The last ten days have surprised me for one unusual piece of news after another. I’m not normally one to write the grab-bag post, but because so many disparate pieces of news have elicited the same reaction in me, I figured the uniformity of my reaction is enough to include them in the same post.

I’ve followed discussions about rate of ascent (VAM) on Tour climbs with some interest. While I have found some of the numbers reported troubling, I haven’t been willing to place too much faith in those numbers because it’s hard to be certain of just where the climb starts and finishes are, which can throw off the math in the calculations. And even if you trust the calculations, I haven’t yet seen an argument connecting the dots in a way that lead to an inarguable conclusion that normal biology can’t produce a particular performance. That is, I hadn’t seen one until I read this post on the Science of Sport blog. It connects the dots in a very convincing way. Because we are getting more and more information about riders as they race, in the future it will be possible to look at a rider’s performance on a climb in a very objective manner and the math that Ross Tucker provides will help us sort the fiction from the clean.

Some folks I’d prefer would shut up, have been making headlines. On their own, they don’t merit posts, but Michael Ball and Rudy Pevenage both elicited a “You’re kidding.” from me but for entirely different reasons. One wonders why Pevenage decided it was time to admit his involvement in organizing Ullrich’s trips to Spain to see Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes now, yet more curious is why he thought he needed to tell us this little factoid. It’s not much of a confession as most everyone was satisfied that Ullrich was involved in Operacion Puerto; who served as travel agent is inconsequential, and Pevenage’s moral relativism—“It was normal”—isn’t washing.

Michael Ball, ex-pricey jean entrepreneur and director of Rock Racing—the only professional cycling team to model its organization after the Bad News Bears—was served with a search warrant. Presumably, the warrant is as a result of Floyd Landis’ confession, as it was filed by investigator Jeff Novitzky, who is remembered for bringing the house of BALCO down. If Novitzky smells smoke, there’s a conflagration.

Ball, who briefly employed Pevenage in 2008, congratulated Landis on coming clean, telling the New York Daily News: “Floyd is in a better place. Someone needed to come clean who was on the inside, who had lived it.”

However, what made my jaw drop was his crazy claim that, “I was in the sport for three years and I saw what went on. But not on my team, because I wouldn’t allow it.”

Really? I assume by “what went on” he means doping. Has he already forgotten about Tyler Hamilton’s positive test? If there’s one thing we’ve learned about doping it is that those closest to the riders sometimes do not know, so for Ball to suggest he knows something about the use of performance-enhancing drugs by pro riders he didn’t sponsor means that he thinks we’re dumber than he.

Speaking of Landis, his latest accusation, this one printed in the Wall Street Journal, is that he couldn’t get an extra bike to train on because Armstrong was busy selling bikes to—gasp—buy drugs. Here’s a newsflash: Teams have sold off bikes at the end of the season for ages. That Landis expects us to believe that just because he couldn’t account for the presence of 60 bikes it means they were sold to pay for doping. In addition to claiming that that Johan Bruyneel admitted the bike sales were paying for drugs, he has also claimed he paid for the drugs he took. Unridden team bikes won’t carry any sort of multiplier with collectors, so those bikes would have gone for roughly $5k apiece. The only bikes that carry any sort of multiplier would be those ridden by the team stars and having spoken with collectors, I can say Lance’s bikes weren’t going for $20k, even with the aid of photographic provenance. Even if the accusation is proven true, it really adds nothing significant to his story, which makes us wonder why he’s talking.

Speaking of bike sales, a week ago Campagnolo announced it would begin offering industry deals to verified industry employees. For those of you who have never worked in the industry, I can tell you this is the single most surprising piece of news in this post. As  a shop employee I remember checking with multiple distributors to see who had the best prices on Campy any time I needed—er—wanted to purchase new gear. The difference in price between different distributors could mean saving as much as five percent which was what passed for a discount for us wrenches. It has been my understanding that Campy USA wanted to do this for ages, but Italy finally listened and came to appreciate that having shop staff riding their components could make a difference in how often they wind up on a custom build. Bravo to Campy.

And while I’m still mystified that anyone would try to defend Mark Renshaw head-butting Julian Dean and then shutting the door hard on Tyler Farrar, we’ve continued to get other head-scratching moments every day at the Tour de France. Take Alexander Vinokourov. Let’s be honest; he has a reputation for being a rogue rider, which is why his declaration that he would dedicate his effort to supporting Astana team leader, Alberto Contador was met with at least a bit of skepticism.

So what does Vino do? He goes off on a breakaway in the final kilometers of the climb to Mende. Let’s be clear, if you’re sole mission is to support your team leader, then you’re not heading out for stage wins—that’s a big, big effort and burns more than a few matches. But once gone, why not give the guy some rope, right? But Contador chases down Joaquin Rodriguez, and then proceeds to take a very strong pull.

As I’d been saying all week, I couldn’t stifle myself from saying, “Really?”

Was Contador teaching Vinokourov a lesson? Or was he really that nervous about Andy Schleck that he felt compelled to gain every second he could? It’s fair to wonder if Rodriguez had enough gas on his own to catch Vinokourov. At the point Contador began his chase of Rodriguez he knew that he couldn’t gain all that much time, certainly not enough to gain the yellow jersey. While Vinokourov has never been my favorite rider, but Contador managed to make me feel some sympathy for the win he was denied.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get weirder, Vinokourov takes off on yet another flyer. And fortunately for his efforts, he got the win in Revel. However, after taking breakaways two days in a row, does anyone—John Lelangue especially—think that Vinokourov will really have the gas necessary to work for Contador through the Pyrenees?

If he does have the reserves to provide support to Contador, it will be an impressive piece of riding. Impressive, and for this writer, suspicious. If he doesn’t, then his pledge to support Contador will have been proven to be BS, and Contador’s chase will be hard to criticize.

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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  1. Lachlan

    ha, this is fun. I think every time Contador has used his best terrain (steep climbs) to gain time on dangerous rivals for overall, you’ve found a reason to say he’s a bad team mate for it… last year it was petulance against the will of god (sorry I mean Armstrong) this year its for not allowing saint Vino have a go at the stage. I guess you really, like really do love the guy! ; + )

    Personally I think anyone with the legs would have done the same – 10seconds is really 10 seconds + a big psychological boost.

    But I’m hoping you are right about Vino/Astana not having the firepower left today and the rest of the week – I would love to see something really fresh this tour and would love to see Andy win!

  2. Touriste-Routier

    While I’ve never been a Michael Ball fan, the Hamilton example doesn’t necessarily hold water. He tested positive for a banned substance, but this does not always equate to “doping”. If his claims are true (and his reputation is dicey enough to cause doubt) he was taking something for depression, not performance enhancing. While he knew this medication contained a banned substance, if he wasn’t taking it purposely to boost performance is it truly “doping”? Semantics discussion to ensue…

    Teams routinely sell both new and used bikes. The end of season sales are obvious, but many teams get more bikes/equipment than they could ever possibly need from sponsors, as part of their sponsorship contracts. It is easier to get equipment than cash, and the sponsors look the other way when these bikes are sold to raise cash for the program in general.

    I haven’t seen/heard too many people defending Renshaw shutting the door on Farrar, but as McEwan said, if everyone was ejected for head butts, there’d be no one left in the race”.

    I don’t understand why many knowledgeable cycling people can’t grasp that Vino attacking is not always against the interests of Contador. Vino is close enough on GC to not be given too much rope, which forces Astana’s rivals to chase, making the rivals expend energy, while Astana can largely sit in the wheels. The best defense can be a strong offense.

    It was obvious (if not premeditated) that Contador would test Schleck on the climb to Mende; it suited AC more than AS, and he was able to claw back some time. No one could predict how much time would be gained, if any. But every second counts in such a tight race. It was unfortunate that Contador caught Vino in the process, with Rodriguez in tow, denying Vino the stage win. But a GC Tour Victory is Astana’s number 1 goal for the season, so these things happen.

    But this said, Vino is entitled to have his own aspirations, as long as they fit within the stated goals of the team, and let’s face it, he is the de facto captain, while Contaor is the team leader for the Tour.

  3. dacrizzow

    vino is an amazing teamate. we’ve seen him go on the attack only to come to the back to bring water up to the front. we’ve seen him go on the attack to only confuse the rest of the peloton. just as it seems to confuse you. he’s an asset to any team. totally unpredictable. for some reason he’s become the doping villian in the media while basso (among others) seems to be welcomed back with open arms. he makes the tour exciting. after watching sunday’s stage it seems he’s got plenty of gas in the tank. funny you want to bring this stuff up when every time a slight incline shows it’s face in a stage levi is left completely alone. where is armstrong, kloden, horner? astana seems to know what they’re doing. can’t say as much for radio shack.

  4. Sir Cumference

    There is no denying that Vino has always been one of the most aggressive riders in the peloton. He is having, up to this point, a very successful tour. His performance, considering a two year ban on competition and the fact that he is near the end of his career, is on par with his performance when he was taking PEDs. One possible conclusion is that in Vino’s case; taking PEDs in the past had no positive affect on his performance or possibly degraded it. Of course his current performance could mean… oh forget it.

  5. Sophrosune

    Padraig, I don’t think Vino’s part in a breakaway is any more indicative of a rogue rider than it is for Jens Voigt to be a rogue rider because he joined a breakaway. The tactical advantages for Astana in having Vino be part of that break were clear. Saxo Bank had to cover it well and lead the chase, tiring the team. In the final 2-3ks of the climb, why shouldn’t he go for the win if he has the legs? For Contador’s part, he got back 10 seconds when seeing a weakness in Schleck. The best scenario would have been Contador attacking sooner on the climb, something he might have done if Vino were not in the front, and taken the stage. But a climb like that is fluid, you can try to take the best tactical course following certain rules of thumb. It is hard to conclude, even in supposition, that Vino’s move was a waste of energy and Contador’s attack on Schleck was in order to teach Vino a lesson. It seems you have a conclusion (Vino is riding for himself and Contador is a vindictive teammate) and you are trying to massage the evidence in a way to prove it.

  6. Lachlan

    OK – now we can slag Contador.
    Shameful exploitation of the chain-incident in my book. Its not like he was following the others, he set the pace up the rest of the hill and was pushing hard going down.

    Bad luck Andy. Bad play Alberto.

  7. Lachlan

    rewatchin only confirms my first impression – OK you can’t “stop” in such a situation, but contador gives it full gas both up the climb then down…. he’s not just keeping up with the other two.

    Its somewhat true that there are “no gifts in the tour”… except however, there are. In fact from almost every other major player over the years I can think of, who wouldn’t quite so strongly take advantage of a mechanical issue like that, and has at times eased the gas a bit.

    Worst example of its kind since Chiappuci’s attack on Lemond when he punctured in 1990 in my book.

  8. sophrosune

    Where was your outrage, Lachlan, when Schleck had Cancellera put the gas down after his own brother went down and split the peloton in Stage 3? That was just the next day after Cancellera had nullified the race so the Schleck brothers could get back on the peloton.

    This was not a puncture and can only be described as a mechanical by calling it a rider-induced mechanical. You make it sound as though Contador waited for Schleck to have his shifting malfunction. That’s not how it happened from what I saw. Contador was reacting to Schleck’s attack (as was Vino) and by the time Contador went by him Schleck had only slowed down. He had not stopped or gotten off his bike.

    The really disappointing aspect of this to me was to hear Schleck use terms like “revenge”. This only induces those who are inclined to be vengeful types to do stupid and dangerous things. And what exactly is Schleck going to get revenge for, not trimming his front deraileur so it wouldn’t catch up his chain, or not have his mechanic put on a chain guard? At some point, this race has got to be a two-way street where Schleck is responsible for his own circumstance while he puts the screws on to those who provided him fair play just the day before. Sad display indeed but not at all as you see it in my estimation.

  9. Robot

    @Lachlan – Easy to overlook that both Sanchez and Menchov failed to sit up as well. I’d argue (and will) that Schleck is racing more with Sammy and Denis than he is we Bert. Bert is going to kill him in the TT. Remember how Andy lost 42 seconds to Contador over 8.9km in the prologue? How close do you think he’ll be in the longer TT? I’d wager he’ll give up enough time to be left fighting for the podium, not contesting the top step with el Pistolero.

    I think the chain is a red herring.

  10. MCH

    Just got done reading the Science of Sport post. Thanks for an awesome link! Eye opening to say the least.

    As far as Contador’s actions today, despite his BS comments after the race, IMO he knew exactly what he was doing from the very first moment. The big question is, is it material? I think there are 2 possible outcomes: 1) AC’s actions today light an emotional fire under Andy’s ass and AS takes big time out of AC somewhere over the next 2 days, or 2) AC wins by a big margin due to gains in the TT, today’s attack was completely unnecessary, and AC forever has a big *asshole by his name.


  11. Touriste-Routier

    @Robot, you may be correct, in the end, today’s circumstance may be a red herring. Schleck did not “lose” the tour today, but perhaps he lost his opportunity to win the tour today (if that makes any sense). Most likely the TT would have been the decisive test, now it is even a harder battle for Schleck.

    However, this doesn’t negate the probability of poor etiquette, by Sanchez, Menchov, and Contador. It was a tough situation, as they are all threats to each other, and they each needed to react the same way. But I find it hard to believe that none of them knew what had happened, or had learned shortly there after.

    Good sportsmanship or not, this TDF keeps getting more interesting!

  12. at1

    A quite respected member of the British press noted that Schlecks problem could have all been avoided if he had requested to have a chain catcher on his bike and that it was up to the individual rider if they wanted one or not as theres a 50g saving in weight if you dont have one. If a rider gambles and then has a mechanical why should the peloton stop, i think if it had been a crash or a puncture then fair enough he should have eased up. If it means anything Andy looks like hes in incredible shape and managed to limit the time loss due to a superb chase back. I think Alberto will be keeping his wits about him because if Andy decides to attack im not sure Alberto has the form to keep up with him.

  13. Lachlan

    @ sophrosune No outrage from me, just genuine disappointment in a rider I really like (ok not as much as Andy but still ;o) … seems I’m not the only one, Contador himself has posted an apology on youtube recognising that the situation was not really a good one. (probably once he’d been able to review it on the video footage)…. So I guess Andy and Contador both agree with me on this one. Good enough for me.

    @Robot – your right that the TT will likely blow minutes out between AS and AC, but that’s even more reason why AC doesn’t need to take advantage like that. And its not like he just rode with Sanchez and Menchov: He was killing himself out of the saddle most of the way to the top, and then down the decent too… with those guys on his wheel. So not attacking them, not keeping up, just distancing Andy.

  14. Sophrosune

    Okay, Lachlan, there are a couple of points I would make here. In my viewing of the event live and in the videotape, which is spotty, it seems that Contador has put the metal down for about 150 meters after passing Schleck, but his getting out of the saddle at certain points before reaching the summit seems to be more of a slowing down than an all-out attack. As evidence of that, I don’t think Menchov or Sanchez would have caught up to Contador if he had been continuing his attack. Even Riis acknowledges that appeared as though Contador waited, just not long enough to compensate for Schleck’s time off the bike.

    I am disappointed too, but instead in Schleck for his reaction, which is more than a little hypocritical when considering his exploitation of the crash in Stage 3. The boy can dish it out but he can’t take it.

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