Horner and Nibali and Vino and pissed off Cycling Gods.
We can’t help but draw a strange, mangled, perhaps nonsensical parallel right now between what’s happening with former Vuelta rivals Chris Horner and Vincenzo Nibali. Both of them are caught in frustrating situations that have barred (or may yet) bar them from big races.
It seem like ages since Horner battled Nibali to the death — the Italian’s death — in a wildly dramatic and impressive Vuelta that Horner would win at the overly ripe age of 42. That was the highpoint of his career and perhaps that should have been the Madrid red curtain to close on his long and successful career,
But like his former teammate Lance Armstrong did with Comeback 2.0. Horner disobeyed the Cycling Gods and they haven’t stopped smacking his face since then. First came the near-death experience in a tunnel along Lake Como. He pieced his shattered body back together — No! I’m not retiring! — and tried to get himself ready for his Vuelta defense. He rode the Tour de France and Tour of Utah so loaded on antibiotics that it crushed his immune system, leading to low cortisol levels that forced his team to keep him out of the Vuelta.
Thing got worse. No WorldTour or even Pro Continental team would sign the geezer who still had high wattage readings on his power meter. He went into free-fall and right before smashing to the ground in San Diego or Bend, Oregon, a small, domestic development team in the U.S. named Air-Gas Safeway threw him a life preserver. Hey, race back in the US and run this day care center for young riders. It’ll be fun you winning races you won twenty years ago. Maybe your hair will even grow back and the aging process will reverse and in one year you’ll be 30 again and you can re-sign in Europe. Now that’s a killer plan, right?
Despite insisting that he was financially set for life, Horner saddled up one more time. Hey, it’s his career, he can do what he wants. Given the steep drop in competition, he can even go back to eating hamburgers. Not those Steak Frites they serve in France but genuine, hormone-laced, factory food hamburgers from McDonalds and Burger King. All the young domestic riders hoping to work their way up gave Horner a tepid “Welcome” and a slow, noncommittal clap of the hands.
But back to the Cycling Gods who make the Rules and Enforce the Code, one of which is Article 39683G, “Don’t Stay Too Long At the Peloton.” Horner broke the rule and therefore the Gods cancelled what Horner assumed was an automatic entry in the Tour of California, a race he won back in 2011.
That was season goal and showcase number one for Horner and Airgas and the air went out fast. Because, you know, the Winston – Salem Cycling Classic and the San Rafael Twilight — both races on the team calendar — aren’t exactly the Tour of the Basque Country. Oh well, day care is day care and at least he doesn’t have to spray all the toys with disinfectant at the end of the day.
There was plenty of outrage and shock when the Tour of California said No, we’d rather have Axeon and Hincapie, the two development teams without the gezzer, come to our race to put some hair on their chests. Horner retools and starts thinking about winning the Tour of Utah again and maybe squeezing into the US Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado. If that isn’t too late already.
Only the Cycling Gods ain’t finished because the job isn’t done. Then they go down to South America and pull the plug on Horner’s next race, the Vuelta Mexico. Now the team scrambles, a huge hole in their immediate calendar, with no California Tour in mid May and a bunch of restless kids in the back of the team bus, eating Clif bars and complaining about not getting enough playtime.
Having successfully derailed Horner’s plan for the next two months, the Cycling Gods turned their angry gaze towards Kazakhstan and Astana and more specifically and vengefully Alexandre Vinokourov, a man who has been giving the Gods the middle finger since he crawled out of retirement to win the Olympic Road Race to the roaring applause of absolutely nobody outside his home country.
After a staggering extra-strength display of doping — five positives spread between the Astana WorldTour and Astana feeder squad– even the UCI was horrified. Throw in past transgressions and Vino’s own sordid past and an ongoing Italian investigation into whether Vino was using evil Dr. Ferrari to train riders and you have a toxic shit stew. After a slow start, the UCI finally takes action and recommends to the license committee that they revoke Astana’s ticket.
So where does that leave Horner’s former rival and reigning Tour de France champion Vincenzo Nibali? Hard to say but the extreme case is that the Italian will also be in the same sinking boat — hoping for race invites and perhaps, depending on how the Court for Arbitration in Sport rules — closed out of some WorldTour races.
Should things get ugly, Nibali could even attempt to void his contract, making use of a clause that states the team must have a WorldTour license. Consider that bizarre prospect: A Tour de France champion going door to door begging for a last minute ride. Which was sort of what Horner was forced to do, unsuccessfully.
Now, Twisted Spoke doesn’t expect Nibali to miss any big races — somehow or someway he’ll be there — but we do expect Astana to have its license revoked and that they will lose their CAS appeal. UCI President Cookson waited until he had an airtight legal case before he went to court feeling confident that the verdict wouldn’t be Katusha Version 2.
From there, it’s just a case of how bad and how fast the Padua stuff blows up. Given the glacial pace of that investigation, we’re not expecting anything that would rule out a Pro Continental slot but once the bombs detonate, hard to say how many building collapse.
Still, no matter what the scenarios, perhaps there’s room for Nibali to join Horner at Air-Gas Safeway and together they can dominate the Redlands Classic. Really, what’s better than one mentor? Two mentors — and he can teach Italian.