The Mehlting Pot: On Winning

Feb 21,2008 - The first win of the season is always the toughest. It's almost like an invisible barrier sits in front of the team at each race almost daring the riders to knock it down. Sometimes the guys get close, knocking that barrier about a bit, but it doesn't always fall down when you most desire it. But today Team Astana's Lithuanian sprinter Tomas Vaitkus broke through that win barrier in grand style and chalked up the first victory in 2008 for the new Team Astana.

My phone buzzed at 7:37AM this morning. A simple message was displayed from the team's Marketing Director, Jared Melzer. In the subject area was written the name "Vaitkus." In the body of the text it read "First victory of the season!!!!!!!!!!!!!" And I whooped loud enough to freak out my roommate just a little and inside I felt all warm and tingly because I knew what this meant to Tomas and the entire Team Astana.

I can't really say how many times I wrote a race report last year and Vaitkus "almost" won. He was constantly pushing for the line and ending up right in the mix for the win, but it was never him raising his arms in the two-armed salute. I never got the opportunity to report on him as the winner. After a close one he would often be disappointed, knowing he'd gone just a little too early or missed the wheel in the lead out for the line. But he kept pushing and he was getting closer and closer...until today, when close was just not good enough. Today it had to be the win.

In less than 24 hours Levi Leipheimer took the leader's jersey in the Amgen Tour of California and Vaitkus took the stage win in Portugal. The team was displaying their true fighting spirit by showing just how professional and deserving Team Astana is. Despite the outrageous decisions by ASO and RCS to leave the team off the start for all of their races, including the Tour de France and the Giro, the team continues to race well and ride smart, showing that they are deserving of being in the best races.

I would think that ASO and RCS would want to field the best teams in their races but to leave out Team Astana shows what I think their true objective is: to use the team as a scapegoat in their political fight against the UCI. So who wins and who loses here? Well of course Team Astana loses by not being allowed to race. Each rider works hard to be prepared for his race schedule, and to have the races yanked away disrupts their training and targeting, as well as their psychological well-being. Alberto Contador will not be given the opportunity to defend his wins at Paris-Nice and the Tour de France. Andreas Klden loses because he will not be able to defend at Tirreno-Adriatico. ASO and RCS lose because they downgrade their historic races by putting forth a race with less than the best showing up on the line. Other teams that are invited lose because they are not racing against the best, and any win they get will forever settle in their minds with a little "What if?" comment next to it. And the fans lose, big time. Not only is the quality of the race diminished but the fans are not allowed the pure enjoyment of seeing their favorite cycling stars go head to head on the biggest stages in the sport.

So now the win barrier is knocked down and Team Astana stands poised to rack up more and more wins and to continue racing with integrity and their heads held high. I came across a European friend with another Pro Tour team at the AToC Prologue Sunday. He voiced the opinion that Team Astana's protesting at being left out could make the organizers mad for years and years and that we should quit whining and just sit it out. I looked at him straight in the eye, knowing that if the organizers were consistent in their selection of teams there is no way his own team would be invited. I simply replied to him, "We DESERVE to be there and you know it."

I hope by now he's noticed that we are leading the race. - Cathy