It's been a while since I did a feedbag. Largely this is attributable to/blamed on you, the readers. Nowadays it seems that, along with our growing staff, so many people use the fanposts that the tasty morsels for which the feedbag was famous are now usually the subject of their very own post someplace. In fact, as I type it occurs to me that I'd better stop messing around, or this post will be OBE by the time it's published. So w/o further ado...
There are a couple stories over at VN of note: the news that Düsseldorf has turned down an opportunity to host a Tour stage in 2010, and that some sort of top-level Cycling summit is happening tomorrow in Madrid.
Starting with the latter, the story says the UCI, grand tours, and teams are convening to discuss the future of the sport. The teams' inclusion is a novel idea; up to now, the last few years of bickering have taken place bilaterally, either the UCI fighting with the Grand Tours, or with one of those parties huddling with the teams. Or the teams talking amongst themselves to formulate a response to whatever mess the other two have created. So how exactly should we interpret this?
Let's assume for the moment that this is just more of the old power struggle. One possibility is that ASO knows they've roundly defeated the UCI in the mano-a-mano struggle, and by showing up with the teams they can pretty much dictate final surrender terms. The open dissatisfaction with the UCI expressed by many teams, at least, dismisses the idea that the teams will gang up with the UCI on ASO; only the reverse is possible in the power struggle scenario. The teams cannot say no to the grand tours and their various races.
But the story (reported by reliable journo Andy Hood) cites our favorite pinata friend Pat McQuaid as having achieved some amount of thawing out in his relations with ASO; ASO itself is in flux since the death of Phillippe Amaury. Maybe, just maybe, this is the summit we've all been waiting for, when the races, the rulemakers and the teams all show up to work cooperatively and create a functioning world calendar and competition system. Maybe, with the UCI chastened and old rejected agendas (re: Pro Tour) completely shut down, the major players are ready to put the power struggles and hurt feelings behind them, instead turning to the task of building an organization for the sport at the top level. Assuming the best, a single meeting is hardly enough time to accomplish anything, but it's possible we could start seeing some real proposals, and that the winter will be spent laying the foundation for, oh, the next decade of Cycling.
This feels right to me. Yes, I'm often blinded by optimism, and as long as McQuaid is in the picture, it's not entirely safe to limit my forecasts to reasonable outcomes. But there's an air of finality to the Pro Tour's demise. There's a model for dealing with doping more effe ctively -- passports and internal team controls -- around which the sport's big players can coalesce and further develop. There is, in my estimation, cause to say we're turning the page on the scandals and fully into rebuilding mode, with new sponsors and new races adding weight and dollars to a sport that looked two years ago like it might be bled dry. As long as the teams pledge to participate, and the grand tours pledge to invite teams in a consistent manner, and the UCI pledges to give the other two enough structure (e.g. competent doping controls) and enough flexibility (e.g., non-mandatory race invites) to do their thing... then maybe we'll see a unified calendar again. Much to talk about this winter...
As for Düsseldorf, Germany is in a truly odd position these days. In the city's defense, they cite the pricetag of 6 million euros ($72 trillion USD) as too steep for their wallets. Maybe so, but it's hard not to lump this in with the recent popular expressions of disdain for Cycling in Germany. This is a country which not only has a long history -- dating back to Josef Fischer's victory in the first-ever Paris-Roubaix -- but has flooded the sport with talent over the last ten years. Thanks to a persistently negative response -- from the political class, and maybe the public at large? -- to the sport since Operacion Puerto, Cycling has been frozen out of the Fatherland: no TV coverage of the Tour; T-Mobile pulling out and their magnificent team fleeing to the US; Gerolsteiner folding; etc.
At what point is it enough? Yes, doping was bad, we get it. But is the German public so irrevocably turned off from Cycling that they aren't interested in Marcus Burghardt, or Linus Gerdemann, or Gerald Ciolek, or any of the current flotilla of credible young German stars emerging on the scene? Is this a matter of public rejection, or politicians sticking to what worked for them in 2006, without bothering to update the script? Honestly, I haven't the faintest idea what public opinion is like there. All I can do is look at the sport and think, surely sometime soon Germans will get interested again. I'd be doing cartwheels if the US were producing anywhere near as much talent right now.
One last item: housekeeping. I haven't had much time to watch the Vuelta. It's kind of sad, really -- I don't mean to assign third-class-citizen status to what's been a pretty solid grand tour. It's merely a matter of being busy and traveling. Just sayin. Thanks to all who've been driving our coverage and conversation here.