Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Well, Rock and Republic's Michael Ball seems to have a way of injecting himself into the spotlight of professional bicycle racing. A little history. Michael Ball, founder of the fashion label Rock and Republic and avid fan of the sport, decided in 2007 that he would start a bicycle racing team. Not any old cycling team mind you, but a tattooed bunch of hooligan looking dudes from the LA area. I have to admit, I think his ability as a designer and cheerleader for his brand are stellar. I like his stuff alot. It's got attitude.

His team has had some success around the USA Pro Criterium Circuit with a bunch of wins, "win or you're fired!" or some such thing was said, and for 2008 he's upped the ante with some huge signings, Victor Hugo Peña, Oscar Sevilla and Santiago Botero, along with Operation Puerto beleaguered Tyler Hamilton. He's also talked to Cycling Rock Star and former world champion Super Mario Cippolini and even Floyd Landis about some sort of role with his team. Like I said earlier, the guy knows how to make a scene.

Last week's departure of longtime Armstrong Domestique and all round good guy Frankie Andreu from Rock Racing was something many, including myself had seen coming. Some of the things Ball said regarding his role, "I don't know what the traditional role of the Director Sportif is" and hiring riders without Frankie even being emailed the good news probably made it difficult for Frankie to continue. Can't say I blame him.

Now, my first gut reaction to Ball's actions was one of disgust for a guy that seems to be a media hound egomaniac. But after thinking about it awhile, I'm going to take a softer stance on him to see how this whole thing shakes out. He does genuinely seem to be about giving guys a second chance. In a sport where the riders have no union, and questionable drug tests can basically end a career, someone does need to stand up and support the rider. After all, Landis is basically blowing every cent he's earned as a professional rider to defend himself against what obviously was some shoddy work performed by a French drug testing lab. There are drug problems in cycling, along with every other sport that need to be addressed. To think there are clean guys racing against blood boosted testosterone laden steroid filled riders makes my blood boil.

But then, guilty until proven innocent leaves a bad taste in my mouth and Ball may be onto something here. One thing for certain, he's shaking things up and has deep enough pockets to do so. Let's hope something good comes of it.

UPDATE: There have been some new developments in this whole fiasco and my respect for Ball is wearing thin, but I'm still chalking it up the P.T. Barnum Show Biz nonsense and with any publicity being good publicity. Very entertaining also.

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