I did not see that coming.
Oscar Sevilla (Rock Racing) won the second race of Philly Week, giving his polarizing domestic team what has to be the biggest victory of its short existence. While the Reading, PA course does feature a substantial climb in the last three laps, it’s hardly one that would look to favor a guy who made his name by riding well in the high mountains of European stage races and by having the face of an eternal 13 year old. As the two previous winners, Bernhard Eisel (then T-Mobile, now High Road) and Greg Henderson (then HealthNet, now High Road) would indicate, it tends to favor strongmen who can ride the hill as a power climb and still sprint afterwards. But according to reports, the little Spaniard not only read the race and timed his move perfectly, but was also just plain stronger than everyone else. That’s a hard combination to beat.
Jason Sumner’s VeloNews report can give you all the details, as can Mark Zalewski’s on cyclingnews.com, but basically, Sevilla had a free hand to play, which he did to great effect in the final two laps. Had that failed, the team was banking on Fred Rodriguez to take out the field sprint. Simple as it was, that little tactical discussion was somehow striking. I haven’t exactly been scavenging the media for the latest Rock Racing news, but it's hard to avoid, and it seems to me that the contents of those two articles are probably the most in-depth discussion of cycling tactics and actual racing to have occurred in relation to that particular team. Amidst all the discussion about persecution, Cipollini, lawsuits, tattoos, chrome rims, and fashion, it’s easy to forget that there’s an actual group of guys out there racing. And the team knows it. Director Mariano Friedick told VN post race, “No matter what other people may think, we are just a bike racing team trying to win bike races.”
But it’s hard to deny that the team has given people plenty to talk about besides winning bike races. In fact, they’ve gone out of their way to do so. And, like it or not, this victory will continue to fan some of those flames, because it involves Sevilla. While I don’t have the time – as in, “enough time left on this Earth” – to recount the ins and outs of the whole Operation Puerto affair, suffice it to say that Sevilla was implicated, but never officially sanctioned, unless you count exclusion from the Tour of California as being sanctioned. So there will certainly be people both deep inside the sport and on the spectator level who will complain about his victory and the “message” it sends, despite the fact that he’s always held a valid UCI license.
I won’t be among them though. Why? Not because I don’t think Sevilla was involved in at least some of the illicit practices at the center of Puerto. I’m no fan of guilt by association, because if that were the norm, I probably wouldn’t be a free man today, but Sevilla’s resume is a listing of the teams of the damned: Kelme (1998-2003), Phonak (2004), and T-Mobile (2005-2006) take him up through the Puerto case, after which he rode for Relax-Gam before landing stateside with Rock Racing. But in the years since that whole mess blew up, the acronym soup that claims to govern world cycling has failed to work in concert to do anything about it, other than point fingers at various cyclists and each other. In the meantime various riders, including Sevilla, have been caught in purgatory, and for someone just trying to get on with their life, that’s a pretty stiff punishment. At least when you get sent to heaven or hell, you know what you’re in for.
So while Sevilla would have likely sat out a couple of years had various people pulled their acts together, the time for the UCI and all other Puerto concerned parties to fish or cut bait has long since passed, and at this point they're stuck firmly below deck hacking the heads off a tub of shad until the next boat comes along. Or at least they should be, but most of these parties have never been constrained by the pursuit of a proper course of action. Maybe you can blame Sevilla and all of the other Puerto riders (including Sevilla’s teammates Tyler Hamilton and Santiago Botero) for not fessing up if you think they’re guilty, and that’s fair enough, but it’s the governing bodies’ job to police this stuff, and they failed miserably. At some point, in the absence of any credible sporting or legal process, we all have to move on, and I'm trying to do my part. Which is not to say that we shouldn't look to improve the processes -- clearly, there's plenty of work to be done. But we need to do so by using the past as a lesson, not by dwelling in it and letting it siphon off resources that could be used to improve the future.
Though it’s not directly related to Puerto, which has been pretty quiet of late, there’s ample evidence of the sport’s mismanagement floating around these days anyway. If you want to dig into the depth of just how bad it is, check out VeloNews Editorial Director John Wilcockson’s interview with UCI boss Pat McQuaid. The primary subject is the UCI vs. ASO issue hovering noisily over the upcoming Tour de France, but it’s pretty indicative of the state of the sport as a whole. It’s also pretty dense stuff, and frankly, it made my head hurt. But despite the pain, it reveals some disturbing issues, like the fact that the McQuaid interprets (at his convenience) requests made by a confounding number of (sometimes redundant, sometimes conflicting) teams associations to the UCI as steadfast rules to be applied to races, and that the UCI is both the enforcer of and at the mercy of those same rules. My headache comes back just thinking about it.
Though this particular interview only gives a peep into the UCI’s absurd mental gymnastics, the ASO really isn’t contributing any better logic on their side. In fact, it would be sweet relief if there were anybody involved in the whole UCI vs. Grand Tours flap who was more-or-less right. But there isn’t, and the fact that they’re all making a mess of things in their own unique way is just plain frustrating – there’s really no interest in creating a unified, cohesive structure for the sport, only in forwarding the individual goals of a slew of organizations. I don’t claim to have the answers to all of the overlapping jurisdictions and responsibilities and ambitions that are hog-tying the sport, but then again, it isn’t my full-time well-compensated job to think about such things. It’s my part-time, poorly compensated job to bitch about them sometimes, though, so there you go.