Archive | May, 2007

Petacchi, Zabel Win; Doping Worse Than Killing Babies

31 May

Ok, I think we’ve returned to the point that a Petacchi Giro win is no longer an important story. Even if he has to go alone from 800m. Sorry, Peta, but you’re just a victim of your own success. Your teammake Erik gets props, though, for his first vic of the season, exactly a week after his doping confession. Note to the guys running the Danish sports hall of fame: when Zabel came away with the win, the crowds cheered. Neatly rounding off the string of poetically just non-Giro finishes today, Unibet’s Gorik Gardeyn won Stage 2 at the Tour of Belgium, over such ProTour luminaries as Disco’s Allan Davis, and Cofidis’ recently returned Tyler Farrar.

I suppose it wouldn’t be a cycling blog post if I didn’t talk about doping. So I guess I’ll toss out that all the big guns at the Giro got tested yesterday. Not sure why you’d wait until after the big stage, when they’ve all just gotten urine tests anyway, but I thought I’d mention it. Gibo’s ascent of Zoncolan also set some weird climbing speed record, so maybe CONI was concerned about that. Anyway, according to Robert Forster, the extra tests wouldn’t even be news in Germany, which to its credit, seems to be a nation leading the way in cleaning the sport. However, they still trail Norway, which recently thrashed Kurt-Asle Arvesen for putting child safety above anti-doping.

Simoni Takes Zoncolon, DiLuca Stays Pink, ASO Still Clueless

30 May

Monte Zoncolan – need I say more? I’m not sure why people would build roads on such a thing, or where you would find engineers perverse enough to design them, but they’re there, so why not race bikes up them? Giberto Simoni put in an 11th hour attack in his 4th consecutive Giro, and for the first time, came away victorious. Not as victorious as he would have liked, of course, since maglia rosa Danilo DiLuca lost only 30 seconds in the end, but at age 35, Gibo is probably satisfied with whatever wins he can get.

Leonardo Piepoli continued to solidify his lead in the “best teammate ever” classification by handing away yet another stage win, while the magic Breathe-Right strip failed Giro surprise Eddy Mazzoleni at the critical moment. DiLuca now enters the final TT with a healthy 2:24 margin on CSC’s Andy Schleck, which most would say guarantees DiLuca the GC win in Milan. But let’s keep in mind that a lot can go wrong for a climber in the Race of Truth, and that, according to the ads, Schleck the younger is the future of cycling.

Schleck’s manager at CSC, Bjarne Riis is certainly part of the past of cycling, and may soon be history. With all the clarity and concision of an Alzheimer’s patient, ASO President Patrice Clerk insisted that, though he has “no interest to work together” with Riis, the Dane should “explain the secret of his success” and that his team sponsor should do something as well. What, if anything, Clerk actually meant may never be known – either because of the Frenchman’s impending senility or Cyclingnews’ fading ability to put a news blurb together. There’s been a bit of attrition there recently.

Whatever the sport’s oligarchs may or may not think, the riders don’t seem especially bothered by the revelations. Dave Z didn’t even mention Riis’ confession in a recent interview, and Dario Cioni seems to think that the peloton is changing its ways, partially as a result of confessions and convictions in recent years and months. Perhaps the old model of waiting for riders to test positive, and then suspending them from riding really does work – at least most of the time.

Indeed, the riders seem more concerned about politics than performance enhancers, with Stefano Garzelli stumping for more wild cards in the Grand Tours. Certainly, Unitbet.com would agree – the TdF just chose its lucky three, and the star-crossed Swedish outfit found itself snubbed, despite a remarkably successful spring campaign, in favor of no-result French squad Agritubel. But hey, if the sponsor can’t even spell “company” right on their webpage, their cycling team must be gangbusters, right?

Giro Weekend Recap, Things Don't Make Sense

29 May

You know, I’m thinking I might buy some Breathe Right strips – I mean, look what they do for Eddy Mazzoleni! While Cyclingnews’ story / buddy comedy film pitch on Savoldelli and Mazzo has put me in slightly less of a mood to mention the latter’s association with a pair of ongoing dope investigations, it’s still eyebrow-raising to see the veteran domestique roll in with the mother of all Giro breaks one day, before pulling back another minute on race leader Danilo DiLuca (with a little help from Saunier Duval) the next.

Speaking of the yellow menace, I’m really not too clear on their race strategy at this point. Piepoli and Ricco have notched classy wins and scored some serious camera time, but they’ve done so at the expense of Gilberto Simoni, lengthening the gap between their best GC threat and the race leader. I get that it’s a shotgun sort of approach to make something happen, but why keep trying to break DiLuca for the benefit of some other team? Stefano Garzelli has turned shattered GC chances into a brace of high-profile victories at this year’s race, but you haven’t seen his Acqua-Sapone team trying to blow the GC wide open in the process.

Of course, it’s cycling, so lots of things don’t make sense. L’Equipe’s response to the Riis confession, for example. Plenty of confessed dopers run cycling teams – Quick.Step DS Patrick LeFevere comes rapidly to mind – but when Riis confesses, for some reason, he should leave the sport. That makes almost as much sense as Big Mig’s consternation that Bjarne would confess at all. And all this while “suspended” riders win races, and somehow call it redemption. Ah well. At least they’ve decided not to fire Erik Zabel for being honest – yet.

I Have Doper Mind Control, Bruseghin wins Giro HTT

25 May

Oh, man – I am so excited. For the past two days I have been rocking some major mind-control powers on dope confessions. I say “maybe Zabel will own up to it” – boom. Zabel owns up to it. I comment it’s time for Bjarne to come clean – boom. Bjarne comes clean. So who’s next up? I say none other than Lance-f***ing-Armstrong.

Come on, Big Tex, step up to the plate. Or do you still claim to have “nothing to confess”, just like everyone else who just came clean used to say? I mean, it’s not like the TdF is gonna revoke any of your titles – Bjarne’s offered to give his back, but check out the rest of the ’96 GC – Jan Ullrich? Richard Virenque? Laurent Dufaux? It’s a rogues’ gallery of doper convicts. All your runners-up, with the exception of Andreas Kloden – whose roller-coaster results arouse plenty of suspicion for me – are neck deep in allegations and convictions as well.

But for those of you who feel this proves the sport is irretrievably immersed in drugs, this year’s Giro is unfolding in a convoluted enough fashion that one could glean some notion of cleanliness from it. The winner of today’s uphill TT was Marzio Bruseghin. Yeah, I was like “Marzio who?”, too. But he’s the Italian TT champ, and has been doing his time as a domestique for long enough to explain his lack of wins. He’s also a survivor of the canned corn-busting breakaway from earlier in the week, which currently puts him in second overall. Not that anyone’s looking like they can crack DiLuca (3rd on the stage, +8 sec) at the moment, but it only takes one bad day to lose the Giro.

DiLuca In Pink, Zabel Confesses

24 May

How about that DiLuca, eh? Gapped Simoni over the Izoard despite The Spider’s frequent surges, and denied him the stage win twice in the final KM. Maybe Bobke Strut was wrong after all. Gibo didn’t do so poorly himself, but I’m sure he would have like to have taken back some Stage 1 TTT losses today. Also in the Top 5 were ’04 Giro Champ Damiano Cunego, up-and-comer Andy Schleck, and…73kg, grizzled, 11-year veteran Eddy Mazzoleni?

Though the Astana rider’s been a competent climbing domestique for a number of teams, I think the Cyclingnews commentator asked a very pertinent question during today’s climb of the Izoard. And I do find it a bit hard to believe the answer has nothing to do with Mazzo’s alleged involvement in Operacion Puerto (“Amigo de Birillo”, it’s claimed) and Operazione Athena, especially when he’s married to Ivan Basso’s (hot) sister, and rode last year on Jan Ullrich’s team.

But enough speculation. Not everyone did well today, notably Paolo Savodelli (+5:49) and Yaroslav Popovych (+6:49). I’d say it’s fairly certain they can kiss the maglia rosa good-bye. Stephano Garzelli and Richardo Ricco also cracked a bit (each lost over 2 minutes), meaning that, at a simpleminded glance, it’s now a four way race between DiLuca, Simoni, Cunego and Schleck. Of course, the GC reflects none of this due to the corn/shotgun effect mentioned here at Cyclocosm earlier this week. Tomorrow’s doofy uphill TT stage should make it all just that more clear.

And because I am sick of Spanish stage races and UCI ProTour giganticism, I’ll only mention the Volta a Catalunya in passing, as a segue to today’s obligatory doping news. See, Erik Zabel dropped out uncharacteristically yesterday, meaning that Stage 2 might well be his last pro race ever. Why? Because he manfully came forward and admitted doping in tandem with his hetero-life-mate Rolf Aldag.

Zabel apparently did less EPO than Richard Virenque puts on his breakfast baguette, but Ete still stood tall and took the heat. WADA might stick him with a career-ending suspension (two years from now, Zabel will be nearly 39), but I’ll certainly never forget that the flat-topped German raced always as a professional, and left the sport an honest man.

Petacchi Makes it Three; T-Mobile Confessions Run Wild

23 May

You know, VeloNews’ Charles Pelkey seemed to think today’s victory hearkened back to the golden days of Petacchi and his train at Fassa B. And while I didn’t see the race, look at that picture – seems like Gabriele Balducchi came dangerously close to talking the stage. And if the live reports are to be believed, his Acqua-Sapone squad did a good amount of work to get him to the line. But hey – that’s what I get for not ponying up the 25 bucks to watch races. I also missed the high comedy of a few dozen spandex clad dudes surfing across the finish line on their backsides – among them Paolo Bettini, who should be careful what he wishes for. Even oldest maglia rosa ever Andrea Noe couldn’t avoid the mayhem.

Now that two (well, three, if you count Udo Bolts’ admission today) emeritus Telekom riders and a soigneur have come out and admitted doping during the cycling’s crazy 90’s, the two doctors involved have come forward as well – resulting in the loss of their University jobs (at least for a bit). Looks like Bob Stapleton would have been better off investing in some fresh “Stop Snitchin'” tees instead of his fancy pants team dope testing program. Still, he’s being a good sport about it, and plans to call a press conference so Rolf Aldag can confess. It seems impossible to imagine, but nearly everyone questioned has owned up to it – could Jan Ullrich’s involvement in Operacion Puerto have changed some minds in Germany? And could Erik Zabel be the next to come forward, confessing even though it would end his storied career?*

Floyd Landis – not a German. His carnival of a case finally ended today. Millions of dollars are estimated to have been spent, Greg LeMond made a painful, personal admission, essentially to besmirch the crowd Landis runs with, and handfuls of yellow ties were paraded shamelessly about. Now it’s up to the arbitrators, who should come to a decision sometime after this year’s Tour de France comes to a close. Guilty, not guilty – eh, I’ve really got no idea. But given the hematocrits of some Spanish juniors, it may well be that the only guaranteed clean bodies at the bike race belong to the podium girls.

*According to the d’Hont book, Zabel used drugs only once, and decided it wasn’t for him – still a mandatory two-year vacation under draconian WADA rules.

Giro GC = Corn, The Doping Tide Turns

22 May

Like someone stuffed all the contenders into a can of corn and fired a shotgun through the bottom of it – that’s how I’d describe the Giro d’Italia GC after today’s stage. The shot missed some corn entirely – most of the GC contenders – and they’re floating right around where you’d expect them to be. But others – like new, 38-year-old maglia rosa Andrea Noe – got plastered to the ceiling. I realize the actual shake-up happened last weekend and not today, but whatever. The mountain stage today determined the true order of corn in the can and I like the metaphor and I’m sticking to it. Podium Cafe has a solid rundown of the names at the top of the can (the winners today), while Pez seems to think it may be some time before Noe’s kernel finally plops back to Earth.

The way I see it, today really put Liquigas and Saunier in the driver’s seat. The boys in yellow not only took the win but put three in the Top 5, a force that’s going to be tough to crack as the climbs continue. And Danilo DiLuca’s squad has now put its 3rd different rider into pink – and I’m willing to bet with a 38-year-old ace in the hole, the team captain is much more psyched this time around. Having Pellizzoti a few seconds further down sure doesn’t hurt, either. While it’s true no one lost massively today – Savodelli rode well, finishing s.t. with Cunego, but the two of them and a hard-headed Yaroslav Popovych seemed awfully lonely out there. But unless each squad musters a Disco TdF-style turn around (which was, BTW, allegedly doping powered), it could be a long week and a half for those guys.

Phew! Made it almost two paragraphs without the D-word. I guess that’ll happen when you open with a can of corn and a shotgun. Anyway, I’d love to comment on the Landis trial some, but Cyclingnews’ story is so mangled, I can’t really tell what it’s trying to convey. I guess after all those eggheads came in and spat on USADA, the anti-dope empire has struck back by making Floyd look kinda skeezy. But Landis returned fire with another scientist attacking LNDD’s methodology. How will it all come out? Who knows. Certainly, with more and more riders coming forward, and even the most trenchant opposition relenting, it may be that the tide is turning against those who’ve tested positive. Then again, if Europeans are reluctant to relinquish even the most foolish traditions, imagine how loathe they’ll be to give up doping’s hard, empirical proof.

Lake Sunapee Race Report

22 May

Around 7:30 am, I departed Hanover for Lake Sunapee, having passed up massive opportunity for drink and debauchery the night previous, with passenger Erik Newman, who most certainly did not. We were hopeful when we left that the damp, but not rainy, and cool, but not cold, conditions would continue throughout the day. As we hit the highway, the rain seemed to increase, but we were hopeful it was an illusion caused by increased speed. By the time we made it to the humble village depart in the Sunapee Ski Resort parking lot (an adventure in itself), we were hopeful of nothing. Not that I don’t enjoy riding in the forty-degree rain, but I generally don’t hope for it.

On the way into the lodge, my brain and colon had an argument about which to hit up first: the bathroom, or registration. My colon won. As a result, I registered late. I was expecting a fine (they fine you for everything) but my only penalty was a different number and no warm-up. Ran into teammate Greg at the start and we discussed strategy – mine was to hang on and maybe try stuff in the second lap. His was (having only two weeks of riding) to maybe hang on and help me. Since NEBC had, like, 10 riders, it’s clear we wouldn’t be dictating the tactics regardless.

Though the flyer proudly proclaims 1200 feet of climbing per lap, it’s really not that bad, with mostly mild rollers and one pitch of notable steepness. Back in 2004, the last time I did this race, we just rolled around the lake in a big clump and waited for the sprint, which is somewhere between uphill and flat. It’s nice because while the entire field is motivated into riding because they (like idiots) think “hey a sprint, anyone can win”, but then find their motivation sapped by the bit of rise preceding the line.

Once active, someone started pulling on the field. Nothing hard, but a good tempo. I was too far down/too much rained on to tell who was doing it, but I’d assume NEBC, since they had like 10 guys in the race (out of 43 starters). After a bit of riding, everyone settled down because it was rainy and cold. Over the first few rollers, I felt ok, keeping in the saddle and pushing just a bit to grab spaces. By the time we hit the wall climb, I, and some others, had enough of this junk, and got some space.

I don’t remember if there was an NEBC guy with us, but there must have been because I can recall pulling through once or twice. For some reason, I was really frustrated by the soaked feeling of my arms, so I took off my gloves, which impressed everyone. Eventually, though we climbed hard, we all sort decided not to try the break, but one dude from CCB just kept rolling over the top and got clear. From there we sort of puttered through the lap, with me wondering if we’d ever see the breakaway again.

I kept this thought for a while, but eventually, NEBC decide to send a bunch of guys to the front to make some pace, and we caught sight of him on the wide, straight-ish roads that make up the first part of the course. He hung out a while longer because I guess NEBC figured it was a done deal, but we finally recaptured him just as the rolling hills were beginning.

By this point I was feeling antsy. The legs were surprisingly good-feeling, not “holy crap, I gotta take off ASAP” legs, but decent. So I’d come to the front just at the top of each little rise and coast down, getting a head start on the next one, while keeping an eye on things. Eventually, an NEBC guy went, and I was like “ok, we can do this”. Honestly, I figured it was a good move because the dude appeared beefier than I was – maybe I could ditch him over a rise an solo in.

Not the case. It became immediately apparent that this guy would climb the legs off me. We went with about 12 miles to go, and held out until about 4 or 5, and I think I pulled through on an uphill exactly once. This isn’t to say we didn’t work well, sharing work without complaint when possible, but I was getting hurt over each climb. Which I guess is good, since I never get to climb w/hurt in my current environs. Coming over the hard pitch put me into some serious hurt, but I found a rhythm and it was a good experience.

Finally, over the last climb of note, they pulled the truck out from between us and the group. I looked back, and the field was there, and up the road, my companion had a few seconds. So I let up a bit, seeing as my legs were pretty toasted. The catch took a while, and I was kinda starting to regret not fighting to the last by the time the field swarmed over me. I retook position pretty well, but as we crested the climb, waiting for another non-NEBC rider to come through and chase, someone managed to bridge across, and the two piled up time on the downhill.

Complicating the chase was a steady stream of dropped riders. They didn’t get in the way, but made it impossible to see up the road, and to determine who, exactly, had jumped across. I pulled on some downhill stuff, but with the legs gone, I couldn’t really put in an effort. Hard to say if I would have been able to keep up if I hadn’t given in just that little bit, but I sure am regretting not making a go for it.

By the time we started sighting up for the sprint, they were clear to win. I grabbed second wheel coming through the traffic circle, remembering that in my last time out here, I’d left myself way too far back. Second wheel is too close though, and there was no leadout to speak of (ahem, NEBC, I’m looking at you, here), so I was down in 53/23, doing like 40 rpm, waiting for someone to go. Not that I would have won or even placed well in the sprint, but I would have enjoyed grabbing a wheel for a “true” ST, rather than limping in however many seconds down.

So, in the end, 19th place and the personal satisfaction of sticking a break, at least for a little bit. Erik was already back in the car, having bailed from the 4 race after going off the front for a lap. I drove home feeling OK but sad to lack the high-end grit when it mattered. I’m still trying to get skinny, which might have been the cause of some of the leg weakness in the climbs, but I think the problem is just not enough genuinely hard riding. Maybe some shorter, harder intervals are in order. Maybe I’ll get some next week in Connecticut.

Weekend Recap, Landis Trial Slows

21 May

Yes, another weekend without posts. I do try to post on weekends, you know, but I haven’t been home for an entire weekend since…well, since a while. While I was gone, though, nothing too significant happened. Petacchi won another stage, but don’t go calling it a return to dominance just yet – the big guy got nipped on home soil today. Ale-Jet seems to think things would go better if there were more finishes in front of stadium crowds, but it’s important not to forget, the sport thrives on the energy and unpredictability of the open road. Bad pavement, crashes, and thin crowds are a package deal with the sunflowers and scenic alpine valleys.

Anyway, Petacchi’s win was almost followed by a GC shake-up on Sunday, but rosa-clad Marco Pinotti’s battered T-Mobile squad kept a powerful (27 riders, Bettini, Hincapie) move just within reach. Things might have been different had Richardo Ricco (a mere 5’45” back) not been elbowed rudely out of it. He’s a work in progress, though, and may yet exact revenge. At the end of the stage, it was the other Norwegian, Kurt-Asle Arvesen, who took the honors, outfoxing some guy named Paolo Bettini in a tactical finale. Ever the professional, Arvesen apologized for stealing the win from his no-name adversary, but seems to think there may yet be a future for him in the sport.

Now, you’d never know it from reading Pez, but there really is a non-Giro story out there in the world of cycling. It’s the Floyd trial! Landis continued to say everything he’s been saying all along, but this time, he did it after putting his hand on a bible! ZOMFG! By the way, just, you know, in case you were wondering, Floyd’s ex-manager has entered rehab, because apparently, that makes your apology more sincere. I know it’s hard to follow-up on surprise revelations, color-coordinated outfits and the like, but man, such a let down over the previous fun. Hopefully cross examination will prove more exciting – I’m thinking a red tie, maybe?

The Drama Intensifies

18 May

Could the Landis trial get any weirder? The all-black outfit, the shocking revelation, the implicit admission, the sudden dismissal, VeloNews using citebite (wonder where they learned that?), the sorrowful repentance – when a Podium Cafe poster referred to the Landis case as “the cycling equivalent of the OJ trial”, they weren’t joking. Future generations will look back on this event as the defining moment when sports arbitration evolved and took up all the verve and drama of the criminal justice world. Verve and drama that, somewhat anticlimactically, involves a lengthy appeal process – one that has proven unfriendly to accused dopers thus far.

Strange to think, but without all this extracurricular drama, we’d probably be overlooking another big Robert Forster win to watch experts waffle over the Petacchi-Richeze tiff (though I’m hesitant to trust Mario Cipollini as an arbitrator of anything – except, of course, a beauty pageant). He’s an interesting champion, that Petacchi – silent and unapproachable when he’s 100%, vocal and emotional when things go wrong, prone to fits of fury and periods of self-doubt – a uniquely human hero. At least we can stop picking at the alleged inter-squad strife between Gasparatto and DiLuca – Liquigas finally relinquished its grasp on pink, leaving T-Mobile’s Marco Pinotti to take it up, after hanging tough in the break with Panaria’s stage winner Luis Felipe Laverde.

So what other drama could will we see in the coming days? Well, don’t expect any from CSC – those “abnormal” test results from a few days ago were apparently the kind that aren’t abnormal. Former CSC hero Tyler Hamilton might steal a few lines of newsprint, though – his new employers at Tinkoff seem to be trying to “disappear” him. Alejandro Valverde’s bosses, however, are valiantly defending their star rider from Operacion Puerto allegations, while teammate Oscar Pereiro insists he’s not connected, and threatens to quit if anyone tries to prove his innocence. Hopefully the ludicrous finishing circuits and undulating terrain of the next two Giro stages will make it so our next batch of headlines comes from the press box instead of the courthouse.