Archive | March, 2013

Improving the "Credibility" of the MPCC

29 Mar

Script

(not verbatim, contains typos, and sometimes I go off-book)

What is the definition of credibility? In cycling, the term has largely become what you are not.  I am not glibly big-ringing myself to the top of Hautacam. I am not suing the living daylights out of every journalist and assistant who dares suggest that I used performance enhancing drugs.  I am not driving a car load of hormones and EPO across France for my sick mother-in-law.

I but I think it’s never a good idea to define yourself as a negative. I did not have sexual relations with that woman. I do not recall approving a shipment of Hawk missiles to Iran.  I was careful never to say that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack on America.

And thus it’s somewhat alarming to be barraged by a steady stream of what cyclists are not doing—even if, for the first time in recent memory, we have fairly solid reasons to believe they actually aren’t doing it.  But more alarmingly, the one body in cycling that is focused on racing clean—instead of catching people who are racing dirty—isn’t doing a whole lot to convince the rest of the world of i’s own credibility. I am speaking, of course, about the MPCC.

It pains me, somewhat, to put this organization in my crosshairs. After all, they were anti-doping before anti-doping was cool—formed in 2007  when only two Tour de France winners had been unceremoniously stripped of their titles post-race and when Lance Armstrong had still felt bad because we didn’t believe in miracles.. And to judge from their website—the snappily-titled domain is MPCC.unblog.fr—we’re still back in mid aughts sometime.

Now get that having your own domain name can be tricky—so it’s completely fair to start your site a place like unblog or blogspot or tumblr.

But after a certain point—when you start to get a critical mass of membership, when you start soliciting donations, when you have a reasonable expectation that media sites might start using you as a resource—it’s time to step it up to a “real” website, free from anyone else’s branding. The first thing I think when I see the MPCC’s site is “these guys are a disorganized bunch of doofers”. it doesn’t help that the site is exclusively in French, but I’m going to get to that later.

Let’s start by going back to the earliest entries on this page, from 2007. Where you might expect to find some sort of founding charter, or statement of principle we instead have a list of teams—several of which have different names or longer exist,  and a reference to a previous document—a never-enacted ethical charter discussed in 2005—which…I guess I’m supposed to spend another 20 minutes googling.

Scrolling up the page, I see a word doc press release and a bunch of organziational minutes articles requiring something called a “mot de passe”. Which…I mean, are you kidding me? Rasmussen has gotten in front of a camera and given down to the day details on his doping from at this exact moment in history, and yet you still can’t be bothered to let anyone else read your  meeting minutes? If that doesn’t scream credibility, I don’t know what does.

So let’s check out the “about page and—holy crap, some English!—nice! “Noticing that the decisions, relative to the ethics of their sport, and taken unanimously, by the”—ugh, look guys, I appreciate effort, but this isn’t how the language works. Subject, verb, object, repeat, it’s very simple. Lemme see if I can parse this down…”The Managers gathered to create a movement to operate any necessary means”. Yeah, I think you’re still going to have to workshop that.

But hey—you’ve got wristbands and a snappy slogan—”le Dopage ce suffit!”. That actually sounds pretty cool. And there are english ones to—”Doping that’s enough”. Look, as Inner Ring already pointed out that’s dangerously easy to suffix— Doping that’s enough…to win the Tour de France”. “Doping that’s enough…to make it as a professional cyclist”—but more concerningly, the idiom in English really carries a connotation that there is some acceptable limit to whatever it is that you’ve done enough of.

For example, if I were pouring milk on someone’s breakfast cereal, when I got to a certain point they’d say “that’s enough milk” and I’d stop pouring. But then next morning, if I began pouring milk on their cereal again, they wouldn’t be like “whoa, what are you doing!? I told you yesterday that was enough milk.” They’d sit there and watch me pour it until they had what they considered an acceptable level, and then they’d say “that’s enough”.

And while the phrase isn’t antiquated by any means, it does sound a bit like something the father character in a 1950s family sitcom would say to a rambunctious child, perhaps while smoking a pipe and taking the evening edition of the Post from his favorite easy chair. And haven’t we already gotten enough of that parochial bullshit from the UCI?

And it’s not just the website that’s the problem. Your Wikipedia page—that’s Wikipedia the Free Encyclopedia that anyone can edit, hint, hint—is all of three sentences long. Jon Vaughters, one of your more actively involved managers recently couldn’t say much about your group other than it was kind of like “a religion”—not a particularly compelling statement to a fan base repeatedly burned by taking things on faith.

But the real problem here isn’t what your current internet presence says to the fanbase. It’s what it says to people who might otherwise be fans, but who are put off by the stream of cyclist-on-drugs stories they get from lazy media outlets. Or worse, what it says to lazy reporters from

those lazy media outlets attempt to paint a balanced picture of the current state of affairs. And worst of all, it’s a readymade punchline for douchebag snark merchants like Deadspin.com.

So here’s what you gotta do, MPCC:

  1. Hire a real live Anglophone to translate your site. I respect that your organization was founded by French teams at a French race after a decade of French managers and riders had suffered the “peloton at two speeds.” But your sport is international, your mission is international, and your audience is international. Crisp, comprehensible English is the best way to reach as many of these people as possible.
  2. A mission statement. Talking points. An elevator pitch, something—anything but the “we agree with this previous thing that didn’t get approved” that currently serves as your group’s raison d’etre. “Le Dopage ça suffit” at least sounds like you have the political will and marketing ability to steer yourself in that direction, though as a monoglot, I can’t really say for certain.
  3. Protect your brand. MPCC is far too ambiguous to serve as a sole identifier, and already digital properties that should be yours are already pointing elsewhere. Crediblecycling.com, for example, points to a Facebook page with similar goals as your organization, but apparently no direct affiliation. if you’re going to be the central authority on the fact that clean bicycling racing is taking place, you can’t have have this sort off-message fragmentation—Wikipedia pages included.

And just to show that I really do believe in both the mission of your organization and the viability of my suggestions, I have purchased two domain names to advance the cause: crediblecycing.org and cyclismecredible.fr—which like most French things was far more expensive and almost certainly less useful.

These domains currently point to this rant page, but I will, upon adoptation of suggestions one and two above, be happy to apply them to your shiny new, useful website,  or donate fully them to your organization to be used in any way you see fit. Just send me an email–cosmo@cyclocosm.com.

How The Race Was Won – Gent-Wevelgem 2013

25 Mar

Echelons, a tremendously long break, inopportune flats and tumbles—it’s beginning to look a lot more like spring, despite the stubbornly wintery conditions in Northern Europe right now.

[click for iPad/iPhone/download]

Definitely a mixed bag for the favorites going into the Monuments next week: two abandons—one intentional, one not—a breakthrough win, and active, aggressive races for a bunch of potential spoilers. We’ll see who scoops up the Cadbury Eggs when the chips are down next Sunday.

Why Americans Can't Watch Cycling "On TV"

22 Mar

Script

(not verbatim, contains typos, and sometimes I go off-book)

A couple of weeks ago, Neal Rogers remarked he found it frustrating that despite the advanced technological achievements of these here United States, he still can’t watch bike racing “on TV”.

As you might guess by the tonality that offset it, I have a quarrel to pick generally with that last phrase. After all, a TV is just about $10 of RadioShack cables away from being oversized, power-hungry low resolution computer monitor—which, if the twitters and instagrams of last weekend are any indication, more and more of you are beginning to realize—and that’s a very good thing!

What is of far more concern to me are the connotations that come with TV as a medium—but I’ll get to that later. First, let’s just pretend you’ve all accepted that it doesn’t matter which screen displays your flickering images, and you’re a developing fan who wants check out today E3 Harelbeke, to see what this whole “Spring Classics” thing is about.

I suppose the first place that deserves mention is Cycling.tv, because back in 2005, I watched George Hincapie win KBK on my laptop from my bed, and it was pretty cool. To say it’s been downhill from there is an understatement, but limiting myself to the specific constraints of the scenario introduced above, you can’t watch on Cycling.TV because they don’t carry the race.

But that’s cool, y’know because I have this email in my inbox from Universal Sports, and it says “Watch Tom Boonen, Phillippe Gilbert, Fabian Cancellara & All Your Favorite Cyclists This Week”—they sent it with a picture of Brad Wiggins, but whatever—and right there, on the schedule, Gran Prix E3 Herlbeke—that’s not the name, but close enough. Gonna go to their website and check it out—and…not available for purchase?

So…just to be clear on this, you’ve secured exclusive US broadcast rights but you’re not selling the race? Forgive my lack of business school experience but isn’t the whole idea of producing a product to sell it to someone and make a profit? It’s like, I’m walking into Mellow Johnny’s bike shop, Exclusive US Dealer of Rapha, and—oh, sorry, those $800 bib shorts you want to buy? Sorry—they’re not for sale”. Are you guys on acid on something? Who told you this was a good idea—have I been struggling under the mistaken assumption that you weren’t out to deliberately piss off the fan base who, under ideal circumstances, would be giving you money

But hey—Universal Sports themselves told me on Twitter that they were outbid for US rights to RCS’s events—so that means the Giro, Lombardia, Sanremo,  it they went to…BeIN Sport? That’s a new one one me, but we can get to their website easy enough. We got news, video, TV Guide, several different soccer leagues—ok, “other sports”, I’ll just mouse over that—”volleyball, rugby, golf” nope—no cycling. Well, I’ll just go up here the search bar and a look for “cycling”; one result; “Armstrong Speaks—disgraced cyclist has agreed to appear on American talk show…well jesus, this is from five months ago. Ok, I’ll just track down BeIN’s iphone App in Google—yep, there’s the link, open in iTunes and —and there’s an alert window  “The item you've requested is not currently available in the U.S. store.”

And so, literally bereft of other options, I’m now stuck with one of a dozen or so illegal* streaming sites—procyclinglive.com, steephill.tv, fromsport.com, etc.—and in fact, if you were to Google “live cycling broadcasts” “streaming bike races” etc these pages — and not the actual legitimate rightsholders, will almost certainly dominant your results. So if you work in SEO or online marketing for one of the legitimate cycling broadcasters, please, consider yourself fired.

While journalists can’t get enough of cataloguing the sordid demise of their own profession, the successful method for selling content online is pretty much a closed case. Create an easy, immediate point of sale, charge a relatively painless price for small bits of your content, and then watch the money roll in. This isn’t a new idea—iTunes and the App store are pretty irrefutable examples; and if you’re a diligent Googler can find me applying the concept to cycling in a Podium Cafe comment from three years ago.

The fact that such an option continues to not exist at any of the legitimate outlets for watching cycling induces the sort of apoplexy that I generally reserve for Pat McQuaid quotes and Lance Armstrong denials. Cycling TV has no excuse—their attempt to sell quarterly and yearly packages with a schedule full of more holes than a LADA jersey is at best ingenuous and at worst an actionable example of bait and switch—especially when the overwhelming majority of their coverage consists of two-minute recaps.

But—and this is where I get back to the problem of  TV as a medium—BeIN and Universal Sports both want to insist that they are TV channels. And the problem with that is that TV is really, [expletive] expensive. In my occasional interactions with actual staff Universal/VS/ON, I’ve been quoted absurd numbers for producing a televised broadcast. $30,000 in transmission fees alone, paychecks for cameramen, studio time—and here’s the kicker—a fat four-million-dollar flat fee for TV and internet rights for the ASO’s 6 major events.

It will not surprise you, then, that these cycling operations almost invariably operate at a loss. TVs expense means it is inherently aimed a massive, captive audiences bringing tens of millions of eyeballs—which makes cycling, whose US audience for the Tour de France is barely in the hundreds of thousands, an extremely unappealing target for advertisers. Simply put, TV as it currently exist cannot meet the needs of its audience, and couldn’t turn a profit at all except for the way that cable television is sold in the united states.

If you read the FAQ at Universal Sports, you’ll see that you can, in fact, watch their races online—you just need to have a cable or satellite package that already carries their TV channel. This is because they can make way more money milking cab

le companies for network fees than they can selling your eyeballs, and these providers can in turn milk their customers on the high-priced cable or satellite packages they’d need to get nosebleed channels like Universal or BeIN in the first place

In short, the system works for everyone but the fans. Race organizers can charge broadcast license fees that the viewership doesn’t warrant, small channels can leverage this exclusive access to remain profitable even while overspending and under-delivering on niche content, and cable companies can continue to pay the outlandish network—so long as chumps like us, and other consumers of said hard-to-find content remain obsessed with seeing it “on TV”

But there is, dear listener, one hope—however faint. His name is Michele Aquarone, and in a few short years as the chief of RCS sports, he’s gained a reputation for creativity and progressiveness nearly unheard of in the archaic and byzantine apparatus that drives this sport. After a particularly brutal Tirreno-Adriatico stage, where fully a third of the field dropped out, he volunteered that as a race organizer he had gone too far—showing compassion for the riders that in previous generations, would have be written off as part of the business.

If there were some way to convey to him the sheer misery of feed-hopping at 8am on a Sunday, frantically closing popups, squinting at jumpy, over-compressed images, and struggling to pick out rider names in languages you don’t understand, he might just realize that it’s unreasonable to expect any sort of fanbase to develop when they consistently have to Taylor Phinney their way through such adversity. he might—maybe—look into a buyer with an actual interest in delivering Americans a proper viewing experience for his races.

It just so happens that Michele Acquarone is on twitter—@micacquarone-that’s m-i-c-a-c-q-u-a-r-o-n-e. Next time you can’t seem to find an enjoyable, legitimate source for one of his races, maybe you should drop him a line.

*(In strict terms, these sites themselves are not “illegal”; they provide links to the Russian (if the Cyrillic dialog boxes that occasionally pop-up in the feeds are any indication) hackers who re-broadcast European bike races. I also hasten to add that I don’t use the termn “illegal” as any sort of condemnation—without these sites, watching bike racing in the US would be even more difficult than it already is.)

How The Race Was Won – Milan-San Remo 2013

18 Mar

So, after some brief site downtime this week (I’m posting this on 3/22/13, but back-dating for the purposes of continuity, Cyclocosm is back—as is HTRWW. Still have a few fixes to make on the HTRWW Podcast feed, but we’ll get there.

How The Race Was Won – Milan-Sanremo 2013 from Cosmo Catalano on Vimeo.

[right click for iPad/iPhone/download]

On Dave Brailsford and "Innuendo"

14 Mar

Transcript

Hey there Internets—as I mentioned on Monday, I’m a little cranky this week and so I figured, what with my ample amounts of free time and top shelf home production facility, I might as well turn some of that angst into entertaining multimedia web content.

So I guess I want my first rant to be me going on record that I think Dave Brailsford is so right to hit back against the “innuendo’ directed at Team Sky from the “internet”. It’s so unfair that Brailsford’s squad should face this sort of thing —why I can’t think of another cyclist or team that anyone has ever associated with doping. And as for the Internet, it’s so out-of-place that they’d expressed an unfounded, mean spirited opinion about…nah, sorry bro—I’m [expletive] with you.  

Dave, I shouldn’t have to tell you—actually, I know I don’t have to tell you, I’m just doing it so as to make you look ridiculous—that since 1995, there are only three Tour de France winners—Carlos Sastre, Cadel Evans and your boy Wiggo—that haven’t been sanctioned, convicted, or through some method of due process definitively linked doping. In other words, my friend, innuendo comes with the fruitbowl.

But as someone who “writes things” on the “internet”, let me address your concerns more directly. First, this “Innuendo” as you put it, or the coy suggestion, often leveraged in the pursuit of humor, that your team might be doing so well due to the use of performance enhancing drugs is completely fair.  No one owes you taking you at your word just cuz—and frankly, you haven’t done much to engender faith in yourself.

You made a lot of noise coming  onto the scene about how you were going to do it differently, cleanly with doctors from the UK, or at least outside the european road scene. And for the most part, I think the reception was positive, if somewhat skeptical.  But you know, two years later, twenty-eleven Vuelta, you’ve hired a Geert Leinders, a career cycling doc, who probably doped one of your then-directeurs sportif, Stephen DeJongh back when they were both at Rabobank, and suddenly, some Kenyan kid no one had ever heard of outperforming your prize pig in the third biggest race in cycling. Give us a reason other than “because I said so” not to connect those dots.

And really this—THIS—is where you’ve screwed it up the most, Dave—communication. You couldn’t communicate hazing to a fratboy. When Leinders’ name started coming up last July, you didn’t immediately fire the dude. When people reminded you about him in September, you said (and I’m quoting) “I think we’re working on it”; by October, he was out the door, but you asserted that ”nothing wrong” had happened. It was not until earlier this week, practically 10 months later, that you took that one, that first step toward accountability and said that hiring the guy “was a mistake”.

But that’s ok, Dave, that’s ok. Because I’m here to help you. Believe it or not, I really like cycling, I want these rants to be as productive as they are entertaining. And most of all, I want to communicate the desires of cycling fans who actually buy the products sprawled across the jerseys of the spandex-clad denizens you command.

You want to get the Internet fanbase off your back? Follow this one rule: ask What Would Lance Armstrong Have Done, and then do the opposite.

You see, you’ve really backed yourself into this combative, us-or-them relationship with these vast groups of others “the media” “journalists” “the internet” “wankers”, and you just, you can’t hang out there. When you say “There are plenty of journalists who like to think that we’re at it”, you’re casting the very same “unfair” aspersions you decry in your online detractors. Nobody wants to think you’re “at it”; they want to think that you’re winning races because of brilliant tactics, clean, smart, training, and the best support crew money can by.

Maybe this stark dualism has the same root as your zero-tolerance policy—but I swear it really is possible to be “half-a-cheat”. Erik Zabel, for example, who mentored Mark Cavendish—winner of over half your team’s races last year—has admitted to doping early in his career and yet is otherwise known for being square and unassailable as his iconic flat-top haircut. David Millar, Damiano Cunego, essentially every American cyclist aged 30 or over—has dabbled in drugs, and managed to move on.

Some other Armstrong Manouvers you might want to cull from your playbook? Stop referencing irrelevant results—like saying 15 years leading a team to  dominance in three-minutes track events somehow equals clean Tour de France success. And hard work. Sure, it can be the difference, and sure, cycling has it’s share of Ivan Quarantas and Dario Pieris, but don’t insult your opponents work ethic and your fans intelligence by saying your rider won a race because he “wanted it more”.

So yeah—if you have any interest in improving things on the communications from, here are some next steps:

  1. explain, in detail, how an apparently dyed-in-the-wool dope doc like Leinders slipped through your extensive vetting program. You should do this with facts: how many other doctors did you consider, what criteria were used in a final decision, can anyone verify these things, etc.
  2. Ditch your zero tolerance policy. Everyone—even Wiggins—thinks its a stupid idea that perpetuates the Omerta and the sense that getting caught slash confessing is the real shame in doping, not the actual act itself. This way, you won’t have young, impressionable riders surrounded by dudes like Dario Cioni, who almost certainly has a past to talk about, but who can’t be honest for fear of losing his job.
  3. Do not take anything personally. It’s not personal. After the past 15 years, anyone in this sport thinking they’re going  get even the suggestion of the benefit of the doubt, is completely ignorant or clinically delusional. You’re going to be scathed, criticised, browbeaten, picked on, picked over and no matter how clean you are or transparent your make your process, some people will still not be convinced.

But given the still-radioactive fallout left over from the alternative, I don’t see how you can say that that’s not a very good thing.

How The Race Was Won – Paris-Nice 2013

11 Mar

Chris Horner thinks it’s the lesser of the two spring stage races this season, but I’m not going to let that deter me (mostly because of P-N’s convenient weekend finishing date). There were at least two interesting sprints, some intersting tactical riding in muck weather, and the usual mayhem that makes bike racing fun.

[right click for iPad/iPhone/download]

(There’s a page that has *all* the How The Race Was Won videos — have you told your friends, family, and coworkers about it yet?)

I’m not sure if I’ve made it clear before, but creating HTRWWs for stage races is no fun. There’s too much to cover, and I have to talk too fast, and there is a lot of progress-bar-slogging on the production side. You could, I suppose, attempt it every day, but that’s the sort of thing that would qualify as a full-time job.

But fear not—the relative frustration of producing this has gotten me in the proper mood for some good-old-fashioned ranting. Stay tuned.

How The Race Was Won – Strade Bianche 2013

4 Mar

(Fun FACT: did you know you there’s a page where you can scroll through all of the How The Race Was Won videos?)

There are times when it’s frustrating being on the other side of the world. A little trouble with the video (codecs, transcoding, slow capper upload speed) held up the Strade Bianche HTRWW by about 24 hours. Which is still pretty fast, all things considered.

[right-click to download]

I will shamefacedly concede that the delay did allow GCN to get a Strade Bianche “race report” video posted before I did. You should check out both videos, of course—with the advantage of actually being there they get a great look at the condition and feel of the gravel roads involved.