Anyone who wishes to voice their opinion regarding the sentencing of Dr. Christopher Thomas Thompson has the opportunity to write an e-mail the District Attorney will forward to the judge. Sentencing will take place December 3, 2009, at the Airport Courthouse. Thompson faces a maximum term of 10 years after being convicted of six felonies and one misdemeanor following two attacks on cyclists.
For cyclists, below is a sample letter you can paste into an e-mail. If you believe Dr. Thompson was wrongfully convicted, you are welcome to send an e-mail using the link below, but you’ll have to write your own note.
Be sure to add your name and contact information. There’s not much time on this–send your e-mail by 10:00 p.m. Thursday.
To: The Honorable Judge Millington
Re: Sentencing Dr. Christopher Thomas Thompson
Dear Judge Millington,
I am writing to voice my support for the maximum possible sentence for Dr. Thompson following his conviction for six felonies and one misdemeanor.
I believe Dr. Thompson’s behavior in the events of July 4 and March 11, 2008, have demonstrated him to exhibit a wanton disregard for both the law and civilized society. He has no place on the streets, especially given the escalating nature of his crimes.
As a cyclist who has endured many close calls with cars, I feel a strong connection with Ron Peterson, Christian Stoehr, Patrick Watson and Josh Crosby, the victims of Dr. Thompson’s callous acts. Please send a message to Thompson and to drivers everywhere that malicious acts against cyclists will not be tolerated by the justice system.
Show cyclists that the justice system regards them as citizens with rights.
I implore you to give Dr. Thompson the maximum possible sentence.
E-mail your letter here.
Some things in this world are unlikely. Finding Bigfoot is pretty unlikely. So is peace in the Middle East. Other things are just impossible. Finding Bigfoot eating dinner at a diner with Elvis, safe to say, is impossible.
Somewhere in the middle of these two poles lies the possibility that the suit Greg LeMond has filed against Trek Bicycles and their countersuit against him will be settled out of court. LeMond, for better or worse, seems to want his day in court.
In broad strokes, the cases are pretty simple. LeMond is suing Trek for failing to “exert best efforts regarding the LeMond brand.” In realpeople speak that’s, ‘They didn’t sell enough of my bikes.’ Following LeMond’s suit, Trek countersued and terminated its licensing agreement in April of this year. Today, the Lemond Bicycles web site is a single page allowing purchasers to register their bikes for warranty.
The real issue here isn’t sales figures, it’s LeMond’s mouth. It’s roots are in a report that LeMond read in 2001 that revealed Lance Armstrong’s relationship with Michele Ferrari. To LeMond, who was very familiar with Ferrari’s past vis-à-vis doping, that relationship could only mean one thing: Lance was doping. There was a certain sort of logic to it. Say your best friend is John Gotti. And say you tell a newspaper that he has a great mind for business and he has helped you with some of your business dealings, a reasonable person could understandably come to the conclusion that you, my friend, are a mobster.
Does that give anyone the right to accuse you of being a mobster in public? Not unless he is a prosecutor preparing to bring charges under RICO against you. To be fair, LeMond hasn’t actually said, “Armstrong is on dope,” but if you take the body of statements LeMond has made, his belief is clear. Consider: “If Armstrong’s clean, it’s the greatest comeback. And if he’s not, then it’s the greatest fraud,” and “In the light of Lance’s relationship with Ferrari, I just don’t want to comment on this year’s Tour. This is not sour grapes. I’m disappointed in Lance, that’s all it is.”
Would you say that about an athlete you thought was clean?
So LeMond thinks Armstrong is a doper. Newsflash: he’s not alone. There are plenty of cycling fans, competitors and members of the media who think so as well. The difference is, with the exception of a guy named Walsh, they all have the good sense not to accuse someone of something if they lack proof.
This was LeMond’s downfall. Word on the street is that Armstrong placed Trek CEO John Burke in the unenviable position of needing to mediate between the only two American Tour de France winners. Burke asked LeMond to temper his statements and confine them to speaking generally about doping. LeMond was unable to.
The case before Judge Richard Kyle has gone far afield. LeMond is notoriously unpleasant to do business with (an inside source pegs him as the downfall of the Clark Kent brand and the near failure of the paint and restoration company CyclArt), in part because he is unafraid of litigation. One former business associate who asked to remain anonymous used a single word to describe him: “Nightmare.”
Were the case really about the bikes, Lance Armstrong’s ex-wife, Kristin Armstrong would not have been deposed, nor would he have showed up at an Armstrong press conference to question him about his planned anti-doping program. In short, LeMond is attempting to make the case about Armstrong rather than his dissatisfaction with Trek’s efforts to sell his brand.
In an interview with the New York Daily News, LeMond attempted to cast his concern about doping in general and EPO in specific as a concern for athletes. He cited the deaths of more than 100 cyclists who are believed to have been taking EPO. However, LeMond never brought up his concern before the controversy with Armstrong. Put another way, have you ever heard LeMond mention the name of Johannes Draaijer, a Dutch cyclist on EPO, who had a heart attack and died in his sleep?
Trek claims it has done right by LeMond and that the relationship was lucrative for both. Since 1995, Trek reports it has earned more than $100 million, delivering some $5 million to LeMond’s coffers. LeMond points to a meager $10,393 in sales (possibly fewer than five bikes) in France between 2001 and 2007. Given the success of Bernard Hinault’s line of bikes in the United States, one can ask if LeMond could reasonably expect to do more in France.
What’s that you say? Hinault isn’t a household name in America? True, but nearly anyone willing to spend more than $2000 on a bicycle (only one bike in the LeMond line retailed for less than $2000) knows the Hinault name. And while LeMond may have had a large fan base in France, it can’t compare to the legions that adore Hinault in his home country. Fair comparison.
The point? LeMond’s case seems rather weak. I’ve written on this once before, for Slowtwitch. And while I’d rather see LeMond leave Armstrong alone—and addressed an open letter to him on Road Bike Action’s site—that’s really what this case is about.
But, you ask, what does Armstrong’s alleged doping have to do with LeMond’s bike business? LeMond will tell you it has everything to do with it. If LeMond can demonstrate to the court that Armstrong has doped, then he can demonstrate that Armstrong had motivation to have LeMond silenced. But what could silence LeMond? How about the threat of the shelving of his brand?
In short, LeMond will turn this case into an accusation of extortion against John Burke and Lance Armstrong. His legal team has already deposed Armstrong’s ex-wife; don’t think for a second that he won’t at least try to depose Mr. Seven.
The real question isn’t what LeMond and his legal team will reveal about Armstrong and his alleged doping but rather what LeMond’s actual motivation is. While it is conceivable that LeMond and his team could find a person or persons to allege doping on Armstrong’s part, finding definitive proof that Armstrong doped is as likely as finding Buggs Bunny sharing a slice of pie with Elvis and Bigfoot at our aforementioned diner.
Given the difficulty of the challenge facing LeMond, one must wonder what his motivation truly is. It can’t be exposing the danger of EPO, otherwise he would have been speaking out against EPO use more forcefully earlier. LeMond didn’t have a lot to say during the Festina Affair in 1998, yet just three years later, he had a lot to say about the second American to win the Tour de France three times.
That’s the rub: LeMond’s legacy. While this is pure conjecture on my part, no other explanation makes sense of the energy and money LeMond has sunk into this case. While the psychic toll this case has taken on his family can’t be calculated—it was enough, though, that Kathy LeMond sat across from Kristin Armstrong during her deposition (one wonders who was more unnerved by Mrs. LeMond’s presence)—the cost in legal fees can, and is said to be at or above seven figures.
If LeMond can impeach Armstrong and demonstrate a strong likelihood that he doped during his seven Tour de France wins, LeMond could win two things. First, he could show that in silencing LeMond and dropping his line, John Burke wasn’t acting in the best interest of the LeMond line. Second, by tearing down America’s most successful cyclist, LeMond will regain his rank as the best American cyclist.
But what’s the chance he’ll succeed, and even if he does, in whose eyes will he have won?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Cyclists, as a group, are a notoriously suspicious bunch. We wonder who’s on drugs, if that frame is as stiff as advertised, if that set of wheels is as light as claimed, if that sponsor is really “here to stay.” These days some cyclists’ greatest mistrust is reserved for practitioners of my particular crime—the bike industry media.
It wasn’t always that way.
There was a time when anything printed in a bike magazine was regarded as no less factual than the nutrition information on the side of a cereal box. The first crack in the plaster was the industry’s willingness to accept press releases with no evaluative insight. The practical effect was reporting on vaporwear—products that never actually hit production—as if they were already in production by only riding prototypes, or worse, occasionally not even riding prototypes. Reprinting press releases as passing them off as new product intros or sometimes even as product reviews.
The bike companies also became more sophisticated in telling their stories. In the 1990s a number of former bike magazine employees began working on advertising and marketing campaigns for some fairly high profile bike companies. While there was no crime in that, they gradually began to learn how to tell the story of their products to the media, the way they wanted it told.
The more the bike companies worked to craft their messages, the lazier some bike magazines got. Presented with a good story with a winning-sounding rationale, many magazines failed to filter the PowerPoint presentations for accuracy. The problem has rarely been that any company tried to sell the public on Superfund purée, but rather some claims were overstated enough that they didn’t pass the sniff test.
Today, the shorthand my friends use to satirize overstated claims could be seen in any road bike magazine: “torsionally stiff, yet vertically compliant.” It’s a fact that the most vertically compliant frames ever produced were also some of the least stiff torsionally. In the 1980s and ‘90s the challenge for road bike makers was to find a way to make a frame stiff at the bottom bracket. Once the hurdle to make a frame stiff enough at the bottom bracket that the front derailleur wouldn’t rub the chain in the big ring, we began to see front triangle twisting—torsional flex—as the next great problem. Gaining that stiffness has come at a price; vertical flex—compliance—has suffered. The ability of a frame to flex in the vertical plane is much lower than it was in the days of the Vitus aluminum frames or the early titanium frames from Merlin and Litespeed; heck a large frame made from Columbus SL had a fair amount of flex.
So every time a manufacturer makes claims of improved vertical compliance, many consumers snicker. On the other side, some bike industry types will tell you that everything is essentially the same. The truth is more complicated. Much more complicated.
My point isn’t to shatter myths (I don’t think there are that many out there); rather, I wish to acknowledge the elephant in the room. Consumers have a right to be a bit suspicious of the marketing copy that gets passed along as actual editorial, as well as comments on posts written by bike company employees passed off as extremely knowledgeable consumers who just happen to have drunk said Kool-Aid and adore, oh say, Trek’s product line without reserve.
I think one of the easiest ways to fall in the trap of suspicion is by adopting any one company’s rhetoric or terminology and applying that across the entire category of competitors. That is precisely why I wanted to wrest the conversation about sport versus grand touring geometry from manufacturer marketing copy. The surest way to make anyone think you have drunk the Kool-Aid is to measure Company A by Company B’s marketing copy.
Of course, in the rush to compete and differentiate, bike companies have resorted to such varied descriptions of their carbon fiber we are no longer attempting to compare apples and oranges, we’re now trying to compare rutabagas to trash cans. As a result, I’ve stopped trying to play the game. Trek talks about their carbon fiber in terms of grams per square meter. That’s a measure of weight and tells you nothing of the material’s strength or stiffness. Many companies only talk about the material’s modulus of elasticity—its stiffness—yet they talk in round terms of intermediate, high and ultra-high. How do I know if your ultra-high is my ultra-high?
Imagine going into car Dealership A and finding out their car gets 35 miles per gallon. You go into Dealership B and they tell you their car has 400 foot pounds of torque at 5000 rpm. Dealership C tells you their car has 250 horsepower. How do you compare those?
You can’t, which is why I try to talk about the road feel of every bike I ride. It’s hard to come up with truly objective terminology to use, but I think there’s a pretty clear delineation in feel as modulus increases.
My commitment to you as a reader is to do my best to slice through the marketing hype and write on what I have learned as clearly and fairly as possible. And if some bike company tries to hoodwink you by pumping their product in the comments section, I will do my best to out that person and company. I won’t censor comments, but I will do my best to make sure you know the context in which they should be viewed. The comments section will remain a place for honest conversation for the readers of RKP.
This past spring, I undertook an experiment. I asked Specialized to loan me two bicycles for a review. Not a shootout, mind you, but a review concerned with differentiation. As someone who has penned more than a few shootouts, the competition always results in a winner, which also means there are a few losers as well.
In my experience there aren’t many bikes that I’d call losers.
My point was to spend some serious time with the Specialized Tarmac and Roubaix models and try, in the clearest possible terms, to review them based on what each bike is and is not. They are different bikes, but the real question is how so? Specialized wouldn’t be offering two different bikes with the same basic carbon construction and the same componentry unless they offered reasonably differentiated experiences. Sure, you can rely on their marketing copy, but they have a vested interest in convincing you that there is a difference and one of those bikes is more appropriate to you than the other.
I went to Specialized because they were the first big company to offer two road bikes of different geometries with the same componentry and carbon fiber lay up. Prior to the introduction of the Roubaix, none of the bigger bike companies had offered a high-end road bike of alternate geometry.
Specialized has framed the difference as “competition” versus “endurance.” They aren’t bad terms, but they are terms I haven’t been comfortable using because if I discuss the difference between Cannondale’s Super Six and Synapse, then I appear to be examining two Cannondale bikes through a Specialized lens. That’s bound to go over as well as cyanide in soda.
There’s a basic question floating around this discussion. What does it matter? Why care?
In my case, it stems from a concern I’ve had about most American-designed road bikes for as long as I’ve been reviewing road bikes. The product managers and engineers at most American bike companies (at least the ones I’ve met) are current or former racers. Most carried a Cat. 1 or 2 license. The geometry of those companies’ top road bikes tends to excel at the needs of the racer.
Counter to that was my experience with most bikes imported from European manufacturers. Relatively speaking, most had a longer wheelbase, lower bottom bracket and more trail. They tended to carve lazier arcs through the turns of a criterium unless you countersteered with a bit of force but their easy maneuverability gave riders a calm, confident sense on descents.
The more I rode different bikes, the more I came to prefer those bikes that came from Europe, especially the Italian ones. I often wondered to what degree the riding and racing circumstances of the bike’s designer influenced how the bike rode. It took years and there were no super-clear answers, but eventually, I heard enough for me to believe I had confirmation of my curiosity. The importers for a few of the Italian lines did report that the bikes were designed to descend well in the Dolomites. And on more than one occasion American bike designers told me how important it was that the bottom bracket be high enough to allow a racer to pedal through a corner.
But now there is a new category of road bike and the larger philosophy behind why a company might want to offer a road bike with a different take on handling than their primary offering really hasn’t been discussed much. I’ve heard them called disease ride bikes, century bikes and as Specialized calls them, endurance road bikes.
If we don’t really know what to call them, or can’t agree on what to call them, then their place in the market is as marginal as that of a Velcro water slide. And to me, there is an immense value to this emerging category.
I had to look to the automotive world to find a parallel, but once I did it was billboard obvious: Sport vs. Grand Touring. For most of us, we need no one to help with the distinction of a sedan as opposed to a sports car, four doors instead of two.
The metaphor works on almost every level. A sedan is about a more comfortable ride and more leisurely handling; it doesn’t have the sharp cornering of a sports car, handling that can leave a driver feeling exhausted after a long trip on the freeway. And the stiffer suspension of most sports cars? An apt comparison as well. Most of the bikes that fall under this Grand Touring umbrella have a longer wheelbase and slacker head tube angle to give the rider a bit more vibration damping if not actual shock absorption.
Okay, so you’re not going to put a baby seat in the back or take everyone in the office to lunch, but you get the idea.
So here’s my thesis: In the way that compact bars are a smart response for those who don’t have pro-like flexibility and compact gearing is appropriate for those who can’t ride tempo at 28 mph four hours at a time, GT-geometry bikes are appropriate to the sort of riding that most recreational riders do.
In the next week I’ll be posting my reviews of the Specialized Tarmac Pro and Roubaix Pro and will offer a wrap-up afterward with what I learned from the experience.
Hi. My name is Robot, and I am an alcoholic. Fortunately, for me, I’ve been able to stay sober for the past seventeen years, much of that time with the help of a bicycle and the myriad benefits that particular piece of machinery bestows upon its frequent users.
I bring up my alcoholism to make a point about doping that I think escapes most who would judge a young rider harshly for straying down the garden path of EPO, CERA, Ozone, transfusions and testosterone trickery.
And that is, the dope can be addictive.
Bear with me now. When I was thirteen I was small, in fact the smallest kid in the class, and filled with social fear, much of which was based in the bullying I received at school. That same summer I drank a six pack of beer. Alcohol had the effect of doubling my size, sharpening my tongue and lowering my tolerance for the aforementioned bullying. Suddenly I was fearless, and fearlessness can be very compelling to an adolescent. Girls began to take interest in me. Boys began to respect me. I was crazy and funny and willing to abuse myself chemically to prove my mettle in the teen peloton.
Very quickly I developed a mental addiction to alcohol, rather than the physical addiction to alcohol marked by the shakes, hallucinations and possible cardiac arrest. I was in love with the feeling of being drunk and that feeling led me to all sorts of bad decisions with a burgeoning pile of consequences I struggled to contend with. At the end of my drinking I was blacking out for weeks at a time. Eventually, that loss of consciousness scared me badly enough to do what I needed to do to get clear of the demon liquor.
Right. Now lets run through that same story, but rather than the protagonist being a disaffected teen lets try a promising young cyclist, an amateur. He rides for a small but not insignificant club team that serves as a feeder to continental pro teams. Many of the club’s riders have made the jump to the pros after good results in kermis races or in amateur classics events.
One day this young pedaller is approached by his team’s manager or physio and offered an injection prior to a big race. The young rider is curious and acquiesces. He takes the shot, pulls up his bibs and murders his competition. When normally he might flag in the fourth hour of racing, relegating him to a pack finish, on this day he has the juice to follow the day’s final break, and he finishes third.
Encouraged by his finish and thrilled by the feeling of strength, he begins to make regular use of shots and potions, eventually settling into a pattern that catapults him up the amateur rankings and onto the radar of a number of pro teams.
At this point, he’s addicted to the feeling of power, speed and strength the dope gives him. He knows it’s wrong, but he fears that if he races clean he’ll get crushed, slip off the radar, slip out of cycling. Now he’s bouncing back and forth between the thrill of speed and power and the fear of crashing out of the sport. He continues on, and as he climbs the ladder from amateur to neo-pro to pro, he engages in more and more sophisticated doping programs.
Now his drug use is multi-faceted. He uses so he can feel strong, but he also has to maintain and mask his drugs. His body can’t simply stop being doped without serious risk to his health. On certain drugs, like EPO, riders run the risk of their blood thickening and clotting if they simply stop their program. They’re constantly being injected with anti-coagulants and being monitored for blood pressure issues.
Now our young rider has ALL the hallmarks of addiction. He is physically dependent on his program. He is mentally addicted to the results it produces and fearful of losing those results. And finally, his slow, steady descent into nefarious racing has caused him to lose sight of the ethical barriers that once would have kept him from ever taking that first step. Addiction is a gradual process. It rarely announces itself directly, but rather makes itself known by the accumulation of its consequences.
In my view, the great paradox of addiction is that you are at once powerless over that slow steady descent AND simultaneously, completely responsible for it. No one makes anyone stick a needle in their arm. And once you start down that path, as I did when I was thirteen, no one can make you stop except yourself.
Cycling has done a lot of positive things by creating a set of consequences for its wayward athletes. It has become more transparent and more interested in helping riders ride clean.
But, as I can attest, recovery is a slow, steady process. There are no silver bullets. There is no one test that will clean the dope out of the peloton. There is no one protocol. Recovery for cycling is rooted in our continuing to talk about that recovery, and our continuing to support even those riders who have made some mistakes as we move forward with what are, at the end of the day, just a bunch of bike races.
Images: John Pierce, Photosport International
“I study war so that my children may study peace and my grandchildren may study poetry.” —John Adams
It was on a cool March morning nearly 20 years ago that I rolled into the visitors’ center of the United States Military Academy, better known as West Point. I was there to meet up with my UMASS teammates for the first race of that year’s collegiate racing season. After collecting everyone, we would drive onto the campus and begin warming up for the day’s opening event, an uphill time trial through the campus of West Point.
With nothing else to do until my somewhat disorganized band of teammates arrived, I decided to tour the visitors’ center. As any visitors’ center should, it filled me with a sense of grandeur for the place I would soon witness.
During my visit I ran across a quote—the epigraph above—by John Adams. It stopped me in my tracks. I would revisit the display featuring the quote three more times and ultimately, I would commit it to memory.
You see, at the time, I was pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in poetry at the University of Massachusetts. My father had served in the Marine Corps in peace and later went to college on the G.I. Bill. My grandfather did not serve in World War II, but one of my great uncles did. That quote spelled out the privilege of my life and filled me with a sense of obligation. If I was to pursue the arts, I should recognize the fortune of my circumstance; I should apply the whole of my self to the endeavor.
Later, when I entered the campus and the imposing granite structures shaded my path, I commented to a friend that West Point was a place of such precise majesty that I would easily have defended it to my last heartbeat. It occurred to me that for the students there, West Point was one place you just didn’t screw up.
Back then, my fitness was unimpressive but Adams’ quote instilled in me fresh purpose, that whatever I did, I would do with the whole of my will. I can recall few races in my life where I dug as deep as I did during the uphill time trial that morning (an ascent of 750 feet in only 1.75 miles) or the crit that afternoon. I remember getting tunnel vision at the top of the wall in the crit and sprinting through the start/finish with everything I had just not to get dropped.
At the end of that day, I had an entirely new sense of what bike racing really is.
That Red Kite Prayer exists, that I’ve been able to choose to write about cycling for nearly 20 years, that I was able to choose to study poetry, that my father believed in me and my abilities enough to suggest I go to graduate school and that he served his country in a time of peace, I owe, we owe, to those who served our country when times were most dire, when the price of freedom was often mortal.
When I back up and look at the news one might file under the heading of “doping in cycling” what has been published in the last six months should give us all pause.
Let’s recap a few of the highlights:
- Christian Prudhomme thinks cycling is clean(er) because there were no positive tests at the Tour de France.
- The AFLD says Astana got a free ride at the Tour even though they were the most controlled team there.
- Some cyclists at the Tour de France were on anti-hypertension drugs and while not banned, no one seems to know why healthy endurance athletes would have dangerously high blood pressure.
- Two new drugs likely to boost endurance athletes’ performance are on the market but have yet to be banned.
- Bernard Kohl gives monthly interviews in which he teases out new details of his doping like the last five minutes of a soap opera episode that airs on Friday.
- Jan Ullrich had Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes’ number programmed into his cell phone.
- In 2009, Danilo DiLuca, Mikel Astarloza, Nuno Ribeiro, Isidro Nozal, Hector Guerra, Gabrielle Bosisio, Christian Pfannberger and Antonio Colom all tested positive for EPO or CERA. That’s eight riders caught.
I now return to Christian Prudhomme and his statement regarding doping. What Prudhomme told Reuters last summer was “Cycling has changed.”
He also said, “I recently confirmed that ‘there were no suspected cases’ (during the 2009 Tour de France). This means that the fight against doping progresses.”
Mikel Astarloza’s positive sample was given during the Tour, so that pretty well kills Prudhomme’s implicit belief that the ’09 Tour was clean. The fact that Astarloza’s non-negative result was announced until weeks after the end of the Tour is an unfortunate blemish on the Tour.
Those anti-hypertensive drugs? What could cause athletes in the top one percent of cardiovascular fitness in the world to be concerned about high blood pressure? Maybe blood that moves like sewage as a result of autologous blood doping, EPO or CERA? Hypertension is a recurring theme of blood transfusions.
Oh, and the fact that Fuentes’ number was in Ullrich’s cell phone? No surprise. No one with their eyes open actually thought there was a kite’s chance in a hurricane that Ullrich raced clean. Move on, nothing to see here.
As I mentioned, eight riders have tested positive for EPO or CERA this year. Some will take this news as a reassurance that WADA is improving in its ability to catch dopers. Unfortunately, there is strong anecdotal evidence that some of the riders who have been caught had been doping for a while, which suggests they had evaded some previous doping controls. If some doping controls are being evaded, then logic dictates that there must be riders who are evading detection as we speak. The question then is, what portion of the number of riders using EPO or CERA are these eight? Are they 90 percent of the doping riders? Not likely. We would be lucky if they are 50 percent of the athletes still using EPO or CERA.
So testing is catching some cyclists who are doping while others are evading detection. How do you improve upon this situation? Well, there’s one easy answer: You test every rider every day. Unfortunately, the combined operating budget of both WADA and the UCI simply couldn’t pay for all that testing. So instead, priorities are set, which means that choices must be made about who is tested.
WADA could break up the total number of tests each year and distribute those tests evenly between all professional riders. If you, like Prudhomme, believe that “cycling has changed” then you will also believe that not everyone is doping. Moving forward with that belief you are likely to decide some riders are targeted more than other riders.
So if some riders are going to be targeted for testing more frequently than their peers, the obvious choice is to go after riders who arouse suspicion. That means testing anyone who wins a race—a tactic already employed with good reason. In some parts, they call this profiling. Call it racing while juiced.
So what’s such a program look like? Well, it looks like Astana gets tested 81 times during the Tour de France and the French teams Cofidis and FdJeux were tested 26 times each and Bouygues Telecom was tested 23 times.
Is that fair? It depends on how you define fair. It certainly isn’t an even distribution of resources, but then this isn’t a resource we want distributed evenly, is it? Shouldn’t it be distributed most heavily to the teams and athletes that appear time after time on the podium? Generally speaking, there’s little risk of seeing a Cofidis, FdJeux or Bouygues Telecom rider atop the podium, whereas Astana and Saxo Bank had stellar seasons.
Johan Bruyneel doesn’t believe that the high level of scrutiny his team received was warranted. We all know otherwise. At the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the AFLD claiming that Astana received preferential treatment during the Tour.
This may be the single strangest piece of news as regards doping in cycling. It is surprising because it shows that there isn’t a united front involving the UCI, WADA and the AFLD. The AFLD is, in fact, a bit player in the doping fight, a service provider to WADA and the UCI, not an actual portion of the enforcement apparatus.
Allow me a moment to draw an analogy. Lance Armstrong has admitted he can’t beat Alberto Contador mano a mano. So what is his game plan for the 2010 Tour de France? He has already revealed that he plans to beat Contador’s team and leave the Spaniard isolated.
Unfortunately, the doping fight has no one winner. Even though a fractured Astana still won the Tour de France, a rift between the AFLD and the UCI only results in a weakened fight against doping. Stranger still was the fact that samples taken by the AFLD of five French riders on the same French team were sent to the lab with their full identifying information on the samples. That hardly constitutes anonymous and blatantly violates the Code and International Standard of Testing.
If you are a doper, knowing there is unrest in the enforcement camp must bring you satisfaction.
Next: Bernard Kohl and the new generation of dopers
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
As I mounted Fi’zi:k’s newest saddle on the seatpost of my bike, I tried to take it in. It wasn’t as flat fore-aft as their ultra-popular Arione, nor as curvy as my favorite, the Aliante. It was also flatter side-to-side than either the Aliante or Arione.
Just when I thought I’d seen just about every saddle shape someone could dream up without seeming completely derivative of other existing saddles, along comes the Antares. Aside from the flattish profile and wrap, the Antares has another distinctive feature: a big wide nose.
As it happens, that arm’s-width nose is no accident. Much of the saddle’s design owes to the influence of David Zabriskie who has a penchant for riding on the nose of a saddle whether on his time trial bike or his road bike.
The three road saddles that make up the Fi’zi:k line—Arione, Aliante and Antares—are united by what Fi’zi:k terms the “spine concept.” Each saddles responds to the sitting style of three broad classes of riders. Each of these classes is represented by a different animal, a bull in the case of the Aliante, a snake in the case of the Arione and a chameleon for the Antares.
The animals aren’t so important, but the underlying rationale has legs. For the Aliante, the idea is that the rider who will be most comfortable on this saddle is one who doesn’t move forward or backward, but rather will adjust his sitting position by rolling his pelvis. Relief is achieved by cradling the genitalia in the pocket of the saddle. For the Arione, the idea is that the rider has more narrowly spaced sit bones, is very flexible and uses the entire length of the saddle, and while Fi’zi:k doesn’t come right out and say it, the subtext here is that it is a saddle appropriate for lighter riders. Finally, the Antares is built around the idea that the rider who uses it isn’t restricted to a single shape that either works or doesn’t, but rather someone who can flex and shift position to manage comfort as necessary.
Fi’zi:k offers a simple test to determine which animal you are. The snake (Arione user) is very flexible and can touch his toes easily. The bull (Aliante user) isn’t so flexible and can’t touch his toes. The chameleon (Antares user) sits between these two, flexible enough to touch his toes.
To illustrate these points Fi’zi:k has implemented a very slick web site, and by the look of it may have been designed by the same team behind Specialized’s Body Geometry site.
Okay, but what does that translate to? The Arione, at 300mm, is the longest of the bunch. The Antares is 274mm long while the Aliante is but 265mm long. As a reflection of flexibility, this makes sense to me.
The Antares, like the Aliante, is 142mm wide, so riders with broadly spaced sit bones can really sit on the saddle either upright while climbing or with their pelvis rotated forward to get a flat back for hammering on the flats. That wide nose comes in handy for trips to the pain cave as you sit on what used to be a rivet. Why not put a little padding there? Hey, I like that!
Bias, bias, bias, that’s what all media seems to come down to these days. In my case, I flat-out don’t want to like this saddle better than my beloved Aliante. (Let the record show the my affection for the 143mm Specialized Toupé constitutes an affair, a fling, dare I say it—a tryst.) However, the more miles I put on the Antares, the more I like it. It may, in fact, be the more appropriate saddle to my riding style. The saddle itself flexes more than does the Aliante, due in part to the carbon fiber reinforced rilsan shell.
Fi’zi:k touts the saddle’s 171 cubic centimeters of padding contained beneath the saddle’s microtex cover. They claim that number to be 300 percent greater than its competitors; it may be, but I have no way of knowing. Similarly, Fi’zi:k claims the seating area to be 15 percent greater than other saddles and while, again, I can’t say for certain this is true, anecdotally, my ass says this holds water. The only flattish saddle I have ridden that seems to have anywhere near this much surface area—which is helpful for distributing weight over as broad an area as possible and thereby decreasing weight on each square centimeter in contact with the saddle—is the Specialized Toupé.
With carbon fiber braided rails, the Antares is said to weigh 145g and suggested retail is $229; my test saddle was equipped with the K:ium rails, weighed in at 177g and retails for $199.
Honestly, when I look at all the different saddles I’ve ridden over the last year, the Antares is the most original take on saddle shape that I encountered. Much of this has to do with how broad the saddle is side-to-side and the fact that it is 142mm wide. Most saddles that wide feature enough curvature that the widest portion of the saddle really supports no weight at all. The Antares gave my sit bones an excellent platform for climbing long grades and that nose was enough to sit on when the speedo ticked beyond 30 mph.
As always, I can’t say this saddle is right for you, but what I can say is that if you’re looking for a new shape, a different response to the saddles out there and if you might not be the most flexible guy on the block, Fi’zi:k’s Antares is worth a serious look.
I love a good tragedy. When it comes to Shakespeare, give me Hamlet, Macbeth or King Lear. In movies, I prefer flawed heroes and fallen angels. If I cheer at the death of the villain, then I never connected with the character and that means he could only have been two-dimensional, and we know what two-dimensional pictures of bad guys are used for: target practice.
Similarly, I’m not big on god-like figures. As a kid, I was a bit of a smart-ass (not saying that has changed) and once asked in Sunday school why we were busy trying to emulate perfection if we, as man, were doomed to imperfection. I didn’t quite articulate the whole of my thought, which was, ‘If I can see flaws in Jesus, be they moments of doubt or indecision or even waves of fear, then I can identify more easily with him and thus will be inspired to at least try to follow in his footsteps.’ I was filled with such doubt on a daily basis and I simply couldn’t identify with his confidence of mission. ‘What was that like?’ I wondered.
I have received a lot of praise for my work covering the trial of Dr. Christopher Thomas Thompson. I’m grateful for every note I have either received here or that has been sent to VeloNews. Nothing could please me more than to know that my effort to be fair and unbiased in my reporting resonated with readers.
The story of this case is obviously tragic in broad strokes, but I think it is easy to miss the more human elements that make us identify with each of the people involved and feel for the ways their lives have changed.
In Christian Stoehr’s case, he endured a four and a half hour surgery to repair his shoulder. He spent the vast majority of his settlement on his physical therapy. With the little money left over he built a pizza oven. He’s guaranteed arthritis in that shoulder and will never be able to carry the bigger cameras that were once a prominent part of his professional life. Once a fixture of my training rides, I rarely see him anymore.
As easygoing as Ron Peterson is, he’s an intensely competitive guy. Prior to Thompson’s assault, Ron was racing as a Cat. 1 and had the ability to win on any course; he could drop you going up, down or in a sprint. As a coach, he had helped novice riders become good racers and some very good racers become legendary. Today, he’s on the local rides occasionally … at best. His sense of justice might get a boost someday; he has filed a civil suit against Thompson and with the help of a forensic accountant, they might find some compensation for his suffering. Nothing will really make up for the missed days on the bike either of these guys has experienced, though.
But here’s what none of us really want to think about: Subtract about three minutes from Dr. Christopher Thomas Thompson’s life and chances are none of us would ever have heard his name. His given name is largely irrelevant to us judging from the names he’s been called on blogs, web sites and in e-mails.
Monster is the clear winner, with a bullet and heading up the charts fast.
Certainly the act he committed is monstrous, but does that make him a monster? I have problems with this sort of thinking for a few reasons. First, one of the great fallacies of irrational thinking is believing that if you do something bad, you are bad. Going to Catholic schools as a kid, I got that message a lot, thankyouverymuch.
Second, once we reduce a guy to a cardboard cutout, painting him as a villain, we remove him from humanity and deny that he had anything in common with us. Seeing someone as all bad is called splitting; it is a defense mechanism that gives us a chance to devalue another person. It’s convenient and neat, and saves us the onerous task of recognizing how his temper might be a first cousin to our own tempers.
I don’t know Dr. Thompson and don’t want to know him. But in working on my coverage about this “incident,” I learned a thing or two about him. He’s a musician. Present tense. Judging from a personal page that used to be on the Touch Medix web site, he’s a big wine nut; there were a few photos of him holding a glass full of what looked to be Cabernet. He lived on Mandeville Canyon; if you’ve ever been up the canyon, then you know anyone who chooses to live there has some clue about the good life. He’s an entrepreneur; Touch Medix is a company he launched with a friend to respond to a need they perceived in hospital medical records. He does, in fact, have a heart; he paid for the funeral of the daughter of an ex-girlfriend and paid for flowers to be on her grave every month.
He’s also a guy who lied to the court about his motivation for stopping in front of Ron and Christian. He lied under oath to a judge and a jury. He’s a physician who had to get through a fair amount of physics in college who claimed he wanted to get a photo of the cyclists as they passed—a ridiculous suggestion that seemingly anyone with half a brain would have understood as essentially impossible given his claimed distance ahead of them and the speed they were moving. And he expected us to believe him.
We don’t know what his sentence will be, but the loss of his medical license is virtually assured. I won’t pretend to know what the appropriate punishment is for his actions, but the loss of his medical license seems appropriate.
But is he a monster? Let me ask the question a different way. Is he a villain? Is he the black-hat-wearing, cardboard-cutout, Darth Vader of car drivers?
Hopefully, Dr. Thompson will do some soul searching and look back on the choice he made on July 4, 2008, as the low point in his judgment, though it’s possible he’ll deflect and decide his worst choice wasn’t hitting the brakes but hiring Peter Swarth to represent him. These things happen. History knows the truth: It’s unlikely Thompson will ever make a poorer choice than when he hit the brakes that morning on Mandeville Canyon. Should we sum up the whole of his identity in a single choice?
Perhaps it is fair to wonder if his identity should be different from his station in life post-verdict. Some time down the road, he’ll be out of prison and an employee of a medical records software company, a former doctor and convicted felon.
Photo: Chris Roberts
One of my all-time favorite science fiction novels is Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. It takes a very provocative look at aspects of Western Civilization that are critical to how we function, such as our notion of citizenship and what entitles us to suffrage. Mind you, I don’t read a lot of science fiction because it has so much in common with the banana—when a banana is good, it’s really good, and when it’s bad, it’s terrible and I toss it in the trash with all possible haste.
Forgetting for a moment Paul Verhoeven’s awful film depiction of Heinlein’s meisterwerk, I still marvel at how Heinlein took ordinary characters, some of them certainly not as bright as the author and placed them in extraordinary circumstances to create a futuristic society. It’s the same basic device that creates farce, which is normal people in odd circumstances—think “Gilligan’s Island”—as opposed to comedy, which is funny people in normal circumstances—think “Seinfeld.” Yet, in Heinlein’s hands, we get a fresh take on Western Civilization, complete with its own slang.
Of these, my clear favorite is “on the bounce,” the phrase used by the starship troopers to allude to both how the soldiers move in their powered armor space suits and when they do things, a kind of “on the move” for the 22nd century.
Recently, I’ve taken to paraphrasing the saying into a cycling-specific version: on the drop. It entered my angst-ridden head recently while I was on a climb and because I wasn’t climbing particularly well (the legs had gone into shutdown mode with 2k left to climb) and I was concerned that the boys wouldn’t be waiting for me at the top. I thought to myself, “I’ll get them on the drop.”
Without time to sit around at the top and finish a bottle, eat a bite or two, pull my armwarmers up and take my glasses off my helmet and put them back on my face, I knew I’d have to do them all on the drop. But that was the beauty of the road turning down; with gravity on my side, I had the opportunity to eat and make up ground at the same time.
Sure, you can drink on a climb. You can pull down armwarmers on a climb. Some riders can even sit up, no hands, and take off a vest or jacket. And sure, there are climbs that are so long you’ve got to keep fueling as you move just to keep the bonk at bay, but the question I often ask myself is when the best time is to GSD*.
Racing has taught me there is a simple answer: the best time to do anything that isn’t in and of racing, is on the drop. Even if the opportunity is only slightly downhill, I know I can relax my pedaling a bit and gravity’s finite pull will do the rest and allow me to ditch a vest, pull food from my pockets, empty a bottle or stuff armwarmers into my jersey pockets.
There was a long period when I thought that descending was descending and downhill was too serious a concern to gum it up with something so frivolous as eating. Then I remembered something I saw while in a Mavic neutral vehicle on a mountain stage of the 1996 Tour DuPont.
Near the top of the biggest climb of the day, a Category 1 mafia-style enforcer, Frankie Andreu lost contact with the second group. Over the final kilometer up to the pass, he lost more than 20 seconds; the group was out of sight. Group three wasn’t far behind and that was as much a concern for us in a Taurus wagon as it was for him.
On the drop, Frankie got into a head-over-stem, butt-in-air full tuck, not one of those crazy Marco Pantani rodeo-style tucks. He grabbed his bottle and tipped it into his mouth with his fingertips while resting the heel of his hand against the handlebar. And he dropped down an intestinal stretch of asphalt through turns I thought surely would require brakes.
We were doing 50 mph just to keep up with him. Those turns I thought would require brakes we were drifting through with all four tires grabbing the pavement with the stunned desperation of a child’s hand for the string of a balloon.
At one point, hearing the car engine race and the roar of rubber on asphalt, Frankie sat up and turned around to look at us. (I asked him about it the next morning and he said he was afraid we were going over the cliff.) Then he put his head back down and before the bottom of the descent, he rejoined group two. Might as well have been the stage win I was so impressed.
Joe Parkin told me a story he has since blogged about a bit. After returning to the United States and joining Coors Light, Joe was at a race and his team leader told him he wanted a Coke. He got the Coke from the team car. Easy enough, right?
The rider wanted it in a water bottle.
Joe sat up, opened the Coke, opened the bottle and while descending he poured the Coke into the bottle. Even Joe was impressed with the move.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of doing things on the drop is what it says of your knowledge of the bike and the degree to which you can control it with just your hips if necessary. So much of cycling comes down to trust—trusting our bodies, our fellow riders, traffic and, yes, the bike—and few of us really trust our bike to do what it is most inclined. Once above 15 mph, it wants to stay upright and the imperative of physics only increases with speed.
Yet, for all its beautiful utility, and any tool properly used is beautiful, what I most love isn’t the GSD*, it’s knowing that anything you might need to accomplish during your ride or race you really needn’t stop, that riding can be as seamless as breathing.
*Get shit done