We’re having a bit of a head scratch over news that Fernando Escartín is taking over the Vuelta technical director role from the dismissed Abraham Olano.
Most folks recall that this year’s French Senate investigation led to former star Laurent Jalabert being booted off his Tour de France radio commentator gig. Those shock waves hit Spain and also wiped out Senõr Olano. He was covered in enough dirt that the Vuelta, which is controlled by Le Tour’s ASO, had to let him go despite his terrific work designing the race routes.
We understand why Olano was let go but why Escartin as a replacement? He rode for one of the dirtiest teams in a dirty time period. Baby Jesus Marzano exposed the team’s systemic doping program back in 2004. Escartin was a client of dope doctors Francesco Conconi and shortly after, Dr Evil, Michele Ferrari.
Even a short google search will turn up a failed dope test for most of the riders on Kelme’s 1999 Tour de France roster — the year Escartin took third behind Alex Zulle and now-disgraced winner Lance Armstrong.
The most damning thing of all: the Kelme team doctor at that time was Eufemiano Fuentes, the infamous doctor implicated in the Operacion Puerto scandal. Kelme team manager Vicente Belda and trainer Jose Ignacio Labarta were also brought to trial under the weak Spanish laws of endangering public health.
Just for example, on the ’99 roster was Javier Pascual Llorente who tested positive for EPO in 2003. Javier Otxoa was prevented from starting the 99 Giro d’Italia and was later linked to Operacion Grial. Dr Fuentes himself implicated the rider José Javier Gomez. If you want to know why there’s no Travis Tygart in Spain, consider that Gomez was the president of the Spanish Association of Professional Cyclists (ACP)
So it’s pretty hard to understand or explain why Olano had to go but that the Vuelta sees Escartin as a fine choice to take his place. You might even say extra bizarre as Escartin will be sharing duties with another former Kelme sports director Paco Giner. A double shot of dirty Kelme history — two riders now in charge of putting together a grand tour as the sport crawls out from under the US Postal doping revelations. It would sort of be like putting Marco Pantani in charge of the Giro d’Italia — if he were alive.
It’s just another example of the more things change, the more they stay of the same in pro cycling. Suppose the UCI-backed Truth & Reconciliation panel actually happens in the near future as USADA’s Travis Tygart claims it will? Are Escartin and Giner going to come clean about their doping at Kelme? That seems doubtful — kind of like expecting Miguel Indurain to spill the pinto beans.
We have to think that the selection of Escartin will backfire on the Vuelta sooner rather than later. In the meantime, bring us another round of sangria and tapas and we’ll keep laughing.