Archive | December, 2007

A Trip to Lake Wobegon

17 Dec

So that last post extinguished my urge to talk about baseball for the next decade or so, but I still feel obligated to note that, after a mere three days, baseball already has its own David Millar and Tyler Hamilton. Clemens might do well to note that had Tyler just come clean back in ’04, he’d be racing today. As it stands, the first American LBL winner hasn’t even updated his webpage in five months.

But let’s keep the focus of this post domestic: the USCF recently crowned its men’s and women’s sandbagging champions. Great to see the national federation putting my $50 a year toward such a noble cause. One hopes next year’s prize package will be expanded to include a free UCI license, a legally binding agreement never again to race below Category A or P/1/2, or, failing all else, a swift kick in the ass from every other rider in the field.

In all honesty, why does the USCF expound their road upgrade guidelines in mind-numbing detail while leaving ‘cross utterly at the mercy of self-selection? Going to argue that ‘cross doesn’t need a hierarchical upgrade system that road has at because the potential danger of out-of-place riders isn’t as high? Tell that to Ryan Trebon, who lost his shot at another national title because some doofer couldn’t keep it inside the tape.

To me, though, the issue isn’t safety; it’s the mindset self-selection represents. Despite my very limited visits to Europe, I get the sense (considering that this dude can just come over and race) you either slug it out with the top names, or slug it out in the beer tent. Here in America, though, we’ve got the Lake Wobegon effect, and as a result, a “B” National Cyclocross Champion. Is it any wonder that guys like this think they can get a yellow jersey on their wall?

Why Baseball Looks (and may soon be) Cleaner Than Cycling

13 Dec

Forget the weak dollar, foreign wars, and the past two presidential elections – America is still the greatest country in the world. You know why? The Mitchell Report [PDF; short version here]. No tabloid B.S., no codenames, no rumor, and no innuendo. Just the facts: a man on the inside, receipts, confessions, testimony and positive tests.

The Mitchell Report’s most impressive aspect, however, is its restraint in laying blame. For the past 20 years, professional baseball has arguably been the most drug infested, money gobbling sport in the world. Yet the entire context of today’s revelation focused on correcting the sport for the future, instead of punishing the crimes of the past. During his 30-minute presentation, George Mitchell avoided mentioning the name of even a single player, while one of the best pitchers in baseball history sat squarely in his gun sights. Do you think the UCI would have extended such a courtesy to Lance Armstrong?

This objective approach has an obvious ripple effect. The press, rather than piling unabashedly on (as they’re currently doing in a German country I could name), has mirrored the sober approach, refusing to speculate on names before the advent of the report, unless specific sources could verify them. Even as the report was being presented, ESPN.com offered informed dissent. It will be no surprise to me if the public opinion of baseball remains largely unchanged.

The lesson here that cycling needs to learn is approach to the doping problem is everything. Cycling may be the most tightly-tested sport in the world, but its anti-doping efforts have always smacked of witch-hunt. When Festina broke in 1998, there followed a domino string of assumptions, half-baked accusations, and outright invasions of privacy. Everyone wanted the next big headline, the next trophy. Same with Operacion Puerto, the ’07 Tour, and any allegation you can name involving Lance Armstrong. WADA and the UCI’s assumption that there’s always another guilty man has yielded a very predictable result.

Contrast this with baseball’s approach: when BALCO emerged, and baseball’s long infatuation with chemical enhancement became too obvious to ignore, MLB set up a commission that meticulously and objectively outlined the proliferation of doping in the sport. They moved slowly, without striving to “make an example” of high profile dopers, and without carrying any self-righteous pretensions of justice. Baseball aimed simply to find the extent of the problem, and identify some solutions.

While the lasting results of the Mitchell Report remain to be seen, with people continuing to mortgage their houses for season tickets at Fenway, it’s safe to say that no one sees MLB as a corrupt circus of dopers, no matter how many years behind their testing program is. Conversely, cycling can continue to be the best tested sport in the world, yet always been seen as doped to the gills. And as Rasmussen, Vino, Sinkowitz, Moreni, Kessler, Gonchar, and Kashechkin showed us last year, when this perception that you can, or even have to dope, enters a rider’s mind, it overrides the inescapable logic that if you dope, eventually, you will get caught.

Regardless of what Vino says, cycling can blame only its own anti-dope campaign, and the organizations charged with managing it, for the sport’s dirty reputation. Baseball withstood, and continues to withstand, allegations of drug use by acting carefully and fairly in its investigation and prosecution. While one can easily fault Major League Baseball for its previous inaction, because of its non-judgemental, fact-based approach, its perceived integrity as a sport is, and will remain, more solid than cycling’s. And if cycling fails to address the notion that riders must be doped to win, this perceived integrity gap may soon become reality.

Ullrich Season Continues, DiLuca Denies Non-Illegal Act, WADA Media Committee?

10 Dec

Does Germany have its own version of Rupert Murdock? If so, does anyone else get the feeling that Jan Ullrich must have been porking his wife? I realize my only exposure to the German press is through cycling, but every frickin’ day it’s another thing with these people. Today’s screed – Ullrich and Fuentes were in contact way back in 2003. Shall I mention that to hear Fuentes’ at his little tea party in the Canaries last week, every doper in the peloton was apparently his client. He unified the dope bags, and he did it, he says, for the greater good.

But just because I shun the Mike Nifong method, doesn’t mean I prefer how they’re doing things in Italy. Mafia country label aside, the “prosecution” of Danilo DiLuca has been convoluted at best. The reigning Giro champ is now testifying for some reason – I’m not aware of any actual charges – that he didn’t use an IV drip before returning an abnormal, but not illegal, test result during his Giro win this year. Why DiLuca even bothered to answer, seeing as IV drips are legal as long as they’re not doped, is beyond me – maybe he’s trying to clean up his name after an inexplicable three month suspension for his connection to a different case cost him what could be the last ever UCI ProTour title.

Isn’t there a better way to do this? Some middle ground between piling on when the stock of the accused is low, and flummoxing about when no one’s paying attention? Is this the sort of thing that’s bound to happen when teams that make more reasonable moves are stripped of title sponsors? Getting David Millar on WADA’s athlete panel can’t hurt, since he’s seen both sides of this anti-doping business. But IMHO, what WADA really needs is a media committee, some group to go out and lean on the press to focus less on hammering the most tightly tested sport in the world, and instead highlight the utter laughability of testing and and sanctioning in other sports, like those in the American mainstream.

No More-Ov Vinokourov

7 Dec

You gotta feel for the people of Kazakhstan. They’re totally bummed the rest of the world thinks their country is so backward, but damn if their government doesn’t just suck at convincing people otherwise. Take this who Vinokourov situation – first, they say he’s innocent, then, in the face of overwhelming evidence, they find Vino’ guilty and suspend him for…half the mandated sentence. Just so happens that decision would have made him eligible for the ’08 Olympics, but fortunately the 34-year-old decided he’d rather retire instead – he blamed anti-Kazakh sentiment for the decision. Unbelievable.

Kind of the opposite thing going on in Germany, really – there, the state (well, the media, but those dirty socialists make it hard to tell where one begins and the other ends) seems fixated on demolishing the international reputation of its cyclists. Word now from some German magazine or other is that five T-Mobile riders snuck back to Freiburg between the prologue and the first stage of the ’06 Tour. Examining the before and after, it sure doesn’t sound too far fetched – and let’s not forget Kesslers’ stage win. But this couldn’t possibly be the case, because he’s staying on Astana which totally clean thanks to the new management of Johann Bruyneel, who has never been associated with a suspected rider. Ever.

Clean Cycling – The Time to Invest is Now

4 Dec

I’m sure that at some point in my life, I’ll be disgraced. And when that day comes, I hope I can weather the storm and resign respectfully, without trampling my denouement under a landslide of excuses; e.g., “I’m not a married, self-loathing homosexual – I’m just prone to misunderstandings. Lots of them“. “I’m not into adolescent boys – I was just drunk. For the past past 11 years“. “I wasn’t doping – I was just having relationship problems

Given the trend toward newer, more stringent anti-doping standards, I don’t think we’ll encounter a dearth of sniveling excuses in the ’08 season, either, even if organizers are aiming for kinder, gentler races. To avoid these embarrassments, organizers will be seeking out out teams unlikely to turn up a doping positive, which means Jon Vaughters’ commitment to clean cycling should be netting him much more than “Sportsman of the Year” nominations. Even if Slipstream shakes out buck-naked last at every major event, no other team lets organizers make as strong a statement for the future of the sport.

If only the Germans had such foresight. With T-Mobile – er, I mean High Road – continuing to chase the dream of in-house testing, odds are their Giants will be getting invitations to the biggest races, and be seen as the face of a cleaner cycling. Adidas, Audi and T-Mobile, however, will simply be remembered as the companies who couldn’t risk advertising on non-doped riders, after funding the sport through its most chemically enhanced years. It’s like they haven’t noticed that Roberto Heras can’t get a job.

T-Mobile Folds, No Cyclingnews Links

1 Dec

You know what would simplify my life times infinity? If Cyclingnews gave itself a bloody RSS feed. Every day I have to open my browser, open a new tab, wait for the page to open, wait for pictures to load, scroll down, open a million different tabs for all their latest news, breaking news, etc., then I have to see if they have any new tech features, interviews, or race results. What is this, 1998? No links to them until they fix the problem.

But speaking of 1998 – who remembers that year? It was supposed to be Jan Ullrich’s second Tour win in the decade of domination a cancer-stricken Lance Armstrong thought Ullrich would bring to the mighty Telekom team. After all, they’d won in 1996 with EPO – I mean, Bjarne Riis – and again in ’97, with some plucky 23-year-old named Jan Ullrich. I guess it would be an understatement to say that things have changed.

But why now? Why not ten years ago, after the biggest scandal in the history of the Tour? You’d have to be an awfully ripe shade of naive to think that an old-school Eastern Bloc rider (caught in an internal test), and a stupid, Pat Lefevere-bred kid were what sank this ship. Even the fall of Germany’s greatest cycling icon couldn’t kill T-Mobile. Granted, it sure didn’t help – but the death blow came from elsewhere.

As John Wilcockson glosses over to the point of apology, T-Mobile was killed by the German media, particularly the state-funded ADR and ZDF networks. You may recall some outcry in Germany over public funds being used to possibly at the Stuttgart worlds. I hope the German public is happier to see that their money has instead stymied free enterprise.

But at least Patrick Sinkewitz gets the satisfaction of successfully stabbing the German Cycling Federation in the back. After “cooperating” (Me? Why me? I don’t know anything about it”) with the authorities, his sentence was reduced to a year, meaning he’ll be back this July. IN acknowledgment of this benevolvence, Sinkewitz announced that the federation knew about his doping all along. I bet squads are just lining up to rehire this guy.