Our ears and eyes are abuzz today with speculation about Rock Racing at the Tour of California tomorrow.
Michael Ball still says he intends to start the team he named, yet the official start list (which we can't find) omits three of the riders, having only five instead of the eight.
The riders in question: Tyler Hamilton, Santi Botero, and Oscar Sevilla. (The spot previously taken by Kayle LeoGrande is being filled by Mario Cippolini.)
It is not clear what legal basis AEG or USACycling would have to reject non-suspended, licensed riders. And USADA isn't supposed to tell anyone about any investigations until they get to a point where there is formal process involved.
Michael Ball was late to his press conference today, because he was out on a ride -- and who was he riding with? We think it must have been pretty important to cause a delay with the press conference. That suggests it wasn't just with members of his team, but was, perhaps, a "ride in the woods" with some of the powers associated with the event. At the press conference, Maurice Suh was whispering into Ball's ear.
Ball says if some of his riders are denied their rightful starts, he'll pull the team, and repeatedly pushed the idea of a real rider's union.
The most informed pieces we've seen on what is going on are at Velonews, CyclingNews, (and again) and the Bicycle.NET articles on the press conference (echoed in Hamilton's site).
We also highly recommend the PEZ account from Thursday, which really seems to get what is going on about the need for organized push-back by the riders.
CyclingNews is the most skeptical of Rock's chances, saying Ball will back down or pull out in humiliation. So they must be mind readers.
If anything, denying starts leading to a Rock withdrawal without legal basis would be a clearly tortuous action by whoever was involved in the decision. We wonder if this is a trap Suh has set with Ball, and the the alphabets may fall right into it. Should it happen, it won't be Ball who is humiliated: he'll be licking his chops.
As Bill Hue noted here, should the federations or agencies do somehthing against the rules, the involved parties would have no immunity from personal liability - they are not operating with governmental immunity. Bill somewhat snidely wondered if Maurice Suh, representing Rock Racing, might end up with Steve Johnson's house when all is said and done.
What is going to be done is going to happen tonight and tomorrow, as various parties consult their attorneys and decide what they can do without accumulating liability. That is, whether Steve Johnson will finally get "told otherwise", and that his options may be more limited than he realized when he gave the interview a few weeks ago that sent Landis over the edge. Or tried to explain himself later.
And while Landis was scathing, things may turn out to make him appear prescient. Should AEG, USACycling and USADA fail to follow their rules and stop Rock Racing from running licensed riders, there could very well be hell to pay.
It might be the first case of "strict liability" being applied to parties other than the athletes.
Which is a good turn of events, in our opinion.
UPDATE: USAToday/Sal Ruibal reports Rock has apparently backed down. Following a team meeting this evening, the three riders agreed not to start. This apparently comes from an "open file" rule imposed by AEG on the ToC, and confirmation from the UCI these riders had an "open file". The implications are totally unclear, as is the timing of the UCI confirmation. A UCI confirmation may confuse jurisdiction and take it out of the purview of the US courts. It's not USADA or USACycling's fault now. We presume this is fallout of OP being reopened, which has delighted the UCI. Those claims it would not be used against riders applied only to the Spanish criminal cases, it is now said.