Oh, I've Got An Otra Pregunta for you, Buddy…

Jul 23 2009

otra-contadorI’ve know you don’t wanna answer those pesky questions about drugs, Alberto, but in all seriousness—are you high right now?

You’d have to be stoned out of your skinny Spanish gourd to simply stonewall some very reasonable questions a day after word broke that DiLuca turned up positive for CERA twice during his Giro campaign this year.

It’s not like the graphics (point of order: Riis was never “caught” doping) are anywhere near definitive. As much as I appreciate and enjoy the effort of the dudes over at The Science of Sports, there are way too many variables at play to effectively compare times between years, or ascending rates between climbs.

Heck, all you have to do, Alberto, is read their stinking page (en español); they list many “confounders”, like wind, climb length, and race situation. Allow me to add to that strength of field and equipment, since wind-cheating frames and ultralight rims are now de rigeur down the lowliest domestiques at the TdF, and a good portion of Contador’s Verbier ascent happened in the draft of well-above-threshold efforts from Jens Voigt and Chris Anker Sørenson.

But otra pregunta? Like you don’t even care? You don’t have to go all “not worth the chair you’re sitting on” [.mp3], but at least act like it would be bad thing if you were doping. You know why people like riders like Fabian Cancellara? It’s because between his many, many ridiculous moments of Superman accomplishments, he has definite patches of being human. He struggles, and he cares about things.

Cance’s classics season was a flop this year. He dropped out of the Tour of Cali. Recently, he worked himself into a multi-lingual rage when things didn’t go his way, and he needed to have a beer to just chill himself out. And afterwards, Cancellara will almost certainly be able to put it all in perspective with enough class to make us all feel guilty about every training ride we ever cut short.

3749664477_0324554ea6Alberto, 99.5 is a friggin’ high VO2 max—but it’s by no means impossible. Bjørn Daehlie once clocked in at 96, and that was during the off-season. Considering it’s a function of weight, and you’re 20 days into a freakin’ Grand Tour, it’s entirely within the realm of possibility that you’re rocking those numbers.

So own it. Say something like, “yeah, it’s hard to compare results from the lab to results on the road, but my past test results have shown I could potentially be in that range”. It doesn’t even have to be true—you’ve always been special and people will at least respect you for being forthcoming.

But this otra pregunta business—jeez, it’s like Gary Hart daring the media to follow him. The Brits are pugnacious about chasing this doping thing, and they write—more or less—in the same language spoken by the millions of Americans buying your Trek and Nike schwag. You could have at least eased off in the time trial—barring an unlikely collapse on Ventoux, you’ve got the jersey wrapped up.

In case you couldn’t tell from the timing of the Team Radio Shack announcement, or the not-so-flattering words of your director, you aren’t the most popular guy around at the moment. So help yourself out a little and warm up to the people and the press. If you are doping, it won’t make you any less guilty, but as Tyler Hamilton can attest, it might make things a little easier when the boom does finally drop.

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15 Responses to “Oh, I've Got An Otra Pregunta for you, Buddy…”

  1. cycletard 23 July 2009 at 11:27 pm #

    Another brilliant post that cuts to the chase, Cosmo! And I love everything you say about Spartacus; he is the real deal, and always exciting to watch because like Jens, he gives his all to every effort. He’d rather go out in a blaze of glory and fail trying than catch a wheel and coast to an easy maillot jaune. I almost feel like Contador is an apathetic victor.

  2. The Barb 24 July 2009 at 12:26 am #

    Ditto. Nice pithy analysis. Thanks indeed for the great work you do.

  3. Sophrosune 24 July 2009 at 2:39 am #

    Okay, I agree with the basic premise of your argument that Contador needs to develop a more nuanced answer to this line of questioning than “otra pregunta”. But there are points here I really take exception with.

    First, the figures presented for Contador’s VO2 max based on his climb up the Verbier are rife with potential errors. That would be the first point I would make if I were Contador. Many others have looked at these figures and come up with quite different results that bring Contador’s effort well within the realm of a top athlete who is not doping.

    Second, Contador is under no obligation to provide his exact VO2 figures. It’s like asking a poker player to tell everyone what cards he’s holding. It may satisfy the curiosity of the audience (or the media) but it puts the card player at a distinct disadvantage if he wants to bluff or pull someone in to a large pot. This idea of providing your VO2 max numbers has been helpful for Lemond (the agent of this recent smear of Contador) because he had a figure of 92. But it was a disaster for Armstrong, who as a young rider (before his TdF victories) boldly told everyone his figure was 82, which has been consistently used against him to cast doubt on his TdF victories.

    So, if I were Contador I would hit upon those two points at the very least in responding to this line of questioning. But Contador is very smart. He hadn’t developed a proper response to this question when asked it at yesterday’s press conference. So he didn’t answer it off the cuff. Just remember back to Landis when he first tried to answer the question about how he could have tested positive. He threw out about half-a-dozen reasons that later just made him look ridiculous. No, better to have a think and give a good answer.

  4. Colin R 24 July 2009 at 9:19 am #

    Sophrosune: You’re right, in that Contador clearly didn’t have a good response for the question, and probably made the right decision to pass on the question instead of throwing out wild excuses for why he didn’t want to talk about it.

    But Cosmo’s also right, in that his exceptionally terse and nervous handling of it made him look very, very suspicious.

  5. Bandobras 24 July 2009 at 10:23 am #

    It’s not his handling of the question that makes him look suspicious, it’s the fact that we all know most of these guys have doped at one time or another and it is getting harder and harder to believe anyone is winning anything in any sport without doping.

  6. Mellow Velo 24 July 2009 at 10:34 am #

    A question I’ve long struggled with, and maybe you’ll take a crack at it after this post: Is there any obligation for the athletic greats to be/try to be decent people? How good should we expect them to be?

    Perhaps it’s because I grew up in San Antonio, TX at a time when the Spurs NBA team was winning championships and getting ignored because they’re “boring.” Boring, perhaps, but nice guys don’t always finish last, and most are deeply involved in the community. They might be NBA champs, but would NEVER answer questions they way Contador did.

    Therefore, I’m conditioned to dislike sports greats who are jerks. I agree it asks too much for them to be gods, but I don’t think it asks too much to expect decency. Hence, I somewhat hopelessly root for Garmin-Slipstream.

    I disagree Contador was under no “obligation” to give his numbers. It’s not contractual, of course, but the least he could have done was stay calm, smile and exude confidence. When you know people are looking up to you, I find it immature and petty to look down into their wide-open eyes and spit in them.

    (That job is reserved for the amateur guys who win local crits.)

  7. Pendleton 24 July 2009 at 11:41 am #

    Maybe “otra pregunta” is the Spanish idiom for “I will not feed the trolls”.

  8. Sophrosune 24 July 2009 at 11:47 am #

    What on earth are you talking about, Mellow Velo? You have extrapolated a reluctance to answer a question based on iffy numbers, supposition, innuendo and hypotheticals into spitting in the eye of people looking up to him.

    Where does this need to demonize Contador come from? Is it just that you like Armstrong so much and want him to win so badly, you’ll fabricate any reason to make Contador out as a monster? It has me baffled.

    Imagine if Larry Bird wrote an article in the NY Times during your Spurs’ heyday that argued because Tim Duncan scored so many points and got so many rebounds he must be on steroids, even though there was no other evidence beyond his performance. And mind you all the other players scored nearly as many points and got as many rebounds. And say there was some insistent reporter who asked the same question three time saying, “Larry Bird says you must be doping because you played so well. Will you prove that you’re innocent?” You know, Tim Duncan would probably say “I don’t think I want to address Larry Bird’s musings.”

    And I would think it would be very detrimental to his team, never mind himself, to start revealing his VO2 max numbers. It’s like telling the competition, “Here’s my limit.” Why would one do that?

    Try out some different perspectives on this issue. BTW: As far as your hopeless rooting for Garmin-Slipstream due to their lack of jerkiness, have you seen any interviews with Bradley Wiggins? A jerk is a kind term.

  9. kkhart 24 July 2009 at 2:59 pm #

    I have a very simple solution to the cycling drug problem – allow it, all of it, BUT require full disclosure.
    It would be the same process as is used in horse racing – each horse has a little sign next to it on the form that indicate if they are taking Lasix or whatnot & if it is the first time the horse races on it, it’s called out (since this should be the race with the biggest gain from the drugs). Simple.
    The interesting thing about it this is, ALL the horses are on drugs and so the playing field is essentially level. Of course, why the industry feels they can’t race with out the drugs, when there is no real gain to it is a different issue….

  10. Frankielof 24 July 2009 at 4:05 pm #

    Allowing drugs would not level the playing field. It is documented that some atheletes respond better to EPO than others. Marco Pantani was a perfect example and it is documented in the book “The Death of Marco Pantani”. His natural hematocrit level was somewhere in the 32% – 39% range, yet based on his size he was still a strong racer and climber. Using EPO he was able to increase his hematocrit level over 55%. This massive increase in oxygen carrying bloodcells was far greater than most of the riders he was competing against giving him an unfair advantage.

    At what point do we just give up the idea that sports are a competition of men and women training to be the best and not a competition of who has the best doctor on staff??

  11. god of thunder... 24 July 2009 at 6:58 pm #

    i’ve heard the hair brained idea of making it legal tossed out before. it is wrong on so many levels not the least of which is what frankielof discussed. regardless, i think you can question or ‘demonize’ contador, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you are an LA fanboy. his accomplishments post cancer are far more suspect than contador cruising to victory in 2009. gee, i wish the versus fanboys would touch on some of the more scandalous stuff, but i guess there are bills to pay.

  12. luc 24 July 2009 at 9:05 pm #

    Hi everybody!

    A few questions for our discussion:

    I saw the red car following Contador when he cross the line in the TT touching his back wheel. Contador had a quick look back. Did I imagine that?

    Contador was not followed by Bruyneel. Bruyneel was not there for is press conference on the rest day. I did not see the press conference, was Bruyneel there?

    Contador was absolutly not happy on the podium after the TT. Did I imagine that also?

    My point is that AC arrived at this press conference troubled, unprepared, without support and demoralised. He may just have been told that Radio Shack will enforce his contract for the next year…

    Do I make sense?

  13. tourpro 24 July 2009 at 9:40 pm #

    Yup, that’s a great post you got there. Loads of stuff to digest and I appreciate the linkage.

    I guess the only thing I would throw in the mix is Pot Belge.

  14. rainbow 26 July 2009 at 5:55 pm #

    What we are not told with these sensational figures is the margin of error on the value (which is admittedly harder to calculate than the number in question). Bearing in mind is a subjective judgment based on estimative values and variables best guessed averaged high and calculated to give a definitive result. Given that none of Greg’s academic qualifications enable him to come to a decisive conclusion of Contador’s Vo2 max
    No one is going to give a low figure on the range of answers because only the beggisest numbers support their arguments. I wouldn’t be sticking my neck out to say the margin of error would be between +0.000001% And -20%.
    Not headline making material.
    Nor are the questions raised by the media aske is inflammatory and shallow leaving any questionee no practical answer.
    Q. do you take performance enhancing drugs??
    A1. “NO” “I have never tested positive..” etc. What the media hear is. Yes he does but we can’t prove it.
    A2. Nil comment. What the media hear is. Yes he does but we can’t prove it but that is an admittance.
    A3. “YES” media: see he does, but who would answer this question positively so he could be lying and we can’t prove it but we could be made fools of if we publish that and that’s not a good look for us.
    The only half decent answer i can come up with is come back with a better question, or get a better editor and readership. You guys are the best in the field and you have grovelled and sacrificed to get on the TDF media wagon, you r reputations and abilities are far beyond the level at which you ask this question, you can all come up with other angles to publish you r diatribes, just do it.

  15. Matt 1 August 2009 at 2:30 pm #

    How about this snippet of facts. In the 2005 Tour, Popovych won the white jersey as the best young rider. Contador finished 3rd, over 44 minutes behind! Was Popovych doping back then and not now, or is Contador “bettering” himself somehow? If I were to guess, I’d say both.

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