Archive | August, 2010

ALL YOUR BIKE ARE BELONG TO US

30 Aug

There was something eerily familiar about the suddenness which with Cervelo Test Team’s and Garmin-Transitions’ fortunes changed just before the Vuelta. The sneak attack, the telegraphic language in the press releases, and the valiant counter-strike—like something from a half-remembered dream in my Internet Youth.

slideshow of All Your Base meme adaptation

Contains graphic elements possibly inspired by works from Flickr user Nathalie 05, ZumaPress, Picasa user Jonathan S, Sirotti, John Pierce, Cervelo’s website, and of course, Zero Wing

[background information, if this makes no sense]

2010 Vuelta, Stage 2: "And How Did He Do It, GoGo?"

29 Aug

I like Todd Gogulski—really. Cycling commentary needs more ex-pros and fewer NCAA place kickers (in case you’d been wondering where VeloCenter’s Scott Kaplan came from) hurling fairly obvious questions at them.

But after a surprising finish at the Vuelta today, GoGo really missed the move on sorting things out. The audio is a follows is from Universal Sports’ efforts at “breaking down” the Stage 2 finish—and unless they were making an untoward implication about Hutarovich’s mother, it’s “Minsk“, not “minx“.

So according to Gogulski, Hutarovich won because:

  1. he’s a very good sprinter
  2. he’s good in the early season
  3. he has five wins so far this season
  4. he’s in front of Petacchi
  5. he’s always been fast
  6. he’s never won against these guys at this time of the year.

While many of those statements are indeed true, other than “he’s always been fast”, I don’t think any do much for describing how Hutarovich got across the line first today. Here are my reasons for the surprise win, a few even illustrated with stills from Eurosport:

  1. While the bunch did come in together, with a start and finish near sea-level and a high point of 1,100 meters, it wasn’t your typical sprinters’ day.
  2. Cavendish has a history of coming into Grand Tours in less-than-perfect shape. (see ’09 Giro, this year’s TdF)
  3. Farrar was beaten in a near-identical fashion at Plouay last weekend and may be out of gas after racing at top level since the spring.
  4. Hutarovich likes technical sprints, this finish was curving and narrow.
  5. Hutarovich is in good form, having won a stage at the recent Tour of Poland.
  6. Julian Dean crashed yesterday was not there to help Farrar.
  7. Bernhard Eisel cramped up and was not there to help Cav.
  8. The finish was very disorganized:

  9. Farrar (readily admitting I can’t see more than Jawbones in this screenshot) might have eaten a significant amount of wind at 5km to go to get into position:

  10. And for me, the smoking gun. HTC’s leadout (visible at right of image—Velits?) was so much slower than Hondo that Cav was forced to jump across onto Farrar’s wheel. Aside from having to burn some serious wattage making the move, the Brit also handed Hutarovich the golden ticket by slotting in ahead of him:

Coming around Cavendish is no mean feat, regardless of the situation leading up to it, so don’t take this as a knock on Hutarovich. After all, Petacchi was set up pretty nicely and the Belarusian dusted him as easily as anyone else in the field.

As for GoGo—well, I wish he’d tighten it up because I’m pretty sure he can do better. I’d wager it didn’t take me any longer to write this post than it did for Universal to piece together that post-race voiceover.

Looking Better Every Second

27 Aug

Manolo Saiz Oh yes. This is totally the direction I want to see the sport going in. Take the sponsor who’s pleased enough with a gutsy third-place finish to put the bike in their museum, then dissolve their team. Follow that up by reintroducing the guy who was caught in a police sting at an illicit blood bank with 50,000 euros in cash. 2011 looks like it’s going to be a great year.

Granted, it seems like Cervelo delivered news of the break-up to riders with all the grace and delicacy of a 14-year-old, but I’d rather have a ProTour stocked with the discourteous than once again listen to the banal, amplified “vengas” of the man whose CV is a veritable Cliffs Notes on doping cases in the decade leading up to his arrest: the tutelage of a pre-Festina Alex Zulle, the sudden arrival and equally sudden collapse of Izidro Nozal, the fall of Roberto Heras, and finally, Operacion Puerto.

You’d think, with unemployment running at 20% in the country, the Spanish media—specifically El Diario Montanes, which conducted the interview—might be able to find a reporter with the ability to ask more pressing questions; namely “why the hell would anyone let you near the sport again?”. I’ll gladly advocate for the rights of dopers to return after two years, but a second offense is a lifetime ban; by my highly unofficial count, Saiz is on his 7th or 8th, depending on your feelings on salbutamol. Perhaps someone ought to get on translating these journalism labels into Spanish.

Not that the English media has proven any more effective of late. When Cervelo blamed its dissolution on “subtle” UCI rule changes that would have increased operating expenses, either no one asked—or no one bothered to repeat—exactly what those rule changes were. You’d think, now that the savagely funny flamewars inspired by pieces like this have moved off of USENET and into the comments section, a more incisive approach might be forthcoming from the Journal of Competitive Cycling.

Perhaps they’re content to leave that to The Onion.

And Still a Month to Melbourne

23 Aug

Robbie Mcewen UnclipsLooking for a spot on the Aussie worlds team? I would say your best bet is to avoid winning a stage at the ENECO Tour. Robbie McEwen—wins stage one, not invited. Jack Bobridge—wins Stage 5, not invited. Granted, McEwen’s been having the worst season of his long career with just one other win, and that’s still one more than Bobridge had notched (before yesterday) since turning pro.

With the official selection just hours away, some fairly serious brain cells are being burnt in pursuit of diving the home team’s startlist at the over-a-month-away World Championships—which is kind of amazing. It wasn’t too long ago that this part of the season was a wasteland, people begging for the Vuelta to bring something back into the headlines, with the World Title as something of an afterthought.

In 2005, I even attributed part of the Rainbow Curse to the falling stature of Worlds among cyclists—even the great one-day riders seemed focused on the Tour, and only the historically-snubbed made a concerted effort for lArc-en-Ciel. Safe to say things have turned around a bit since then.

While my thoughts on competition along national lines remains unchanged, I have to say I do enjoy the additional wrinkle national squads add to the UCI’s big event. We could very likely see three riders from the same squad on the podium at Melbourne this October; certainly Matt Goss made a convincing case for team leadership at GP Plouay, Greipel has already been tabbed as the German hope, and an anemic British squad has no choice but the rockstar himself.

If the HTC boys can pull it off, it would be the second time in a decade that Australian soil has played host to such a spectacle—though given the animosity between Cav and Greipel, it would almost certain have to be honestly contested this time around.

The International Advantage

20 Aug

Lars Boom on TT bikeThere was some dispute in the comments section (#4) of the last post about whether or not nationalism was good business in cycling. While I think there’s something to be said on either side of the issue, I maintain that its influence will become increasingly detrimental in an ever-more-international sport.

Consider Rabobank—though widely considered a de facto Dutch national squad, they’ve made large and successful investments in foreign athletes. Since the retirements of Erik Dekker and Michael Boogerd, nearly all of their major victories have come courtesy of the Spaniard Oscar Freire or the soon-to-depart Russian Denis Menchov. It’s not like the team has suffered for the outsourcing, with the two riders bringing in a Giro, two Vueltas, two Tour podiums, several Tour stages, a Green Jersey, three San Remos and a gaggle of other assorted trophies.

There’ve been more than enough Dutch riders who could have stepped up at Rabobank, but many have chosen to ply their trades elsewhere—Karsten Kroon, Steven de Jongh, Theo Bos, among others. After Servais Knaven became the first Dutchman to win Roubaix in almost two decades in 2001, for a Belgian-registered but thoroughly international squad, I think it was laid clear to a lot of riders that their talents could be more successfully employed—even as lieutenants—on foreign teams that focused on their strongest races.

Given the success both Rabobank and Dutch ex-pats have had following this course over the past few years, it sounds ridiculous that Lars Boom would say his squad should develop more Dutch riders instead of aquiring the most underutilized classics talent of the 2010 season. It’s not like he’ll get a bigger share of the winnings if a Dutch rider is parcelling out prize money, or that Rabobank will get less camera time if a Dane crosses the line with their name on his chest.

Contrast Rabobank’s importation of talent to the approach of the major French squads, who, outside of one high-profile and ill-omened acquisition, have never shown much interest in top-tier foreign riders. While it was nice to see so many French teams and cyclists taking stages at this year’s Tour, the fact remains that at any high-profile event, they’re all still second-level players. And for the few Frenchmen who’ve elected to ride elsewhere—Sylvain Chavanel, Cedric Vasseur, Richard Virenque—the switch to a foreign squad has paid dividends.

The impression I get is that multi-national squads are better run, more focused in their objectives, and just plain tighter-knit. Bjarne Riis’ legendary commando-style training camps seemed to forge a bond stronger than any national affiliation—not really surprising, considering how many times the map of Europe’s been re-drawn over the past few centuries. Jon Vaughters has mentioned that having a core set of values can similarly draw a team together, and the team-building lesson hasn’t been lost on Columbia-HTC, either.

Stephen Roche in his Irish Champ AG2R kitWhile national affiliation is an important historical constant in a sport where teams, sponsors, and riders reshuffle yearly, the fact remains that it’s an increasingly outdated notion—and not just because the Tour hasn’t been contested by national squads since the ’60’s. Nicholas Roche, Heinrich Haussler, and Guido Trenti have each confounded the traditional notion of nationality, and even artificial changes aren’t hard to pull off when the situation requires.

When riders feel compelled to be the best rider from their country at an event it never ends well, as Paolo Bettini recently pointed out, and as Roche discovered first hand. It’s a problem even in America—lord knows how many US title races have been won by foreigners while Americans mark each other in the battle for least mediocre. Don’t even get me started on the Best Utah Rider jersey.

So while some nationalistic appeal might appear to be good business at first, any benefit will be short term as more professional international squads extend the performance gap. While Team Sky, the first major British outfit in a generation, overspent badly to bring in a home-grown Tour contender, they had the good sense to hedge the bet by placing him amongst a veteran, multi-national team, stocked with riders from similarly diverse squads—a move that paid off almost immediately in their 2010 campaign.

Deutschland Reaps the Doping Dividend

18 Aug

For riders not invited to the Vuelta and unlikely to fare well at Lombardy, the World Championships are now the primary concern, and, stuck with a comparatively runty team at the event, Andreas Kloeden has gone online to voice his crankiness.

Kloedi encouraged his fellow riders to “stop arguing on Internet” and earn more points through the rest of the season, before going on to trash the management of the German cycling federation over Twitter; unfortunately, at last check, the UCI did not award points for irony.

In all seriousness, though, if Kloeden’s looking for someone to blame for this predicament, the mirror would be a good place to start. Dismiss the field trip to Freiburg as mere allegation and you’ll still have to explain the Lost Generation of caught and convicted countrymen and teammates that came up under his tutelage—restarting a career on some second-tier outfit is no way to rack up UCI points for your national squad.

Maybe if he and the still-delusional Ullrich had made some effort to instill some ethical foundation in up-and-coming riders, there wouldn’t be this pallid miasma hovering over the world of German cycling. Even riders who are almost certainly clean endure daily the scourge of a skeptical fanbase and reluctant sponsors—is it any wonder the most consistently successful German rider of this generation has been riding for non-German teams the entirety of his professional carrer?

Voigt himself has expressed sadness that the last German ProTour team is disbanding, but I think he’s too quick to forget the crowds on l’Alpe in ’04. Nationalism, even of the benign sort, isn’t good business practice. Cycling’s a business, and international teams and sponsorships bring the sport more money and greater exposure; I have no doubt that more reliable paychecks and happier teammates will see both Gerald Ciolek and Linus Gerdemann will perform better on foreign registered squads next season.

With the continued inexorable progression of the Armstrong investigation, it might be suggested that German cycling is undergoing a dry run of what the sport in America will experience when the curtain is finally pulled back on the Bruyneel Era. But I think otherwise; along with the proliferation of top-level American teams has come an attitude, most prominently proselytized by Garmin’s Jon Vaughters that commitment to clean competition trumps results.

A welcoming environment for “the guys who said no” and a longer-term definition of success have already begun paying dividends, both for the squad—consider Dan Martin’s recent wins at Poland and Varesine—and for American cycling, whose Worlds team boasts a full roster, despite what was essentially a non-season for the US’ historic UCI points winner.

So when Bernhard Kohl, one of Kloeden’s former understudies at T-Mobile, insists it’s impossible to win without doping, his assessment is—perhaps in reflection of the environment he came up in—woefully shortsighted. One only need gaze upon the disasterous state of the cycling in Germany to see how much more successful Slipstream’s winless ’08 Tour was than the dope-riddled campaign waged by Kohl’s Gerolsteiner squad that same year.

Longer-Term Investments

17 Aug

I’m wondering who’s more surprised about Ricco’s move to Vacansoleil—fans, journalists, or the rider himself. Ricco seemed pretty sure about going to Quick.Step only a few short days ago, but as press agents anywhere can tell you, the great advantage to leaking information rather than making an above-board announcement is plausible deniability.

That said, the not-so-recently-returned Italian’s marriage to either team hardly represents particularly deep planning. Quick.Step is where GC riders have repeatedly gone to die; while plenty of fans and many in the peloton seem to think that wouldn’t be so bad, I’m doubting Ricco is particularly excited about the prospect. Vacansoleil and Ricco do each have an interest in getting invited to higher-profile races, but I just don’t see how an ostracized ex-doper make a second-tier squad with a history of being snubbed improve each others’ appeal.

But then again, maybe I’m not giving the value of a big-name signing the weight it truly deserves. Despite a lackluster season and advancing age, Carlos Sastre still makes a newsworthy title signing for a new team sponsor. Robbie McEwen, 38 years young and barely managing a footnote of a win this year, claims to have at least interest from other teams.

Vino waiting for the dope control at the 2007 Tour de FranceI hesitate to mention Vino’s recently-announced re-signing; unlike Sastre and McEwen, he’s had a fantastic season, and I think most fans were aware the Vino-4-Ever jersey wasn’t merely a statement of Astana’s faith in their homegrown talent, but also the official terms of his contract.

But as a larger trend, it seems that retirement has been going out of style as of late. One wonders if the popularity of Comeback 2.0 didn’t play something of a role in that; Armstrong’s performance at the 2009 Tour certainly may have emboldened a few riders to try and compete at a higher level than they’d otherwise planned, and he certainly didn’t hold back in exploring new technologies to achieve that end.

Lance’s small-door exit at this year’s TdF may have attracted additional interest as well; after years of suffering at the Texan’s hands in head-to-head competition, a generation of riders may find a measure of revenge in being able to carry on with high-level performances at an age where Armstrong was forced to unceremoniously throw in the towel.

Regardless of the motivations of riders and teams, though, one thing seems certain: a second post-Lance recession is unlikely. Fourteen applicants are competing for the remaining eight ProTour spots—a number that does not include Cervelo TestTeam, who will continue their thus-far successful strategy of circumventing the expense and frustration of the UCI’s red tape by focusing on producing results instead of bank guarantees.

Given the runty performance and unsteady funding delivered by the ProTour structure thus far, it’s a model the UCI might want to consider encouraging in the future.

The 2011 Cycling Broadcast Media Challenge

13 Aug

Do my eyes deceive me? Is there a piece critical of Lance Armstrong up on Versus.com? If it weren’t comparing him to Mel Gibson (hard to imagine the phone calls curiously absent from Armstrong’s emails with Floyd and Dr. Kay were anywhere near that bad) or erroneously claiming that Armstrong smashed Floyd’s (or Armstrong’s own non-existant) 2006 trophy, I might actually be impressed about the fact that it’s there.

Over at Universal Sports, BikeSnobNYC has continued his blogging as well. He’s a sharp enough writer that I can almost overlook his misattribution of Sungard’s sponsorship to promises of a Contador Grand Slam; Sungard’s sponsor affiliation with Saxo dates back to the beginning of this year, and their move to title sponsor was pretty much a given long before Contador’s third Tour win, let alone the Spaniard’s (and his most trusted domestiques’) acquisition by Riis.

What it almost seems like is that Versus and US are competing to retain viewer interest at least through the Vuelta a Espana, which begins later this month. It’d be a fairly unprecedented move, especially considering that Team RadioShack (whose marketing machinery all but declared the season over in July) will not be attending. I say “almost” because it appears Versus hasn’t updated their cycling schedule since before the Tour and probably isn’t even broadcasting the race.

While Universal Sports will indeed be offering live video coverage of the event, it’s doubtful, given the criticism of both usability and level of commentary during their Giro broadcasts, that anyone will elect to pay the $15 dollars when so many easier-to-use sites are giving away better commentary for free.

At any rate, since both NBC Universal and Versus are owned by the same cable megalopoly—and have their online video services delivered by the same company—it’s hard to imagine that we, as consumers, would see any benefit from market competition between the two broadcasters.

All of this leaves me scratching my head at why Versus or Universal Sports even bother. I can’t imagine BikeSnob or whoever the heck Gerard Wright is cost much, but they must cost something. Why continue to spend money when you know better professional outlets, fan-based efforts, and a few tech-savvy pirates are going to bury you in terms of both coverage and quality during non-Tour events?

Even with an American winner defending his title at Vattenfalls, or the best-known American squad fighting to make a point at Tour l’Ain, I can’t find anything about either race on either company’s website. I can’t imagine lip-service text posts—without at least a tip of the hat to ongoing racing—are going to convince fans that the two legitimate US broadcasters are in any way serious about the sport.

I’m guessing that Joel Felicio or whoever has his job at Universal Sports would counter by saying that without them, there’d be no cycling for American audiences. But that’s just not true anymore; even Lance Armstrong, who’s made tweets I can’t find about how he never pirates music, knows where to find coverage if legitimate sources don’t make an effort to cover it.

My challenge to both Versus and US is this: take 2011 off. You say you’re tired of having fans tear you down for your hard work, so stop doing it. If it’s too hard to find advertisers, or if too few people are watching, or if no one will pay for anything online, it would make sense to stop, right?

So just don’t bid for exclusive US or online rights to any major cycling events —the only real thing limiting other video to Eastern European dudes with screencast software—for one year, and let an open and competitive market determine the future of cycling coverage.

Then, in 2012, you’ll have your change to come back and prove to everyone that you’re doing the best job possible, and that most criticism against you is levied based on spite and delusion. If you have as much confidence in your opinion as I have in mine, you should be as eager as I am to see this little experiment take place.

Team RadioShack Race Radio Redub

10 Aug

This isn’t my best work, but considering the source material—audio from the Nike US Postal documentary The Road To Paris, an old RadioShack mobile phone ad from 1990, and a brief clip from Floyd Landis’ Nighline interview—it’s not too awful.

I’d hoped to scrape some more goodies from The Lance Chronicles, but Floyd and the radios just don’t come up all that much.

Some blame should also go to @mmmaiko for coming up with the idea (kinda).

Old-Style Racing

9 Aug

Dan Martin wins a stageThe number one thing mentioned by Americans racing in Europe isn’t the higher level of competition, or the bigger crowds, or the greater exposure, but the races themselves.

Euro Junior courses are so burley that “even the pro guys would protest” if people tried to put them on in the States, and Ted King frequently states the level of focus required to negotiate a course like Liege or Amstel makes Euro cycling “virtually a different sport“.

But, y’know, there are times when that kind of cutthroat racing seems limited to one-days in Belgium and the Netherlands—or at least that’s the impression one gets when the Tour de France peloton absolutely wets its britches when they’re forced to battle the chaotic thoroughfares of the low countries. With high mountains and long time trials, plus prizes and stages segmented out for riders of practically any different ability, stage races have become civilized, almost parliamentary, in how they produce winners.

Fortunately, there are events like the Tour of Poland to keep that seat-of-the-pants brand of racing alive in multi-day comptetions. Those unsatisfied with the post-Tour race offerings—especially fans of the spring classics—should consider Poland mandatory viewing. Lunatic grades to compete with anything at Fleche Wallonne, roads as narrow as the Netherlands, but with poor design and worse maintenance—enough that the kicker humps and gravelly patches make it so even solo breakaways can’t pedal some sections. Add to that truly demented finishing circuits and late-day starts and you’ve got a recipe for exciting, unpredictable racing that favors aggression.

One of the Eurosport commentators—David Harmon, I think—referred to it as “old-style racing”, and I’m inclined to agree. Even speaking as a radio-positive commentator, I’ll admit that there is a certain purity to racing where the selections come up quickly, and where success relies as much on skill and nerve as watts and the team car.

While the risks to the riders might be a little much over the course of a week (there’s a reason DePanne is only three days), I think the win at a race like Poland speaks more about the character of its winner—in this case, Garmin’s long-tabbed Irish talent Dan Martin—than the prestige of the event would suggest.