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Editorial Reaction: Astana Armageddon!

First off, an apology for coming late to the game, I'm still under the weather today. But more importantly, thanks to all the contributors covering the story. Sure, the posts are a bit overlapping, but I see several good discussion chains evolved and I don't have the tools to merge posts without making a mess, so carry on.

[Also: the VDS rosters aren't closed yet... but before you overhaul your roster, remember that the Vuelta is worth as many points as the Tour.]


Well Astana, a team for which the Tour is about 95% of its focus, is cast into the Cycling abyss. Everyone's asking, rightly, why? I think it's worth analogizing to criminal law to examine whether the punishment is in any way just. In criminal law, we impose punishments for a handful of recognized reasons: incapacitation, education, deterrence, restoration, and retribution. If I understand Prudhomme's words, he is claiming incapacitation is the reason: Astana last year and Liberty Seguros the year before were a scandal-ridden mess, and with that kind of lineage, only a fool would invite them back for more misery.

IMHO the number one reason to despise ASO is that they never seem to tell the truth. They spin everything, they're constantly lobbing bombs, etc., and they constantly seem to operate according to hidden motives the viewing public might not appreciate. Today's decision seems like more of the same, because of the list of justifications for punishing Astana with exclusion from the Tour, incapacitation seems like the least credible.

I understand the team's history, but as has been thoroughly discussed elsewhere, this team bears little resemblance to Liberty Seguros. Not none, mind you, but Contador, Leipheimer, Brajkovic and Bruyneel don't come with the same stain, and Andreas Kloden's culpability is (as far as we know) close to zero. So apart from a handful of minor riders and the sponsor, who's gonna run a doping ring at the team? It's hard to take seriously the "threat" that ASO moves today to incapacitate, and yet that's what ASO asks us to do.

Since the truth may lie beyond their stated reasons, let's look at the other justifications for punishment and see which ones make more sense:

Education: This is more of a newfangled concept [Wikipedia attributes to modern German law] which says that punishment is a way to teach an unaware public that an act is morally wrong. Given the somewhat flippant handling of the Vino and Kashechkin cases by the Kazakh federation, maybe ASO felt like they didn't understand the basic message. However, the Kazakh Federation isn't part of the team, just a licensing body for Kazakh pros. I'm not sure a single Kazakh rider was in line for a Tour start, so let's toss this one out.

Restoration: Does kicking out Astana help pay back the Tour for past problems? Maybe by their logic, but not in the classic "pay a $25,000 fine for damaging public property" way. Let's toss this one out too.

Deterrence: Unlike education, deterrence is aimed at parties who know what they're doing is wrong but might do it anyway. You penalize one party so others get the message that, er, crime doesn't pay. I'm betting heavily this is part of ASO's collective thinking, and might even constitute a good reason for their actions. Want to play with fire? Not only are you putting your individual future on the line, but now you are putting your team (if they rely on a Tour invite) at risk of something like a death sentence. In these troubled times, such heavy-handed tactics aren't unjustifiable.

Retribution: Also known as revenge. If anyone thinks for a second this isn't really what ASO are thinking, you haven't been following them for very long. Is retribution legit? Not everyone is fond of "an eye for an eye," but there are underpinnings of reason: if a transgressor doesn't "get what he deserves," the victims and their sympathizers might be encouraged to carry out their own revenge. In Cycling, letting the cheats off the hook doesn't risk vigilante justice but does threaten the sport's existence.

Where it becomes more problematic is in its application. Life in prison for a confessed killer is simple enough, but how does exclusion give Astana "what they deserve"? In this case, with the individual dopers long gone, ASO are just punishing the Astana brand. Not the best brand, perhaps, but whose fault is that? Doping historically has been conducted at the individual and team-director level, NOT by the sponsors. The Kazakh government isn't guilty of anything but wanting an inroad to the sport, something we should be celebrating these days. Detonating their brand seems stupid.

I have mixed feelings about the Tour's decision. It's not like they're without reasons, and if innocent people are caught in the crossfire, that's nothing new. In future years, riders will be on notice that if they want to win the Tour, they shouldn't sign on with a team that got kicked out last year.

But I see the decision as partially dishonest, mostly ineffective, and somewhat tragic for guys like Chris Horner and Levi Leipheimer, who at the latter stages of their career can't afford lost years to blindsided decisions. I'd rather see them on some sort of probation, or limited exclusion from ASO races pending further investigation or what have you. I can see where they're coming from, but in the end I think it's the wrong choice.