Archive | August, 2007

Drama Builds as ENECO Concludes

30 Aug

Oh, what miserable timing for a computer upgrade! While while I was watching The Man cart off my Clinton-era CraptiPlex, all sorts of exciting news was breaking. The silver lining is that now IT can’t figure out how to install FrameMaker on my new machine, so today, I’m all yours. First up: no Valverde at the World Championships. Considering the raw volume of World Title bling the Spaniard has amassed over the past four years, the event is (IMHO) hardly worth mentioning without him. Not surprisingly, the Iberians are peeved.

At the same time, the Germans (stereotypical antipode to those hot-blooded Mediterraneans) are also peeved, but in a beautifully ironic juxtaposition, it’s over the non-exclusion of Erik Zabel, the only currently active rider (other than that vagabond Freire) to rival Valverde’s collection of World Champs brass. For additional Sophoclean effect, star-crossed would-be hero Andreas Kloden is hit by a car, the pugnacious Spartans retire mysteriously to the hills, and 12 city-states of the Delian League agree to a secret pact.

So was that good stuff, or what? I mean, you can see why it overshadows the racing: other than the 1:21 of dead air between Thomas Dekker and the winning time, there really wasn’t much to say about the ENECO/Benelux/Who Cares? finale. I guess I might have striven to re-translate Gutierrez’s victory quotes to make him seem less lame. Anyone who’s taken a Vuelta TT stage has no business talking about an ENECO or Tour Med win as the high point of his career.

Nuyens Crashes Out, Benelux Drags On

28 Aug

Why does this sound familiar: a well-known classics rider crashes out of a days-old lead on a seemingly innocuous stage of the Benelux Tour? Oh, yeah. Well, at least Nuyens had the good fortune to crash out a bit further from the line than old Gorgeous George; I guess we can “credit” the race organizers for structuring the event so that tomorrow’s final TT will render all previous stages meaningless. You better believe McEwen was peeved he had to do this race – have you ever seen the fiery Aussie rock a less enthusiastic victory salute?

Yeah, so Benelux is dull. But it’s all part of the circle of life – every Tour of Flanders requires a corresponding Benelux. How else would riders have an opportunity when to announce retirements or comebacks? It’s like how the Tulips need week after week of icy late-March rain to know when to sprout, or some other schlocky Nature Channel junk like that.

Having a boring August also streamlines the post-Tour cycling season. Sure, plenty of guys use Benelux to tune, and some might have even had it in their crosshairs for a week or two, but nobody circles it with a big red Sharpie on January 1st. Since July, the peloton’s major goals have been clear – Worlds or Vuelta. Though I guess now there’s this third objective, too. It’s hard to overlook that million-dollar purse, even if that sum just isn’t what it used to be.

Derailing the Carbon Drivetrain

28 Aug

Sometimes, I find myself faced with crises of purpose. What am I doing here? Why can’t I figure out what I want to do with my life? Will I ever find something that satisfies me? It’s enough to really get me down sometimes. It’s a good thing I’ve got the boneheadedness of the bicycle industry to set me right again.

I suppose it was only a matter of time until some high-watt decided to apply the word “carbon” to drivetrains, and it’s a good thing the folks at Carbon Drive Systems did just that – otherwise I would have mistaken their “innovation” for a glorified fan belt. Anyway, it’s about time someone beefed up those flimsy polyurethane straps – they last a mere 60,000 miles while running in my car. With the glut of other unsuccessful beltdrive bicycles out there, it’s clear to see the addition of carbon fiber must do something to make this product newsworthy – perhaps by making it laterally stiff yet vertically compliant!

And really, isn’t a revamping of the single-speed drivetrain long overdue? I mean, it’s just so hard to maintain that single cog, single chain ring and chain. Sure, when it gives you 20, or even 30 gearing options, a chain drive is worth the painstaking process of applying a coat of lubricant, turning the crank a couple times, then wiping it clean. But when you’ve only got one gear, the reliability, adaptability and near-perfect efficiency of a chain drive simply can’t make up for the extra weight and apparent mud shedding issues.

One of the nice things about attending a college with an engineering school is that you get to dissuade people from pursuing a lot of really silly ideas. Occasionally, you you get to see something cool (though that’s not really how bike balance works) but for the most part, you just shoot down bad ideas. Overlooking than the general sensation of pedaling through sand, the belt-driven protoype I rode slipped under power at low revs, and derailed entirely at the cog around 100 RPM. Good thing none of these will ever be an issue on a singlespeed MTB

The Dope's On You: The Missing ProTour Revision

23 Aug

Argument number one billion to revise the UCI ProTour: the sport’s “minor leagues” end up stacked to the brim with tainted athletes. Unconvicted doping pariah du jour Michael Rasmussen is currently in talks to ride with Acqua-Sapone for the rest of the season, and believe me, he’s not their first liaison. The Italian squad even went so far as hire Michele Scarponi this spring, before the rider finally owned up to his offenses.

And it’s not like Acqua is the only offender. The rosters of Relax-GAM and Tinkoff Credit Systems form a dramatis personae from every doping show of the past half-decade. While some ProTour teams (Astana, Disco) have done their part dodging the rules to recycle suspected riders, without the paranoia and home-bred nepotism of the TdF selection committee, it might be more difficult to name a “clean” Continental Squad than a “dirty” one. And trust me, this isn’t the Continental Tour’s fault.

While the additional two years faced by ProTour dopers might seem like a tough stance, whose samples do you think underwent more scrutiny this summer: Alberto Contador’s or Santiago Botero’s? ProTour riders not only have to pass the UCI’s ever-increasing test load, but also face progressively tougher team-imposed monitoring as well. Rasmussen found himself temporarily unemployed long before the sport’s recent crises, and Serguy Honchar was unceremoniously dumped from T-Mobile this spring, before racing at a single marquee event.

Most people seem to have notions of trimming down the size of the ProTour peloton, or eliminating less storied races altogether. Perhaps in time – first, the UCI needs to shore up its current ethical charter. The doping revelations since its inception have blown holes in its role as a deterrent, and as Jon Vaughters points out, it’s in the sport’s best interest to keep the old dopers away from the neo-pros for as long as possible. The best way to do that is to keep the cheats – and their outmoded mindset – where the anti-doping heat is hottest: the UCI ProTour.

All Other Countries Have Inferior Potassium

22 Aug

Remember how Kazakhstan invited Sascha Cochen to visit, to show the actor how the country actually was? Or how they blocked access to his website because they felt the Borat character was so unrealistic? Well, someone apparently forgot to pass the “Kazakhstan is not backward” memo along to the sports ministry, as now the Kazakh cycling federation is claiming that Kashechkin has tested negative. In what test this result came about was not mentioned explicitly.

While Team Astana’s spokesperson shrugged cluelessly, Nikolai Proskurin, Kazakh cycling federation president, claimed, while never specifying how, that the tests of Kashechkin were “erroneous”, that Kashechkin is currently preparing his defense, and that Andreas Kloden has no intention of quitting the Astana Team. In fact, the German will be co-leading Astana at next month’s Vuelta a Espana, which, as luck would have it, the team has been re-invited to. High five! Proskurin concluded the interview by noting that all other countries have inferior potassium.

Returning to reality for a moment, the people who actually carry out dope tests have admitted that maybe there’s a little room for tweaking how the ProTour works after all. It’s a good plan, as some prefabbed ProTour races (such as the currently running ENECO Tour) are struggling to draw fans and competitors alike, though Tyler Ferrar’s 4th place in today’s prologue won’t hurt American audiences. As he’s only 3 seconds out of the lead, let’s not forget, the American is a solid sprinter.

A Couple Well-Timed Retirements

21 Aug

In some ways, Serge Baguet picked the perfect day to retire. Right now, he’s sharing headlines with no major events, but, on the eve of a race through his homeland, local fans and other people who care about this sort of thing (that’d be us) will be sure to notice.

But on another, more macroscopic level, Baguet appears to have chosen a terrible time to call it off. With the pro peloton almost too? eager to ride clean these days, it seems unusual for a man, even a 38-year-old man, who quit the sport for three years to suddenly re-retire. I’m hoping newfound optimism surrounding the sport won’t prove to be misplaced.

Giuseppe Guerini’s retirement is less of a head-scratcher, given that he placed highly in Grand Tours and mountain stages throughout the mid-90’s. Still, the scrappy Italian never tested positive and continued to win races despite evolving attitudes toward doping, a frequently imploding team leader, and the occasional idiot fan. With T-Mobile’s recent re-commitment to the sport, Guerini will call it a career after this year’s Vuelta, and then perhaps take up a managerial role within the squad.

My Triumphant Return To Chaos

20 Aug

Ah – I’m back. And not like when Frank Vandenbroucke says he’s back. After two weeks of the most strenuous vacation ever (unfortunately, not on the bike), I have returned to work. Obviously, job number one is to start blogging again. And let me tell you, it’s hard to just jump back into things in the cycling world. I mean, yeah, sometimes it’s easy – Jens Voight taking back to back Tour de Germany wins, for instance. But sometimes it’s much, much harder.

Take the case of Andreas Kloden – he’s looking around for another team, then he admits Astana was a mistake, then all of a sudden pledges his loyalty. WTF?! Stupid Germans. You don’t see Robbie McEwen playing the wilting daisy when his team tries to yank him around. No wonder yet another German squad in the ProTour is on the verge of pulling sponsorship, while the Aussies are gearing up to fill the spot.

Then I get stories like this. I mean, LL Sanchez (the non-TDF winner, non-disgraced dope facilitator featured here) hasn’t really been in the news since Paris-Nice. Now he’s leading Caisse D’Epargne at the Vuelta? Where did this come from? And this is on top of Alessandro “didn’t your season end four months ago?” Ballan winning at Vatenfall? Plus Ignatiev at Burgos?! For crying out loud – at least the (now-established) Soler and Valverde – riders you’d be expecting to hear about in August – were the chief GC contenders in that event.

And then there’s the eternal story. Koldo Gil – still possibly a doper despite previous reports to the contrary. Apparently, this was some sort of translation error, which is still a better excuse than USADA has for slacking off on NRC events. And far better than Vino, who was caught during competition, saying that out-of-competition dope testing violates human rights. Vino’s old team, unbowed by the loss of any rider you’ve ever heard of before, returns to competition at the GP Plouay, where they booed Hincapie in 2005. Might get interesting if an Astana rider wins it.

Thinning the ProTour Herd?

15 Aug

So here’s a shocker – Unibet is pulling its sponsorship of a pro cycling team. Combine that with the impending loss of Astana’s ProTour license (even the manager has confessed – if only to being naive) and the folding of Discovery Channel, and there might just be a reasonably sized ProTour next year. The organizers could invite a fistful of crappy wild-card teams, allowing fans to see more local racers, while the UCI would still have a high-level of competition at every event, and a clearly-demarcated top tier of racing. If only someone could keep these knuckleheads from mucking things up.

Not that I have a problem with American and Australian infiltrators, but wouldn’t it be best to let their Euros sort their own business out before heaping more issues upon them? I mean, Michael Rasmussen is still racing. Apparently, he was guilty enough to kick out of the Tour, but not to sanction? Then there’s Andreas Kloden, who, despite having an ever-increasing number of teammates come up positive for various performance enhancements, is still welcome at this year’s World Championships. But Erik Zabel and Alejandro Valverde are apparently not. You see why these Continentals need as little additional confusion as they can get?

Despite the drama swirling outside of it, the Tour of Germany has remained a fairly bland event. Even with Erik Zabel’s win (which is at best mildly controversial), it’s been a steady progression of sprinters/mountain men taking stages, while Jens Voigt clings doggedly to the leader’s jersey. It’ll probably all come down to Friday’s TT. While Jensy holds comfortable cushions on all his nearest competitors (the most nervous being 1:31 on Levi Leipheimer), let’s still hope that everyone double-checks their mechanics’ work. Wouldn’t want to end up on the losing end of a poor equipment decision.

The Tailwind Backstab, Tour of Germany

11 Aug

Man, I feel really sore all of a sudden. I’m thinking maybe this had something to do with it? I mean, this is a new era in cycling. I was jonesing hard for that “I’m about to get busted” confession. I suppose with old Johan looking over his shoulder, we should have never expected anything else out of Contador, but in cycling’s current atmosphere, the unflappable “I swear on the grave of my dog” announcement carries about as much weight as a subprime mortgage investment. In today’s era, clean or not, Contador’s name will always be shaded with tints of dope.

Possibly the clearest indication of this change in attitude was the announced dissolution today of the Tailwind Sports juggernaut. With quite possibly the most convoluted logic I’ve ever heard, the team management explained themselves, saying, essentially, “yeah, we could have gotten a sponsor, but it just wouldn’t have been the right thing to do.” Excuse me? Since when has a gang of ubercapitalists ever had qualms about securing an investment? A lawsuit is the only thing that I could see inspiring that sort of scruple. And what, exactly, could make a cycling sponsor sue a team? Oh, I dunno…

Furthermore, I think we all remember 2004, when a certain Lance Armstrong hunted down Filippo Simeoni during a Tour de France stage, to prevent the Italian from even riding in a break. Ole’ One-Nut’s explanation for the move was, literally, “I was protecting the interests of the peloton” from a guy who “says bad things…about the group in general.” So who’s going to drag you back to the field, you simple-minded hypocrite? Could you possibly have sent a more destructive message about cycling than “It’s too dangerous to put money into the sport now?” Every time I see you stump for more cancer research, I find myself further hoping that you’ll relapse.

But enough negativity, supposition and intrigue! We’re off to what may now be the cleanest land in all of cycling – Germany. The Deutchlandtour’s first stage was taken by Robert Forster, who’s really been making a case to have his name listed among the top echelon of sprinters this season. Team CSC struck back in the Second Stage TTT, and returned 2006 winner Jens Voigt to the leaders’ jersey. The attentive fan will note that Team CSC has been a very committed sponsor, even instituting and releasing intra-team blood tests. Forster’s Gerolsteiner squad is also no slouch in supporting clean cycling.

Contador's Clouds Gather, Germans Love Cycling

10 Aug

So am I the only one getting that sinking feeling for tomorrow’s (well, technically today’s) big announcement? Postal one-upped a seemingly stacked Astana on the Tour results sheet; are they looking to do it in the dope convictions arena as well? I’d like to feel bad about Kashechkin’s coming up positive, but honestly, nailing a guy at an out of competition test in Turkey, of all places? I am downright psyched that the UCI made that snag. Anne Gripper is fast becoming the anti-doping equivalent of Willie Mayes. And while were speaking of baseball…*.

Regardless of what Alberto Contador announces later today, the Hamburg Cyclassics race organizers have made it clear that the young Spaniard will not be welcome at the event. Of course, Contador hadn’t been scheduled to start anyway, but the announcement still makes a powerful statement, something along the lines of “Hey! We need to draw attention to ourselves by attacking popular figures via the media”. Good thing their countrymen at T-Mobile have taken a more mature approach to the doping problem.

Middling classics races aside, it seems that all the news this time of year is delivered with an eye toward the Vuelta (unless, of course, you are or are related to a famous American). Astana gets another dope positive – so what does the Vuelta think? Can we get through an article on the Quick.Step team bus without mentioning the Vuelta? Nope! Even with Valverde out, it’s still a big enough deal to completely eclipse the Tour of Germany. Now that Germany has finally agreed to watch a little bike racing, maybe we should all return the favor?