majority wrote that LeMond’s appearance was meaningless.

“The panel concludes that the respondent’s comment to Mr. LeMond did not amount to an admission of guilt or doping,” the majority wrote.

In the end, the question still remains whether or not Landis doped to win the Tour de France

Moreover, did Landis expose the anti-doping system’s testing procedures and how athletes are prosecuted? Is the system broken?

USADA will say no, and obviously, Landis’s camp will go the other way.

But the fact is the Landis case has changed the way anti-doping agencies and doping cases are viewed.

“That wasn’t even in the back of my mind, and honestly, I didn’t realize the jeopardy that athletes are in because it never crossed my mind. I had no problem giving a urine sample because I did it all the time and I assumed that the people testing it were legitimate and out to do the right thing. It never crossed my mind that it could be the way it is,” Landis explained about his trendsetting case in an interview last June. “And it’s hard for people to believe when I say it really is that bad. They think, ‘Yeah, he’s guilty. That’s why he’s trying to accuse them.’ But, even a guilty person deserves to have the evidence against him provided to him without having to spend $1 million in a year.”

It will be even more money if there is an appeal.

More on the Landis case:
Panel Rules Against Landis in Doping Case; Tour de France Title Stripped

Floyd Landis on Tour to Clear His Name

USADA release (PDF)

Arbitration Ruling: USA Cycling Athlete Floyd Landis Receives Two-Year Suspension for Doping Violation (AAA Decision) September 2007 – Majority decision, 84 pages (PDF)

AAA Dissenting decision – 26 pages (PDF)

All of the other really good stuff is at TBV

We’ll burn that bridge when we cross it

It will be interesting to see what the Phillies do with their bench when Jayson Werth is ready to return. Interesting, I guess, in what it means for Chris Coste. Coste, of course, is owner of the best story going on in baseball and has contributed greatly not only to the Phillies’ playoff run last year, but also to this year’s charge as well.

Yet for whatever reason the Phillies’ brass – namely general manager Pat Gillick and his assistant Ruben Amaro – don’t seem to like Coste. Why? Good question. Maybe it’s because he sticks at it when everyone else would have quit a long time ago. Or maybe Amaro prefers players from big-time college programs that make it to the Majors on reputation and bounce around for nearly a decade and post less than mediocre numbers?

Whatever the reason, another trip back to the minors doesn’t seem fair for Coste. In his last four games last week Coste went 3-for-6 with a homer and seven RBIs. In July, Coste is hitting .343 in 13 games.

Conversely, Rod Barajas, the backup catcher who came in as a backstop to handle the bulk of the work for $3 million, hasn’t had a hit in more than two weeks and is 3-for-16 this month.

Sounds like manager Charlie Manuel has more confidence in a minor-league lifer making the league minimum as opposed to a guy making big, free-agent money. Worse, the Phillies have a .332 career hitter and they might not want him.

Either way it seems as if Coste is like ice cream and what weirdo doesn’t like ice cream?

***
With the non-waiver trading deadline set for tomorrow at 4 p.m., perhaps the Phillies will deal Coste for some pitching. At least then he would be going to a team that actually wants him. More importantly, the Phillies really, really need pitching with Ryan Madson headed for the disabled list and big holes in the starting rotation.

So far all we have are rumors – and it looks like I added to it by invoking Coste’s name – and nothing concrete. The rumor mill seems to be a cottage industry in the sports reporting business these days. Everyone loves reading about things that may or might not be happening or even true for some reason and there are a lot of people out there who have made careers about spreading disinformation.

It’s information, but it’s not really information. Like junk food… you know, what Ken Rosenthal does…

Wait, was that my out loud voice again?

Anyway, rumors bore me, especially when it’s so easy to find out facts and truth. But then again I’m a really bad sports fan so there you go.

I’ll give you this, though – call it a secret of the trade: if you read one of those rumors where it’s prefaced with the phrase, “sources say,” it’s a load of crap. The so-called “source” is probably a guy hanging around the press box or something.

Man, do those sources like to talk and boy or boy do they ever come in handy.

***
The Phillies head to Chicago for four days to face the surging Cubs at Wrigley Field tonight. The consensus around the press box is that Chicago is the favorite stop on the circuit and Wrigley, despite its not-so modern amenities, is everyone’s favorite ballpark.

Perhaps Chicago is best described as, “kind of like New York, but clean.”

I think of it like Japan where they take all of the good ideas from everyone else and make it look nicer. In Chicago they did it with pizza, too. New York pizza is far superior to the Chicago style, but they made it just a tad more interesting in The Windy City.

Either way, it will be a fun-filled four days for the scribes before heading off to Milwaukee for the weekend.

***
The Tour de France finally (and mercifully) came to a close yesterday with Alberto Contador called the winner and his Discovery Channel teammate and American Levi Leipheimer 31 seconds behind in third place.

(If anyone remembers — and who wouldn’t? — I predicted a Leipheimer victory in the Tour over Vinokourov and Sastre.)

Certainly it appears as if the real drama in cycling will occur between now and the next Tour de France as the cycling union, anti-doping agencies and Amaury Sports Organization (the company that owns both the Tour de France and the newspaper, L’Equipe) pick at the carcass of the sport to gain total control.

It’s not going to be pretty.

Either way, the telecast of the Tour ended in a rather apropos manner yesterday when Lance Armstrong, with Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen in Paris, departed the air and seemingly took the video along with him.

Yeah, that’s right, the last miles of the Tour were coming to a head and no one in the United States could see it.

Meanwhile it’s worth noting that Armstrong is in Paris celebrating with his Discovery Channel team and Floyd Landis is in Vail, Colo. preparing for the big race in the Leadville 100 on Aug. 11.

That race, friends, is going to be the highlight of cycling in 2007.

***
Needless to say, Armstrong’s appearance on the telecast of yesterday’s final day of the Tour was interesting. Perhaps the comment most intriguing (to me) was when Lance was asked what he missed the most about professional cycling. He told Liggett and Sherwen that he missed being “super fit” and the training lifestyle, which he compared to being monastic in that all one did was ride, eat and sleep. But he didn’t miss racing, which makes sense to me… training like hell is a blast, but the pressure of competing can be a drag sometimes. I imagine the pressure for Armstrong was pretty intense.

Filling in

When Tadahito Iguchi arrived in Philadelphia in time for Saturday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Phillies’ new second baseman brought with him a lot more than just a suitcase full of clothes and personal items and an equipment bag with his baseball gear.

Better yet, Iguchi brought with him an entire entourage.

Fresh from being traded from the Chicago White Sox to the Phillies on Friday afternoon, Iguchi pulled on his new red-and-white pinstriped uniform, exchanged greetings with Ryan Howard, a friend from last winter’s MLB All-Star tour of Japan, as well as Aaron Rowand, his teammate from the World Champion White Sox team during the 2005 season before taking in his new surroundings.

He even chatted with his manager Charlie Manuel, who like Iguchi was a star in Japan’s Pacific League. Manuel still speaks some Japanese, an ancillary benefit from his six years playing ball as a gai-jin in the Far East, which should help the Phillies’ first Japanese player make an easier transition to his new surroundings.

“He’s got me,” Manuel smiled. “I’ll be his interpreter. I can talk to him.”

First things first, though. Iguchi’s first order of business was to find the lineup card where he located his name in the No. 7 hole at second base, and then greeted the media horde that follows him wherever he goes. Though Iguchi isn’t a well known player to the casual American baseball fan, he was quite popular on the Southside of Chicago and remains one of dozen or so Japanese ballplayers to make the jump to the Major Leagues.

Because of that, Iguchi travels with a translator (David Yamamoto, who also wears a uniform because he sits in the dugout during the game) and does pre and post-game interviews with the Japanese media after every single game. It doesn’t matter if Iguchi goes 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, goes 4-for-4 with a pair of home runs, or simply sits on the bench without seeing a lick of action on the diamond. The 32-year old infielder discusses his day with the roughly half dozen or so media members that chronicle his every move.

“They even have the cameras rolling on him when he walks through the parking lot to his car,” a media member and witness to the Japanese media’s insatiable thirst to cover their stars in the minutest detail.

In nearly three seasons in the Major Leagues, following eight seasons with the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks of Japan’s Pacific League, Iguchi has a .273 batting average, 39 homers and 169 RBIs in 363 games for the ChiSox. This season, he is hitting .251 with 17 doubles, four triples, six home runs and 31 RBIs in 90 games, and hit .281 with 18 home runs and 67 RBI in 138 games last season. During the White Sox championship run Iguchi had a .278 average with 15 home runs and 15 stolen bases. In the 2005 ALDS, he hit a go-ahead three-run home run in Game 2 against David Wells to turn the tables against the Boston Red Sox.

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said Iguchi was the team’s most valuable player during the World Series run.

“He had a lot to do with the rings that we have right now,” Guillen told Chicago’s Daily Southtown. “He was great for us every day.”

Someone who can attest to that is Rowand, who remembered bantering back and forth with Iguchi through an interpreter during the ’05 season. Rowand said Iguchi’s English improved as the year went on, but he was able to communicate and have fun with his teammates. Interestingly, Rowand pointed out that the team enjoyed talking about baseball with Iguchi.

“We’ve had some good times with the language barrier, but he’s one heck of a player,” Rowand pointed out. “He’s really smooth in the field. He’ll add to the team and make it a lot easier with Chase being out.”

Ah yes, the real reason why Iguchi has landed in Philadelphia. With Chase Utley likely out for the next month with a broken hand suffered when he was hit by a pitch in Thursday afternoon’s loss to the Washington Nationals. Though he had surgery to insert a pin into the damaged area on Friday and the team revealed that they did not think the injury was as bad as it could have been, Utley will likely miss a minimum of 20 games. With 60 games remaining in the season and the Phillies doing all they can to remain in the playoff chase despite a plethora of injuries, it appears as if Utley will miss a third of the remaining games.

Enter Iguchi.

“I was able to play with Mr. Utley in the Japan series after the season and I’m very, very aware of how great a player he is,” Iguchi said. “I have tremendous respect for Mr. Utley and I just hope that I can fill in and [and contribute to the team] anywhere near Mr. Utley.”

The Phillies put the deal together with the White Sox rather quickly, announcing it just as they reported on Utley’s surgery.

“We wanted to do something and we wanted to move quickly,” assistant general manager Mike Arbuckle said. “Obviously, you don’t replace Chase Utley, but we wanted the guys in the clubhouse to understand that we wanted to step up and come up with a suitable replacement to help us stay competitive.”

For the short term Iguchi seems to be a good answer to a very difficult problem. The second baseman is signed for $3.25 million this season, and turned down a contract extension to stay with the White Sox during the winter despite saying he wanted to continue his career in Chicago.

“I’m very surprised by the trade,” Yamamoto said for Iguchi. “I was notified about it yesterday and I really didn’t have any notification, so yes, I was really surprised. But I’m really excited to join the Phillies and I’m starting to like my new, red uniform.”

However, Iguchi has a clause in his contract that will allow him to become a free agent at the end of the season if the ChiSox – now Phillies – don’t sign him to an extension by the end of the season.

With Utley expected to make a full recovery, it doesn’t seem as if Iguchi will figure into the Phillies’ plans beyond this season.

Unless he can play third base?

***
For a brief moment at the Tour de France, all of the events of last week were forgotten. The scandals, the doping and all of the bluster were replaced by an actual competition where there was a lot on the line.

Montanan Levi Leipheimer had the time trial of his life, squeezing to within 31 seconds of the leader and his Discovery Channel teammate, Alberto Contador. He did it with his teams’ part-owner Lance Armstrong trailing in the team car, shouting instruction and encouragement as he all but assured himself a spot on the podium in Paris.

With one more stage to go into Paris tomorrow, Leipheimer is eight seconds behind second place Cadel Evans in one of the closest finishes in Tour de France history.

And yet it still hard to think about what might have been…

Certainly it doesn’t seem as if ousted leader Michael Rasmussen would have been able to hang in Saturday’s time trial. Nor did it seem like Alexandre Vinokourov wold have been able to chip away enough to be a threat had he not been bounced from the race. Could Andreas Klöden been right there had his team not been thrown out?

How much fun would it have been to see all of those guys competing all the way through the Tour, especially in such a dramatic time trial?

But despite the good day of competition the newspapers and magazines are littered with stories about controversy, doping and lawyers.

* Is the 24-year old wunderkind Contador doping and is he really linked to Operacion Puerto?

* Vinokourov has hooked up with Floyd Landis’ legal team to fight his doping charges.

* The delusional and notorious windbag Greg LeMond is opening his big fat mouth… again. Does that guy ever shut up and why does he always come off like a bitter old fighter still hanging around the gym?

Here’s something I found interesting about today’s time trial: In praising Leipheimer’s speedy ride, announcer Phil Liggett compared the American to LeMond, noting that his ride to capture the victory in the stage was “almost as fast as Greg LeMond…”

Hmmmm… almost as fast as LeMond, huh? [Insert sarcasm font] Gee, I wonder what he was taking?

Here’s the thing that bothers me the most about Greg LeMond aside from his ego, his arrogance, his bitterness and his personality. LeMond (correct me if I’m wrong) is just like those old-time baseball players who missed out on the big paydays that today’s players get so they try to ciphen all they can from the sport by selling out anything they can. LeMond, it seems, still makes his money from cycling, but what does he really give back?

That’s why his bitterness toward Lance Armstrong seemed like nothing more than a small man with a big case of douchebaggery. LeMond won the Tour three times, had a horrible accident and then got old, yet seems to believe that something was taken from him. Conversely, Armstrong missed a couple of years from his career because he nearly died from cancer, yet rebounded to win the Tour de France seven years in a row.

That would be enough for most folks, but as Lance always noted, “It’s not about the bike.” With that he became the leading advocate for cancer research in the world. That was the primary goal and that’s what LeMond and the David Walsh types in the world don’t seem to understand.

So Le Mond can keep running his mouth, telling everyone how great he was and take, take taking from his sport… and he can continue to come off as a little bitch.

Again, if I’m wrong, correct me. I’m easy to find.

* Here’s what I do not like about the Tour (aside from the sideshow crap, of course): the race is practically over. Even though Evans trails Contador by 23 seconds and Leipheimer is in third at 31 seconds off, the American says Evans doesn’t have to worry about an attack in the final stage on Sunday. There is a gentleman’s agreement regarding such things, they say.

Lame.

There’s one day left and three riders are separated by 31 seconds — GO RACE!

The true sportsman that is Greg LeMond won the 1990 Tour de France on the final stage. It was a time trial, and his closest competitor had saddle sores so bad that he could barely ride his bike, but ol’ Greggy went after it. Usually the last day is largely a ceremonial ride, but 31 seconds is nothing. It should be every man for himself into the Champs-Élysées.

Anyway, sorry for coming out so strong on Le Mond, but I just don’t understand why he had to put himself in the middle of everything.

Just waking up and everything has still gone crazy

After getting home at 3 a.m. after being at a baseball game that lasted 14 innings and nearly five hours, it’s safe to say that I’m a bit fried today. But rest is for the week, right…

Man, do I ever need a nap.

Anyway, because I’m struggling to string together cohesive sentences this afternoon, I’ll just ramble on with a few observations about the Phillies and the latest from the sports world.

• After last night’s win over the Nationals the Phillies have a 24.5 percent chance to make the playoffs. Really? Yes, really. At least that’s math according to Ken Roberts, who created an “Odds of making the playoffs” web site.

Here’s what Ken does: after every game – and we mean every game – the odds of a teams’ chances to make the playoffs are calculated and posted on his site. Then, a glimpse into the future is proffered showing not only how the odds change if the Phillies win or lose their next game, but how the odds change pending every result on the full schedule of games.

Yes, it’s good stuff and you should check it out by clicking here.

• To start it off, I had never seen a game go from a sure end to tied up and headed for extra innings like the way last night’s ninth inning played out. For those who didn’t see it, speedy shortstop Jimmy Rollins raced around the bases when his relatively routine fly ball just short of the warning track in left-center field was jarred loose when outfielders Ryan Church and Ryan Langerhans bumped in to each other. Standing at third, Rollins raced home when Church’s relay throw skipped away from shortstop Felipe Lopez to force extra innings.

The most surprising thing about Rollins’ dash around the bases? That it wasn’t ruled an inside-the-park home run by the hometown official scorer.

• Meanwhile, when Ryan Howard hits a home run, he really wallops it. Not only do his homers sound different than other players’, there really is no doubt that they are going out – he doesn’t hit too many that scrape into the first row.

• No one with the Phillies will say it — though Charlie Manuel’s body language was downright funereal — but Chase Utley’s broken hand is just about the worst thing that could happen to the team right now. Forget about his statistics and the fact that Utley is an MVP candidate, and his hard-nosed style of play… it was because of Utley that the Phillies were able to stay in the playoff race despite injuries to Freddy Garcia, Tom Gordon, Brett Myers, Jon Lieber and Ryan Howard.

Yes, losing Utley is very significant. And that just might be the understatement of the year.

• The Phillies gave out a Cole Hamels bobblehead figurine last night and had a sold-out crowd. Here’s my question: What is the allure of that stuff? I can understand baseball cards and other memorabilia-type collectibles (kind of), but why are bobbleheads still popular? Just chalk it up to the every growing pile of things I don’t get.

On another note, last year (or maybe the year before, I forget) the Nationals gave out a Chad Cordero bobblehead figurine at a game at RFK. Within hours of bringing it home my son ripped the head clean off the body and for the past year or so there has been the head of Chad Cordero, complete with that geeky unbent brim of his cap, staring up from the bottom of the toy box in our living room. Perhaps that’s the appeal of the bobblehead doll… ripping the heads clean off.

• Speaking of ripping the head clean off and one man’s inability to understand events occurring in the world, I’m still attempting to grasp just what the hell happened at this year’s Tour de France. Frankly, I haven’t been able to come up with anything other than some non-sequitors and random ideas.

For instance:

— Perhaps it’s because I am an American and believe in a persons’ right to due process, but I just don’t understand how a man who never failed a drug test or violated any laws or rules of the sport could be bounced from an event he was about to win. Look, I know never failing a drugs test isn’t the best argument and I know all about Michael Rasmussen’s reputation, but if the Tour, the UCI and whatever other governing body is attempting to destroy cycling really disliked the dude and had valid reasons to boot him from the race, they should have never allowed him to start.

Now look what they have on their hands. It’s nothing more than a race that no one views as legitimate.

— I always am amused by American sportswriters whose idea of exercise is actually getting up to manually turn the channels on the television opining about cycling. I also do not understand how one can legitimately write about sports without a basic understand of training and performance-enhancing drugs. Get these people out of the press box now, because writing intelligently about sports doesn’t really have much to do with the games any more.

Alexandre Vinokourov? Wow. Who would have thought the Tour could have sunk lower than that fiasco?

— Along those lines everyone is quick to point out how “dirty” cycling is. But here is a fact: if MLB and the NFL acted like the UCI and the Tour de France, there would be more than 1,000 new players in those leagues tomorrow. It seems as if all cycling officials have to do is point at a guy and he’s out. Forget facts and protocol. The players in MLB and the NFL should be thankful every day that they have a union that supports them.

Ivan Basso, Jan Ullrich, Michael Rasmussen were all booted from the Tour de France this year despite never failing a drug test. Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield and Mark McGwire have admitted to using performance-enhancing substances and got new contracts.

Which sport is “dirty” again?

— I’ve been asked if the current scandal in France will affect Floyd Landis’ case at all. My knee-jerk reaction is, “No, because they are mutually exclusive. Floyd’s case has to do with one specific test from one stage of last year’s race. This year’s scandal, they say, is about the ‘culture of doping.’”

Since I don’t believe Floyd is a part of that culture, nor do I believe he is a doper, I didn’t think it has anything to do with him.

But upon retrospect, maybe it does in the always fickle court of public opinion. Maybe Floyd suddenly becomes guilty because he rides a bike and won the Tour de France?

Either way it makes me happy to be a runner instead of a baseball player or cyclist.

— Meanwhile, other folks have asked me why they just don’t cancel the rest of the Tour. What’s the point anymore? It’s a valid question, but the answer comes down to the bottom line. The rest of the ride to Paris is economical, complete with all of the pomp, circumstance and corporate sponsorships.

They don’t put those corporate logos on their uniforms because they look nice.

The reason the Tour continues is the same reason why Bud Selig doesn’t go all French on Barry Bonds and pull the cheater from the field. It’s why the Giants re-signed Bonds – he makes a lot of people money…

Especially people like WADA president Dick Pound.

Integrity? Ha!

THIS JUST IN…

The sport of professional cycling has just decided to kill itself.

From The Summit (Colorado) Daily News’ Devon O’Neil (via TBV):

We’ve got an entire sport (cycling) teetering on collapse yet again, we’ve got a superstar NFL quarterback charged with killing animals for money, we’ve got an NBA referee facing a game-fixing probe, and the greatest record in sports is about to be broken by a steroids user.

Thank heavens for college softball.

Long live the UCI and LNDD!

No deal

Trade Aaron Rowand?

For who? For what?

Though he’s in the last year of his contract, has a reputation for being one of the best defensive centerfielders in the game, and is having the best year of his career at the plate, Rowand’s name still persists in all of the trade banter relating to the Phillies in their push to add an arm to the thin pitching corps.

Rowand, needless to say, has heard the talk and was asked about it after he won last night’s game with a two-out, eighth inning solo home run and, frankly, he isn’t too concerned. If the Phillies are going to remain in the playoff race all the way up to the July 31 non-waivers trading deadline, it doesn’t make sense to deal away Rowand.

Why? Well, there’s the matter of his defense. When he first joined the Phillies Rowand went gap-to-gap as well as any centerfielder I had ever seen for the team. Of course he’s being compared to Doug Glanville, Marlon Byrd and Kenny Lofton, but the fact is Rowand can go get it. Plus, he has the scars to prove it.

There’s also the matter of his hitting and is place in the Phillies’ lineup. Because he hits fifth and offers “protection” for slugger Ryan Howard, Rowand is that much more important to the team’s playoff chances. Of course it doesn’t hurt that he’s ninth in the National League in batting average (.330) and on-base percentage (.400) and is on pace to drive in close to 100 runs.

Those numbers make it difficult for the opposition to pitch around Howard.

Still, the trade talk persists despite the Phillies maintaining that Rowand isn’t going anywhere as long as the team is in the race. Rowand doesn’t expect to go anywhere either.

“I expect to be here this season. If they end up trading me by the deadline it will be a surprise to me because I haven’t heard anything. Right now, I feel like I’m a part of this team and this team is the one I hopefully get to end the season with and play the postseason with. All of that stuff that is going to go on is going to go on in the off-season. It’s not going to be something that’s done during the regular season. I can tell you that right now.

“I’m concentrating on these guys right now. I’m concentrating on trying to win.”

Next year, though, is a different story.

***
Nobody asked but Antonio Alfonseca has done a pretty good job filling in for Tom Gordon/Brett Myers the last couple of months.

***
Stage 16 of the Tour de France is closing in on the final 10 kilometers of today’s final mountain stage and I just don’t feel like waiting until the end to summarize it. That’s a damn shame because this really should have been the most telling and dramatic day of the race where the champion is finally revealed in a beautiful sport in a race that is way more exciting than a football game.

The Tour de France is a lot like the Super Bowl except for instead of a bye week and a week of media hype, it’s 23 straight days of racing over unforgiving terrain. So yeah, today should have been The Day.

Instead, well, yeah…

It seems that the riders are a little peeved over what’s going on their sport as well. A bunch of riders staged a little protest this morning by standing still at the starting line when the stage began. A few riders started the race in earnest, namely Tour leader and accused doper Michael Rasmussen.

Could you imagine this happening in baseball? Suppose a pitcher refused to throw a pitch when Barry Bonds, Gary Sheffield, Jason Giambi or any other admitted doper came to the plate. Better yet, why haven’t the rank and file members of the MLBPA staged a protest of some type?

Still, a full day after digesting the news regarding Vinokourov and the Astana team and the alleged positive test for injecting someone else’s blood, it’s still very difficult to wrap my head around it. The UCI – the cycling union – is clearly hell bent on destroying its sport and its riders’ reputations. The lab used by the Tour is – to be fair – really, really bad.

As for Vinokourov, if he did dope, what was he thinking? Didn’t he know that it wasn’t just his reputation and career at stake? Doesn’t he know that unlike other sports cycling doesn’t protect its dopers?

Regardless, it’s all very amazing. Imagine, as a frame of reference, that Alex Rodriguez tested positive in a doping test and the New York Yankees immediately cancelled their remaining games… that’s what happened yesterday with Vinokourov and Astana.

Anyway, Mayo, Leipheimer, Rasmussen and Contador are duking it out up the final climb of this year’s Tour. As long as Rasmussen doesn’t win, it’s OK.

Is it really so difficult?

Apparently the only sports news that occurs these days is blockbuster news. And by blockbuster news we don’t mean Wayne Gretzky has been traded to the Kings or David Beckham has signed with the Los Angeles Galaxy of the MLS. No, we’re talking front-page-next-to-the-real-news news.

First Michael Vick is indicted for allegedly running a huge dog fighting operation out of his home, complete with the same kind of training equipment used to rehab Barbaro as well as an execution area for the animals that deliver in the clutch almost as well as Vick himself.

Then there was NBA ref from a local high school and Villanova University who is being investigated for allegedly fixing games he officiated for the mob. Yeah, that sounds like a really bad movie that they couldn’t get DeNiro or Joe Pesci for. More like Adrian Zmed as the gangster or something.

By the way, Adrian Zmed and Tom Hanks were great in Bachelor Party.

And now Team Astana has pulled out of the Tour de France because Alexandre Vinokourov has reportedly tested positive for a banned blood transfusion after winning last weekend’s time trial. What that means is Vinokourov was caught with blood in his body that wasn’t his.

That’s fine for baseball, football, basketball and hockey and U.S. league, but not for sports governed by Olympic-styled drug testing.

Vinokourov, of course, was the favorite to win this year’s Tour, though he was in 23rd place and more than 28 minutes behind leader Michael Rasmussen, who also was involved in a bit of a doping controversy last week. Nevertheless, Vinokourov has won two of the last three stages of the Tour and has become a crowd favorite for his daring style of riding despite that he has approximately 30 stitches in his knees after a crash during the first week of the race.

Word is Vinokourov fell again on Saturday, the day after his time trial victory and when the alleged positive test was conducted, which caused him to lose 29 minutes to Rasmussen and fall out of contention in this years’ race.

But bigger than that, the news regarding Vinokourov is a knockout punch to a sport already reeling from too many doping scandals.

Upon hearing the news, David Millar, the British rider for Saunier Duval, said:

“Jesus Christ, I’m speechless. It makes me sad. I have the impression the riders will never understand.

“I really wanted to believe he was having a good day. Vino is one of my favorite riders, one of the most beautiful riders in the peloton. If a rider of his stature and class has done this in the current situation, we might as well pack up our bags and leave.”

Or this one from Eric Boyer, the manager of Team Cofidis:

“I’m completely disgusted. I hope that Vinokourov will not be so cowardly as to deny it, but will explain it to us, tell us who helped him, who participated in this dirty business, because he could not have done it all alone. Vinokourov told us that he only worked with Dr. Ferrari to establish a training regimen. He told us that he was courageous, that the French liked him, that he was stronger than the pain. He told us that we French didn’t know how to manage, that we were weaklings. Now we can conclude that he was a real bastard who has brought even more discredit on cycling through these practices. It’s one more heavy blow, and I hope we can get back on our feet once more.

“I regret nothing of what I’ve said in the past few days, or the past few months. I demand that the whole Astana team leave cycling as soon as possible.”

Word is that race organizers are holding an emergency meeting about what is to happen next with their race, but at the request of the Tour, Astana has packed up and withdrawn all its riders.

Yeah, this is really bad. I don’t think I would be surprised if the rest of the race is cancelled.

Here comes the editorial/rant:

Why is it so hard to compete clean? Why can’t baseball players, football players say no to steroids and human growth hormone? Why can’t endurance athletes stay away from blood doping, EPO, etc. etc.? Why is that so hard?

Look, I am a competitive marathon runner. I don’t get paid, I don’t have big-time sponsors (though I’m waiting, Clif Bar) and I don’t have the luxury of two-a-day training sessions and mid-day naps. Instead I just work as hard as I can, and, truth be told it’s not that difficult.

Oh sure, training for the marathon can be very hard as any endurance sport can be. Every day there are aches, pains, blood and bruises. My calves always hurt and my toenails are black and withered away. Plus, sometimes it takes up a lot of time.

But you know what? I don’t need drugs other than a big cup of coffee every morning to go with that Clif Bar and maybe some ibuprofen from time to time. All it takes is the desire and ability to do the work.

How hard is it to do the work? Better yet, why would someone want to live with the guilt of knowing that not only did they cheat themselves, their teammates and their fans, but also people who go out there and do the work every day and don’t get paid. Look, I understand that there is a lot of money and competition involved with professional sports, but if you aren’t good enough, live with it.

Sports don’t exist in a vacuum. If you want to play baseball or football, you don’t need MLB or the NFL. Just go play.

There is no crime in playing clean.

And all of those laudatory things I wrote about Vinokourov during the Tour? I guess I take them back.

More: A doctor explains blood doping (VeloNews)

Double dippers

Remember that old adage about good pitching beating good hitting every time? Remember? Of course you do. Aaron Rowand even postulated on it last week after the Phillies dropped two of three to the Dodgers last week. If I remember correctly he said something like, “Good pitching beats good hitting every time… ”

Hey Aaron, guess what? Maybe really good hitting beats good pitching from time to time.

At least that seemed to be the case when the Phillies faced the Padres in pitching-friendly PETCO (or is it Petco?) Park this past weekend. After being shutdown on two hits in a 1-0 loss to Chris Young on Thursday night, Rowand, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and the gang piled on 28 runs in the final three games to take the series.

Check out some of these numbers from the 4-3 trip against the top two clubs in the NL West:

Howard hit .500 (11-for-22) with five homers and 13 RBIs; Utley hit .379 (11-for-29) with five doubles, nine runs and seven RBIs; and Rowand hit .355 (11-for-31) with five runs and eight RBIs.

Meanwhile, some dude named J.D. Durbin allowed just one run in 15 innings including a complete-game shutout in Sunday’s 9-0 victory.

J.D. Durbin? What’s the Deal?

I’m sure we’ll get into Durbin with more depth later, but for now let’s pick on something about Chase Utley. It has been examined by pundits, scribes and the statdorks that Utley is in the mix with Prince Fielder for the NL MVP Award, which is kind of cool but there’s something much more interesting going on under the “2B” for Utley.

There, it reads 41. That’s 41 doubles in 97 games which puts him on pace for 68 for the season. In 1931 a guy named Earl Webb clubbed 67 doubles, which is the best of all time. Interestingly, Webb played two more seasons after his epic ’31 season and then was gone.

Poof! Just like that.

What’s more, no player has hit 60 doubles since 1936 when Joe Medwick and Charlie Gehringer did it. In 2000 Todd Helton hit 59 doubles, which happens to be the Phillies’ record set by Chuck Klein in 1930.

So last year it was Howard taking apart the club’s home run record and this year it could be Utley adding his name atop of the doubles chart.

***
David Beckham made his U.S. soccer debut last weekend and all of the stories and all of the hype got me to thinking… how good is that guy? I know a few people who are close followers of soccer and I asked them if Beckham is going to revolutionize something and get people going crazy the way we all did for the New York Cosmos when Pele and Giorgio Chinaglia came to the U.S. in the late ‘70s.

The answer?

Probably not.

“He might be one of the top 100 players ever, but he won’t have as much of an impact on soccer in the U.S. as Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain and the women’s team did,” one friend wrote.

“It helps that he’s white, has a name that’s easy to pronounce, speaks English and is married to a celebrity,” another friend wrote. “He’s probably the best player in the league, but he wasn’t the best player in the European leagues.

However, Beckham joining L.A. in the MLS is kind of like an All-Star baseball player leaving MLB to go play in Japan.”

Meanwhile, U.S. columnists are opining that Beckham’s arrival on our shores won’t turn soccer into a major league sport – though it could push past the NHL. To those ideas I think the writers are missing the point. Soccer already IS a major sport in the U.S. Want proof? Drive past any suburban park on any weekend in any part of the country and look what sport the kids are playing… and no, it ain’t baseball.

Adults might not watch soccer on TV, but the shoe companies dump lots of cash into it and the kids play it. That’s what matters.

***
It’s been written that Game 3 of the NBA’s western conference finals from last May was one of the worst officiated games in the league’s history. Anyone have a guess which ref called that game?

Check it out:

***
Undoubtedly, it has been a very interesting two days in the Tour de France. Michael Rasmussen has hung onto the Yellow Jersey by riding strong in the Pyrenees after the best time trial of his life. It stands to reason that The Danish Cowboy could take it all the Paris if he rides strong in the final mountain stage on Wednesday, though I suspect he will face a challenge from the Disco boys, Levi Leipheimer and Alberto Contador, whose victory in Sunday’s mountain stage over Rasmussen was fantastic.

As far as Leipheimer’s Tour goes, he has one more day in which to engage. Either that or hope that one of the riders ahead of him makes a mistake, cracks, or crashes.

Meanwhile, the most memorable rider of the Tour has been Alexandre Vinokourov, who won Saturday’s time trial, reportedly fell on his stitched up knees after colliding with a fan in Sunday’s mountain stage (to lose 29 minutes), before riding away with today’s mountain stage.

Give me a choice between riding cautiously and steadily like Leipheimer or putting it all out there despite the consequences like Vino and I’ll take the blaze of glory.

As Phil Liggett said as Vino pumped his fist to cross the finish line today, “Everyone all over the world loves a fighter… ”

There is nothing inspiring about being careful to get fourth place.

Stage 15 Final
1.) Vinokourov, Astana @ 5:34:28
2.) Kim Kirchen, T- Mobile @ 51 seconds
3.) Haimar Zubeldia, Euskaltel-Euskadi @ same time
4.) Juan José Cobo, Saunier Duval @ 58 seconds
5.) Juan Manuel Garate, Quick Step @ 2:14
6.) David Arroyo, Caisse d’Epargne @ 3:23
7.) Bernhard Kohl, Team Gerolsteiner @ 4:25
8.) Christian Vandevelde, CSC @ same time
9.) Ludovic Turpin, AG2R Prévoyance @ 5:16
10.) Alberto Contador, The Discovery Channel @ 5:31

Overall
1.) Rasmussen
2.) Contador @ 2:23
3.) Cadel Evans @ 4:00
4.) Leipheimer @ 5:25
5.) Klöden @ 5:34
6.) Carlos Sastre @ 6:46

Here’s my prediction: the winner of the 2007 Tour de France will be evident by lunchtime on Wednesday.

Way to go out on a limb, huh…

I picked a bad day to stop drinking cough syrup

I’m feeling a little tired and run down from a cold, which I will blame on the lack of sleep from the late nights spent watching baseball games from the coast. Hey, I’m getting old and need my sleep.

Anywho, I’m going to rest up and relax a bit and come back scratching and clawing like I’ve been doped up with cow’s blood.

Be ready.

I would be remiss, however, not to mention Anexandre Vinokourov’s performance in today time trial in the Tour de France. Still looking like a malnourished mummy with the wrap around his stitched up knees and arms, Vino climbed to ninth place in the overall standings. With three stages in a row in the Pyrenees starting tomorrow, Vinokourov and/or Levi Leipheimer might be ready to make a move on Michael Rasmussen.

Stage 13 Time Trial Final
1.) Alexandre Vinokourov, Astana, Kazakhstan, in 1:06:34
2.) Cadel Evans, Predictor-Lotto, Australia, @ 1:14
3.) Andreas Klöden, Astana, Germany, @ 1:39
4.) Andrey Kashechkin, Astana, Kazakhstan, @ 1:44
5.) Bradley Wiggins, Cofidis, Great Britain, @ 2:14
6.) Yaroslav Popovych, Discovery Channel, Ukraine, @ 2:16
7.) Alberto Contador, Discovery Channel, Spain, @ 2:18
8.) Sylvain Chavanel, Cofidis, France, @ 2:38
9.) Levi Leipheimer, Discovery Channel, USA, @ 2:39
10.) Mikel Astarloza, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Spain, @ 2:42
11.) Michael Rasmussen, Rabobank, Denmark, @ 2:55

Overall
1.) Rasmussen
2.) Evans at 1:00
3.) Contador at 2:31
4.) Kloden at 2:34
5.) Leipheimer at 3:37
6.) Andrey Kashechkin, at 4:23
7.) Carlos Sastre at 4:45
8.) Astarloza, at 5:07
9.) Vinokourov at 5:10
10.) Kirchen at 5:29
11.) Valverde at 5:48
12.) Mayo at 4:48

Stay classy, Cole Hamels

For some reason today feels like a Friday…

Regardless of what day it is, the Phillies have four tough games this weekend against the San Diego Padres, who despite their 52-41 record (one game behind the Dodgers in second place in the NL West) could be the National League’s representative in the World Series.

Yes, the Padres are 52-41 even though they have just one regular player with a batting average over .260 and have a Major League-worst batting average (.242) and on-base percentage (.313) and are next-to-last in slugging. With Adrian Gonzalez, Mike Cameron, Marcus Giles and Khalil Greene as the Padres’ version of a Murders’ Row, it’s easy to see why they have the second-most strikeouts in the league – far more than the free-swinging Phillies.

Yet at the same time it’s easy to see why the Padres are a good pick to get through the National League.

Pitching, pitching and more pitching.

The Padres’ team ERA is 3.13 (2.63 from the bullpen), which leads the Majors by a lot. Better yet, the question isn’t who will win the Cy Young Award in the National League, it’s which Padre does one pick?

Is it Jake Peavy and his 2.30 ERA and 9.36 strikeouts per nine innings? Or is it Chris Young with his 1.97 ERA and 8.78 strikeouts per nine innings? Mix in 40somethings Greg Maddux and David Wells, both of whom are pitching pretty well, and it’s no wonder that the .242 batting average is getting it done.

But the most interesting pitcher on the Padres staff is fifth starter Justin Germano, who as most close followers of the Phillies remember was claimed off waivers by the Padres when the Phillies tried to sneak him back to Triple-A during spring training.

With a 6-3 record, 3.55 ERA and 16 walks in 12 starts have fit in nicely with San Diego. Not to mention the fact that the rookie right-hander went 4-0 with a 1.74 ERA in his first five starts.

For some reason he couldn’t make the Phillies this spring. Perhaps the Pat Gillick and the gang are having second thoughts now? What do you suppose the Phillies will be thinking on Sunday when J.D. Durbin goes to the mound against Peavy?

Better yet, do you think that Germano will be fired up for Friday night’s start? I’m going to go out on a limb and say… yeah probably.

***
As we determined the Phillies are spending the weekend in San Diego which is the hometown of tonight’s starting pitcher Cole Hamels. San Diego is also the adapted hometown of Ron Burgundy, Tony Gwynn, Tony Hawk and Floyd Landis, it has one of the lowest crime rates of all major U.S. cities, and it’s 70 degrees every stinking day of the year. Snow, ice and cold weather are concepts in San Diego, not reality, which means outdoor sports and activities rule.

So why haven’t we all packed up and moved to San Diego?

Good question. Then again, the average price of a home in San Diego is over $600,000… just think how much it would be if everyone moved there.

***
I have a theory that Philadelphia sports fans and French sports fans are uncannily similar. Mostly this is based on the idea that like the French, Philadelphia fans appreciate losers far more than the gifted or talented. To hear Philly folks tell it, the Phillies won the World Series in 1993 and they appreciate the fact that the team lost so dramatically.

The same goes for the French in that they haven’t seen a winner in the Tour de France since 1985, however, riders like Christophe Moreau, Richard Virenque, Laurent Jalabert, Luc Leblanc and Raymond Poulidor were always gallant in their many defeats.

Yes, French sports are like Philadelphia sports. That’s the theory. Since 1936 the French have had won winner of the French Open (Yannick Noah in 1983), but claim Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs and major title tennis player Mary Pierce.

Take away the French National soccer team’s World Cup title in 1998 – and defeat last year – and France faces a championship drought of Philadelphia proportions.

Hey, it’s a half-baked theory with not a lot of research put into it, but I’m sticking to it. After all, Philadelphia has more public art than any other city outside of Paris (or at least it used to… like I said, not much research has gone into this theory).

Anyway, the point is the French will go without a champion at the Tour de France again this year when Moreau was dropped from the peloton and lost considerable time – 3-minutes, 19 seconds – in the overall standings.

Meanwhile, David Zabriskie was eliminated from the race today because he finished more than 30 minutes behind Stage 11 winner Robbie Hunter. Zabriske is a time-trial specialist who held the Yellow Jersey for exactly 52 seconds during the Prologue this year, and held it through the first three stages of the 2005 Tour. This year, however, Zabriskie looked like a contender for the Lanterne Rouge, leading some (like me) to wonder, “What’s with Zabriskie?”

Apparently it was an achy knee that led to Z-Man’s rough showing.

“After the Galibier day I really struggled to try to get better,” Zabriskie said. “I was hoping these few flat days I could nurse it back to health, but the Tour is not the kind of race where you can fix yourself. Today was a really hard day and my knee couldn’t handle it. I came off when Astana finally did their rotation in the wind.”

As if that news wasn’t enough, Yellow Jersey holder Michael Rasmussen was kicked off the Danish national cycling team on Thursday because of an alleged disagreement over drug testing.

According to a story in VeloNews:

The director of the Danish Cycling Union (DCU) Jesper Worre told DR1 television station that Rasmussen had received a number of warnings over failing to inform doping authorities over his training whereabouts.

“We consider this case with great seriousness and the executive of the DCU decided that Michael will no longer be part of the national team and he was informed of this on June 26,” said Worre.

Rasmussen spends most of his time in Mexico where his wife his from and as the leader of the Tour de France is drug tested after every stage. But, you know, the DCU doesn’t want to have to refer to Google Earth to track down its soon to be ex-patriot.

In Stage 11… sprinters.

Stage 11 Final
1.) Robbie Hunter, Barloworld, South Africa
2.) Fabian Cancellara, CSC, Switzerland, same time
3.) Murilo Fischer, Liquigas, Brazil, s.t.
4.) Filippo Pozzato, Liquigas, Italy, s.t.
5.) Alessandro Ballan, Lampre, Italy, s.t.
6.) Paolo Bossoni, Lampre, Italy, s.t.
7.) Claudio Corioni, Lampre, Italy, s.t.
8.) Philippe Gilbert, Française des Jeux, Belgium, s.t.
9.) William Bonney, Credit Agricole, France, s.t.
10.) Kim Kirchen, T-Mobile, Luxembourg, s.t.

Overall
1.) Michael Rasmussen, Rabobank, Denmark, in 53:11:38
2.) Alejandro Valverde, Caisse d’Epargne, Spain, @ 2:35
3.) Iban Mayo, Saunier Duval, Spain, @ 2:39
4.) Cadel Evans, Predictor-Lotto, Australia, @ 2:41
5.) Alberto Contador, Discovery Channel, Spain, @ 3:08
6.) Carlos Sastre, CSC, Spain, @ 3:39
7.) Andreas Klöden, Astana, Germany, @ 3:50
8.) Levi Leipheimer, Discovery Channel, USA, @ 3:53

One more day of sprinters before the time trial and Pyrenees.

A calm before the big climbs

It’s a rest day in the Tour de France, which means the riders will go out and take a cool, relaxed two-hour ride through the foothills of the Alps before tackling the more than challenging Stage 9 tomorrow.

The reason behind the easy ride instead of a day of lounging at the pool, massage table or putting the feet up in the hotel room is basic – complete rest allows lactic acid to pool in the legs, making them stiffen up and become nothing more than rigid branches on a tree. Since Tuesday brings three climbs, including the start on the early inclines of Col du I’lseran before finishing with the infamous Col du Galibier during the 160 kilometer ride from Val-d’Isère to Briançon, today’s rest-day ride will be a little more focused and intense.

In other words there are no rest days in Tour de France.

Since Stage 9 will be the most difficult of the Tour, it’s fair to reason that it is more than quite possible that a winner or a small handful of contenders could emerge. And after a tough Stage 8 in which the riders attacked six categorized climbs, there are a select few who established themselves from the rest of the peloton.

One rider, of course, is Mickael Rasmussen, the Dane for Rabobank who rode away with the stage thanks to a long breakaway with about 50 miles to go. The other usual suspects are in the mix, too, like Alejandro Valverde, Cadel Evans, Carlos Sastre, Andreas Klöden, Levi Leipheimer, France’s Christophe Moreau, and, of course, Alexandre Vinokourov.

But the most interesting rider in contention is the enigmatic Basque for Saunier Duval, Iban Mayo.

Yes, that Iban Mayo.

Followers of the sport might remember Mayo as the up-and-coming rider who finished sixth in the Tour de France as a 25-year old in 2003, and then seemed to be the latest of the “Next One” poised to knock off Lance Armstrong the way Jan Ullrich, Ivan Basso, Joseba Beloki, Klöden, and everyone else could not. For one thing, Mayo had a perfect build for a cyclist at a waifish 5-foot-9 and 130 pounds with the ability to climb through the Alps and the Pyrenees like a mountain goat.

Secondly, Mayo was tough as hell. Aside from his expertise as a climber and a Basque rider for the Euskaltel-Euskadi team (think of them as the Green Bay Packers of cycling since it is a team owned by the Basque people), Mayo was in a horrific car accident in 1997 when he was 19 that left him in a wheelchair for month s with broken legs a smashed up arm. Doctors said that it would be difficult for the young cyclist to walk without a limp, let alone get back on the bike.

But telling a Basque to stay off a bike is like telling an American to stay away from the all-you-can-eat buffet, bad television, and to stop building out-of-control credit card debt. Sure, the idea works in theory, but real life is something different all together. Instead, Mayo developed a pedaling style that helped alleviate the wear-and-tear on his damaged legs and then he trained and then trained some more.

In 2000 he signed with Euskaltel-Euskadi and quickly became a young force in the sport.

It was Mayo who nearly became the catalyst for Armstrong’s demise in the ’03 Tour when the diminutive Basque pushed the seven-time champion to the edge during a climb of Col du Galibier as well as a victory on Alpe d’Huez.

In 2004 Mayo didn’t just rout the field – including Armstrong – in the Tour tune-up at the Dauphiné Libéré, but he demolished it. In the time trial up Mount Ventoux, Mayo battered Armstrong by two minutes and looked poised to dominate the Tour de France that year. Heading into the ’04 Tour, Mayo was a riddle that Armstrong was afraid he could not solve.

But then, poof!, he was gone.

Actually, Mayo crashed on a cobblestone road during the early going of the Tour, sustained injuries and abandoned the race at the 15th Stage before reaching his countrymen in the Pyrenees.

Along with the injuries came a bout with mononucleosis that cost him all of the 2005 season.

But Mayo returned to light racing in 2006 and won a stage of the Dauphiné Libéré as well as the overall titles at the Vuelta a Burgos and Subida a Urkiola. In 2007 he signed with team Caisse d’Epargne and won a stage in the prestigious Giro d’Italia and suddenly looks as if he is finally on the cusp in the Tour de France.

Could it finally be Mayo’s year?

Certainly Stage 9 is set up for Mayo to capture the Yellow Jersey. The small 2-minute, 29 second gap between Mayo and Rasmussen can easily be erased if the mighty Basque can conjure up that old battle with Armstrong from 2003 up Col du Galibier.

Stage 8 Final
1.) Mickael Rasmussen, Rabobank, Denmark, in 4:49:40
2.) Iban Mayo, Saunier Duval, Spain, at 2:47
3.) Alejandro Valverde, Caisse d’Epargne, Spain, at 3:12
4.) Christophe Moreau, A2R, France, at 3:13
5.) Fränk Schleck, CSC, Luxembourg, at 3:13
6.) Cadel Evans, Predictor-Lotto, Australia, at 3:13
7.) Andrey Kashechkin, Astana, Kazakhstan, at 3:13
8.) Alberto Contador, Discovery Channel, Spain, at 3:31
9.) Denis Menchov, Rabobank, Russia, at 3:35
10.) Carlos Sastre, CSC, Spain, at 3:35
11.) Haimar Zubeldia, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Spain, at 3:59
12.) Levi Leipheimer, Discovery Channel, USA, at 3:59
13.) Juan José Cobo, Saunier Duval, Spain, at 3:59
14.) Manuel Beltran, Liquigas, Spain, at 4:13
15.) Oscar Pereiro, Caisse d’Epargne, Spain, at 4:13
16.) Juan Manuel Garate, Quick Step, Spain, at 4:29
17.) David Arroyo, Caisse d’Epargne, Spain, at 4:29
18.) Andreas Klöden, Astana, Germany, at 4:29
19.) Alexandre Vinokourov, Astana, Kazakhstan, at 4:29
20.) Linus Gerdemann, T-Mobile, Germany, at 5:05

Overall
1.) Mickael Rasmussen, Rabobank, Denmark, in 15:37:42
2.) Linus Gerdemann, T-Mobile, Germany, at :43
3.) Iban Mayo, Saunier Duval, Spain, at 2:39
4.) Alejandro Valverde, Caisse d’Epargne, Spain, at 2:51
5.) Andrey Kashechkin, Astana, Kazakhstan, at 2:52
6.) Cadel Evans, Predictor-Lotto, Australia, at 2:53
7.) Christophe Moreau, AG2R, France, at 3:06
8.) Alberto Contador, Discovery Channel, Spain, at 3:10
9.) Fränk Schleck, CSC, Luxembourg, at 3:14
10.) Denis Menchov, Rabobank, Russia, at 3:19
11.) Carlos Sastre, CSC, Spain, at 3:35
12.) Andreas Klöden, Astana, Germany, at 3:46
13.) Levi Leipheimer, Discovery Channel, at 3:53
14.) Oscar Pereiro, Caisse d’Epargne, Spain, at 3:54

Alexandre Vinokourov is lurking in 22nd place, 5-minutes, 23 seconds off the pace.

***
The Phillies play late-night tonight in Los Angeles, but chances are I’m not going to make it to the middle innings. The old boy needs his rest and wants to get up in time to get a big cup of coffee so he can park himself in front of the TV to watch Stage 9.

Better yet, wouldn’t it be much better to actually be there to cover the race? I’m going to have to work on that. Hey, Comcast SportsNet and Versus are owned by the same company… perhaps the home office needs a writer to roll through France for three weeks to chronicle what goes down. Better yet, if homeboy Floyd gets back in to race in 2008, who better to get it all down than another dude from Lancaster?

I’m ready. Sign me up.

***
For those looking for some baseball to read about while waiting for the 10:05 p.m. start on the coast, check out Todd Zolecki’s report from Randy Wolf and Mike Lieberthal. It sounds like those boys don’t really miss Philadelphia all that much…

Another busy Saturday

Given a choice between having Albert Pujols or Chase Utley for his team, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel answered quickly and without hesitation.

“Come on, I gotta go with my guy,” the skipper chided.

It wasn’t an answer based in loyalty or a show of solidarity for his guy either. Manuel firmly believes that Chase Utley is the best player in the National League. He even said as much following the 13-3 victory over Pujols’ World Champion Cardinals at Citizens Bank Park on Friday night. Certainly Utley made it easy for Manuel to boast, too, by rapping out four hits to go with three RBIs to give him 71 for the season – second-best in the league – as well as his 17th home run.

Add in the fact that Utley is hitting .331 – 10 points behind league-leader Hunter Pence of Houston – and it gives Manuel’s claims more than just the mark of pride for his guy.

“He’s probably the best player the National League,” Manuel said. “And I get to see him every day.”

The last part of that quote was the real bit braggadocio. “I get to see him,” he said. “Every day.”

In a way it was a challenge, perhaps. No, not for Utley to live up to another man’s boast and help carry the bruised and battered Phillies in their push to overtake the Braves and Mets in the NL East. Instead it seemed as if the manager was telling the other folks who also have the privilege to get to see Utley play every day to enjoy it. Players like that don’t come around that often, he seemed to plead.

It also shouldn’t be lost on anyone that Manuel touted his All-Star candidate and MVP candidate on a night when Pujols and Ryan Howard were in the ballpark. Howard, of course, hits in the lineup after Utley and plays on the same side of the infield. He also is the reigning NL MVP after slugging a franchise record 58 home runs last season and currently leads the club with 21 more this season. After a slow and injury-plagued start to the 2007 season, Howard has shown glimpses of a return to his MVP form.

Pujols, on the other hand, might just go down as one of the greatest hitters of this era. In his first six seasons Pujols has never finished worse than fourth in the NL MVP balloting and claimed the award in 2005 after second-place finishes in 2002, 2003 and 2006. In his six-and-half season Pujols has clubbed 267 homers, driven in 811 runs with a .330 batting average.

Oh yeah, Pujols rarely strikes out. When he digs in at the plate it’s a safe bet that Pujols is going to hit the ball somewhere. Hard.

Still, given a choice Manuel will take his guy. You know, the one on pace to hit 30 homers and drive in 130 runs in the first year of his brand-new, seven-year contract.

“I think it’s a compliment,” Utley shrugged to reporters, noting that there are still 73 games remaining in the season.

But that’s Utley. The compliments are nice and so are the back-to-back starting nods in the All-Star Game, but to Utley a player is only as good as his last game, his last at-bat or his last play in the field. He’s clearly not interested or comfortable in talking about himself. Oh sure, he knows he’s a really good player – how could he not? But to Utley playing hard and playing well is their own reward. Celebrating is something he shares with his teammates after a victory. For Utley, the focus is on the here and now, always striving to improve in every game, every at-bat and every play in the field.

And for Utley, improving is beginning to become a monumental task.

How much better can he get?

***
Anyone wondering if ignorance is truly bliss needs to look no further than Gary Sheffield and his much-publicized interview with HBO’s “Real Sports.” Check out some of the highlights here, via Steroid Nation.

***
Apparently the genius manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, Tony La Russa, got a little testy with some members of the local baseball press following last night’s 13-3 loss.

Here’s something interesting to ponder: La Russa is in the last year of his deal with the Cardinals, while Manuel is in the last year of his deal with the Phillies. Wouldn’t it be something if they traded positions, or at the very least, if La Russa took over as skipper for the Phillies?

Then we’d get to see how the genius handles his brains power being dissected. You know, like leaving Pujols on the bench in the ninth inning with two outs and the bases loaded in a one-run game.

Yeah, he was saving him for extra innings. Uh-huh, a real genius there.

***
I did a little investigating spurred by a chat and have deduced the following:

• Don’t expect a decision from the USADA arbitration panel on the Floyd Landis case until after the Tour de France. The panel has to render a decision in 10 days after the case has been closed, and apparently the arbitrators are still pouring over the evidence and arguments.

• Expect the ruling to come back 2-1 against Floyd. Arbitrators in such cases don’t get their jobs by being fair – they get them by being political.

“This was 2-1 against Landis before the first argument.”

I have some more stuff, too, but haven’t been able to corroborate it yet. As soon as I get a chance to ask some more questions I’ll dish away. I’m also still planning on writing the review of David Walsh’s From Lance to Lance: Inside the American Doping Controversy at the Tour de France. According to a couple of folks who have crossed paths with Walsh and have read his book the short review is very consistent.

“Flimsy.”

“A house of cards.”

Most scribes that have been around for more than a few years know that when there is smoke there is also fire. However, if one is going to present the smoke as fact, they better have the goods down cold. After all, anyone who has ever spent time in a press box or media room and covered a sport has some really good stories.

Trust me. They’re good.

Suddenly I feel like David Walsh and Kitty Kelly’s love child…

Meanwhile, the Lance vs. Landis race at the Leadville 100 appears to be on. I say call up Jan Ullrich and Bjarne Riis and turn it into a party…

***
Speaking of love, today is Bastille Day and there is nothing the folks lining the mountain road from Bourg-en-Bresse over the category 1 climb at Col de la Colombiére to Le Grand-Bornand wanted to see more than a Frenchman in the lead.

That just ain’t going to happen.

My take is that a lot of the folks in France wouldn’t be disappointed if their country’s grand Tour became a lot less international and featured their best countrymen. That’s kind the sense I get from the folks in Boston about their marathon. If some slender dude from Quincy or Jamaica Plain were to win every year instead of the best runners from around the globe, it wouldn’t bother the Bostonians all that much.

France’s best hope in the 2007 Tour is Christophe Moreau is 36-years old and a veteran of the 1998 Festina doping scandal. Though he won the Dauphiné Libéré race this year, and despite finishing ninth in today’s stage at 3-minutes and 38 seconds behind winner Linus Gerdemann of T-Mobile and Germany, Moreau is not considered a threat.

How can you have a Tour de France without a dude from Germany named Linus?

Gerdemann, more than a decade younger than Moreau, isn’t considered a threat to win the Tour either, but as the race enters its second week the 24-year old is the man in Yellow. How long he holds onto it remains to be seen, however. Gerdemann’s big win on Saturday is viewed as a bit of a surprise and perhaps the kid emptied the tank with his victory. After all, the riders face three category 1 climbs tomorrow in the Alps from Le Grand-Bornand to an uphill finish in the skiing village of Tignes.

After the first rest day on Monday, the Tour gets even more difficult on Tuesday when the riders face Col du I’lseran and the infamous Col du Galibier with a category 1 climb at Col du Télégraphe mixed in for fun.

“It doesn’t mean a lot,” said contender Cadel Evans about the young German’s win. “It’s still very early.”

Stage 7 Final
1.) Linus Gerdemann, T-Mobile, Germany, in 4:53:13
2.) Inigo Landaluze, Euskaltel, Spain, at :40
3.) de la Fuente, Saunier Duval, Spain, at 1:39
4.) Mauricio Soler, Barloworld, Colombia, at 2:14
5.) Laurent Lefevre, Bouygues Telecom, France, at 2:21
6.) Fabian Wegmann, Gerolsteiner, Germany, at 3:32
7.) Juan Manuel Garate, Quick Step, Spain, at 3:38
8.) Xavier Florencio, Bouygues Telecom, Spain, at 3:38
9.) Christophe Moreau, AG2R, France, at 3:38
10.) Alejandro Valverde, Caisse d’Epargne, Spain, at 3:38

Overall
1.) Linus Gerdemann, T-Mobile, Germany, in 34:43:40
2.) Inigo Landaluze, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Spain, at 1:24
3.) David de la Fuente, Saunier Duval, Spain, at 2:45
4.) Laurent Lefevre, Bouygues Telecom, France, at 2:55
5.) Mauricio Soler, Barloworld, Colombia, at 3:05
6.) Andreas Klöden, Astana, Germany, at 3:39
7.) Vladimir Gusev, Discovery Channel, Russia, at 3:51
8.) Vladimir Karpets, Caisse d’Epargne, Russia, at 3:52
9.) Mikel Astarloza, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Spain, at 3:55
10.) Thomas Dekker, Rabobank, Netherlands, at 3:57

Let’s get started

Back after the Break on a pleasant Friday night at Citizens Bank Park where the joint is stuffed to the gills with folks either looking for a night out, a chance to watch the hometown team reach an unprecedented milestone, or to see it make a second-half surge…

Or maybe all three – who really knows?

Anyway, last year at the All-Star Break the Phillies were 40-47 and getting set to deal away Bobby Abreu, Cory Lidle, David Bell and Rheal Cormier. It doesn’t seem as if there will be a sell-off of big salaried players this July…

Or will there?

We’ll find out soon enough.

***
Speaking of seeing how things shake out, it appears as if the sprinters had their last day in the limelight in the Tour de France as wily Belgian Tom Boonen of Quick Step took the last flat stage until next week with a strong burst over the last few meters today. Perhaps the Stage 6 victory makes up for Boonen’s showing in Stage 2 when he failed to surge past leadout man Gert Steegmans?

Nonetheless, Boonen took the stage and the Green Jersey after Cofidis’ Bradley Wiggins attempted a breakaway very early and built a gap as big as 17-minutes on the peloton. But after 115 miles of Wiggins riding alone from medieval Semur-en-Auxois on the Armancon to the suburban Bourg-en-Bresse, the peloton swallowed him up like a swarm of bees with less than 10k to go.

Wiggins disappeared just like that.

Stage 6 Final
1.) Tom Boonen, Quick Step, Belgium
2.) Oscar Freire, Rabobank, Spain
3.) Erik Zabel, Milram, Germany
4.) Sébastien Chavanel, Française des Jeux, France
5.) Thor Hushovd, Credit Agricole, Norway
6.) Daniele Bennati, Lampre, Italy
7.) Robert Förster, Gerolsteiner, Germany
8.) Robbie Hunter, Barloworld, South Africa
9.) Romain Feillu, Agritubel, France
10.) Murilo Fischer, Liquigas, Brazil
11.) Francisco Ventoso, Saunier Duval, Spain
12.) Jérôme Pineau, Bouygues Telecom, France
13.) Robbie McEwen, Predictor-Lotto, Australia
14.) Danilo Napolitano, Lampre, Italy
15.) Geraint Thomas, Barloworld, Great Britain

Now we climb. Stage 7 goes from Bourg-en-Bresse to Le Grand-Bornand in the Alps in which the riders will tackle three smaller climbs before the 10-mile long, category one Col de la Colombière, which is 15k from the finish line.

Will it be Fabian Cancellara’s last day in Yellow? Will American Levi Leipheimer, resting just 60 seconds behind, make a move? Can Alexandre Vinokourov – who was wrapped up like a roughshod mummy and gesturing with a gallows’ humor toward the TV cameras a day after getting stitched up – get back in the race?

Yes, this is where it starts to get interesting. Better yet, Col du Galibier looms, too.

Overall
1.) Fabian Cancellara, CSC, Switzerland, in 29:49:55
2.) Andreas Klöden, Astana, Germany, at :33
3.) Filippo Pozzato, Liquigas, Italy, at :35
4.) David Millar, Saunier Duval, Great Britain, at :41
5.) Oscar Freire, Rabobank, Spain, at :43
6.) George Hincapie, Discovery Channel, USA, at :43
7.) Vladimir Gusev, Discovery Channel, Russia, at :45
8.) Vladimir Karpets, Caisse d’Epargne, Russia, at :46
9.) Erik Zabel, Milram, Germany, at :48
10.) Mikel Astarloza, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Spain, at :49

Creating a legacy

Not much to report about the Phillies aside from the fact that the second half opens up tomorrow when defending World Champion St. Louis Cardinals come to town. The fact also remains that the Phillies need to add some pitching if they are going to make a push after the Mets, but they are in a very large club in that regard.

Everyone needs pitching.

It also seems that there could be a shortage of ash bats as well. According to a story in The New York Times a scourge of Asian beetles – called the ash borer – has wreaked havoc on trees in the northeast and could, as some scientists predict, wipe out the ash tree used to make baseball bats from the region.

Speaking of wiping out bats, the web site Steroid Nation reports that the “mainstream” media missed a story in which MLB commissioner Bud Selig “quietly” endorses a growth hormone test. Currently there is no such test to detect whether one is using HGH and it’s quite conceivable that a large number of professional athletes are using the performance-enhancing drug.

Needless to say, this is an important development. If Selig is successful in spearheading the research for an HGH test it could define the legacy of the man who presided over baseball during its so-called Steroid Era.

***
Speaking of creating a legacy, it was quite an eventful day on the road from Chablis to Autun in Stage 5 of the Tour de France. Italian Filippo Pozzato won the 113-mile stage which featured the first major climbs of the Tour, but that was an afterthought in light of what shook down in wine country today.

What everyone is talking about now is that the pre-race favorite, Alexandre Vinokourov “hit the floor,” in the words of Phil Liggett, with approximately 15 miles to go in the stage. According to reports, Vinokourov says the chain on his bike popped off and then he was cleaning himself off the floor.

Then it got interesting. As Vino dusted himself off and got back on his bike, the TV cameras zoomed in on his shorts where some big-time road rash showed through on his right hip/buttock. Also evident were some nasty cuts and bleeding on both knees that required a trip to the hospital where he got stitched up for some wounds that went all the way down to the muscle.

Nevertheless, Vino’s Astana teammates all dropped back – except for overall second-place rider Andreas Klöden, who was left to fight for himself in the peloton – to help the team leader rally from a more than two-minute deficit to close to within 75 seconds in the end. Despite that, the damage had been done. Vino fell to 81st place and 2-minutes, 10 seconds behind, while nursing some soreness and sporting some stitches as the mountain stages loom. Next comes Stage 6, a flat ride from the medieval Semur-en-Auxois on the Armancon to the suburban Bourg-en-Bresse at the base of the Alps. This one will be the last flat stage until late next week.

Still, perhaps the road isn’t so daunting for Vinokourov. Known as rider without fear and unafraid to take risks, Vino comes from Kazakhstan, which when it was part of the USSR was the place where the government tested nuclear bombs. According to Daniel Coyle’s entrancing Lance Armstrong’s War, Vino’s parents were chicken farmers in Petropavlovsk, but it was never something the cyclist ever talked about. In fact, when he first arrived on the professional riding scene Vino never talked at all except to say:

“I will ride hard today. The hill is not steep. I will attack.”

And that’s exactly what he did. Jonathan Vaughters, the former pro cyclist turned leader of the American Slipstream team said in Coyle’s book, “It’s very understood in the peloton – [he] doesn’t have anything to go home to. Sprints, climbs, descents – [he is] never going to give up, and will go all the way to the edge because [he] just doesn’t care.”

So he has that going for him, which is nice.

But if that’s not enough for Astana, Klöden’s status in the race is up in the air after it was revealed that the second-place rider hit the floor and has a hairline fracture in his tailbone.

An injury like that makes it very difficult to ride a bike.

Stage 5 Final
Top 20 (all same time):
1.) Filippo Pozzato, Liquigas, Italy
2.) Oscar Freire, Rabobank, Spain
3.) Daniele Bennati, Lampre, Italy
4.) Kim Kirchen, T-Mobile, Luxembourg
5.) Erik Zabel, Milram, Germany
6.) George Hincapie, Discovery Channel, USA
7.) Christian Moreni, Cofidis, Italy
8.) Stefan Schumacher, Gerolsteiner, Germany
9.) Bram Tankink, Quick Step, Netherlands
10.) Jérôme Pineau, Bouygues Telecom, France
11.) Cadel Evans, Predictor-Lotto, Australia
12.) Fabian Cancellara, CSC, Switzerland
13.) Alejandro Valverde, Caisse d’Epargne, Spain
14.) Chris Horner, Predictor-Lotto, USA
15.) Fränk Schleck, CSC, Luxembourg
16.) Martin Elmiger, AG2R, Switzerland
17.) Linus Gerdemann, T-Mobile, Germany
18.) Inigo Landaluze, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Spain
19.) Michael Rogers, T-Mobile, Australia, T-Mobile, Australia
20.) Laurent Lefevre, Bouygues Telecom, France

Overall
1.) Fabian Cancellara, CSC, Switzerland, in 28:56
2.) Andreas Klöden, Astana, Germany, @ :33
3.) Filippo Pozzato, Liquigas, Italy, @ :35
4.) David Millar, Saunier Duval, Great Britain, @ :41
5.) George Hincapie, Discovery Channel, USA, @ :43
6.) Vladimir Gusev, Discovery Channel, Russia, @ :45
7.) Vladimir Karpets, Caisse d’Epargne, Russia, @ :46
8.) Mikel Atarloza, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Spain, @ :49
9.) Thomas Dekker, Rabobank, Netherlands, @ :51
10.) Benoît Vaugrenard, Française des Jeux, France, @ :52

The other interesting development in Stage 5 is the hard-riding je ne sais quoi of overall leader, Fabian Cancellara. Some close observers of the Tour suggested that Cancellara’s days in the Yellow Jersey were coming to an end after Stage 4 as the sprint specialist met the first ahrd climbs of the race. But when the action got hot in the final kilometers of Stage 5, Cancellara was right there battling it out with the rest of the peloton.

“The maillot jaune gives a rider the strength of two men,” Phil Liggett offered.

***
Bonnie DeSimone, the cycling writer for The Boston Globe and ESPN.com, has a blog called “A Feast on Wheels.” It’s very good.

… I said it was a tiny pianist

I watched the All-Star Game last night, but didn’t really get engaged, though I had a few questions.

Like:

* Why did the teams line up on the infield base paths before the game? That was odd?

* Why didn’t Tony La Russa pinch hit for Aaron Rowand with Albert Pujols with two outs and the bases loaded in the ninth inning. Nothing against Rowand, who I was hoping would get a hit to win the game, but Pujols is the best hitter in the game. Plus, I thought La Russa was a genius… doesn’t he know that Pujols is good?

* Do Joe Buck and Kevin Kennedy really believe the MLB is A-OK tripe they blather on about during the telecasts, or are they just “talking points?”

* Who is Paula Cole and why didn’t her piano work?

* Why does one need a piano to sing “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch?

* Why do they continue to sing “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch?

* Why is still funny to me when Billy Wagner gives up a home run? Frankly, Billy Wagner is about as interesting as a sack of rocks, yet I still laugh when he gives up a home run like he did to Victor Martinez last night.

* I missed the pre-game Willie Mays thing, but people say it was cool. That’s not really a question, but I thought it was worth noting.

Another thing, I’ve heard from lots of people that Willie Mays is the grumpiest old dude out there. Another friend told me that he met Willie Mays once and asked him to sign a baseball for him. Willie said, “That’s 30 bucks, kid…”

It serves him right for asking for an autograph.

* Another observation: in baseball the most exciting play is an inside-the-park homer.

***
I just watched the replay of Stage 4 of the Tour and I was fascinated that they showed the heart rate and cadence of a few of the riders during the telecast. It makes me think that it might be a good idea to get a heart rate monitor for training… then again I’ve come this far without one, and I can usually tell when my heart is beating harder than usual.

Still, it was cool that the technology has come so far as to show if the riders were anaerobic. It should be especially interesting to see what those hear rates will reveal when the race hits the mountains.

Anyway, they’re still racing in flat, northern France where veteran Thor Hushovd won in a big sprint thanks to a nice lead out by teammate, Julian Dean.

Stage 4 Final
Top 10:
1.) Thor Hushovd, Credit Agricole, Norway
2.) Robbie Hunter, Barloworld, S. Africa, same time
3.) Oscar Freire, Rabobank, Spain, s.t.
4.) Erik Zabel, Milram, s.t.
5.) Danilo Napolitano, Lampre, Italy, s.t.
6.) Gert Steegmans, Quick Step, Belgium, s.t.
7.) Robert Förster, Gerolsteiner, Germany, s.t.
8.) Tom Boonen, Quick Step, Belgium, s.t.
9.) Sebastien Chavanel, Française des Jeux, France, s.t.
10.) Mark Cavendish, T-Mobile, Great Britain, s.t.

Overall, not much has changed though CSC has made good on the promise to defend Yellow for as long as possible. There was an interesting story about it today in The New York Times as well as an excellent post from Martin Dugard in his blog.

For the record, Fabian Cancellara knows his time in Yellow will be short.

“For me, when I get into the mountains, it’s sure that it’s finished,” Cancellara said.

Overall
1.) Fabian Cancellara, Team CSC, Switzerland
2.) Thor Hushovd, Credit Agricole, Norway, at :29
3.) Andreas Klöden, Astana, Germany, at :33
4.) David Millar, Saunier Duval-Prodir, Great Britain, at :41
5.) George Hincapie, Discovery Channel, USA, at :43
6.) Bradley Wiggins, Cofidis, Great Britain, at :43
7.) Sylvain Chavanel, Cofidis, at :33
8.) Vladimir Gusev, Discovery Channel, Russia, at :45
9.) Tom Boonen, Quick Step, Belgium, at :46
10.) Vladimir Karpets, Caisse d’Epargne, Russia, at :46

The race will change a bit tomorrow when the riders face the first real climbs on the way from Chablis to Autun, covering 113 miles.

Yes, wine country.

***
Floyd Landis was on NPR’s Talk of the Nation this afternoon from Chicago. If you have Real Player and 30-minutes to spare, check it out here.

Wasting time

There are many things that people can lose that are very easily replaced. Money, sanity, keys, a wallet are just a few items that can be found or replaced if they are lost.

Time, however, is not one of them. Lost time will never be replaced and time, as we all know, is our most valuable commodity.

And because time is so precious I decided to turn off ESPN’s presentation of the Home Run Derby last night. I just didn’t have the time to waste in watching something so mindless – it couldn’t even be classified as junk food TV.

Actually, that’s the polite answer I give people (OK, person) who asked me if I caught the Home Run Derby last night. Truth be told, I had the tiniest of interest in knowing how Ryan Howard would perform – a scratch if you will. So when the telecast began and camera zoomed in on San Francisco’s ballpark (I honestly forget which corporation paid to put their tacky billboard on the buildings’ façade – besides, does it matter… don’t they all have the same name at this point?) I had my TV on and was set to devote some time to the event.

But then I heard Chris Berman’s voice.

Click!

Goodnight, folks.

No sense wasting any time on something so drawn out and annoying where the actual action is tucked neatly into the marathon of commercials… or Berman. I’d rather stand next to a giant speaker and listen to The Who circa 1969 and get tinnitus for the rest of my life than to hear Chris Berman speak a sentence. Hey, I’m sure he’s a lovely man with many redeemable qualities and goes out of his way to take care of the little people, etc., etc. But, well, you know what I’m getting at.

I’d rather deal with a case of toenail fungus than watch the Home Run Derby.

Needless to say I have no idea what happened in the Home Run Derby other than it probably lasted too long. Based on a brief scan of the reports from San Francisco’s ballpark it sounds as if I didn’t miss anything at all.

I will, sadly, tune into the All-Star Game tonight. I can’t say I’m too into it and must admit that All-Star Games in general have lost a lot of luster in the days since I was a kid. Back then I actually looked forward to those games. Now it’s just cool to have three to four days without a baseball game.

Jaded and tired? A little.

***
In an attempt to beat another day of the heat I missed a great broadcaster named Phil Liggett call the action for Stage 3 of the Tour de France. But since Versus plays them over and over in a loop I’m sure I can catch up at a moments’ notice.

I did catch the report regarding today’s outcome and my first reaction was, “Whoa! Look at Cancellara!”

That’s right, Fabian Cancellara took another stage today and looks like he will be in Yellow when the Tour hits the mountains.

Then it gets serious.

According to reports, Cancellara let it all hang out after the peloton reeled in an early breakaway during the flat, 146-mile stage. With 400 meters to go, the Swiss champ stood up, sprinted and shocked everyone by making it stick.

Meanwhile, it appears as if Cancellara and his CSC teammates are out to defend the Yellow Jersey for as long as they can. Look, Cancellara knows that as a sprint specialist he has very little chance at winning or even holding on to Yellow for more than a few more days, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to give up.

“We’re respect this jersey, and we will work to keep it,” he said.

But for now Cancellara has been the man at the Tour. Not only did he smash up the field in the prologue, but also he took a spill and injured his wrist in the Stage 2 wreck with a kilometer to go that highlighted the day’s action. Regardless, the reigning World Champion extended his overall lead by 20 seconds to 33 seconds.

Stage 3 Final
1.) Fabian Cancellara, Team CSC, Switzerland
2.) Erik Zabel, Milram, Germany
3.) Danilo Napolitano, Lampre-Fondital, Italy
4.) Tom Boonen, Quick Step, Belgium
5.) Robbie Hunter, Barloworld, South Africa
6.) Robert Förster, Gerolsteiner, Germany
7.) Robbie McEwen, Predictor-Lotto, Australia
8.) Bernhard Eisel, T-Mobile, Austria
9.) Mark Cavendish, T-Mobile, Great Britain
10.) Heinrich Haussler, Gerolsteiner, Germany

Overall
1.) Fabian Cancellara, Team CSC, Switzerland, in 15:12:08
2.) Andreas Klöden, Astana, Germany, at :33
3.) David Millar Saunier Duval, at :41
4.) George Hincapie, Discovery Channel, at :43
5.) Bradley Wiggins, Cofidis, Great Britain, same time
6.) Vladimir Gusev, Discovery Channel, Russia, at :45
7.) Tom Boonen, Quick Step, at :46
8.) Vladimir Karpets, Caisse d’Epargne, Russia, same time
9.) Thor Hushovd, Credit Agricole, Norway, at :49
10.) Mikel Astarloza Chaurreau, Euskaltel – Euskadi, Spain, same time

Alexandre Vinokourov, the pre-race favorite, is lurking 50 seconds back in 11th place, while top American Levi Leipheimer is a minute behind in 32nd place.

***
The wire story regarding Ivan Basso’s continued drug testing made me laugh a little. A little background: Basso is currently serving a two-year ban for doping, despite never testing positive, and was forced to take a blood and urine test when testers showed up unannounced at his home last week.

What made it funny (not ha-ha) was a story told by Floyd Landis regarding the same type of deal. In fact, Landis claims that USADA sent a tester to his house when they heard the news that his father-in-law had committed suicide.

Yes, Landis says, they did it on purpose. It’s in his book on page 212.

For the record, USADA has not returned any phone calls or e-mails to present their side of any of the stories or to refute anything. Hey, it’s not like I’m hard to find.

***
Speaking of hard to find, I decided to do some rudimentary research to see if I could find what synthetic testosterone is and how an athlete could use it to aid his performance. Simply using steroids wouldn’t help a cyclist, I figured, because muscle mass creates weight and weight is the enemy of any endurance athlete. Besides, the tests apparently show that Floyd Landis used “synthetic testosterone” during his brilliant ride during Stage 17 of last year’s Tour, and using something like that (plus, all the doctors and scientists I have asked have responded with, “It doesn’t make sense…)

So what did I find? Try this report by Tom Fine of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory at Harvard University. In it, Fine writes that there is, “no difference between synthetic testosterone and naturally produced testosterone.”

What?

Let me get straight to the point: it’s impossible to tell for sure that anyone has taken synthetic testosterone.

Unfortunately, the way Floyd Landis’ exogenous testosterone test has been portrayed in the media is as if it were a perfectly definitive test. Like pink for pregnant and white for not (not really a good example, since that isn’t so accurate). Such tests do exist: tests with a binary outcome, yes or no, and an extremely low false positive or false negative rate. This is simply not one of them.

There is no difference between synthetic testosterone and naturally produced testosterone – they’re one and the same chemical. Same atoms, in the same configuration, forming the exact same molecule, with identical chemical properties. At least at the atomic level. Once you mix natural and synthetic testosterone, you can’t separate them again, any more than you could separate Evian from Poland Springs bottled water after they’d been mixed. Actually that’s a bad example. It would be more akin to separating two kinds of distilled water from each other. Even that would be easier than testosterone, since one would presume that distilled water sources don’t change rapidly.

At any rate, natural and synthetic testosterone are usually different at the subatomic level. All the carbon in the world has six protons, and almost all the carbon in the world has six neutrons (called carbon-12). Some small portion of the carbon though, has seven neutrons (carbon-13), and an even smaller portion has eight (carbon-14).

Here’s the full link, and here’s another, which claims the test as administered by the French lab and developed by WADA is prone to “false positives.”

This information is all in the Landis wiki, but I easily stumbled upon it with no knowledge that it existed and simply by researching synthetic testosterone.

Again, the USADA has not returned phone calls or e-mails. Nor did they refute these facts during the arbitration hearing in May.

Anyway, back to the original search — synthetic testosterone commonly come in the following forms:

Testosterone Cypionate (Sold as Depo-Testosterone Cypionate)
The effect of Depo-Testosterone Cypionate is sustained longer in the body than anabolic steroids. A single injection of 200-400 mg is given once every 2-4 weeks, then a rest period of 4 weeks, followed by another injection once every 2-4 weeks.

Transdermal Testosterone (the “Patch”)
Testosterone patches allow a slow, steady release of the hormone into the body. The Testoderm patch is applied daily to a man’s shaved scrotum. The newer Androderm patch can be applied daily to the upper arms, back, thighs, or abdomen.
Miller and colleagues conducted a 12-week pilot study of an experimental low-dose testosterone patch for women. Fifty-three HIV-positive women who had lost about 10% of their normal body weight, and whose blood levels of testosterone were below the normal reference range took part in the study. They were randomly assigned to receive either a placebo patch, a patch releasing 150 micrograms of testosterone daily, or a patch releasing 300 micrograms of testosterone daily. Although the patches restored testosterone levels to normal, only the women who had used the 150 microgram patch gained weight. Unfortunately, all of the weight gained was fat, not muscle mass.

Nandrolone Decanoate (Sold as Deca-Durabolin, Hybolin Decanoate)
Deca-Durabolin is probably the most popular anabolic used in the treatment of HIV-related weight loss. It has a low rate of side effects and a high anabolic effect. The drug is given by injection into a muscle, at doses ranging from 50-200 mg, every 2-4 weeks for up to 12 weeks. After four weeks off drug, another cycle of treatment can be started. The androgenic side effects of Deca-Durabolin are much milder than those of testosterone.
At doses of up to 100 mg every 3-4 weeks for up to 12 weeks, women may be able to use this drug. If any changes in menstrual periods occur, the drug should be stopped until the cause of such changes is discovered.

Oxandrolone (Oxandrin)
This is an oral anabolic steroid available through the Special Access Programme (formerly EDRP) of the Health Protection Branch of Health Canada. The androgenic effects are very low and side effects are few. The dosage for men is generally 15-40 mg daily and for women 5-20 mg daily.

Phew! I’m growing hair in funny places just typing those sentences.

What’s going to work? Team work!

If you’re like me and hang in the pre-school/toddler set, no doubt you are quite familiar with The Wonder Pets! For the uninitiated, The Wonder Pets! is an animated TV show in which three schoolhouse pets – a guinea pig, turtle and duck – hang around in the classroom during school hours, but get into adventures and life-saving capers when the kids are away.

The hook for the show is the theme song with the refrain that goes:

Wonder Pets! Wonder Pets! We’re on our way,
To help a baby [featured animal], and save the day.
We’re not too big,
And we’re not too tough,
But when we work together we’ve got the right stuff!
Goooooooo Wonder Pets! Yaaaaaaayyyyyyy!

That very song and the theme of The Wonder Pets! show was the first thing that came to my mind when I heard about the Phillies’ valiant effort to pitch in a help the grounds crew at Coors Field yesterday.

By now most followers of the Phillies know what happened. One of those crazy Colorado rainstorms barreled in to Denver and halted the game. But before the crew could get the tarp secured on the field, the wind had swallowed up a handful of people.

“Three guys went underneath, one guy came out, and I was like, ‘Where’s those other two people?’” pitcher Adam Eaton told reporters. “Then, I saw their arms come out, and their eyes were as big as plates.”

But before anyone knew what was going on, the entire Phillies team tore onto the field and saved the day.

We’re not too big,
And we’re not too tough,
But when we work together we’ve got the right stuff!

Who was nowhere to be found during the entire scene? The Rockies.

“We saved two or three guys there, didn’t we?” Charlie Manuel told reporters.

Regardless, this one goes right up there with Maurice Cheeks singing the anthem with that girl in Portland. And to paraphrase Jim Thome, this is what I call “good karma.”

Then again, what’s it say about baseball players as a whole if something basic as helping out people in need is lauded in the national press? I guess people normally think baseball players walk around and kick puppies… wait, that’s Michael Vick.

For the record the nastiest hailstorm I had ever seen was on the way up Trail Ridge Road outside of Estes Park in the middle of August. It was 85 and blindingly sunny when we left the house to go up Trail Ridge Road, but less than an hour later we were getting pelted with hail the size of canned hams.

***
I missed the end of today’s Stage 2 of the Tour de France because I wanted to get my run finished before the mercury got too far over 90 degrees. That last part didn’t really work because it got hot fast this morning and as a result of my rush to get out the door, I missed the finish where it seems as if there was a crash with about two kilometers to go.

Here’s the Belgian TV look at the pile up:

According to reports, Fabian Cancellara went down hard and scraped up his Yellow Jersey, but the top sprinters — Robbie McEwen, Tom Boonen, Erik Zabel, Oscar Freire, and Robbie Hunter – were in front of the trouble. As a result, Team Quick Step, paced by Boonen, had a deftly maneuvered leadout in motion before the wreck that sewed up the stage for Gert Steegmans.

Yes, it was quite appropriate that two Belgians finished 1-2 in the stage that went from Dunkirk in France to Ghent in Belgium. Better yet it was team leader Boonen leading a teammate to his first ever stage win.

“All year he does work for me,” Boonen said. “I wasn’t going to pass him on the line and rob him of a chance for glory.”

A high school friend was an exchange student in Belgium for a year and from what I can tell they all love cycling, sweets and strong beer. Sounds like the Belgians are good people.

Plus, the greatest rider ever is from Belgium.

Stage 2 Final
1.) Gert Steegmans, Quick Step-Innergetic, Belgium
2.) Tom Boonen, Quick Step-Innergetic, Belgium
3.) Fillippo Pozzato, Liquigas, Italy
4.) Robbie Hunter, Barloworld, South Africa
5.) Romain Feillu, Agritubel, France
6.) Robbie McEwen, Predictor-Lotto, Australia
7.) Erik Zabel, Team Milram, Germany
8.) Heinrich Haussler, Gerolsteiner, Germany
9.) Oscar Freire, Spain, Rabobank
10.) Sebastien Chavanel, Française des Jeux

Overall
1.) Fabian Cancellara, Team CSC, Switzerland
2.) Andreas Klöden, Astana, Germany
3.) David Millar, Saunier Duval-Prodir, Great Britain
4.) George Hincapie, Discovery Channel, USA
5.) Bradley Wiggins, Cofidis, Great Britain

Word is that Cancellara injured his wrist in the crash and Hincapie has a nice cut on his knee. Alas, they race again tomorrow. This time they go from Waregem in Belgium to Compiègne, a French city north of Paris. It’s 146 flat miles that are sure to end with another sprint.

How much longer will Cancellara remain in Yellow and when will the contenders like Vinokourov, Leipheimer and the rest make their move? As it looks now, Vino is in prime position to end the decade-long American dynasty.

***
Speaking of the American dynasty, no new news on the Floyd front, but there was a story of note in the San Diego Union-Tribune by Mark Ziegler that we will get into with more depth tomorrow.

For the record, I asked around to newspaper veterans about Ziegler and have been greeted with the same response each time: “He’s good… very thorough.”

He also seems to be one of the few American sportswriters who has even the slightest clue about the issues of doping.

***
I was at the Barnes & Noble this afternoon and noticed that there are a ton of cycling magazines and every single one of them are worlds better than the running magazines. Why can’t running be cool, too?

All we need is one more…

Here’s the amazing thing about the Phillies sitting on the verge of 10,000 all-time losses, and it’s not the fact that the Phillies have lost many more games than teams older than them. Certainly the fact that the Phillies are a good seven years older than the Cubs, Braves and Reds and have completely lapped the field in lifetime losses.

No, the remarkable part isn’t the 10,000 losses, a milestone the Phillies can reach with just one more defeat. The remarkable part is that in 124 years the Phillies have won the World Series just one time.

That’s 1-for-124.

Hard to believe, Harry.

***
More than any other regular old Saturday, London appeared to be the most happening place on earth yesterday. Aside from the Wimbledon finals won by Venus Williams or the men’s semis in which Nadal and Federer advanced to today’s title match, there was the Live Earth show at Wembley that featured the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica, the Foo Fighters and the Beastie Boys.

London, apparently, was a better alternative than taking the private plane (and large carbon footprint) to the Meadowlands. Let’s see – London or North Jersey? Yeah, tough call.

Of course while all of that was going on, Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland and the CSC team carved up the streets on his way to a dominant victory in the prologue of the Tour de France.

Needless to say, the Tour de France is an interesting idea. Perhaps a Tour de France that starts in California and finishes in Times Square would be just as interesting an idea. Get together the best riders in the world and get them across the United States – how cool would that be?

Maybe they can even do it Cannonball Run style?

Digressing, Cancellara, the world champion time trialist and classics specialist, obliterated the field by 13 seconds and will be in Yellow when the first stage goes the 126 miles from London to Canterbury. My guess is that he won’t have it for very long. In fact, I doubt CSC will try too hard to defend it during Stage 1.

However, during the flat 126 miles (like riding from Lancaster to Philadelphia and back) the sprinters like Cancellara lined up and shadowboxed for the long straightaway rush to the finish. But the Versus coverage was touting Aussie veteran Robbie McEwen throughout the stage as one he could/should contend for even when he fell off the back of the peloton and seemed as if he had been dropped.

Dramatically, though, McEwen made it very interesting.

McEwen, according to Phil Liggett, took an “incredible risk” to get back to the front. In fact, McEwen was nowhere to be found as the sprint began with a kilometer to go. He had to go from the back of the pack, all the around to make his final surge for the win.

Easy like Sunday morning.

Tomorrow the Tour de France goes to France and then leaves again in another flat stage from Dunkirk to Ghent, Belgium covering 104.7 miles.

Prologue Top 12:
1) Fabian Cancellara, Team CSC, Switzerland, 8:50.74
2) Andreas Klöden, Astana, Germany, 9:03.29
3) George Hincapie, Discovery Channel, USA, 9:13.75
4) Brad Wiggins, Cofidis, Great Britain, 9:13.92
5) Vladimir Gusev, Discovery Channel, Russia, 9:15.99
6) Vladimir Karpets, Caisse d’Epargne, Russia
7) Alexandre Vinokourov, Astana, Kazakhstan, 9:20
8) Thomas Dekker, Rabobank, Netherlands, 9:21
9) Manuel Quinziato, Liquigas, Italy, 9:23
10) Benoit Vaugrenard, Française des Jeux, France, 9:23
11) Dave Zabriskie, Team CSC, USA, 9:23
12) José Ivan Gutierrez, Caisse d’Epargne, Spain, 9:23

Stage 1Final
1) Robbie McEwen, Predictor-Lotto, Australia, 4:39:01
2) Thor Hushovd, Crédit Agricole, Norway
3) Tom Boonen, Quick Step, Belgium
4) Sébastien Chavanel, Française des Jeux, France
5) Romain Feillu, Agritubel, France

Overall after two days
1) Cancellara
2) Klöden
3) David Millar, Saunier Duval-Prodir, United Kingdom
4) Hincapie
5) Bradley Wiggins, Cofidis, United Kingdom

Note: McEwen was among the riders caught in the big bottleneck which was caused by a flat tire in a narrow pass of the road. According to reports, McEwen went down and injured his wrist — it kind makes his rally a little more spectacular.

Here it is:

***
I never understood why local TV news gave the weather report so much air time. After all, it’s just wind they’re talking about. Really, all those maps and dopplers and hype just to talk about the wind.

All it is is wind, people!

But after watching this, I know why:

Nowhere to turn

In a tie game that, incidentally, should have never been tied, manager Charlie Manuel turned to right-hander J.D. Durbin to pitch in the 10th and 11th innings against the Colorado Rockies in the relative altitude of Denver’s Coors Field. We say relative altitude because Denver isn’t really that high and if you are one who loses his breath just walking around in Denver, it’s time to do a little self inventory.

And stay away from those mountains that you see ringing the city off in the distance.

Anyway, Charlie turned to Durbin for the turning point of the game even though the pitcher’s ERA was way north of 15. Prior to going to Durbin, Charlie had to call in Mike Zagurski, Jose Mesa, J.C. Romero and Antonio Alfonseca to blow the five-run lead rookie starter Kyle Kendrick took into the sixth inning. The skipper couldn’t go to oft-used Geoff Geary because he’s back at Triple-A working out the trouble that turned him into a fireman whose best weapon was propane. Nor could the manager turn to Ryan Madson, who had pitched in two straight games in Houston.

Besides, Madson has already been in 30 games so far this season despite spending time on the disabled list.

Brian Sanches and Anderson Garcia were also out there in the bullpen, but they were a last resort for Manuel. After all, he is trying to win.

Needless to say, the Phillies, at 43-43, are doing it with mirrors in the bullpen. Manuel really has nowhere to turn when looking to his bench. Sure, the so-called core of his team is as good as any in the Majors, but the name of the game still is getting 27 outs. In that regard, the Phillies struggle from the seventh inning on.

Some wise baseball people have suggested that Manuel is worthy of manager of the year consideration based on the job he’s done so far with the resources he’s been handed. I’m not sure that Charlie has earned an award, but when his contract ends at the end of the season he definitely deserves a medal.

***
The cool thing about being in Colorado, or even in the Pacific time zone, is that east coast games start early and end early. But east coast folks aren’t so lucky when it’s reversed. Nonetheless, when Durbin came into last night’s game I knew it was just a matter of time until I was able to head off to bed…

What, you think I was on my way out? I’m closer to 40 than 30 and have kid(s) and a serious running problem – that means no more fun of any kind.

***
No Floyd news here, nor the courtesy of a return message from USADA. Perhaps I should take the snub from the anti-doping agency personal (I don’t, I just really, really, really enjoy poking fun at everything), but since USADA is partially FUNDED FROM U.S. TAXPAYER MONEY, returning messages – even if it is to tell someone to, “go pound sand… we ain’t tellin’ you nothin’” – isn’t just a courtesy. It’s their damn job.

Trust me on this one: some government official is getting a well-written and pointed letter of complaint… not that they actually care what their constituents think.

Sigh.

Anywho, I watched the first rider of the prologue of the 2007 Tour de France fly out of the gate and through the streets of London for the short, 8k time trial and even saw Dave Zabriske take Yellow… for exactly 54 seconds. That said, here are a few revelations I’ve had over the last few days regarding the Tour and cycling:

  • It would be soooooo hilarious if an American won the Tour this year. If Levi Leipheimer, Z-Man or George Hincapie (he said he wants to win the prologue) end up contending, expect more than a few heads to explode.
  • I am now convinced that the UCI, the Tour and the other so-called leaders of cycling want to sabotage their sport. So far they are doing a pretty good job, but aren’t quite to Gary Bettman status quite yet.

    Give them some time.

  • Phil Liggett is the best sports broadcaster working today. Well… Vin Scully is pretty damn incredible, too. How about this: Liggett and Vin reading from a phone book?

    I’d listen to that all day.

    Meanwhile, based on the commercials aired on Versus during the Tour coverage it seems as if everything is OK in selling the event for TV… well, you know, it ain’t the NFL.

    ***
    Wildly astute columnist Bob Ford wrote about the Tour for the Inquirer today. I’m not sure if Bob is going to England or France to cover the race, but if he is I hope he can steal me an ashtray or something.

    I was hoping to have John Eustice write for us at CSN again this year during the Tour, but haven’t heard anything regarding that yet (yes, I asked). So without anything new, here’s Eustice’s reports from last year.

  • ***
    Tour predictions:
    1.) Levi Leipheimer, USA, Discovery Channel d’Epargne
    2.) Alexandre Vinokourov, Kazakhstan, Astana
    3.) Alejandro Valverde, Spain, Caisse

    Buying or selling?

    As we enter the last week of June, thoughts typically turn to things like training for a fall marathon, the summer road racing circuit and the Tour de France (me); or the big Fourth of July picnic, the family vacation and which players from the local team will make the All-Star Game (normal people).

    But the start of July also means selling and buying in the chic parlance for certain baseball clubs. In that regard, are the Phillies selling, buying or both? Even though they enter the homestand against the Reds and the hated New York Mets just three games off the pace in the NL East, it seems like a fair question.

    Clearly the Phillies need pitching help and that fact has nothing to do with the statistics or anything else. It has to do with other types of numbers, such as the Phillies only have three starting pitchers with any real Major League experience and that glut in the rotation that once saw Jon Lieber and Brett Myers moved to the bullpen is gone.

    It’s funny how that happens.

    Nevertheless, the Phillies are facing a crucial portion of their schedule with Cole Hamels, Adam Eaton, Jamie Moyer and Kyle Kendrick holding down spots in the rotation. With 13 games in 13 days and just one day off between now and the All-Star Break, the Phillies can probably get by with one of their arms in the minors, but chances are that won’t get them to the playoffs.

    That means if the Phillies are serious about breaking the streak of Octobers spent at home, a trade should be in the offing.

    But there are a lot of other teams looking for the same type of pitching as the Phillies, too. The Mets, for instance, are said to be looking to add an arm or two and will spend what it takes to do so – after all, simply making the playoffs is not an accomplishment for the Mets.

    The Red Sox and Yankees will probably be foraging for some pitching as well, which means that if the Phillies want someone, say, like Mark Buehrle, it will cost them.

    Maybe it will cost them something like Aaron Rowand.

    Trading Rowand for pitching help didn’t seem like that huge of a deal at the beginning of the season, but now things have changed. For one thing it’s hard to say what type of pitcher Rowand could get for the Phillies, and for another thing, the centerfielder is the only right-handed hitting threat the team has.

    If only they could trade Pat Burrell for something like reimbursement on the transportation to get him out of town…

    While Rowand has rated at the top of the list amongst National League outfielders in batting average, on-base percentage and OPS, Burrell has been simply horrible. In 71 games Burrell is hitting .205 and is on pace to hit just 18 homers with 69 RBIs and to strike out 111 times. Since the start of May, Burrell is 21-for-133 (.158) with 13 extra-base hits and 31 strikeouts.

    Worse, against lefties the right-handed Burrell is hitting just .155, so why Charlie Manuel continues to put him in the lineup is simply foolhardy.

    Aside from the $13.25 million salary for this season, Burrell’s nearly non-existent production could end up costing the Phillies someone valuable like Aaron Rowand.

    ***
    If you’re looking for the Phillies to go after Rangers’ reliever Eric Gagne to shore up the bullpen, stop right now. According to published reports, the Phillies are one a handful of teams on Gagne’s do-not-trade list.

    ***
    Our current obsession, Floyd Landis, kicks off his book tour tomorrow with an appearance on the CBS Morning Show and Late Night with David Letterman. From there Floyd stays in Manhattan for a reading/signing at the Bryant Park Reading Room along with one-time CSN.com columnist John Eustice on June 27.

    Also on the 27th, Floyd hits Ridgewood, N.J. before going to Huntington, N.Y. on the 28th.

    Then comes the big stop… Lancaster!

    There is a reason Led Zeppelin never came to Lancaster and it has nothing to do with the fact there wasn’t a venue big enough to accommodate them…

    ***
    Speaking of the Tour, if I was pressed right now I’d predict Alexandre Vinokourov will win, but don’t sleep on Montana’s Levi Leipheimer.

    It’s not the science, it’s the circus

    Most nights my ride home the ballpark can be a pain. Firstly there is the Schuylkill, which quite possibly could be the worst stretch of paved road in the world. On top of the Surekill, there is some construction linking the Expressway near Valley Forge to the Turnpike that makes the 24 Hours of Le Mans look like a Sunday drive through the country.

    Finally, there’s the distance, which comes to approximately three hours round trip. Sometimes the drive can be quite taxing, but I guess it’s my fault for living out in the middle of nowhere. That said, it’s much nicer here than in any of the neighborhoods that I surely would be priced out of – it’s a little slow to adapt to modernity or new ideas out here, but at least the sprawl has been fairly well contained (in comparison) for the time being.

    Anyway, the drive back to the boondocks gives me plenty of time to listen to a bunch of the podcasts I subscribe to. A favorite is a radio show based out of San Diego called The Competitors Radio Show, hosted by former world class triathletes Bob Babbitt and Paul Huddle. Needless to say the show focuses on endurance sports like triathlons, running and cycling, which for geeks like me is really fascinating. As far as I can tell, Babbitt and Huddle host the only show like The Competitors and that’s a shame.

    So while driving home on Friday night I listened to a rebroadcast of an interview with Greg LeMond, the three-time champion and first American winner of the Tour de France. LeMond is the man who put cycling in the U.S. on the map. In places like Philadelphia and Lancaster, cycling (and running) are mainstream participatory sports that exploded after LeMond won his first Tour in 1986. But frankly, that’s about all I knew about LeMond. Sure, I had heard about the comments regarding Lance Armstrong and now Floyd Landis, but it really didn’t seem like much of a big deal.

    Isn’t every cyclist suspected of doping these days?

    Still, some had written LeMond off as a bitter jerk since his record in France had been broken. No one seemed to notice when LeMond said Armstrong’s record run was the best thing the ever happened to cycling. But in July 2004 when LeMond said that “If Armstrong’s clean, it’s the greatest comeback. And if he’s not, then it’s the greatest fraud,” well, that made all the papers.

    LeMond is right, of course, but you know…

    Regardless, during the interview LeMond explained he realized doping took a firm grip on cycling when guys he never heard of rode by him like he was standing still – and he was in the best shape of his life with three Tour de France titles. Listening to LeMond it sounds as if cycling and baseball hit the doping era at the same time with similar results. While no-name riders were doing wheelies by the best rider in the world, the 50-homer plateau was topped 22 times from 1996 to now. From 1977 to 1995, one player hit 50 homers. Meanwhile, from 1961, when Roger Maris beat Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record, to 1996, only three players hit 50 homers in a season.

    From listening to LeMond it sounded as if all cyclists Brady Andersons were slugging 50 homers every year.

    LeMond also revealed that during Floyd Landis’ ride for the Tour de France title it appeared as if the statistics were back to normal. He noted that he was withholding judgment about the defending champion (for now), and that he had a confidential conversation with Landis that he was going to keep private. This interview was originally recorded last August.

    Needless to say, a lot has changed since then.

    Dressed in another bold, yellow tie with a dark suit, Floyd Landis faced cross-examination on Tuesday in the USADA arbitration hearing. It is from the those hearings at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif. where it will be determined whether or not the Lancaster County native gets to keep his Tour de France title or becomes the first rider in the long history of the race to be stripped of his yellow clothing.

    Oddly, though, a majority of the questions Landis faced were regarding LeMond and his role in a potential witness tampering, which bordered on obscene and insane. Instead of answering questions about whether he used performance-enhancing drugs during the now infamous 17th stage of last summer’s Tour de France, Landis had to explain his actions regarding Will Geoghegan, his “friend” and former representative who threatened LeMond by telephone last week by threatening to reveal that LeMond had been sexual abused of which as a child, and which only Landis knew about.

    From Eddie Pells of the Associated Press:
    “Would you agree, that as my mother used to say, that a person’s character is revealed more by their actions than their words?” U.S. Anti-Doping Agency attorney Matthew Barnett asked Landis.

    “It sounds like a good saying,” Landis said.

    Then, it got ugly, as Barnett dredged up events surrounding testimony LeMond gave last Thursday. On that day, the three-time Tour champion testified he’d received a phone call the night before from Landis’ manager, Will Geoghegan, who threatened to divulge LeMond’s secret.

    USADA lawyers cross-examined Landis about everything from the color of his tie to the timing of his decision to fire his manager.

    Barnett tried to portray Landis and Geoghegan as scheming together to keep LeMond from testifying, then not showing remorse until they got caught.

    Landis said that although he was sitting near Geoghegan when the manager made the call last Wednesday night, he didn’t know what was going on until later.

    Barnett tried to pin him down on when, exactly, he told his attorneys of the call, and why he waited to fire Geoghegan until after LeMond revealed details of the call on the witness stand.

    Landis testified that he told his attorneys about the call as soon as he arrived to the hearing room Thursday, though nobody thought to fire Geoghegan until after LeMond’s testimony.

    “In hindsight, I probably should have fired him immediately, but I needed someone to talk to,” Landis said.

    USADA attorneys tried to portray Landis as an active participant in the LeMond plan. They pointed to his wardrobe that day — a black suit with a black tie instead of the yellow tie he’s worn every other day of the hearing — as evidence that he had it in for LeMond.

    “That’s why I wore the black suit, because it was a terrible thing that happened,” Landis said. “It wasn’t a thing to celebrate by wearing a yellow tie.”

    Was the black tie symbolic support for LeMond?

    “No. It was a disaster. Nothing good could come out of that day,” Landis said.

    Landis was also questioned about some unflattering Internet postings where he called LeMond a “pathetic human,” though didn’t seem to face much heat when it came to discussing doping.

    The focus, as it appears, will be on the circus and not the science. That shouldn’t be too surprising, though. Credibility is the real issue in the arbitration hearing and to most folks it doesn’t seem as if Landis has any no matter what the science might say.

    Why? Will Geoghegan, of course.

    My mother used to say that a person is known by the company they keep. Or, as Rocky Balboa said in the original film, “If you have knucklehead friends, people will think you are a knucklehead.”

    It’s difficult argue with that logic.

    Look, we want to give Landis the benefit of the doubt and it seems like something is amiss with the tests and the ratios and everything involved in the epic ride to the Tour de France victory that should have been the best sports story of the year. But if Floyd is so willing to get down and dirty with a seemingly scorched earth attack where something as horrible as sexual abuse of a child is fair game.

    Certainly Geoghegan was the one who made the calls to LeMond and Floyd said he was embarrassed by it all – but he didn’t do anything about it when it happened. To me that makes Landis complicit.

    According to Lee Jenkins’ story in The New York Times:

    Landis and Geoghegan were clearly close. Landis said he gave Geoghegan all of his phone numbers, including LeMond’s. And Landis told Geoghegan that LeMond had been sexually abused as a child, after LeMond shared that secret with Landis.

    Landis’s choice of friends and clothes were both on trial Tuesday. Barnett asked Landis why he showed up in court for LeMond’s testimony Thursday wearing all black, when he showed up the other days in much brighter colors. Landis has an obvious preference for yellow ties, evoking the yellow jersey worn by the Tour de France leader.

    Through it all, watching from the gallery were Paul and Arlene Landis, the Mennonite parents of the most notorious bike rider in history. I wonder what they were thinking?

    For the best recaps of the arbitration hearing, check out Trust But Verify, Steroid Nation and ESPN’s page of stories. Better yet, check out The Competitors Radio Show interview with San Diego Times-Union writer, Mark Zeigler. Good stuff.

    ***
    Meanwhile, in baseball Jason Giambi says baseball owes the fans an apology for something and MLB wants to investigate. I guess being in baseball means you never have to apologize?

    ***
    Tomorrow: Back to Baseball.

    Taking de France out of the Tour

    Here’s the question I assume that most Americans probably have regarding the recent developments in the Floyd Landis case, and I’m prefacing it with the fact that I don’t really understand Americans all that well. At least that’s the case when it comes to culture and politics.

    Nevertheless, when it comes to Landis the question is this:

    Is he getting off because of a technicality or is he getting off because the test results are wrong?

    Which is it? And it’s just so black and white, right?

    Be that as it is, let’s get one thing clear – Landis will be officially vindicated. He will not lose his 2006 Tour de France victory. (Doesn’t that sound like a weird sentence? He will not lose his victory?)

    So do we apologize to Floyd, or what?

    Let’s back track for a second… Landis, the Californian via Lancaster County, Pa., is out on his “Vindication Tour ‘07” as the case against him crumbles like trans-fat laden cookie. According to a story in The Los Angeles Times by Michael A. Hiltzik, the French lab that handled Landis’ urine samples for the allegedly dirty samples following the 17th Stage of last year’s Tour de France did not follow proper testing procedure.

    The most critical error from the controversial French laboratory is that it allowed two technicians to analyze both Landis’ initial and validating urine analyses. That’s a violation of international standards, according to the LA Times report, because the same technicians cannot analyze both tests.

    In that regard it sounds as if Floyd will walk on a technicality. But it opens up the question of whether or not the technicians were covering up their own tracks seeing that Landis passed every other drug test he ever took.

    In those matters, check out Steroid Nation, as well as Trust But Verify – the extremely thorough site devoted exclusively to Landis coverage.

    Meanwhile, Landis claims there are more mistakes from the lab that apparently erred and destroyed Landis’ reputation in some circles. If it is in fact revealed that the lab is liable for the errors and the Tour de France is complicit in hiring a “criminal” lab to do its testing, then what should happen?

    Obviously, the lab faces lawsuits galore not just from Landis, but also from other riders it may have implicated. In terms of credibility, that lab is out of business.

    But what about the Tour? Could it be that the Tour is guilty, too? How does one punish an event?

    How about taking it away from France?

    Yeah, that’s right – take the Tour out of France.

    If there’s one thing I’ve learned about sports in the last decade it’s that athletes go where the money is and no one really cares about the venue. Sure, places like Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park are cool to play in and in some regard the athletes enjoy the history and legacy and all of that stuff. But the reality is that those places are for the fans. If you give athletes money to run, jump, throw, ride or punch in someone’s backyard, they will show up.

    Actually, they’ll show up early.

    In other words it doesn’t matter if the Tour de France goes through the Alps and finishes at the Champs-Élysées. All that matters is if the best (clean) riders in the world are competing against each other at the same time. So hold the race in Spain, Germany, the United States or anywhere else for that matter. Put the money on the table and let the athletes go to work.

    Just don’t let the same people continue to run people’s reputations and lives into the ground… if, in fact, that’s what actually happened.

    Did he do it?

    I believe Floyd Landis.

    Let me clarify that. I believe Floyd Landis when he says his drugs test that showed on improper ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone is not a doping case. I believe Landis when he says he did not dope and I rarely ever believe any professional athlete when they attempt to maintain some sort of innocence.

    There are a lot of reasons for my belief in Landis. And yes, part of it has to do with the fact that Landis and I were raised in the same part of the world. Oh yeah, our backgrounds are very, very different. Landis comes from the country in which the people are almost reactionary in their conservatism – and then there is that whole Mennonite thing. As a kid, that type of belief or philosophy never was a blip on my radar. Living in Lancaster, I encountered Mennonites and Amish people enough to know who and what they were, but nothing beyond cursory introductions. That world never intersected with mine.

    That’s because I come from Lancaster Township in a little area adjacent to the campus of Franklin & Marshall and Wheatland, President James Buchanan’s home. My neighborhood was about as urbane as Lancaster got and my neighbors were professors, doctors, lawyers and financial people – not a lot of diversity there. However, my high school, J.P. McCaskey, was a Benetton advertisement come to life. White kids made up less than 50 percent of the student body, while African-Americans, Puerto Ricans and Vietnamese kids encompassed at least 51 percent of the school’s population.

    Needless to say, my McCaskey was quite a bit different than Landis’s Conestoga Valley. And frankly, I could never imagine any better high school in the world than McCaskey or a better place to grow up than roaming James Buchanan’s Wheatland or the quad at F&M. Thankfully, I left the Philadelphia area to return to my old ‘hood.

    On the other hand, I’m sure Landis feels the same way about where he grew up. Imagine all of those endless miles though that perfect landscape on those forgotten country roads… what could be better than that for a budding cyclist? Yes, Landis clashed his conservative parents and fled to California in order to make his dreams come true, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a great athlete came from such a place as Lancaster County.

    That tangent aside, knowing what I do about where Landis comes from makes it hard for me to believe that he took any performance-enhancing aid. It’s impossible, really. No, Lancaster Countians are not the worldliest or most sophisticated people one will ever meet. In fact, in some sense the stifling conservatism that chokes the region and limits its potential to be a really great place to live and visit can be classified as a social disease.

    But the people from Lancaster County have a strong sense of fairness, right and wrong, and inert intelligence (common sense). People in Lancaster County do not reward or celebrate bad behavior.

    That’s where Floyd Landis comes from.

    It just doesn’t make sense. Floyd had passed 20 previous drug test until Stage 17 and then all of a sudden he flunks one? Really? And that point-of-view is not just coming from me, but from Dr. Gary Wadler of the World Anti-Doping Association. In an interview with ESPN, Wadler said:

    It’s certainly not one of the first-line drugs one thinks of for racing. Steroids can increase strength and improve recovery time and prevent the breakdown of muscle, maybe make him more assertive and aggressive. All of those could have some positive attribute. But most steroids are given in cycles [6-12 weeks] and in context of working out in a gym with weights. It makes no sense to me why an athlete would take testosterone the day of a race when it doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t make sense in terms of the pharmacology of the drug, and it really doesn’t have the attributes that would be attractive to a cyclist — particularly one running the risk of violating anti-doping regulations.

    Everybody knew the spotlight was on cycling. For eight years, the world has been watching cycling particularly closely. It would be the ultimate form of denial, or the ultimate sense of invincibility, to think you’re going to evade that. And when the pharmacology of the drug doesn’t really, in my judgment, seem like a drug of particular note to a cyclist, it doesn’t really compute.

    Charles Yesalis, the renowned excercise and sports science professor from Penn State, agrees with Wadler, saying in interviews that he doesn’t understand why Landis would dope.

    “The use of testosterone makes zero sense,” Yesalis said in an interview. “If he wanted a boost in his performance it makes no sense to use it.

    “Testosterone is a training drug. You don’t use it during the event.”

    At the same time, as an endurance athlete with 12 marathons under his belt who is currently logging 100-plus miles weekly in preparation for another marathon in mid-November (sportswriters should be involved in sports, right?), I know what hard training does to the human body. Obviously, I’m nowhere near Landis elite level – no one is – but running and biking are similar in many regards. One of those is that hard running and hard biking alter a person’s body chemistry.

    My epitestosterone levels are on the low side. That’s just the way it is when a person runs 15 miles a day for an average. My guess is that if I were to take the same drug test Landis took after his Stage 17 victory last week in the Tour de France, my testosterone to epitestosterone ratio would not be 1:1 as it’s supposed to be for a normal, everyday person.

    And I have never touched any performance-enhancing drugs in my life. I don’t even know what a steroid or any of that garbage looks like and I would have no idea how to use or inject it. If caffeine, Ibuprofen, Clif Bars and banana, strawberry and blueberry smoothies are performance enhancing, I’ll fail every test.

    So it’s not surprising that Landis’s ratio was 4:1 or 5:1 or even 6:1. As explained by AP medical writer Lindsey Tanner, it isn’t far fetched. The testosterone to epitestosterone test really seems to be bad science – no matter what Draconian zealot Dick Pound says.

    The point is I find it hard to believe that Floyd’s testosterone levels were high. They actually were probably lower than average. It’s just that pesky epitestosterone was probably much lower.

    This is a very, very important distinction, because the test Landis took is generally used to detect doping. From The New York Times:

    The key is to look at the pattern of Landis’s tests and see if his testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio is consistent or whether it varied, said John McKinlay, the senior vice president and chief scientist at the New England Research Institutes.

    “You don’t get variations in human beings,” he said. “If there is a spike that coincides with that day when he did fantastically well, that answers the question.”

    Unless, of course, alcohol raised his testosterone level. Or unless the test was in error. Or unless the B sample shows a normal ratio, in which case he would be cleared.

    But the test will not detect a specific drug used or if the shots of Jack Daniels that the Wall Street Journal reported Landis indulged in after his nightmare Stage 16 collapse caused the epitestosterone levels to dip so much.

    But if it is higher than a normal realm, well, Floyd has some ‘splaining to do.

    I also believe Landis when he says he is not optimistic about the “B” samples exonerating him. It’s hard to believe that Floyd’s nightmare will end any time soon.

    Good reading on the Floyd Landis case

  • Austin Murphy talks to Landis for SI
  • Austin Murphy offers his opinion of the case
  • Outside magazine interview with Landis before the Tour de France

    I’m not familar with too many of the biking publications other than VeloNews and some of the triathlon magazines, so if anyone has any links to decent stories regarding this case, please e-mail them to me. The thoughtfulness is much appreciated.

  • A final word on Floyd from Farmersville

    LANCASTER, Pa. – If one were to ask someone from Lancaster where in the world Farmersville, Pa. was or who the heck was Floyd Landis, chances are they would probably respond with a long, blank stare. Oh sure, there had been some mention of Landis in the local papers a few years ago when he spent the summers as one of Lance Armstrong’s cadre of lieutenants who did all the dirty work to help bike racing’s biggest star win all of those Tour de France titles, but the majority of folks had no clue as to who or what Floyd Landis was.

    As for Farmersville, that sounded like something conjured by Hollywood types or from the preconceived notions as to what Lancaster and the county that bears its name actually is. Yeah, there are farms in Lancaster County – lots of them, in fact. But for the people who live in Lancaster city and its suburbs, the farms and places like Farmersville are for the tourists or places one ends up after a wrong turn off the Turnpike or Route 30.

    Farmersville? Never heard of it.

    But it’s funny how three weeks can change things.

    It would be very difficult to find any one in America who hasn’t heard of Floyd Landis, the recovering Mennonite from little old Farmersville, Pa. in bucolic Lancaster County these days. Winning one of the biggest sporting events in the world has a way of making anonymity disappear. Everybody knows Floyd Landis now. His story has been told and re-told over and over again amongst friends and acquaintances like it was the latest episode of a favorite TV show or a crazy snap of the weather.

    “Can you believe that Floyd Landis? Did you read that one how his parents don’t have a TV so they go to the neighbor’s house to watch highlights from the race?”

    “Yeah, I saw one where his dad said that the family didn’t disown him after he chose to leave their ultra-conservative way of life to move to California to become a pro cyclist. They just told him that he was ‘living a sinful life.’”

    Landis mania runs rampant in Lancaster now. So much so that Farmersville – more a sweeping country crossroads than a hamlet – has become a tourist destination for people who live just a few miles away. It seems as if Lancasterians are curious about just where in the world Floyd Landis comes from.

    The locals aren’t the only ones, either. According to the Lancaster New Era, reporters from all over, including one from the French newspaper L’Equipe joined the fray of TV trucks and curiosity seekers at the Landis home.

    And what did Arlene Landis, Floyd’s mom, do when everyone showed up? She invited them in and made them steaks while the neighbors wondered what the fuss was all about and hoped that Landis’ new celebrity won’t turn the little street into another tourist stop the way nearby Amish farms are.

    “We’re not really into all this. It seems kind of something we wouldn’t do, and I don’t really watch TV,” Mary Jane Horst, a neighbor of the Landis’, told the New Era.

    According to Google Earth, Farmersville is very near New Holland, Pa. in West Earl Township. To get there from Philadelphia, it’s just a few miles south of the Pennsylvania Turnpike on Route 222. Once in Farmersville, visitors are swept up in a sea of cornfields and greenness, with rolling hills and little-used back roads. To get to the city of Lancaster, it’s a good 14-mile bike ride through farm country and suburban sprawl, but it feels like stepping through a time machine. Speeding cars, shopping centers, and industrial parks replace the horse-and-buggies and unmitigated earth.

    Yet it seems to make a lot of sense that the best bike rider in the world came from this little spot on the globe. It’s still very much a place where work ethic, community and selflessness are more than cheap buzzwords used by people who don’t know the meaning of those words. It’s also a place where those values are more than a way of life, because that simply isn’t strong or forceful enough.

    No, the toughest man on the planet comes from a place where what you do is a lot more important than what you say. Where else could someone like Floyd Landis be from?

    Farmersville. Where else?

    The Legend

    While the Eagles training camp and Brett Myers’ return to action in Philadelphia is the big news in these parts, the most riveting and exciting televised sporting event was Floyd Landis’ clutch performance in Saturday’s time trial in the penultimate stage of the 2006 Tour de France. From those just flipping around the dial it looked like nothing more than a bunch of guys in tight clothes riding bikes, but for those who knew what was at stake, it was sports at its best.

    Better yet, it was impossible to turn away from.

    Landis, the 30-year-old star from Lancaster County whose story and background is now well known, came into the time trial in third place, trailing by 30 seconds. But 30 seconds was not a lot to make up for Landis, who is known for his strength in the time trial. All Landis would have to do is ride as hard as he could, avoid any mechanical issues with his bike, and don’t crash.

    Sounds easy, but think of the pressure. Anything less than the best effort would go down as nothing but a big choke – especially since the entire cycling world had its eyes glued to Saturday’s action.

    Making it more interesting is the fact that Landis is headed for hip replacement surgery when the Tour ends. In fact, Landis’ degenerative hip injury is similar to the one that ended Bo Jackson’s football career. Because of that it’s quite possible that this could be his one and only shot at winning the Tour.

    “I have to say that since it’s a dream of mine, and having hip replacement puts that in jeopardy, that having won the race, I’ll be much more relaxed” about the surgery, Landis told The New York Times. “I don’t feel like my life is a failure if I didn’t win the race, but it’s a dream, and I’d be extremely disappointed if that was taken away by an unfortunate accident.

    “I’ll fight as hard as I have in this race to come back next year or the following year, whatever it takes to be back.”

    But tomorrow’s race toward the Champs-Élysées in Paris should be just a formality with a 59-second lead squirreled away. Certainly such a lead was unfathomable earlier this week when Landis dropped from first place all the way to 11th after a seemingly monumental collapse during the 16th stage. At that point all of the cycling experts wrote Floyd off as cracked, beaten and battered. He was finished, just another rider chewed up in the Alps in the most grueling race on earth.

    Then the next day the unthinkable happened. Landis had the day of his life – until Saturday’s time trial, that is – vaulting all the way to third place by making up nearly eight minutes.

    Those same experts that wrote Floyd off jumped back on the bandwagon by calling him a “Legend.”

    Whether Landis ever makes it back to contention in France again is of no consequence now. He is truly a legend on his way to becoming the just the third American to win the Tour de France, joining Greg LeMond and Lance Armstrong.

    Imagine that – it’s actually quite difficult, actually. Floyd Landis, the Mennonite kid from Farmersville in Lancaster County, Pa. mentioned in the same sentence as Greg LeMond and Lance Armstrong.

    Wow!

    During the 1980s, Greg LeMond was looked at by kids like me as one of the baddest men on the planet. He won awe-inspiring Tour not once, not twice, but thrice. Americans started to race bikes because of LeMond. And then came Lance who took it all to another level by actually transcending his sport to become a celebrity and a cyclist.

    Now comes Landis – from Conestoga Valley High School over on Horseshoe Road. He bought his bikes at Green Mountain Cyclery in Ephrata, Pa. just like all everyone in the know from Lancaster.

    “Talents like Floyd come along once in a lifetime,” said Mike Farrington, the owner of Green Mountain Cyclery, to the Harrisburg Patriot News.

    Once if we’re lucky.

    Don’t forget about Furyk
    Yeah, that’s right… Floyd Landis might be getting all of the attention in Lancaster right now, but homeboy Jim Furyk fired a 66 on Saturday to crawl to within two shots of Tiger Woods heading into the final day of the British Open.

    Imagine if Furyk wins the British Open on the same day Landis wins the Tour de France… bottle up that Lancaster County water and sell it as a magic elixir to anyone dreaming of athletic glory.

    He’s from where?

    At Foolish Craig’s, a restaurant and juice/coffee bar on the fashionable Pearl St. in Boulder, Colo., diners and imbibers halted their conversations mid sentence in order to catch the latest action from the Tour de France flickering from the TV hoisted above their heads. When American Floyd Landis was presented with the Yellow Jersey, signifying that he is the leader of the great race, there was an audible, “YESSSS!” to go along with a few happy fist pumps.

    Actually, Foolish Craig’s is no different than any other establishment in Boulder. Instead of the Rockies-Reds matinee burning up the airwaves, it’s the bike race from France that has everyone’s attention during a busy lunchtime. If there were sports talk radio just for the hip and trendy folks in Boulder, all of the chatter would be about Landis, the latest on the summertime European running circuit, and the Denver Broncos.

    Colorado still shuts down when the Broncos play and it’s still impossible to get a ticket for a game. Lets not kid ourselves and think that endurance sports have surpassed the NFL just yet.

    Nevertheless, Boulder is crazy for Landis. So too is the establishment – the New York Times recently published a six-page feature detailing the 30-year-old cyclist’s plans for surgery to replace his broken hip following this month’s Tour de France. Imagine that – a guy is at the top of the Tour de France (the Tour de France!), riding all of those miles day after day with a broken hip. No wonder cycling crazy Boulder and the pages of the New York Times have dedicated some prime space for the guy.

    Yet meanwhile, in Landis’ hometown of Lancaster, Pa. where he grew up and graduated from Conestoga Valley High in 1994 …

    Crickets.

    And in the Philadelphia area, where the budding superstar pedaled thousands of miles along the Schuylkill, through Valley Forge and the environs cranking out another routine century …

    Ho-hum. Have two-a-days started at Lehigh yet?

    This is where it gets tricky. Take away the altitude and the 300 sunny days a year and there really isn’t that much different from Boulder and Lancaster/Philadelphia areas. In fact, some in the know have suggested that the roads and trails in bucolic and wide open Lancaster County are better than the mountain cycling routes in Boulder County.

    According to a story in USA Today, Philadelphia was rated as one of the best places for bike riding, though the ratings seem to have ignored smaller metropolitan areas like Lancaster and Boulder. Nevertheless, here’s what appeared in the Sept. 23, 2003 edition of the national paper:

    Home to the USA’s most prominent cycling race, the Pro Cycling Tour’s Wachovia U.S. Pro Championship, which is run the first week of June. Need a personal challenge? “Try an out-and-back ride on the Schuylkill River Trail to Valley Forge starting at the Philadelphia Arts Institute and climbing the steep and infamous Manayunk Wall.”

    At the same time, stories have appeared in The New York Times and Kiplinger’s with throwaway sentences in which Lancaster is called “one of the best places in America for cycling” as if this was a given and common knowledge.

    You know, bike riding in Lancaster. Of course.

    Still, it’s hard to believe our region is rated so highly, especially when one considers what goes on outside of the actual athletics in both places. Though Boulder and the area surrounding Philadelphia are approximately the same size (for now… Boulder’s growth is ridiculous), running and riding are a way of life in the Colorado college town and participatory sports is serious business there. A common conversation heard in Boulder goes something like this:

    “Well, I work for (Insert tech company here) by day, but really I’m getting ready to move from trail running to the triathlon.”

    With 60 Olympians living in Boulder County, it’s easy to understand why playing instead of watching sports is a big deal. It’s also easy to see why the communities for sports like running and bicycling have transformed the area.

    Perhaps Boulder is best summed up by Marc Peruzzi in the August issue of Outside magazine: “The Dunkin’ Donuts went out of business, but the oxygen bar next door to the gay-and-lesbian bookstore seems to be doing well.

    “In most American towns, outdoor-sports aficionados are part of an elite counterculture minority. Mountain bikers and climbers have cachet. Not so in Boulder. Recreating outdoors in the norm here, and it’s in your face.”

    Maybe it’s starting to get that way in our area, too. Yoga studios are springing up and are a much more mainstream style of exercise and cross-training than ever before. Actually, in my neighborhood in Lancaster, the question isn’t where you take your yoga class; it’s which discipline you practice.

    Along with this come the restaurants with healthier foods, the supermarkets that cater to that set, as well as the chiropractors and physical therapists. Bottom line wise it all means higher property values and a better quality of life.

    But there are still battles to be waged. Despite the 300 sunny days a year, it still snows quite a bit in Colorado. However, the first thing that gets plowed as soon as the trucks get rolling is the biking and running trails. Meanwhile, we still haven’t learned how to share the roads here.

    Perhaps most telling is the way the locals react in Lancaster when the pro cycling tour rides into town every May. Instead of embracing it the way the Philadelphians have (OK, it’s another excuse to drink… who are we kidding?), Lancasterians view the top cyclists in the world coming to their little town as an inconvenience full of traffic jams and clogged streets, rather than something that makes the town special.

    But personally, I’ll never forget watching the 1998 race where one rider made his return to the sport after battling cancer for the previous two years. After the race, in which he finished in second place but was clearly the strongest rider, I sat down next to the guy with our backs against the Hotel Brunswick on the corner of Queen and Chestnut streets for a little chat about the race, his comeback and his chances in France later that summer.

    Who would have ever guessed that after that ride through Lancaster on a warm afternoon that Lance Armstrong would go on to win the Tour de France seven years in a row?

    Maybe not Lancaster County’s Floyd Landis. He knows what pedaling on those roads can do.

    Sports capital?
    If Landis goes on to win the Tour de France, it will cap off a pretty interesting year in sports for Lancaster natives. On the PGA Tour, Manheim Township High grad and Lancaster native, Jim Furyk, just missed winning his second U.S. Open with his second-place finish. Furyk, the former basketball standout for the Blue Streaks (who can forget that jumper from the corner he hit to beat Lebanon in the 1988 Section 1 title game?), will finish this year rated in the top 10 again and will make another Ryder Cup team.

    Must be something in the water there.

    Riding (or running) in Lancaster
    Looking for the best places to ride (or run) in Lancaster? Pick up Sil Simpson’s Short Bike Rides in Eastern Pennsylvania. It’s an excellent guidebook with all the inside info from a guy who is a riding and running junky.

    As for the running routes, email me. I have a ton of them stashed away.