Rock trio appear at stage start
Cancellara: Riders that aren’t allowed to race shouldn’t be at the race
By Neal Rogers
Rock Racing’s Tyler Hamilton, Oscar Sevilla and Santiago Botero may have been denied a start at the Amgen Tour of California, but the trio — along with teammate and fellow non-starter Kayle Leogrande — have been a common sight along the race route and at the start and finish lines. And race leader Fabian Cancellara isn’t too happy about that.
“They think they can ride their bikes and be at the start line but they still have problems on their shoulders and that is not good for our sport,” Cancellara (CSC) said at Monday’s post-race press conference, without naming the banned trio.
“They have to really think about what they did and not be here to make a show and say ‘I can’t start and that’s not good.’ I don’t want to say names but I think everybody knows who I’m talking about.”
The three were at the start in Sausalito in full team kit and later rode with Leogrande along the route of stage 1 to Santa Rosa, 45 minutes ahead of the race caravan.
The race leader’s comments followed his answer to a question about Rock Racing’s Mario Cipollini.
“When Mario said he was going to make a comeback I knew he wasn’t coming to do some cyclotourist rides. He looks fit and looks strong,” Cancellara said. “He didn’t make it over the climb (with the leaders) today, but he made a personal decision to make a comeback and I don’t have any problem with that.
“I do have a problem with some other riders. They think they can ride their bikes and be at the start line while they still have problems on their shoulders and that is not good for our sport. We want to ride our bikes, not make a show of it. This is a hard job. We’re young riders, we fight every day and we love riding the bike and give everything we’ve got so that other people will want to ride a bike too.”
When Rock Racing announced Saturday night that it had accepted the decision from race organizer AEG, team owner Michael Ball made it clear that Hamilton, Botero and Sevilla would remain part of the team and would continue to accompany the Rock Racing squad throughout the race.
The three riders have been available before and after the first two stages to sign autographs. Leogrande was on Rock’s original announced roster, but was bumped for Cipollini when the team still hoped to field a roster of eight riders. Leogrande did not fill one of the vacant spots when the three riders were not accepted by AEG.
Rock Racing riders showed up at Monday’s stage in a new black and red kit with gray barbed wire graphics. The new uniform had been fast-tracked to the start to make a statement about their teammates’ exclusion.
“It symbolizes everything these guys have gone through,” Ball said. “These guys are being crucified for something they haven’t done.”
While riders kicked out of a stage race for doping violations have historically been sent home immediately, it’s not uncommon for those who have exited, either because of a crash or time cut, to continue on training and traveling with their team. Rock’s riders fall in a gray area, having been barred from competing for involvement in the two-year old Operacion Puerto investigation that was shelved for lack of evidence but recently re-opened.
If Ball was disappointed by his riders’ exclusion from the race, he can’t be unhappy about the swarms of fans surrounding his team bus at the start and finish of stage 1 seeking autographs and hoping for a glimpse of Cipollini, Hamilton or even the polarizing team owner himself.
Rock Racing’s Freddie Rodriguez, who finished ninth on Stage 1, said the four riders are continuing to train because they are still part of the team and plan to compete in upcoming races.
“We are expecting to ride as a full, united team and the four guys who are unable to race in the Tour of California are trying to stay in shape and continue training so they’re ready,” he said. “These four guys are still a part of our team and they are here to support us.”
Astana’s Chris Horner said after the stage that he hadn’t heard anything of Rock’s three riders out on the course. Other riders either knew nothing or had no comment. One domestic rider, who wished to remain nameless, said, “They’re out training. They don’t have numbers pinned on. They’re not hurting anyone. Who cares?”
Cancellara, however, seemed to care, as he volunteered his thoughts on the matter to the assembled race media.
“When you have problems, you shouldn’t be at the start of a race,” he said. “When you love the bike you have to understand that. We’ve had too many problems already and we don’t need anymore like that. We need good cycling and clean cycling. There were so many people at the finish in Santa Rosa and that is what we need. We don’t need to see people at the side of the road protesting and shouting ‘EPO’ at us.”