Archive | November, 2010

Forget Doping—Cycling's Media Problems Are Worse

30 Nov

Floyd Landis signs autographsIt’s strange, really—crafting a race strategy and timing that perfect attack doesn’t seem so different from devising a policy for dealing with the media and scheduling your tidbits to the press for maximum impact. And yet, cyclists and those involved in cycling seem to have a near-bottomless penchant for screwing it up.

Take Floyd Landis and his latest set of Postal doping allegations. Sure, they were European television interviews and mostly just expansions on previous statements, but come on, dude—Thanksgiving break? When the few people paying any attention to the news will have to make it past irresistible Black Friday newsoids to read your stuff? Why even bother?

The only explanation I can see is that ARD and France2 were booked solid two weeks ago when the US Press was bubbling with news of Novitzky’s Euro Trip, complete with all sorts of juicy, idiomatic quotes. At least Floyd can take some satisfaction that by timing his announcement at the start of the holiday shopping season, he’s forced Team RadioShack to put their single least popular t-shirt on sale. That’s hitting ’em in the wallet, all right.

Still, I suppose even Landis could give UCI president Pat McQuaid a primmer on media relations. Here we have one of the most epic whistleblowers in the history of the sport, and of course, McQuaid is threatening to sue him. Nothing says “I’m not protecting certain riders” like suing people who make accusations against them.

Pat McQuaid and Sean KellyEven in citing the “big names that have been found positive over the years”, McQuaid points an implicit finger at himself: Contador, Rasmussen, and even Landis weren’t deposed until well after the end of a certain Texan’s dominance.

In fact, the first Grand Tour title decided by a drug positive disqualification*—the ’05 Vuelta—was also the first held after Armstrong Retirement 1.0. Some might call that suspiciously close timing, especially considering how effectively Grand Tour winners have been busted since.

No, the proper way to respond this time around is to employ a little close reading. Landis’ allegations against the UCI could very easily be taken as a “well, everybody knew there were protected riders” sort of statement, worthy of a Pope Apology along the lines of “we’re sorry Floyd feels that way”.

After all, current intel seems to suggest that the UCI will take little damage, if any, from the Armstrong investigation, and given the time frame of Landis’ allegations, any blame will be easy enough to shovel onto McQuaid’s predecessor, Hein Verbruggen.

Then again, it might be a little much to expect decent media performance from a man who violated a sporting boycott cited as one of the most effective measures against apartheid (and still claims not to regret it), declared that every nation West of the Rhine and south of the Channel is culturally part of the “mafia”, and straight-up denied to the German press (yesterday’s comments notwithstanding) that Michael Rasmussen had committed a doping offense.

Top Tube Pads: The Future of CX?

28 Nov

Chris Horner has never been an adherent to cyclocross orthodoxy. From top-mount levers, to paired-spoke wheels, to a whole lot of other things, Horner has always marched to the beat of his own drummer when racing on the dirt.

But at Friday’s Jingle Cross in Iowa City, Horner debuted another CX innovation:
Chris Horner's Top Tube Pad detail
(original image from Velonews, by Steve Fry. Thanks to Dave Chiu for the catch.)

Yes, that’s a top tube pad on Horner’s cross bike. Discussion points:

  • Is it for handlebar protection—perhaps the new Treks take a bars-to-top-tube impact less well than every Cannondale ever?
  • Is it a nod to urban style—could its presence on the bike of a marquee rider signal a new trend in racing machines?
  • Is it for actual urban riding—is this rig doing double-duty as a commuter, with a pad to protect the paint from Bend’s many bike racks? If so, why didn’t Trek just give him a Presidio?
  • Is it for brand protection—it obscures where the “XO” graphics would be on a stock Trek cross bike, and certainly seems to lack the questionable down-tube cable routing of the XO series.
  • Is it for grundle/man parts protection—the importance of this should not be understated.
  • Is it for shoulder protection while carrying—Horner has broken a few things up there over the past season or two and may want a little extra padding.
  • If either of the last two items, does this mean Horner has rethought the viability of Step-and-Hop Mounts and Hoisting the Ladder, once staples of his unique cyclocross style?

The Pistolero Steakhouse T-Shirt

12 Nov

Pistolero Steakhouse T-Shirt DetailI don’t know about you, but I’m tired of Norwegians telling me what to think.

Take Thor Hushovd getting his knickers in a twist because of the local support Alberto Contador has received since his positive dope test. Just because most of his fans are too busy being employed to flood into the streets is no reason for the reigning world champion to be bitter.

And then there’s the head of the Norwegian cycling federation saying that his counterparts in Spain won’t give Contador proper scrutiny. First, other nations haven’t exactly been stringent, and second, hasn’t dumping the blame for the world’s cycling problems on Spain gone out of style yet? McQuaid’s been on that gripe for almost four years now.

Well, now’s your time to fight back against over-reaching “Anglo-Saxons” (to borrow McQuaid’s terminology). As you may or may not know, Contador is turning the media attention surrounding his misfortune into positive marketing by opening chain of upscale restaurants, and Cyclocosm has been chosen as the exclusive US distributor of their promotional apparel.

So this morning, I am proud to offer you your first opportunity at buying the official Pistolero Steakhouse t-shirt. It’s printed on an American Apparel tee, and I’ve switched printing methods to something a little more flexible and breathable than the previous designs.

Poor Communication On Either Side Of The Atlantic

4 Nov

Communication is highly underrated. Take my recent dust-up with The Atlantic over a deleted comment on their not-initially-so-accurate history of blood doping.

With no direct contact emails for authors and editors, a reluctance to respond to @replies or Tumblr inquiries, and a Memory Hole-esque contact form as the only institutional recourse, that magazine makes it very hard to open any sort of communication channel. Whether you take this to be intentional or not depends on your level of cynicism—certainly, it’s no way to endear yourself to a blogger.

I did finally manage to get in touch with the author, who actually talked with me to smooth out the wrinkles in the piece, and revealed that—as predicted— the comment had been deleted due to the number of links in it.

While I could question the wisdom of not documenting this anti-spam feature, or of attempting to block commenters who bother to cite their sources, I’ll instead stick with the message that, had the magazine simply been easier to contact, my flaming would have been far less intense, and the article would have been improved a whole lot sooner.

Multiply the difficulty of communicating with The Atlantic by about a billion, and you’ll get roughly the challenge presented by any sort of communication with the UCI. I really do appreciate Michael Ashenden’s NYVelocity interviews, but he shouldn’t be “taken aback by how poorly” both a scientist and a leading cycling publication understand the finer points of the Biological Passport; the UCI has done nothing to communicate them.

The governing body’s own documentation on the project is scattered, nearly illegible (gray on gray!), and hardly detailed. A sparse FAQ, and an in-depth WADA outline for a generic bio passport program leave a lot to be desired. Such total disregard toward informing anyone outside the process (riders, fans, media, researchers for The Atlantic, etc.) is no way to win support for a controversial program, and it probably doesn’t help in the courtroom, either.

UCI President Pat McQuaid awarding something to someoneSure, the UCI isn’t awash in cash. But what would it cost them to hire a freelance writer to untangle that rat’s nest of an FAQ? The RadioShack jersey fine alone would pay for a microsite and a decent design team to create an informative, user-friendly interface for the entire Bio Passport operation, plus a couple of nice infographics to help this pill of a program go down.

In fact, if the UCI had any sort of communications savvy, it would be making the entire program—statistical formulae included—completely open for scrutiny and re-use. The AFLD has apparentlyburied the hatchet in its dispute with the UCI, and they’re the only group I could imagine “stealing” a doping suspicion algorithm and setting up a competing project. If the UCI’s blood passport algorithm were made open by design, and then adopted by other sports, the UCI would have an ironclad talking point that cycling was leading the way in the fight against doping.

But sadly, communication is not an art form well-respected in the backhalls of Aigle, where top-down management is fetishized to a point that might just make Josef Stalin blush. One almost gets the feeling that negative user feedback only stiffens the UCI’s resolve to maintain the status quo, if for no other reason than to remind the world that they—and not the athletes, organizers, or fans they allegedly serve—are the real authority around here.

I’d love to attribute this non-communicative stubbornness to the entrenched attitude of privilege inherent in many European governing bodies, but sadly, it seems to pop up wherever a self-conscious authority feels threatened—on either side of The Atlantic.