Archive | January, 2011

Ball's in Your Court, McQuaid

31 Jan

NY Velocity has published a tremendous, unedited, transcript of Paul Kimmage’s interview with Floyd Landis. There’s a ton of information in there—stuff from Floyd accusing Oscar Pereiro of calling the kettle black to more details on that whole “blood down the drain” story—but what really struck me was this exchange:

Kimmage: How many of the decisions you made after that were coloured by this experience you’ve had with the UCI and their relationship with Lance? How big a factor was that in the decision you made to dope?

Landis: That’s all of it.

The real takeaway here should be that when the UCI arbitrarily decides to break one of its own rules—even one unrelated to doping—it invites riders to break the others. Pat McQuaid can talk about personal responsibility until the the cows come home, but the distance between not tapping into a bank guarantee and a rider re-injecting a liter of blood is a bit thinner than the sport’s governing body seems to realize.

McQuaid might do well to have a sitdown with Kimmage sometime in the near future. Perhaps the UCI President can be goaded into such an interview by the knowledge that, Lance Armstrong took the precisely opposite approach.

2011: A Record Year for Drama?

27 Jan

Contador InterviewDid I not mention a little something about there being plenty of room for forthcoming drama at the head of my last post? Good gravy, it’s been a busy week—and it’s only Thursday.

Leadoff: Alberto Contador gets a one-year suspension from the Spanish Federation, or RFEC for those of us who don’t like typing. The RFEC hasn’t announced it yet and won’t make it official until 9 February, Contador’s not talking about it until the 28th, though it’ll all be shuffleboard on the Lusitania if the ban ends upbackdated until last July.

If you’d think this might cause some conflict amongst late-season race organizers you’re clearly not Vuelta organizer Javier Gullien:

“We’d love it if Contador could race the Vuelta.”

Outside organizers, near universal-dissatisfying with the announcement has spun off all sorts of substories; lack of monetary clawback, impotent dissastifaction from the UCI (not that they’ve done anything about it in the areas they do control), calls for a Clenburterol threshold, and even messages of support.

Personally I don’t have much to say on it other than that, when I said I’d hoped the B-sample would come back clean (or conversely, massively and incontrovertibly positive), this was what I was trying to avoid. People seem to think positive tests are bad for the sport; the same logic would also say that indicting CEOs is bad for the economy.

No, the real damage is done when the sport can’t properly enforce its own rules. In the past, the standard for a one-year suspension via the Frogman Defense has been impressively high [pdf]; even if the REFC has no appreciation for stare decisis in the Contador case, they could at least pretend that it’s not a negotiation.

The impact of such an absurdly arbitrary judicial process is compounded because chaotic and whimsical decision-making elicits a reaction piece from pretty much everyone. I get the sense that all parties involved think they’ve put this to bed without losing too much face; it’s obvious to everyone else that they created a story that will never die.

Speaking of unending storylines, a certain seven-time Tour de France winner hasn’t been his usual media-savvy self lately. Armstrong recently took his ball and went home after a relatively tame question about a tweet, and two of the most prominent members of his inner circle couldn’t manage a compelling answer for why Armstrong teammate Yaroslav Popovych hadn’t been suspended while he’s an active target of a doping investigation. Hardly the work of a group that’s “not worried” or planning to bow out in style.

Trent LoweIf the Contador suspension sticks, and if Armstrong ends up getting indicted before (or even during) July, how thoroughly must the ASO be regretting last week’s snub of Carlos Sastre? He is, after all, the last Tour champ standing, and ironically enough, the only active Tour winner whose team was not invited to the race.

Of course, you could have it worse than the ASO—you could be Trent Lowe. To all the other young cyclists out there, a word of advice: don’t get into a public dispute with Jon Vaughters, and if you do, don’t bring a knife to that particular gunfight. We all laugh at Fabiani, but Foghorn has a fairly impressive set of palmares—what you’d expect as part of the the gold standard for legal teams in all of sports.

While I like Vaughters, it’s best to remember that there are shark teeth behind those sideburns. The very existence of Garmin-Cervelo—a (hopefully) clean and very American team in a European and still-dope-riddled sport—is a tribute to the man’s business savvy. But along with this comes a tremendously limited tolerance for inefficiency; while there are plenty of former Vaughter inefficiencies out there, most know better than to mix it up with the Turtleneck.

So if this January indicates nothing else, 2011 is going to be a banner year for Toto.

Tour Down Undermining

24 Jan

Bernhard EiselGoing to a take a bit of a break from the drama and talk about the TdU today. After all, there’s going to be about four weeks between now and the next biggish-kinda-deal event—and that fact is in no way unrelated to my thesis.

Bernhard Eisel recently made some comments that the UCI WorldTour—the sport’s top tier of competition—lacks a lot of unifying feautres; things like a leader’s jersey, a centralized media contact, and real, season-long relevance to the WorldTour points standings—for example, using them to determine caravan order.

You’d think Eisel’s concerns would come up later in the season, when there are actually some WorldTour rankings on which to base decisions, but I’m pretty sure the subject crossed the Austrian’s mind because he realized that as it stands, there’s no reason to contest the TdU earnest passion. It’s a WorldTour race in name only, and if the UCI is to have any hope of competing with the Grand Tour organizers, they need to realize that this is a very bad thing.

It’s not that the racing has been poor at the TdU. Quite the opposite, really—as per the Roche Hypothesis, the racing has been a bit “fiercer” than you might expect for a January race. Some even went so far as to see it’s the most enthusiastically contested you’ll see until July. But just how much of that is due to the top sprinters waiting for July is a matter of no inconsequential weight.

A top tier race ought to feature top tier riders who are on form, not top tier riders who are three months and fifteen pounds away from it. While Matt Goss, Andre Greipel and a few others with Grand Tour wins in their palmares looked like they put in earnest effort, for the most part, any given rider’s contribution to the event seemed to be in inverse proportion to their appearance fee.

With TdF invites coming out earlier than ever, it might be temping to see the TdU as teams’ one shot to impress the ASO’s selection committee. But given the outcome of this year’s announcement, I think it’s pretty clear that admission to the sport’s biggest stage will continue to be awarded—as it always has been—through intrigue, favoritism, and the whimsy of a few media titans back in Paris.

The UCI has long sought to decrease the influence of The Cartel in cycling, but slapping the WorldTour logo on races like the TdU is simply the wrong way to do it. While the UCI might like the exposure and (not to mention a nice slice of the 17 million AUD that goes into putting on the event), the UCI needs to realize comes at the expense of a watered-down brand.

Adding new names to the rolodex is one of the fun parts of following the sport. But outside once-in-a-generation contenders, it just shouldn’t be happening at events that claim to be the same level of competition as the Classics and Grand Tours. The more times little-known riders win at underwhelming, UCI-backed events, the more fans, sponsors and athletes will view the competing offerings of Grand Tour organizers as the true apex of international competition.

Floyd Landis Never Was A Master Of Timing

20 Jan

Floyd Landis on the TdG PodiumWhatever else you might think of Floyd Landis, you’ve gotta give him this—the dude does not hedge.

In 2006, he was totally and completely innocent—a clean rider from a pair of clean teams, mistakenly charged. “Positively False” was his now-smirkingly-appropriate campaign mantra. Then last year, his confessed his unequivocal guilt, and went on to catalogue in detail the transgressions of essentially every other cyclist he knew.

The past 24 hours produced a similarly unflinching turnaround. Yesterday, Landis announced he was retired. Among other choice soundbites from the de-jerseyed TdF champ: cleaning up cycling is “not my fight”; trying to get back into the sport is “more stress than it’s worth”; and finally, “I’m relatively sure this sport cannot be fixed, but that’s not my job”.

But then today? “[Y]ou’ve got to legalize doping“; “Just start over and let it be”; “Good people dope, bad people dope it’s just the way it was and the offence is not greater if you are an asshole or a saint”; “Monitor it and make sure people don’t hurt themselves”. Why, if the boy hadn’t just told me otherwise, I’d say he was was stressing about some sort of fight to fix the sport.

While I do like that Floyd is thinking outside the box, when a convicted doper claims “everybody else dopes and no one ever gets caught”, I still tend to view it with some skepticism. Surely Landis’ outburst today was brought on in part by news of the latest Armstrong allegations—but if there’s a message to be taken away from that piece—other than the implications of the HemAssist contingency, that is—it’s that the anti-doping authorities in the past have been woefully complicit in supporting dopers.

Dick PoundAs loathe as I am to give him credit, Dick Pound’s tenure at WADA was a forceful and groundbreaking step in the fight against that sort of lassitude. Since Pound’s arrival, more top names than I can count—Floyd Landis included—have gone down to doping positives. While the UCI and national federations at times leave a great deal to be desired, I’ve noted before that the overall trend is moving, ever more rapidly, in the right direction.

Instead of throwing his arms up in defeat, Floyd might want to consider the likely outcomes of today’s SI story. Popvych is probably going up the river—the slow pace of Italian justice not withstanding—and Don Catlin, who admits the odds against failing to confirm Armstrong’s three testosterone positives are lottery-ticket long, will likely be out of at least one job next year.

Bonnie Ford expects charges against Armsrong/Tailwind Sports about halfway through this year, and even Victor Conte and Around the Horn (15:25) are now suspicious of Armstrong. And need I remind you that the winner of three of the last four Tours currently has his head on the chopping block?

Unless Landis knows something we don’t, this sure doesn’t feel like the moment to say that “you’ve got to legalize doping” or that “cycling cannot be fixed”—not with the best-known and most deeply suspected rider in recent memory staring at a criminal indictment. The cynical reader might be inclined to think that Floyd’s attitude stems more from his own unemployed frustration than genuine concern for the sport or its athletes.

Shattering the Media Complacency

19 Jan

Trek Sign in Waterloo, WIAh—what a day. Floyd Landis retires, and immediately thereafter, a boatload of not-entirely-unfamiliar looking allegations against Lance Armstrong drop.

Looks like the real sporting press scooped their cycling-specific counterparts once again on today’s headlines (with one exception), but at least we’ve got BikeRadar, hard at work bringing us “Profile: Ben Coates“. My journo slang’s a bit rusty, but I’m pretty sure the term for that is a “wet kiss”.

A lot of people got a good, hearty kick out of CycleSport’s repriting of an email from TEAM LEoPARD/Trek that attempted to “guide” the media on styling the team’s name. But it shouldn’t take more than the first few lines of that Coates piece to realize that the Trek representative who sent that was dead serious—some companies’ influence extends well beyond ad income.

Big manufacturers are an all-too-frequent destination for a disturbing percentage of the staff at certain American cycling publications—and even I’ll admit to hesitating a bit before showing spine in the face of a future employer. I suppose you might consider the whims of advertisers something of a litmus test, with a publication’s editorial integrity being inversely proportional to their willingness to accept such requests.

Anyway—the latest Armstrong allegations. After much heralding, “the SI
article” is finally out in full, though the most ravenous Lance-hunters are going to be disappointed. In fact, it’s the USOC, Don Catlin, and a decidedly soft approach to dope test enforcement who come out looking the worst.

That said, there are a lot of new spins on pre-tread stories and sources about Armstrong’s alleged PED use. Mike Anderson, for example, who settled with Armstrong over undelivered funding for a bike shop and/or drugs in Girona, talks about cooking up elaborate ruses to trick unannounced testers.

Richard Virenque at the micStephen Swart and Landis, who’ve each talked about Armstrong and doping in the past, add new and interesting allegations. While they make pre-cancer Armstrong seem like a longer-term doper and a less-good rider (many others later vanquished by the Texan were apparently tooling on him with roughly equivalent hematocrit levels in the mid-90s), they don’t exactly hammer in any coffin nails.

In fact, when one takes them in concert with the prior testimony of Emma O’Reilly, Swart’s latest allegations are downright incongruous. If Armstrong was racing at a hematocrit in the mid-50s in 1995 (roughly in line with the Festina Team’s self-imposed and somewhat ridiculed limit), I find it very hard to believe Armstrong would let himself slide down to a mere 41 three years later. For that matter, given EPO’s near-legendary efficacy, I can’t imagine he’d be at all concerned about catching back up.

Similarly, those seeking the Texan’s scalp will find no smoking guns in a report that two of Armstrong’s on the 1990 US Junior Team claim they were given drugs by coaches. Unless I’m mistaken, this refers to the case brought by Greg Strock and Erich Kaiter. While their trial was covered by Velonews back in 2006, the magazine apparently never followed up—the only other appearance of Strock’s name on the VN website is in results from the 2009 Tour of Elk Grove.

That leaves us with three—(or is it four?)—new, disturbing, but still not damning tidbits. One: that Popovych and Team RadioShack (though not necessarily Lance Armstrong) were in contact and under the advisement of Dr. Michele Ferrari, at least as recently as 2009. This is well after Armstrong claims to have cut ties with the not-so-good doctor for, you know, appearances—because the Texan maintains the Italian wasn’t ever helping him dope.

Two: Armstrong at least had obtained “access” to HemAssist, an artificial oxygen carrier similar that reported to have been in Michael Rasmussen’s shoebox in 2002. While FDA trials ended in 1998, enough was around for studies in 2002 and 2004.

Three (and perhaps most alarming of all): the lab of Don Catlin, a pioneer in the scientific fight against doping, appears to have made some serious clerical errors in the handling of samples belonging to Armstrong between 1990 and 2000.

While none of the roughly 24 tests taken in that window drew a doping sanction, the records of five have simply vanished. Of the remainder, three tests were recorded as initially having T:E ratios well outside the legal range, though somewhat improbably, two of them failed to return positive results in a confirmation test; the “father of drug testing in sport” has yet to say anything about the third.

I suppose we’ll all know more about this tomorrow when the magazine actually hits newsstands The full article is now live. And there may be further developments, as I’m told some elements of the story threatened to bring too much heat for Sports Illustrated‘s editor to take, and might have to find their way to the public through a different route.

Factcheck: Adam Blythe

17 Jan

Baby Adam Blythe lays down some shredIt’s no secret that Philippe Gilbert can shred—especially when road heads downhill.

In 2009, he and then-teammate Cadel Evans put on a fantastic display of recklessness attempting a late-race escape at the Tour of Romandie. So no surprise here that he hit 74 miles an hour tearing down a training camp descent on the bumper of the team car.

Gilbert’s teammates were similarly unimpressed with the effort, and rattled off their own feats, with one in particular cocking my eyebrows: Adam Blythe’s claim of 73 mph on flat ground behind the team car.

Cyclists have been going very fast behind other vehicles for a long, long time, and with an absolute drafted speed record of 167 mph, the question isn’t really whether Blythe had the ability to do this, but whether he could have pulled it off on a standard road bike.

While chainrings can get pretty much as big as you need, I’m going to assume Blythe did this on a stock setup with a 53×11 top gear. According to the late Sheldon Brown’s gear calculator, that’s 10.1 meters per pedal revolution. 117 kph converts to 1,950 meters per minute; at 10.1 meters per pedal stroke, Blythe would need to turn out a little more than 193 pedalstrokes per minute.

That’s friggin’ fast, but not too far outside what you generally see in a track sprint. Given Blythe’s upbringing on the boards, and the fact that the Internet seems to think 200+ is no problem in a no-resistance sprint effort, I’d say it’s entirely reasonable. And under comparison some other drafted record attempts, it definitely holds up.

Mile-a-Minute Murphey’s famous ride was, according to Les Woodland, accomplished on a 104-inch gear. His 57.8 second mile effort translates to 99.5 kph, or 1,658 meters/minute. Using the .08 conversion from gear inches to meters development, that’s a fraction of a pedal stroke below 200 rpm—in fact higher than Adam Blythe’s cadence.

Conversely, Rompelburg’s record came on a gear offering a staggering 38.4 meters development—meaning he broke 268 kph turning a relatively pedestrian 129 rpm; this correlates well with research indicating the best cadence for power output is around 120rpm.

So to any of Blythe’s Omega Pharma-Lotto teammates who might feel inclined to snatch the youngsters’ record, your best bet is almost certainly to toss on a bigger chainring.

They Say The Season Starts This Week

13 Jan

TdU bannerUnless the spike in high-priority, all-caps emails on “LANCE ARMSRTONG’S FINAL RACE OUTSIDE THE US” have mislead me, a bunch of clowns in Switzerland who haven’t shoveled my driveway four times in the past two weeks seem to think the season is getting underway again.

Then again, I should count myself lucky that over-zealous and under-coordinated PR is worst of my concerns—I could end up having to pay $13,000 for their approval to write blog posts about how much they suck.

While I appreciate the contributions Australians have made to cycling—especially to race support requests—is a mid-January race really appropriate repayment? A FauxTour event in a month where storylines have historically been limited to doping and Jan Ullrich’s waistline comes across with all the sincerity of Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence.

With the UCI’s calendar already shipping the ProTour peloton off to Canada for a week, you’d think a mid-season jaunt to Australia would provide no greater challenge. Certainly the conditions of Aussie “winters” aren’t going to pose any obstacle, and might even be a welcome reprise from the mid-July heat.

I’m sure there’s no argument about the mid-January date from one Lance Armstrong, though, whose waning and increasingly embarrassing presence at bike races is the only reason PR flacks are stuffing my inbox in the first place.

Lance ArmstrongHis 38-year-old legs will no doubt appreciate the pace of a rusty peloton, and the beaming Australian summer will provide a brilliant backdrop for what is essentially a promotional appearance—because, as he’s long maintained, flying a private jet halfway around the world furthers the fight against cancer.

While the racing may yet prove strenuous for Armstrong, the media coverage certainly hasn’t. With stories breaking on a tiny fib about compensation, some potential retroactive testing, and the fact that he’s a lousy spokesman, the Texan fielded softballs about his legacy and whether or not he plans to win.

Even the task of simply recording responses seemed to much for the TdU press pool. When Armstrong was asked why it seemed like cyclists doped so much, an AP reporter (in addition to botching the seven-time Tour winner’s age) phrased his lede to suggest that the Texan believes drug testing itself compels riders to dope. The Sydney Morning Herald, taking the the exact same Armstrong quote, inferred he meant that riders dope because the sport is so hard.

While I award Armstrong no points for clarity, his actual meaning—that cycling’s stringent anti-doping efforts catch more dopers than other sports’ flimsy protocols—seemed easy enough to suss out from the other side of the planet. 2011 will clearly be a banner year for cycling coverage in the mainstream press.