Monday, March 23, 2009

The Astana Files

I have not hidden my apathetic feelings towards Lance's return to cycling this season. It is a double edged sword for me. First, the good:
Lance brings the media back to cycling.
Cycling has made it back onto the bottom line ticker of ESPNews and other programs.
We now have access to more live television coverage of races, because Versus wants to make a bunch of money on the people who live for the yellow bracelet.
There is a flood of internet live coverage as well for lesser known races (lesser known in the US), like Milan San Remo.
Lance brings the competition level up in the major stage races.
The Tour will always be considered the Super Bowl of cycling, even though 90% of cyclists will disagree.
The tour is always more exciting when there is a high level of competition met with an even higher level of uncertainty, and no one wants to loose to a 39 year old, especially not the Italians or the Spaniards (Contador included).
All of this makes cycling, arguably the worst spectator sport, more marketable.
Anyone who has ever raced a bicycle knows the entire sport lives and dies through sponsorship, and Lance is the only cyclist who has this power in the US.
Now the bad:
Lance is not the only cyclist who pins a number on, nor is he the only one Americans are allowed to root for.
He is not even the only American.
Lance has taken away most of the intelligent conversation about cycling due to the common assertion that he will win any race he enters, when in fact he rarely wins races shorter than 2000 miles held outside of France.
Riders like Christian Vandevelde and David Zabriskie are missing out on being the poster children for a new generation of American cycling by having to compete with LA.
All media coverage of cycling is led with how well LA faired.
It is ludicrous to read an article and have to get two paragraphs in to figure out who won the race, because you have to sift through why LA finished 30th.
Cycling coverage on Versus has gotten dumber, Craig Hummer included.
With the return of LA Versus has realized they can once again attract the fringe cycling fan who knows very little about bicycle racing, this should be a good thing, after all cyclign is a hard sport to approach and start up on your own.
Its very intimidating.
The coverage on TV, has suffered far worse than neccesary, however.
When you compare the NHL's NBC broadcast (which is intended to attract fringe fans as well) to Versus covering the Tour of California this year, you cannot help but assume that all viewers of Versus are in fact duck hunters and cage fighters waiting for this agonizing point to point pedaling motion to finally end.
Now there is also the effect LA has on the printed media.
For the past four months now the print media has been building up a battle royal between Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong in the 2009 Tour de France.
Contador is the greatest stage racer on the current generation, he has proven ready to supplant LA for the future.
Problem is that LA thinks Contador is not ready, he is still too young.
So we have the situation in February at the Amgen Tour of California, where Astana sent their TdF team (sans Contador) to support Levi Leiphiemer in his quest for his 3rd victory in a 4 year old race. A month later Astana sent a B team and a B director Sportif to support Alberto Contador in his attempt to regain the crown in Paris Nice, an extremely prestigious spring stage race which often follows many of the same roads as the TdF. If you follow cycling, you no doubt know that Leiphiemer won the AToC and Contador lost P-N. Twitterstrong called Contador imexperienced and blamed his loss on Contador's eagerness and impatientence.

Yadda yadda Yadda... Contador and Lance Strong are still trying to prove to the world and thier team that they are better equipped to lead the team, which brings us to today (finally).When Lance Crashed in the Vuelta Castilla y Leon, it was as if Spain was makign LA eat his negative twits about their favorite son, Alberto Contador. Contador lived to race another day, and most likely repeat his 2008 Vuelta Castilla y Leon victory. While LA is stuck with 4 to 6 weeks of rehab. There is a big race in 6 weeks, Giro d' Something...

The real Astana File should actually be called: "How we managed to get the world to love Alberto Contador"

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