February 17, 2008 (Palo Alto, CA) – Despite only being able to field a five-rider squad – three short of the standard team roster – Rock Racing will compete in the Amgen Tour of California.
Rock Racing Team Owner Michael Ball said the team’s riders and staff collectively decided Saturday night not to pull out of the race after race organizer AEG declared that three riders on the team’s original race roster – Tyler Hamilton, Santiago Botero and Oscar Sevilla – would not be allowed to start.
In a press conference Saturday morning, Ball announced that each of the three riders’ national federations had declared them free and clear to start the eight-day, 650-mile race. None are subject of any “open investigations” related to doping.
At a press conference by race organizer AEG, officials announced that terms of a contract between the race organization and each of the 17 teams in the race led to the exclusion of the three Rock Racing riders.
Relevant language in the AEG contract reads:
“Team agrees to participate fully with all anti-doping initiatives as established by UCI, USA Cycling, USADA and WADA and to be subject to the respective sanctions of such governing organizations. From the date of execution of this Condition of Entry Agreement by Team through the conclusion of the 2008 ATOC, no member of the Team, which shall include without limitation named riders, coaches, trainers and Team management (individually and collectively, “Team Member”) shall have any open investigation as determined by UCI and/or USA Cycling) with regard to any matter involving a violation by such Team Member of any anti-doping rules as established by UCI, USA Cycling, USADA and/or WADA, unless or until such Team Member has been acquitted of such violation by UCI, USA Cycling, USADA and/or WADA.”
“No Team member participating in the ATOC may be under suspension by UCI, USA Cycling, USADA, and/or WADA from the date of execution of this Condition of Entry Agreement by Team through the conclusion of the 2008 ATOC.”
Ball stands firm that Rock Racing is compliant with those terms of the contract.
“This is not a decision governed by the agreement,” Ball said. “There is no open investigation. AEG is acting irrationally, to the detriment of the sport.”
The five Rock Racing riders who will compete in Sunday’s prologue time trial through the streets of Palo Alto are: Mario Cipollini (ITA), Michael Creed (USA), Doug Ollerenshaw (USA), Victor Hugo Pena (COL) and Freddie Rodriguez (USA).
“Mario is in the best shape he’s been in five years and Freddie has tremendous form,” Ball said. “Creed and Ollerenshaw can be great domestiques for those guys if they have to and you should never count Pena out.”
Ball said Hamilton, Botero and Sevilla will continue to accompany the Rock Racing team throughout the Tour and are still part of the team. They will be available every day to sign autographs for fans before and after each race and are slated to race throughout the remainder of the season. “Our team is ready to go out there and show them what we can do,” Ball said. “These guys are fired up and in the best shape of their lives. We’re ready to go out there and win.”