Archive | September, 2007

The Doping (Ger)Mania at Worlds

27 Sep

Good lord. I thought Germans were known for careful planning, level-headedness, and efficiency, not the 11th hour, spur of the moment $&!tshow we’re currently being treated to. Here’s (I think) what’s certain so far – DiLuca is out, bowing to pressure from the locals and a recommendation for a four-month (what? Someone hand me a WADA code book…) suspension. Bettini, on the other hand, seems to be the new scapegoat, now that Valverde’s in. UCI Pres McQuaid, if his assessment of Allen Davis was any indication, has given Bettini the kiss of death.

Bettini, if you’ll recall, is under scrutiny a) because he still hasn’t signed the UCI no-dope charter (apparently, just a compromised second draft) and b) because some German TV show says that Patrick Sinkewitz says that Bettini gave him drugs. However, Sinkewitz and his lawyer (possibly fearing slander charges?) have denied saying this. Bettini, for his part, denies the doping claims, and says he won’t sign the charter because “it’s extortion” and won’t donate blood because it’s “akin to giving up one’s basic human rights”. Paolo Bettini, cyclophilosopher.

Everyone seems to have an opinion on the topic, except Pez, who’s just carrying merrily along as if the whole mess wasn’t happening. General response from stateside bloggers is cynicism and towards the timing, pandering, and outright hypocrisy on the part of the Germans, and you can count me in that bunch with a vengeance. Meanwhile, only one rider has been caught maybe doping in the souped up Stuttgart controls, and, oh yeah, Fabian Cancellara cruised to his second straight World TT crown.

No More Pro Dopers, Worlds TT, Silly Bike Ideas

26 Sep

What is up with doping stories these days? I mean, the Dopers Suck guy getting called out for a missed test? Come on, people. I guess the pros are just so clean now that the little guys are the only viable targets left. Alejandro Valverde? Officially clean. Or at least allowed to race at worlds. Same with Allen Davis; yesterday, it was unlikely he’d start. Now? Good to go.

Even when someone does kick dirt on the pros, it’s laughably apocryphal. A German news agency accusing Paolo Bettini of doping? Days before he defends his world title? When last year’s runner up was a German? And Worlds is being held in a German city? Riiiiiiight. If that doesn’t stink to high heaven, you’ve got a bright future in the septic tank repair industry. Besides, Bettini’s gotta be clean, right? He finally signed the DNA agreement instead of quitting.

Not gonna blab much about the two cyclocrossers taking titles in the TT. Everyone else is talking about that, and anyway, I think it’s more significant that the US put 3 women in the Top 5. At any rate, tomorrow’s ride in the cold rain should make for more interesting blog fodder. Not nearly as rich as the announcement of a transcontinental Tour de Stupid (410k stages?), or Yeti’s apparent pandering for a Trek buyout (integrated BB bearing cups? On a mountain bike? Really?), but still fun to write about.

The Headlines are Only Boring if You Read Them Somewhere Else

25 Sep

You might think that going missing like I did the past few days would leave me out in the cold on a few news stories. But you’d be wrong. Menchov wins Vuelta? Yeah, didn’t see that coming three weeks ago. Oh, and the Landis verdict? I mean, USADA has never lost a case – Tom Robinson stood a better chance of getting off than accused athletes do. Oh, and bike porn (for reals, yo), with Interbike just getting underway, and Eurobike winding down? Not a shocker.

And while Sanchez’s ascendancy wasn’t exactly expected (at least, not to the height of a Vuelta Podium), and the Abu Dhabi implosion turned a few heads (given cycling’s stability in the historically volatile region), it still was still nothing to stop the presses for. Even the Spanish Federation’s refusal of an obvious and easy solution to the Valverde issue is only surprising if you haven’t been following the sport for the past three years. In times of intractable dullness like these, it’s good to have a blog like mine that goes beyond the headlines.

Beyond the Headline #1: SRAM’s purchase of Zipp was a terrible idea. The armada of overpaid hack riders and triathletes that keeps Zipp’s overpriced, underbuild production line afloat will recognize the SRAM name from *scoff* Mountain Biking and *double scoff* GripShift, and immediately flock to HED for their deep-section fix. Sell your stock now.

Beyond the Headline #2: the dual epiphany has finally dawned finally dawned on professional ‘cross racers – old style canti brakes blow, and UCI-legal alternatives are available. With the departure of the squealing, unadjustable menace, tubular gluing is now the sole arcane practice keeping bicycle mechanics employed. Expect a massive oversupply of unskilled labor in Belgium, resulting to civil unrest and open revolution.

Bennati Wins, Valverde Waits, McEwen and Moreau Go Home

19 Sep

Sorry for the impromptu haitus, but I’ve been working on nailing down a better “real” job. That means lots of web searching, resume and cover letter writing, driving, interviewing, and general sweet talking. It’s time-consuming, repetitive, low reward-to-effort ratio work – not unlike competitive cycling, one might say. But man, is it ever sweet when that long-shot effort pays off.

Cycling, like life, is dominated by the mundane and reliable; the group sprint while GC leaders bide their time and wait for the moments that matter. Change comes slowly in this sort of system – four years ago, the world would have been shocked at a Bennati Vuelta victory – he was podium fodder behind the big names. But place by place and win by win, he’s carved out a position among the best sprinters in the field, and avenged a national team snub.

Same program with Sammy Sanchez, who’s been making a steady progression from rouleur, through classics man and short stage race threat, to Grand Tour Top 5 for the better part of a decade now. Has overnight success – like Alejandro Valverde’s eruption at the 2003 Vuelta – gone out of style? The UCI says yes, but Spain says no; the likely compromise seems to be letting the CAS decide. With a Landis verdict due within the week, and the CAS the last line of appeal, Sport’s highest court could be very busy this month.

Also busy will be David Millar, doubling up at the upcoming World Championships. The TT comes first, of course, literally and figuratively. However, Millar will not be rubbing elbows with Australian Robbie McEwen or Frenchman Christophe Moreau during the event. Each was left off their respective national team, despite McEwen’s recent Paris-Brussels win, and Moreau’s, um, well…ok, so, not a lot of results for Moreau, but he does have a fairly long tongue. Has to count for something, right?

Rain in Spain, Decent Weather at the Other Two-Bajillion Concurrently Running Top-Level Bicycle Racing Events

14 Sep

The pre-Worlds exodus has begun, and, it would appear, not a day too soon. Continuing its atrocious photo coverage of this year’s Vuelta, Cyclingnews has no photospread of watery carnage; it does, however, have some heinously under-edited picture captions. Where’s that press release, again? The one where CN says the sale to Future will have no effect on quality?

Anyway, the stage win was a nice, and unfortunately, rare win for Klier; a good contrast to the carbon copy the Milram Express cranked out yesterday. And as George Hincapie retained his lead at the Missouri Tour that very same day, and diaries, even barely-topical ones, continued to propagate unabated, there really wasn’t much else to write about.

Psych! I knew I get you on that one – people always seem to think September is the start of ‘cross season, so the UCI jam-packs the month with road races to combat this misconception. Seriously – I mean, I don’t even report on the FutureTour. If you lived in England, you know that when a stage is renamed for a cancer victim it’s big news; non-memorial results are comparatively unimportant.

If you’re in Poland, you realize that nothing important has happened there in a quarter-century, and thus get excited over routine wins from Pippo Pozzato. And if you’re in Brazil, you’re excited because, between yesterday’s win and today’s yellow jersey, Murilo Fischer appears to be getting on form just in time for Worlds.

Diaries and Manly Drama

12 Sep

Diaries, diaries, diaries! With this level of rider contribution and feedback, you’d think the peloton had been overrun with 14-year-old girls. And if the diaries didn’t give you that impression, the headlines certainly might. But don’t try to pin Carlos Sastre down on that sort of preadolescent intruige; a Cyclingnews rest-day feature paints him as being all about the racing.

While the off-piste banter does add a bit to the sport, what makes cycling truly fantastic is the Man-Drama that occurs between start and finish lines, tending to accumulate toward the latter. Case in point: today’s Poland Tour stage. There aren’t enough superlatives for this before and after set; the lost radio in the center, Rene Hasselbacher floating eerily above it; Jimmy Caspar peeking out above the lunging Napolitano; Tyler Farrar’s inexplicably-directed gaze; and the Italian triumphant over the wreckage of his enemies.

Now, you’d think with Graeme Brown and Crashelbacher side by side like that, one of them must have been at fault. But word is it was Ciolek that started the fracas, and not for the first time, either. Youngster might want to consider staying off the barriers in the future, or at least think about pursuing safer sprints, like those in a small group, or the central US. Check out Zabel and Petacchi from today’s Vuelta stage if you want to see the Euro group gallop thing done right.

A Whiny Rest Day, Stupid Tech, Britain, Poland and…Missouri?

11 Sep

Note to Carlos Sastre – you know that finishing salute you do? Consider trying it on the days you don’t win. I have it from good sources that you always carry the pacifiers with you, so next time the urge strikes to complain about “secret pacts”, just pop one in, ok? You’ve been a professional for almost a decade now, and you ought to have learned at least three things: 1) unless you build a velodrome on the moon, someone will always be drafting; 2) it’s common practice for race leaders to cede stages to breakaway companions if they aren’t a GC threat; 3) if you’re looking for a “fair” sport, cycling isn’t it.

I mean, I could go on – Piepoli is prone to relentless, often foolhardy attacks; his tiny frame is a lousy draft for the six-foot-tall Menchov; Menchov’s “cooperation” with Piepoli late in the stage allowed many other GC threats to catch back up – but there’s been too much press on this non-issue already. Until someone starts stealing signals, I prefer to focus on more obvious outrages, such as tires that only work one way, the continued triumph of style over substance and “farewell” races that occur with two ProTour events still to come.

And it’s not like there’s a shortage of racing to talk about, either. Even with a Vuelta rest day (though apparently, not a very restful one), there’s the Tour de Britain (Cavendish didn’t win, so expect less coverage), and of course, the Tour de Poland (G-Steiner’s David Kopp took today’s stage, while Graeme Brown won yesterday’s event, despite the best efforts of the Polish Ministry of Propaganda. As for the Tour de Missouri…well, I’ll let the locals handle that.

Poland Rained Out, Tour of Britan, Vuelta

10 Sep

God, sometimes this blog thing is too easy: didja hear the one about the Polish bike race? No, seriously, they held a bike race in Poland, but then it rained really, really hard. So they let everyone go off and risk breaking their necks, and then neutralized the results. Safety first! And in a way, that makes last-placed Team CSC the winner of that event – someone credit Bjarne Riis with another brilliant tactical decision.

Anyway, for a 78 year old ProTour event, the Tour of Poland gets relatively little coverage: no photos on Cyclingnews, even. Part of this might be the Vuelta overlap, but there’s also the Tour of Britan, just finished with its second stage and still looking for a winner other than Mark Cavendish. It’s cool that people speak English in Britain and all, but shouldn’t the ProTour event take precedence? Even word that Oscar Freire “abandoned” the Tour of Spain gets billing ahead of the Eastern Bloc race.

But back the Vuelta, September’s marquee event (except for Worlds, which people consistently “abandon” the Vuelta to train for). Today’s stage finished atop Arcalis, which I think is too easy a climb for any race calling itself a “queen stage”, even after 214km. I mean, Jan Ullrich shredded the thing back at the Tour in ’97, and today’s seven-up sprint was about what I expected. I was surprised that Sammy Sanchez didn’t take the win, though I can’t say I’ve ever seen him fighting for a win on top of an HC climb, either. Could a change in focus be the explanation for the Spaniard’s relatively barren classics season?

Menchov Retakes Gold, Valverde Still in Limbo

9 Sep

Was I right on the money last week or what? I told you Oscar Pereiro was a poor bet for the overall – and now, he’s out of the race. Not only that, but I said Pereiro’s teammate Efimkin was a more-or-less legitimate contender – and now he’s in second, with the blessing of his squad. You might also remember I said Contador was Disco’s best hope for a win back in July, but the Spandiard had a little help from Rabobank team management in securing the overall. I can’t imagine Efimkin will be receiving similar assistance.

Anyway, today’s hilly stage was won by a spry, diminutive climber, same as yesterday’s net downhill TT was won by a less spry and less diminutive TT specialist. Grabsch wasn’t really on the radar before the stage, but the German TT champ has certainly shortlisted himself for the chronometrist’s arc en ceil later this month. Stijn Devolder used the TT to breifly take the lead, but c’mon, we all know that Belgians can’t climb, and hours later, Denis Menchov once again donned the golden fleece. Let’s hope, if he does end up winning it again, it’ll be on a podium in September, instead of a courtroom in February.

Speaking of litigation, the UCI has repeated that Alejandro Valverde cannot race at the World Championships. This was announced a week or two ago, but the Spanish cycling federation went ahead and registered him anyway. Not sure who’s gonna win this one. I mean, if Valverde just shows up on the start line the day of the race, will the UCI not start the event until he leaves? That could lead to some ugly protest footage, especially considering Valverde has yet to be accused of anything. Of course, if he wins, and then it comes out later that he was on drugs, the sport will look bad. Kind of a lose-lose spot for the UCI, and maybe why WADA backed out of worlds this year.

Zabel Wins, Freire Still Hot, More Stupid Dope News

7 Sep

Anyone else out there noticing how this year’s Vuelta photography looks like ass? Even though it would explain Allen Davis’s finish line confusion, I can’t imagine the heat coming off the Spanish tarmac was throwing up that much distortion. You know what I think it is? Radiation from Oscar Freire. After his third win in just six stages, and preternatural crash sense in seventh, it’s clear he’s been mutated from the constantly injured, crash-prone, World Title specialist he once was.

But I don’t mean to take anything away from Erik Zabel’s sneaky win today by mentioning Freire. I dislike it when journalists use the term “crash-marred”; crashes and crash avoidance are part and parcel with the whole sprinting thing, and a win isn’t (IMHO) made any less by the mere presence of a crash. Furthermore, Zabel’s been one of the more reliably sane people throughout the sport’s recent reappraisal of the whole doping thing. I know a lot of people are a little lukewarm to see him win, but I still like the guy.

Speaking of drugs, T-Mobile’s recently bounced Lorenzo Bernucci talked with the media about his “doping” offense. It really makes me wish WADA would put some money into studying exactly how much performance enhancement appetite suppressants and asthma medicines provide. I’m willing to bet they pale in comparison to serious PE drugs, or even entirely legal substances like caffeine. Although, with some dopers starting surprisingly young, I doubt my calls for anti-dope self-evaluation will get far.