Archive | July, 2006

World Overlooks Oscar as Landis Case Rolls On

31 Jul

Yeah, sure, Oscar Freire won another classic with a bike throw, yadda yadda yadda. But do you think anyone cares about the long, flat and dull Vatenfall Cyclassics? Not with the Landis case still in full swing. After the initial wave of shock and horror passed, the “Believe Tylers” came out of the woodwork, assailing the test with all their might. Lance Armstrong has also come out in support of Landis, prompting Greg Lemond reflexively to do the opposite. The seven-time Tour winner points out that the drug really doesn’t make sense, and he’s not the first to do so.

If the B sample does burn the Tour champ, conspiracy theorists will certainly have rich fodder. Beyond the seemingly incongruous result, Landis’ positive sample was also analyzed by the Chatenay-Malabry lab that leaked Armstrong’s 1999 “positive” last August, and has come up with odd results (scroll to the Pezzo story) in the past. However, Phonak director Jacques Michaud doesn’t need any of that crap; he says Landis is innocent because if the American were doping, the team would have known about it. So is that a tacit admission that Phonak knew about Oscar Camenzind, Tyler Hamilton, Santi Perez, Jose Gutierrez, and Santiago Botero?

Inside the realm of reasonable doubt, though, the case is not looking good. Floyd’s excess testosterone has allegedly been proven exogenous via mass spectrometry, and the world waits only on the B sample (allegedly due today) to begin official sanctions and appeals. Personally, I think an attempt to dilute a foreign substance might explain why Floyd was drinking so freaking much during Stage 17. He’d better cook up an intriuging counterplot, along the lines of the vanishing twin or Colombian necktie, if he wants to get off. It looks like it just might work for Justin Gatlin.

The Passion of the Floyd

28 Jul

Ah, there’s nothing quite like a dope scandal in full swing. I might act educated and self-righteous most of the time, but I’m an unabashed, scandalmongering firebrand at heart. Here’s some info on the T:E test, which is definitely under scrutiny; no one’s ever been convicted by it, though Landis’ sample is extremely irregular (audio). Anyway, in case you still think it matters, Landis says he didn’t do it. He also says he’d understand if you don’t believe him (probably a plain spoken honesty he got from his mom), and that he wants to be “considered innocent until proven guilty”. Fat chance, bro. I really do hope the B sample comes back negative, but in the court of public opnion, there is no second test.

Reactions to the case are everywhere, with the least useful (as per usual) coming from WADA chief Dick Pound. Apparently, he has omniscience enough to know “the number of positive tests [the UCI] should be getting”, but not enough to convince other people of his powers, or to determine (without the medium of testing) exactly who is doping. UCI president Pat McQuaid, so often Pound’s transatlantic whipping boy, has “vowed” a “crusade against doping”; he doesn’t mention specifics, but I envision riders booted essentially at random from the peloton, to dittohead shouts of Deus le volt!. Ah, what a fine age cycling is entering, now egged on by a secular (non-cycling, that is) press that still has not noted the victims of cycling’s overzealous anti-dopers.

It was Landis, in the Alps, with the Testosterone

27 Jul

That was the solution to the aforementioned Clue game, revealed by Phonak after days of speculation. Blogger’s been up and down all morning, so I’ve posted my scathing reaction over at Podium Cafe, where more than a few readers have posted their scathing reactions to me. Anyway, assuming, for gits and shiggles, that Floyd and the Operaction Puerto riders are all guilty; that’s positive team leader number five for Phonak (Camezind, Hamilton, Perez, Gutierrez and now Landis), and the third consecutive Grand Tour with a guilty winner (though, mercifully, the UCI appears to be following its own rules and not threatening to remove Basso’s Giro title).

Anyway, Floyd has apparently turned up a testosterone-to-epitesterone ratio of over the WADA-established limit of 4:1; a healthy human’s figure (men and women, I guess) is 1:1 (though there is apparently disagreement on that). The big controversies now, however, are that 1) Floyd tested positive on his big mountain adventure, when testosterone would have been of limited usefulness, and that 2) apparently, if you are injecting testosterone, you can just inject an equal amount of epitestosterone and be dandy (though I’m told that, in turn, can be tested for). Finally, according to the second link in this paragraph, a comparatively low epitestosterone level can also be a sign of HGH use.

2006 Tour de France Final Report…or is it…

27 Jul

Man, I was so glad the Tour was over. Following Landis’ big move on 17, predictability reigned. A breakaway ruled the following day, allowing Quick.Step and Italy to salvage their TdFs somewhat. Floyd put the predicted gaps into the other GC contenders during the final TT, with Gonchar again taking stage honors. Then Hushovd bookended things nicely by winning on the Champs, and finally, that was a wrap. No more Al Trautwig, no more dealing with Lance-slobberers talking about “back in the day”, no more explaining why a breakaway with a 10-minute-lead is no big deal; none of that crap. No more poseur TdF BS – I could finally get back to real cycling races, true pillars of the sport like the HEW Cyclassics and the ENECO Tour, with a full 11 years of racing history between them.

But then this crap had to happen. Honestly, I was content with the big post-Tour story being Leipheimer’s undefection to the squad he almost won the Vuelta with in 2001. But now it’s just the usual swirl of rumor and half-truth. The stodgy Times of London says it’s a high-profile rider testing positive for extra testosterone on Stage 17. Some Danish rag, Ekstra Bladet, says it was a stimulant (insert joke about Danish Papers here.) La Gazetta says something different as well, with the end result of all this being a bunch of funny looks in Floyd Landis’ direction. Or rather, the direction he used to be in, since he seems to have disappeared over the past few days. Nothing like a sudden, unannounced absence to make yourself look innocent.

For those of you playing along at home with this demented version of Clue, Cyclingnews has a very full summary, with a categorical listing of national federations who deny they’ve been contacted by the UCI. Velonews also has a nice rundown, which includes my favorite picture from this year’s race. Nearly lost in all this, of course, is the exoneration of five high-profile riders from Operation Puerto; all five ride for Team Astana, and they, plus the never-charged Andrej Kashekin and Vinokourov could have easily comprised a UCI legal team for this year’s Tour. Man, what a step toward f-cking integrity this year’s Tour was – one team, banned without trial, turns out to be innocent, while a “high-profile” rider, cleared to race, appears to be guilty. Chapeau, anti-dope crusaders, Chapeau.

2006 Tour de France – Stage 15, Stage 16, and Stage 17

21 Jul

If I were Jerry Bruckheimer, and you brought me this year’s Tour de France in screenplay form, I would pitch a fit and throw you out of my office, making sure to dismiss you with the requisite “you’ll never work in this town again!” I mean, come on – Floyd Landis loosing and then perhaps winning the entire Tour on consecutive days? Sounds a little far-fetched, don’t you think? But, I am getting ahead of myself.

Continuing from my last update, the slog up Alpe d’Huez was just that, long and dull. Sure, Frank Schleck added a win on the Dutch Mountain to his Dutch Classic victory (woe to the Luxemburger’s bedmate should he go for the Dutch Trifecta). Still, behind him, Floyd, after giving the field a little tug, was content to twiddle along just fast enough to retake the yellow jersey. Afterwards he scoffed at the critics, saying the objectors to his hyperconservative style didn’t know anything about bike racing. Apparently he didn’t read these comments from Bernard Hinault and Laurent Fignon, two riders who have each won and lost a Tour or two.

Then, because Jack London is generally right about this sort of thing, Floyd was punished for his irreverence to the windy old farts. His sentence: losing the Tour. He bonked at the base of the last climb on Stage 16 and limped home putting out some strictly Cat 4 wattages. He finished a fat 10 minutes down, which might not have been such a big deal had he built up a few minutes’ cushion earlier in the race. But now eight minutes out of GC contention, with only two decisive stages left (and no hilltop finishes), it was pretty clear that his tour was over.

Rather than be a man about things and just accept his loses, on Stage 17, Floyd struck out boldly through the mask (which is also manly; masculinity is a tricky subject, no?) with a seemingly suicidal attack some three cols and 120k from the finish line. Others tried at first to follow, but were like “man, f-that.” The GC threats sat up as Pereiro’s Illes Balears boys flamed themselves out one by one in pursuit of the ex-Menonite. The now-isolated maillot jaune asked for help coming over the third-to-last climb, but Frank Schleck passed on the word that Bjarne had said “nothing doing”. It made no difference in the end as both CSC and T-Mobile strutted and fretted their hour upon the stage and then were heard no more; letting Floyd “die in the hills” proved to be a strategy told by idiot directeurs sportif, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

When the dust had settled, Pereiro still stood atop the GC, 12 seconds up on Carlos Sastre, who’d launched a late attack and then tossed away 30 seconds of it in the final 5k by descending like a girl (I’m all for shades of gray, but there’s nothing manly about overdoing it with the clamps). A further 18 seconds back lay the Phonak man, the two Spaniards within easy striking distance of his dreaded (though somewhat less so, recently) praying Landis maneuver, with just a transitional stage, a time trial, and the parade to Paris to go. I’d love to say that it all comes down to the TT now, but the way this Tour has gone, nothing is settled until the lanterne rouge makes his last lap of the Champs Elysees.

2006 Tour de France – Stages 13 and 14 Recap; Why DNA Banks are Bad

18 Jul

I haven’t updated since Stage 12, and what is it, now? Stage 15? Geez, what a slacker. Good stuff to report on, too. On stage 13, Jens Voigt and Oscar Pereiro were the sole survivors from The Break of the ’06 Tour, with the unflappable German taking the win, and the aggressive Pereiro (who’s shown in the past he’s no pancake in the hills) taking Yellow from the Floyd by over a minute. Assessments on the tactical savvy of losing the GC lead by letting a break cruise home half-an-hour up range from brilliant to blunder, with everything in between. I tend to think any day Jens Voigt wins is a good day, despite the fact that he’s voiced support for a DNA database in the pursuit of doping.

I don’t feel, as does Ivan Basso’s lawyer that DNA tests are particularly traumatic or unreliable, just that my DNA is my business. If I were a cyclist suspected of doping, I’d have no problem supplying some blood to clear my name (not that I should have to, as Jan Ullrich points out). The UCI has already shown it cannot guarantee the confidentiality of its testing (or even properly punish its testing leaks), and no cyclist should have to risk the complete contents of their genetic makeup becoming a matter of public record, just so no-result mollycoddles like Jerome Pineau (who all but pronounced the peloton clean just two weeks ago) can rest easy knowing they’re getting smeared across the tarmac by top-level talent, not of top-level drugs.

But there I go again, making big sentences and getting sidetracked. Stage 14 was probably the best French victory yet, with Pineau’s teammate Pierick Fedrigo using good politics in the break, catching a bit of luck, and then outfoxing Salvatore Commesso in the sprint (no small order, as Vino’ once found out. Funny, but I can’t seem to ever recall Fedrigo yapping about dopers and two speeds in the media. Maybe he was out training or something – according to Laurent Fignon, it’s something the young Frenchmen tend to struggle with.

Today’s stage (15) rocks l’Alpe, with the Tour potentially on the line. I’ll report on it once results are in.

2006 Tour de France – Stages 11 and 12; Underachieving Teams and Overstepping Chairmen

14 Jul

All right, kiddies, buckle your safety belts. I’ve got 21 tabs open, plus the live report window, so the links will be coming fast and furious. First off: Stage 11. Races like that are why people follow this silly sport. Rabobank looked stellar, stronger than any other team in this race has so far, and were rewarded with a stage win and a true GC contender (too bad his name doesn’t contain an “L” (see the post at 17:38)). Best of all, the whole strategy was ad libbed, and I personally think it’s nice to see a team with an assortment of top level talents (rather than a squad custom designed to win the Tour) function in this way. My only questions for the Rabo Boys (I really shouldn’t call them that) are 1) Is Rasmussen really still a KOM contender, and 2) what’s a “toppie”? Urban Dictionary is no help on this one.

Despite losing the Yellow Jersey by a scant 8 seconds (stupid hilltop time bonuses – though despite what Stuey O’Grady says, this wasn’t a real hilltop finish (see the post at 16:34)…), Ag2r rode a tough defense. Teams that didn’t look so hot today? Well, T-Mobile, despite the “exoneration” of Gonchar. They can blame heat and cramps all they want, but they just got straight up wrecked when the attacks came. Phonak’s pretty much a one-man show, but fortunately, Floyd is tough enough to ride alone. CSC might still have a shot at the Team GC title with tough guy performances from Franck Schleck and Carlos Sastre, but with Savoldelli out and everyone else miles down, Discovery Channel can’t really hope to improve on today’s 12th stage, when they spoiled the Bastille Day party (they do have some sweet posters, though).

And the most disappointing teams? Oh, without question Quick.Step and Euskaltel. Sure, there are worse-performing squads in the race, but these teams are supposed to be doing well. Q.S gets the nod for skimping on Boonen’s train (no Green Jersey, no stage wins) to include Manuel Garate and Jose Rujano (24 and 40 minutes back yesterday – team selection perhaps not one of Patrick Lefevre’s strong points). And Euskaltel – when are you going to fire Iban Mayo? Floyd Landis is in Yellow right now with a ruined hip, Tyler Hamilton finished in the Top 5 in 2003 with a broken collarbone, and Mayo can’t climb, can’t even make it through the race because why? A sore throat? A cold? I’m certainly glad my tax dollars aren’t paying his salary.

Finally, I’m going to take shots at two of my least favorite human beings. First, ASO President Jean-Marie LeBlanc, who likes “sticking to the known facts”, but has no problem suspending riders without hearings or positive dope tests; who casts things in absolutes one second before splitting hairs the next; and who finds a rider with one “clean” victory and one doping allegation more disappointing than a rider that he’s convinced doped to win the Tour at least once. 10 more days until he’s gone from the TdF for good, and not a second too soon. And then there’s Dick Pound, who wants Lance Armstrong to take a DNA test to prove his innocence. Dick, you may be a lawyer but you certainly are not a scientist; hell, anyone who’s seen Boondock Saints can tell you what ammonia and other compounds found in urine do to DNA. Why not quit WADA and focus on your two other jobs; you know, the ones you’re actually qualified for?

2006 Tour de France, Stages 9 and 10 Recap; Another Idiot Sounds Off

13 Jul

Yeah, so, on Stage 9, there was an exciting sprint. Oscar beat Robbie. Cipo was on hand. Blah blah blah. Let’s get to some climbing! GC action, right? Uh, no. Long, dull breakaway. Ag2r’s Cyril Dessel gobbled up all the KOM points, miraculously kept pace with Agritubel’s Juan Miguel Mercado over the final climb, and found himself in the yellow jersey. The Spaniard got the stage win to console himself, which probably made the Agritubel folks happy, as they’d made a paltry 1400 euros in prize money to this point. Anyway, the duo finished like 7 minutes up on the field; looks like Cyrille Guimard was right in saying T-Mobile is too weak to control the race.

Speaking of T-Mobile, it seems they’ve gotten another rider implicated in a dope affair. Except that it happened 5 years ago. But he still seems to be under investigation (I think…). So shouldn’t he be suspended, as any rider “under investigation” for doping must, under the ProTour ethics code? Normally, I’d expect the journalists reporting this story to address that issue in the article, but since it comes from l’Equipe…just more Euro dope posturing, I guess. Like this Swiss moron; comparing Puerto to BALCO? Barry Bonds is still playing baseball! Jason Grimsley, the only baseball player suspended as a result of the investigation confessed three years ago! And knowing about doping is this uninformed dickhead’s job! Of course, he also expects to find DNA in a bag of red blood cells; with troglodytes like this trying to rid sports of doping, no wonder that fans, by and large, don’t care.

2006 Tour de France – Stages 7, 8, and Rest Day

10 Jul

American cycling dilettantes, Chris Carmichael dittoheads, and MIT windtunnel geeks, stand forward and be SHAMED. Nothing like watching some old-school Eastern-Bloc stomp his unaerodynamic, head-bobbing authority all over the race at 50-60 rpms. The Stage 7 victory gave Serguei Gonchar both a piece of the fleece, and a chance to clear up the confusion surrounding his name. Or rather, some of the confusion, as Velonews has now added a “t” and ProCycling appears to have missed the memo entirely. Perhaps it’s best for the Ukrainian to keep some ambiguity, lest he find himself starting on defense for the Pittsburg Penguins.

Gosh, so many other plotlines from the ITT to consider. Levi Leipheimer has offered a full page of non-excuses for finishing six minutes back. I feel bad for the dude, but let’s not forget: I saw this coming. In fact, it was an off-day for most Americans, as Julich crashed out (again), while Dave Zabriskie, along with Hincapie, and everyone on Disco were over 2 minutes down. Only Floyd Landis brought it like he meant it, despite fighting Bo Jackson’s disease, over-strict UCI officials (not that it made a real difference) and suspect Easton carbon. Actually, I love to see high-priced tech fail spectacularly, just to remind people that despite the blinky ads’ insistance to the contrary, you can’t buy speed (unless it’s from this guy).

So, anyway, T-Mobile dominated the TT, thus climbing and strangulating the GC like kudzu vine. The next day, Stage 8, 2004 Tour L’Avenir winner Sylvain Calzati busted clear with some others and the T-Mob said “Sylvain who? Tour L’what? Talk to us about pulling once we hit the Alps”. With Boonen having essentially surrendered, and Robbie Mac and Davitamon fat with success already, there was no chase to speak of, and the ’06 Tour got its first true breakaway win and clever Cyclingnews headline. That brings us to today’s rest day, with photographers apparently too drunk to center their subjects, and webmasters too hungover to modify their pages. Ah, if only stateside blogging offered the same alcohol-fueled revelry as the real Tour experience (though I’m told the North End did get pretty wild yesterday).

2006 Tour de France – Stages 5 and 6 Recap

7 Jul

Well, it’s over 24 hours later and I am still trying to piece together how Oscar Freire won yesterday (check out the video on OLN’s webpage). Marino Basso once commented that Oscar Freire looked like he was asleep outside the month of October (implying that he only rode well at Worlds), but that’s simply not the case. Sure, the guy is injured a lot, but when healthy, his wins come in all sorts of races (Brabantse Pijl, T-A, etc.) and are some of the gutsiest around (his Tour de Suisse bunny-hop, for example). The Stage 5 group gallop yesterday was no exception, with Oscarito (he’s only 5′ 7″) taking off alone from 300m to go on the (riders’) right side of the road, using only the slipstream of the fading Steegmans to accelerate, then pounding away alone like a madman while Boonen jockeyed and Robbie got boxed on the other side of the road; an impressive surge, especially considering the Spaniard is feared for his deadly late charges as well.

By contrast, the only real surprise in today’s stage was McEwen’s “running man” style victory salute. As the video shows, the Aussie got a “TGV Ride” from Steegmans (who has been doing a bang up job, despite his little boo-boo yesterday), and the Belgian complicated things dramatically for the other contenders by pulling off immediately into Robbie’s wake following his leadout. Boonen once again got tooled on, losing the speed and position he needed to win after a couple of bumps with Jimmy Casper, right as McEwen prepared for launch. I know the Friendly Ghost’s street cred is up to it’s highest levels since 1999, but still, the dude is tiny and getting tinier. Boonen’s gotta be a little ashamed at not being able to nudge him out of the way. As of yesterday, T-Bone was remaining upbeat about his winless streak, but following tomorrow’s TT (interesting map graphic…) it’s unlikely he’ll still be able to drown his sorrows in a sea of yellow.