Archive | September, 2010

The Story of Some Spanish Positives

30 Sep

Anti-Doping Control Room SignJeez, why can’t people get caught doping with anything normal anymore? I don’t particularly trust Joe Papp, but as far as assessing the effects of performance-enhancing substances go, I’m more than willing to defer to his expertise.

Despite my own initial response, Contador’s statement that his Clenbuterol positive was the result of contaminated food certainly seems to have legs. The drug’s primary performance enhancing effect is largely fat management, something the still-three-time Tour winner has never struggled with.

Cases of Clenbuterol contamination among the food supply are well documented, and the amount detected is so small that Contador’s B sample might just come up clear, avoiding what will almost certainly be a messy, protracted legal dispute about what should count as a positive test, and what should qualify one for the Nazi Frogmen exemption.

And frankly, I hope that’s how it turns out. Anti-doping efforts have come a long way since another Spanish Tour champion, Pedro Delgado, tested positive for a not-yet-banned substance with an obvious PED-masking effect and was allowed to continue without sanction. If what’s reported on this case is true, Contador’s A-sample turns that scenario fully on its head, and hopefully, the system’s mechanisms for fairness will prove as effective (at least in this instance) as the mechanisms for detection.

I’m also impressed with how well Contador has presented himself in the face of this scrutiny, especially given his lousy media relations in the past. Granted, he’s had over a month to go over how to confront the issue, but, assuming his statements are true, it’s tough to imagine a more gut-wrenching twist for a rider who missed a Tour when his DS was caught in a dope doctor’s office with 50,000 EUR straight cash, was gifted his first Tour win the next year through an extra-judicial doping ejection, was arbitrarily denied a start 12 months later, and essentially raced alone against the entire peloton when the biggest celebrity in the history of cycling hijacked his team the following year.

Conversely, one has to wonder how another Spaniard, Ezequiel Mosquera, will handle news that he and a teammate have tested positive for a decidedly more effective chemical agent. Mosquera, who’s workman-turned-rockstar ascension was the story of this year’s Vuelta, now has to overcome the equally compelling narrative of a hard-worn rider at the end of his career crossing the line to try and maximize his chances in chasing down that one big win.

Media attention can be quite the double-edged sword in that regard, something Mosquera’s would-be employer just can’t seem to get its head around—unless, of course, Vacansoleil is trying to imply a little something about what’s included in the luxury camping trips it’s trying to advertize..

The New Professional Team Model

23 Sep

Taylor Phinney by flickr user OTBPhoto cc-by-ncI wrote (before my little break) about two investment approaches taken by various teams: a willingness to develop riders, and settle for good-not-great results in the process, versus full-on pressure to glean the best possible results immediately. I argued—using the example of Bernhard Kohl and the 2008 TdF—that while the first method may seem inferior, its long-term returns outweigh the short-term gains of the second approach.

Perhaps more evidence of that comes courtesy of Taylor Phinney’s recent decision to pledge the first few years of his for-real pro career to Team BMC. Phinney’s acquisition by Livestrong’s U23 squad was viewed something of a coup (as well as a personal swipe by Armstrong against Slipstream’s Jon Vaughters) back in 2008, and I think his contract decision is just as significant this time around.

While the recently-crowned US TT champ cited “mental security” and not having to fiddle with a new bike before he rips the legs of the world at the 2012 Olympics, I think the fact that RadioShack was assembled as one-shot profit-seeking vessel for Comeback 2.1 might also have something to do with it. I dunno—maybe looming disciplinary hearings and federal investigations for team management aren’t the deterrent I’m assuming them to be, but RS 2011 doesn’t strike me as something I’d want the rest of my career to hinge on.

BMC, on the other hand, seems like a team taking a longer view of success. Though ostensibly built around Cadel Evans, the Aussie’s season-long approach to racing and long history of near misses (in many cases to the less-scrupulous) defies the RadioShack mold. Similarly, the rest of the team’s efforts have been day-in, day-out workman-life affairs, and beyond a brilliant pair of legs from Marcus Burghardt at the Tour de Suisse, more notable for misses than the wins.

It’s also worth noting that, organizationally, BMC began as a US Continental Squad, battling it out at decidedly less prestigious American and Suisse events. Sure, Och’ and Andy Riis might have had some atonement to do—an alleged “Floyd-brication” indicates as much—but it’s got to be re-assuring when sponsors and management are coming in on the ground floor, rather than throwing cash at an existing product and hoping for an immediate return.

While the Phinney signing seems to add further evidence that starting small and building your way up (remember that Garmin kicked off as as a minor US development team in 2003), both BMC and Garmin also illustrate that at some point, you’ve got to try and make that jump to becoming a full-fledged international squad. Though the team put on an excellent show at the Tour this summer, BBox’s inability to land a sponsor for next season should provide ample warning on the dangers of languishing in a particular niche for too long.

La Vuelta: Training Race No More

10 Sep

La Vuelta Start LineDid I miss something while I was away getting my legs torn off over Labor Day weekend? Last time I checked, the Vuelta, especially for sprinters and one-day Worlds contenders, was a drop-in, drop-out sort of event. Certainly, the last three years of points champions haven’t fared nearly as well at other high-profile events.

But not only are the big names sticking around this year, they’re also to determined to finish the race, even deigning to focus on performance, rather than writing the Grand Tour off as “training”.

You’ve got to wonder if Cav’s riding—a few paces below his usual standard—plays into his decision to stick it out to Madrid and battle for every sprint along the way. This Vuelta certainly hasn’t done much to dismiss the notion that he’s a bit soft in the opening stages of Grand Tours, and as a dude who can get emotional in slumps, he might just want to get his confidence back before worlds.

Even among the GC contenders, the race is an all-in affair. The only real knock to be laid against it this season is that fewer of the big stage race names are competing; they seem to think that starting a season in February absolves one of any responsibility of racing past July. Because Eddy Merckx never won Het Volk and Worlds in the same season or anything like that.

On the whole, though, I think it’s fantastic to see a full plate of riders intending to go all out though the end of the season’s final Grand Tour. Sticking it out through races will always rate highly at Cyclocosm, and I think both the fans and race organizers would agree that the 2010 Vuelta has been much better for the change in philosophy.

Of course, I can’t help but think the race-the-Vuelta-hard approach got a serious shot in the arm last year, when Cadel Evans turned a near-miss performance at the Vuelta into a rainbow kit. Lord only knows what sorts of training techniques we’ll see next season if Pippo Pozatto finds himself on the top step of the podium in Geelong.

Worlds And An Open Vuleta

2 Sep

Tyler Farrar signs into a raceWell, so much for that analysis—I was pretty sure Farrar’s legs were getting soggy after a full plate of classics, three Grand Tours, and some late season one-days. But he got a pretty good amount of daylight in winning yesterday’s Vuelta stage—hardly the victory of a man beaten back by a season’s worth of effort.

Apparently an attempt at the World Title attempt is still in the cards, but unlike some other riders I could name, Farrar’s taking a real wait-and-see approach in sizing up his chances. I suppose it’s encouraging—from an American prospective, anyway—that he taking such a well-reasoned approach, but on the other hand, when a cyclist who can win long one-days is on form, parcours tends to lose relevance, as Cancellara’s Flanders/Roubaix double and Gilbert’s dual conquests at Paris-Tours and Tour of Lombardy last season, show.

Speaking of Gilbert, he’s put forth some pretty solid evidence of form heading into the end of this season—even if today’s setup in the truncated group sprint didn’t go so well. Taking the race lead on a stage tailored to his strengths was good, but far more impressive was his retention of the red kit on a stage that was not. While it’s almost certain that Gilbert will not be sticking around through the end of the event, a very interesting race is shaping up behind him, including several younger riders taking their first real shots in a Grand Tour.

That said, the argument could be made that this year’s Vuelta won’t have any sort of reliable GC picture before Stage 16 since all the prior mountain stages lacking a hilltop finish or multiple climbs, and the only TT doesn’t take place until Stage 17. I’m not quite that strict in my consideration of what makes a “real” mountain stage—especially after the GC changes on downhill finishes at this year’s Tour—but I will say that the this Vuelta will be unusually coy in revealing which riders have a shot at the top step of the Podium in Madrid.