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The Wednesday Session

The Wednesday SessionThis week, more news, less ‘tude. We got Pro Tour licenses, some doping, some more doping, Pink Day, and a birthday.

Let’s begin with some Pro Tour licenses, shall we? Rejoicing all around at Team Sky today as they received one of the coveted licenses. Currently at their first team get-together in Manchester, the new British team will hold a Pro Tour license until 2013, which should give them enough time finally to sign Bradley Wiggins. Though L’Equipe reported last week that the Wiggins to Sky transfer was a sure-thing, Jonathan Vaughters rained on that parade and denied the story. According to Evil Vaughters, Wiggins is staying right where he is deep in the den of Garmin Evilness. Why he would want to go to the team of ants and chimps I have no idea. Zoo, bike racing team, they’re all the same, right?

Astana, meanwhile, sorta kinda has a Pro Tour license. The UCI granted the team a license, but has required the Kazakh team to deposit a bank deposit of unusual size. The requirement comes as a consequence of reports last season that Astana may not have paid their riders, though when questioned by journalists, several team riders confirmed that they had received their salaries. A confusing business, to be sure. To confuse matters further, the Astana management has not yet delivered the $22 million guarantee, which is equal to the entire annual budget for the team. No doubt the check’s in the mail, but the continued uncertainty over the true status of Astana means that Contador remains in play. He will leave the team if the UCI does not grant the Pro Tour license and we will get to play the Contador Transfer Game all over again. Oh boy! In other Astana-related news, Oscar Pereiro will ride for Astana for one season, assuming the team receives its Pro Tour license. If not, Pereiro will go to Quick Step.

It’s not entirely clear why the UCI decided to diss Lampre-Vini Farnese. The Italian team did not receive its Pro Tour license just yet. Instead, the team’s file has gone to the License Commission, where everyone wears funny hats. Okay, I made up the part about the funny hats. It’s not entirely clear why the UCI has sent Lampre-Vini Farnese to purgatorio. The usual reason for Pro Tour rejection is money, and it’s possible that the team has not provided enough financial information to keep its Pro Tour status. In a brief comment to the press, Lampre manager Giuseppe Saronni expressed surprise at the decision, and said he was waiting to hear from the UCI what exactly was missing from the team’s dossier. Saronni confirmed that he would provide whatever information was necessary to secure Lampre’s position among cycling’s elite.

The UCI has now confirmed seventeen teams as carrying the Pro Tour license with Team Sky and Armstrong’s new The Shack Team the two new-comers to the elite group. Like Team Sky, the Shack has secured a Pro Tour license through the year 2013. French team Bbox Bouygues Télécom has departed the Pro Tour, leaving Français des Jeux and AG2R-La Mondiale as the only two French teams. The remainder of the list looks much the same. Clicky for the list of Pro Tour teams.

In Italy, meanwhile, they are changing the finish to Milano-Sanremo yet again. The new finish shortens the distance between the Poggio and the finish. Philippe Gilbert, take note. After previewing the new finish, Alessandro Petacchi called it a "complicated sprint." The finish comes closer to the descent from the Poggio, which will give the sprinters less time to organize their lead-outs. The finishing roads are also considerably more narrow than the traditional finish on the Via Roma. The race will finish in the piazza Colombo, which is surfaced with smooth cobbles, and it will bypass the lungomare Italo Calvino, where Fabian Cancellara put in his big attack two years ago. Petacchi commented, "the attackers are the favorites, and it will be important to climb the Poggio at the front." The Italian, who transferred to Lampre-Vini Farnese from LPR, won Milano-Sanremo in 2005. He joined Lampre-Vini Farnese in the hope of riding the Pro Tour races, including the three grand tours, though the news that the UCI has denied the team a Pro Tour license may lead to a change of plans.

The Sports Arbitration Court set an important precedent this week by upholding the suspension of Claudia Pechstein, a German speed skater. Pechstein, who is a five-time Olympic speed-skating champion, received a two year suspension from the International Skating Union. Based upon information drawn from her blood profile, the ISU concluded that Pechstein had used blood doping. The German news magazine Bild published a graphic of her profiles, and anti-doping experts pointed to the rapid rise and fall of the reticulocyte numbers as cause for suspicion. Rasmus Damsgaard was one of the few to question the conclusion on the grounds that the numbers might instead reflect illness rather than artificial manipulation. Pechstein and the German Skating Union filed an appeal with the Arbitration Court, in which she argued that her high reticulocyte value resulted from a blood disease and contested the upper limit set at 2.4% by the ISU. The Pechstein legal team also challenged the testing procedure, especially the calibration of the testing machines.

The court has now issued its decision which upholds the ISU sanction. The decision is important, because its sets a precedent for sanctioning athletes on the basis of abnormal blood values. Here is the key passage of the decision:

... the CAS Panel found that the percentage of reticulocytes values shown by the athlete in Hamar on 6 and 7 February 2009 constituted abnormal values in comparison with both the general population in Europe and other elite speed skaters, as well as in comparison with her own usual values. The Panel also found that the variations in the athlete's percentage of reticulocytes from 1.74 on 8 January 2009 to 3.49 on 6 February 2009 and then down again to 1.37 on 18 February 2009 was abnormal. ... The Panel finds that they must, therefore, derive from the Athlete’s illicit manipulation of her own blood, which remains the only reasonable alternative source of such abnormal values.

Back to cycling, the UCI has five cases based upon abnormal blood values found with the bio-passport program. The five riders - Igor Astarloa, Pietro Cauchioli, Francesco De Bonis, Ruben Lobato, and Ricardo Serrano - have sat in limbo, but the decision from Lausanne should strengthen the hand of the UCI to act on the basis of abnormal bio-passport information. De Bonis also returned a positive doping control for CERA, so no need to look too far for the reasons behind his abnormalities.

In other doping news, the Guardia Civile in Spain has uncovered a doping ring operated by former Kelme doctor and Fuentes bro Dr. Walter Viru. Viru, a hematologist, allegedly prescribed doping products to athletes for which he received 70,000 euros over the past two years. The information comes thanks to raids carried out by the Guardia Civile in a collabo with French authorities. According to reports at El País, Operación Grial has resulted in the arrest of 11 people so far. At the time of Operación Puerto, Spain had no laws prohibiting doping, which has created an endless succession of headaches. Subsequent to Puerto, the Spanish national government passed criminal laws against doping, which will likely apply in this new case and may mean a heapload of trouble for Viru and others named in the case.

For his part, Viru has a long history in the sport, and was named back in 2007 by Jesús Manzano. Among other things, Viru along with Del Moral, who then worked for U.S. Postal, received advance warning of UCI doping controls, which allowed them to protect their riders from suspicion. For a stroll down Memory Lane, roll on over to NY Velocity for Manzano’s description of Viru. So far, Operación Grial has named Spanish runner Francisco Javier Paquillo Fernández and cyclists Pedro Vera, José Ortega, and Christina Navarro. The three riders have been arrested on charges of dealing. The Guardia Civile also reportedly found EPO in a search of Paquillo Fernández’s home. No "bigs" from cycling have yet been mentioned in connection with the case. Read more at El País.

Phew... Enough doping, eh? How about some women’s news? Lithuanian rider Diana Ziliute has announced her retirement from cycling after a lengthy and successful career. Ziliute has ridden much of her career in Italy, most recently with Safi-Pasta Zara. She will turn sports director with the team next season. In the meantime, Ziliute with participate in "Pink Day" a celebration of women’s cycling at the Madonna del Ghisallo. Noemi Cantele will also join in the fun.

Happy Birthday to Ivan Basso, who turned 32 this week. Basso heads to the Passo San Pelligrino for a winter retreat with Liquigas-Doimo. Basso hopes to ride the Giro and Tour next season, though he will have to fight through a deep roster at Liquigas-Doimo to do it. Vincenzo Nibali, Franco Pellizotti, and Roman Kreuziger all have grand tour ambitions, and Liquigas-Doimo promises to be one of the more entertaining stories of next season as these four talented riders chase results. Watch out for that stiletto. Daniele Bennati, meanwhile, is hoping for a better season next year, starting with a win at Milano-Sanremo and maybe a stage or two at Tirreno-Adriatico. Bennati also has his eye on the Worlds race in Australia, which is reportedly sprinter-friendly. I will leave it to the Benna tifosi to illustrate this post appropriately.

That’s all the Wednesday Session for you, this week. Next week, more ‘tude, less news. For all the United Statesians - not to be confused with the Anglo-Sachians - enjoy the Thanksgiving hijinx tomorrow. I will be stopping by here at the Cafe to see what’s up, because really, I couldn’t possibly go a whole day without you people, could I? No, don’t answer that.