Press Camp is both the best and most difficult aspects of of a trade show rolled together. It’s the best of a what a trade show can be because you had the ability to receive the complete attention of whoever you’re meeting with. And it’s a chance to pick up anything you’re interested in and really look it over, also without the worry of being interrupted by anyone. But it’s also challenging in that every conversation you have could go on for at least an hour longer than you have time for. At Interbike I’ll schedule a 15 minute meeting with someone and not have enough time to find out what the new products are. Here at Press Camp, I have 45 minutes and we end up digging deep into the first half-dozen products and end up not having enough time to get through the others. No matter how much time you have, it seems never to be enough. Thankfully, I consider this to be a happy problem.
I’ve been meeting with people who aren’t necessarily core to what RKP is about, such as Hayes. Yes, they offer this amazing forged cable-actuated cyclocross disc brake shown above. And ‘cross bikes are firmly in the wheelhouse of RKP. But really, I stopped by to learn more about their suspension forks and many brakes. Anyone who does that much good work I want to check out; after all, their brands also include Answer and Manitou.
Years ago, I reviewed plenty of Canari clothing and used it in photo shoots. It was fairly inexpensive stuff and good price points. Since then, the quality has risen noticeably and the price hasn’t increased that much. It’s nice to see a company invest in Southern California manufacturing, while offering many of the high-end features you see elsewhere, such as digital printing, full zips and hidden seams. While there I saw what was one of the more intriguing pairs of sub-$150 pairs of bibs I’ve encountered in a good 10 years. Expect to hear more on those.
I first used a Camelbak in 1996. Back then, the product was good, but had plenty of issues, many of which I can no longer recall. As the company has improved and evolved, their packs have become more sophisticated and the bladders stronger, better fitting and less likely to impart any taste. Above are just a few of the different bladders they produce at their own facility. For where I live, the pack mule approach to spare gear is never necessary. There are no lightning-laced afternoon thundershowers and the temperature won’t drop 20 degrees as dusk approaches, but my mountain bike won’t carry more than one water bottle and I don’t go out for mountain bike rides on the weekend that aren’t at least three hours, so hydration is an issue. I encountered some new packs from Camelbak that I’ll be trying as soon as I’m back.
Assos is here and this was a chance for me to see some new products on the way for 2013. There have been some revisions to base layers that should make them noticeably more comfortable than most, if not all, their competition. And with four different weights, they produce something perfect for whatever conditions you’re riding in. Above is the jersey that will be worn by the Swiss team at the Olympics. I can already see Cancellara killing it in this jersey. Inside the jersey collar I noticed a little inscription.
My German is beyond rusty (think Yugo in a junk yard and you’ll get an accurate picture), but the inscription suggests that the jersey is to be used by the nation’s heroes in pursuit of the top step of the podium. Not bad.
I also had meetings with Clif, where I received a few new samples and we spent time discussing just how cool a life Gary and Kit lead (yes, I’m envious), and Cannondale. Honestly, I wanted to get more familiar with their mountain bike line, just because I find them interesting. (It has either helped or not helped depending on your personally outlook that I’ve been sharing a room with Richard Cunningham of Pink Bike and he’s had a Claymore here in the room that I continue to eye with fascination; at 180mm of travel, it’s a park bike and something I must admit, I have no idea how to ride.) Alas, they’ve got some cool stuff going on with road and that’s all we really had time to discuss. The big news on the road are a few new models of the SuperSix EVO. They are now offering a women’s model, and in five different sizes. And as is to be expected with any truly conscientious work, each size not only receives a full set of its own molds, but the layup schedule changes for each size, giving each bike a consistent flex pattern for the riders. There’s also a new SuperSix EVO made with intermediate modulus carbon to bring that model down to a more affordable price point, as well as a new layup of the SuperSix EVO Hi-Mod in which they’ve done a bit of judicious refinement in the layup schedule to shave another 40 grams or so from the frame and they say become the undisputed leader in the weight game.
We spent a lot more time discussing their ongoing work with aluminum and how much bike they continue to deliver even with an entry-level bike like one of the CAAD 10s. Watch for a pair of reviews of the CAAD 10 and SuperSix EVO in the near future.
It’s worth mentioning that one of the most-discussed products here yesterday was the just-announced Giro Air Attack helmet.
Even though the helmet won’t be available until spring of next year, it had most of us talking. And while the press materials make a compelling case for why it will keep you just as cool as any of today’s helmets, what had everyone’s curiosity, of course, was its shape. The helmet is said to offer a significant aerodynamic advantage, but many of us, and if I’m honest, that group includes me, struggled to get past the look. It’s worth noting that we’ve come to accept and even champion some head-ware that has no real analog in nature. Put another way: We’ve come to accept a pretty strange looking device—even like it. The strangeness of the look of the Air Attack says more about what we accept than what it truly is, which is a lot closer in shape and look to other sporting helmets.
I’ll do my wrap-up of today’s meetings this weekend as I leave here before lunch for a flight to an undisclosed location for the introduction of a new Specialized S-Works product. It should make for some great photos.
I’m in Park City, Utah, attending Press Camp, an event organized by Lifeboat Events. One of the partners in Lifeboat Events is Lance Camisasca, the former director of the Interbike trade show. Press Camp is a trade event for bike companies to get serious face time with the media. Sessions are broken into 45-minute blocks, of which I routinely ran over, but we’ll get to that.
That Camisasca is the former director of Interbike probably says something about where he thinks the industry is headed and whether or not he thinks there’s a problem with Interbike’s business model. As a means to reach the media, in only one day here, I have to say that I think it is entirely more effective. I was able to have real conversations with people in the industry, some of whom I previously knew, some of whom I didn’t, and discuss their product line in some depth without having someone interrupt us to ask for some stickers.
The funny thing about the increased time allotted for meetings is that I still never seemed to get through anyone’s full product line. For me, most of my mission was to identify products that I would be interested in reviewing at a later time.
I really welcomed the opportunity to meet the team behind NeilPryde bikes. The Bura SL, shown above, was really impressive. If the numbers I saw are accurate, it has one of the highest stiffness-to-weight ratios of any bike on the market. While they are doing a number of interesting bikes, this one was particularly interesting.
This frame features an asymmetric seat tube design without sacrificing any BB stiffness. And while all the engineering that goes into their frames appears to be very well done, I didn’t expect a brand new to cycling such as NeilPryde to have the ability to surprise me with weight and stiffness numbers that rival those from companies like Cervelo and Cannondale.
Stan’s NoTubes has moved into wheel production and these three rims show the evolution of one of their rims. Material was added at the spoke bed (center and left) as well as at the bottom of the brake track to increase lateral stiffness.
Of the many products out there I get requests for, perhaps the single most frequent category I’ve heard about in the last six months to a year is road tubeless. We’ll be rectifying that omission in the near future. I’ll make sure to ride some tubeless-specific wheels as well as convert some ordinary wheels to tubeless. Should be fun.
Guru seems to be best known for the carbon fiber bikes. What you may not know is that they started with TIG-welded steel bikes and then moved into titanium and aluminum before moving into Scandium. No matter what frame material you’re interested in, their delivery time is stunning. Few companies can offer a bike in less than a month, and Guru is delivering.
Guru has been on my radar for some time. I’ve been aware of the brand and some of their successes in racing, particularly in triathlon. That said, I’d never seen one of their titanium bikes up close. We’re discussing a review of one of their bikes and I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I’m as interested in their titanium bikes as I am their carbon fiber ones. That just doesn’t happen.
This helmet by Kali Protectives can be used either for cross country or the road; the visor is removable. What was most interesting about Kali’s helmets was that they are using a much lower density foam closest to the head. By using lower density foam more energy is dissipated before the head feels any impact. To use the lower density foam the vent holes have to be smaller and less frequent, but in the event of a crash that results in head impact, you could be substantially less traumatized.
I’ve been itching to get a chance to discuss Enve’s new Smart System rims and wheels. I’m currently finishing up a short-term review of a pair of wheels built with the 34 rims. And they were nice. The wheels that Enve’s Jason Schier and Simon Smart most wanted to discuss were the 67 (BTW: don’t say “sixty-seven,” say six-seven”). This is the mid-depth of the three wheels and it’s the one where they claim the greatest benefit of the new rims comes into play. Stay tuned.
For most of the past century, the Olympic Games weren’t a big deal in the cycling world. Only amateur bike racers could compete and they regarded the Games as a small stepping-stone toward the professional ranks. That began to change at Atlanta in 1996. Pro racers took part for the first time and their superior level of fitness was demonstrated by four Frenchmen, who’d just finished the Tour de France, getting together to win the track team pursuit. And the pros, led by Swiss champ Pascal Richard, swept all the medals in the men’s road race.
Since then, the prestige of winning Olympic gold medals in cycling was raised progressively by high-profile road race winners Jan Ullrich (Sydney 2000), Paolo Bettini (Athens 2004) and Samuel Sanchez (Beijing 2008). Our sport’s high profile has become personified by two multi-Olympic champions, British sprinter Sir Chris Hoy and French mountain biker Julien Absalon, who are household names in their respective countries.
Even the road time trial, started in 1996, has grown in stature thanks to its defending champion Fabian Cancellara. The Swiss superstar has again targeted the Olympic TT as a major goal, the same as Germany’s world TT champion Tony Martin. And their likely challengers include multi-time world pursuit champs Brad Wiggins and Taylor Phinney, now that their favored track discipline has been eliminated from the Olympic program.
A mark of the status held by cycling with the International Olympic Committee is the fact that the whole Games’ event schedule, for the third time, is being kicked off with the elite men’s road race. After the Athens circuit around the Parthenon, and the Beijing course to the Great Wall of China, London will see a start-finish outside the Queen’s Buckingham Palace with a route south to the Surrey Hills and nine laps of a scenic loop over and around Box Hill.
The race will not only showcase many of London’s most historic and beautiful sites, but also feature the very best classics riders in pro cycling. So, even though many of them are building up to what promises to be a fascinating Tour de France, they are looking beyond racing for yellow jerseys in Paris to shooting for gold in London. And the media hype has stepped up considerably since national federations announced their long teams for all the Olympic cycling events last week.
The focus to date has been on Britain’s home team of medal contenders, headed by world champ Mark Cavendish for the road race and Wiggins for the time trial. The two Team Sky leaders, like their team manager Dave Brailsford, believe that the road to Olympic gold is via the Tour—as do potential medal contenders such as Australia’s Matt Goss, Belgium’s Philippe Gilbert, Germany’s André Greipel, Norway’s Eddy Boasson Hagen, Slovakia’s Peter Sagan, Spain’s Sanchez, Switzerland’s Cancellara and Tyler Farrar of the United States. Those not risking the Tour’s potential perils to focus totally on July 28’s Olympic road race include sprinters Tom Boonen of Belgium, Daniele Bennati of Italy and Thor Hushovd of Norway.
Selecting teams for London has been tricky because the strongest nations can field only five riders, as opposed to eight for regular one-day classics; and one of each country’s selection also has to start the time trial four days’ later. Ideally, a team will have a leader who can sprint well at the end of the tough 250-kilometer road race, along with support riders who can chase down breaks that will inevitably form on the many narrow, twisty back roads that precede and follow the nine laps of the hilly 15.5-kilometer circuit at the heart of the London course.
For the United States, much has been made of the fact that veterans George Hincapie, Levi Leipheimer, Christian Vande Velde and Dave Zabriskie separately contacted USA Cycling this summer, saying they did not want to be considered for the Olympic road team. But with Farrar already the designated leader since he became the first American sprinter to win a Tour stage last year, and with all four of the veterans being stage-race specialists, there was no compelling reason to select them. For instance, Hincapie hasn’t raced the worlds for the past four years (and he was only 39th in the Beijing Olympics), Leipheimer hasn’t started a worlds road race for eight years, and Vande Velde and Zabriskie last rode the worlds in 2010 (placing 79th and DNF respectively).
It has been speculated that the four riders recused themselves because they may be witnesses in the USADA-alleged doping conspiracy at the U.S. Postal Service team during Lance Armstrong’s Tour-winning years. But neither Leipheimer nor Zabriskie raced for Postal at those Tours. And though Leipheimer did race with Armstrong at the 2009 and 2010 Tours (on the Astana and RadioShack teams), which USADA alleges were also “suspicious” years, among his teammates was Chris Horner, who has been selected for the London Olympics.
In any case, Horner’s credentials for the 2012 Olympic team are far stronger than those of the four other veterans. Horner is one of the few Americans to have placed top 10 at one-day races as diverse as Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Tour of Lombardy and the worlds’ road race, and he will be an invaluable aid to Farrar and the three younger members of the London Olympics squad: Tim Duggan, Taylor Phinney and Tejay Van Garderen.
As for these three, Duggan has proven himself this year as a powerful domestique for the Liquigas-Cannondale team (and he also happened to win the recent U.S. national road title!); Phinney was an excellent 17th in his first Paris-Roubaix in April (Hincapie finished 43rd); and Van Garderen will be helping his BMC Racing team leader Cadel Evans defend his Tour title next month, and he has finished the toughest Ardennes classics in each of the past two years.
Van Garderen can also be a strong back-up rider for the time trial should Phinney get injured or sick, while Phinney’s winning time trial at last month’s Giro d’Italia (besides his past world track titles) made him as good if not better candidate for the Olympic TT than the veteran Zabriskie. So the U.S. national team for London is solid in every respect, whatever may be speculated in the media. It will be fascinating to see how they perform at London in what has become one of cycling’s most sought-after prizes.
Follow me on Twitter: @johnwilcockson
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
My two-year-old son, Philip, began riding a bicycle at the beginning of May.
I don’t mean a bike with training wheels. I don’t mean a push bike. I mean a bike the way you and I define bike. Of course, this isn’t something he just did one day. We’d been working up to the miraculum eventus. This time last year I purchased a Razor scooter for him. I did that because at the park one day he took off on some kid’s three-wheeled scooter and had that thing wired in about 40 feet. So I figured if we were going to do this, I might as well get him something that would offer a challenge. By the end of the week he was riding it to and from the park a mile from home.
Meanwhile, he was working on his hi-rev pedal stroke on the tricycles at his preschool. Well, that and learning how to high-side by taking turns at high speed.
So for his July birthday his grandparents sent him a Skuut push bike. Initially, I had to assemble the thing with the frame flipped so that I could position the saddle lower than is possible in its ordinary set up. He was too small even for that, at first. But by the end of September we were heading out for his first little rides. It remained equal parts curiosity and frustration for him for at least two more months. Then, somewhere around the beginning of the year, he started to get the hang of it and it became a fun delivery device.
I got stopped at the park when people saw him tear by on either the Skuut or his scooter. The most frequent question was, “How old is he?” That one is followed closely by, “Is he small for his age?” This latter came from parents who were thinking, ‘There’s no way that kid is only two or three.” I admit, it was fun to watch other parents look and point.
One night in April I was cruising around the Specialized web site (I do this for fun) and happened across their kids’ bikes. Now, I’d been told they made kids bikes, and I’d even seen them in bike shops, but I’d forgotten that there might be an intersection point between them and my son. Then I spied the Hot Rock, a kids’ bike with 12-inch wheels.
I was on the phone the next day. To be honest, I’m not even sure what I paid; I just gave them my card. It could have been full retail; I didn’t care—still don’t.
In the process of assembling the bike I took the package with the training wheels and dropped it in the trash. I didn’t think they would present any sort of help. He had all the requisite skills—the balance, the ability to pedal and the sense of what’s fun.
We called him into the garage to see the bike. I’ll always regret not having taken a photo of the look on his face when he first saw it, but the shot above is pretty close. We could have used it to illustrate the combined emotions of excitement and delight in a Wikipedia entry. The saddle, I found, had a handy little grip at the back, just the perfect place to hold the bike and give it a good push, which is exactly what I did once he climbed aboard. He rode around for about five minutes, came rolling back up to me, put his feet down and announced, “I done.”
With each successive ride he lasted longer and longer. Within a week we were riding the mile to the local park and back. Of all his toys, his bike is his favorite, overshadowing his love of Hot Wheels cars and balls of any shape or size.
Because I’m a cyclist this is something of a dream come true for me.
The odds that my wife and I would have a child who would take an interest in cycling were great. The odds against us having a child who would learn how to ride at such a young age were astronomical. So when I tell you that I feel like we hit the lottery, I’m aware that winning the lottery isn’t all strawberries and champagne.
“Professionals” have expressed concern that his speech acquisition isn’t optimal, that he’s not potty-trained yet, that he’s not big on sharing. My sense is that no one gets a child who scores all 10s, and while I’m not trying to make excuses for him, I’m aware that those who win the lottery are often no better for it. Winning the lottery, based on anecdotal evidence, does not improve a life. If anything, it makes it more difficult because it gives you a different—unfamiliar—set of problems to solve.
There’s a cosmic irony at work here. It’s easy to joke that the thing I most wanted to impart to him was cycling. It’s not. I want him to be a good person, not just decent, but someone others will look at years after I’m gone and say that he is a person with a moral existence, an internal compass that guides his actions. Athletic prowess, as exhibited by the spectacularly compensated stars of the NBA, NFL, etc., rarely seems to be a route to a considered life.
If I’d had the temerity to ask God for this, one could say he played a joke on me. But a desire to stoke a fire for cycling within my son has never been far from my mind. But here’s where I turn the table. My challenge isn’t just to show Philip that riding bikes is fun. No, my job is to walk him through the lessons of my life, to take him down the routes in which cycling taught me the lessons that guide my actions today.
My father keeps asking me to teach Philip that Sunday isn’t Tuesday. What he means is that he wants Philip to have a spiritual upbringing. For him, that means Catholic. What cycling taught me is that I can have Sunday any day of the week.
I’m just not yet sure how to teach that.
I hadn’t planned on doing a second review of Rapha products right on the heels of my first, and it might not be fair to insert them into the current controversy with Lance Armstrong, but I suspect everyone knows which line of the sand they’re on.
If you be hatin’ on Tour winners who doped, hit the “back” button now.
If you’re over that and dig cool designs that draw their inspiration from the five most successful of the Tour de France champions, you gotta check these shirts out.
The creators-that-be at Rapha noticed a little something one day in discussing previous Tour champions. For each of the last five decades the rider who won the race in a year ending in the number two went on to win the race four other times … at least. Armstrong was the victor in ’02. Miguel Indurain was the man in ’92. Bernard Hinault takes the honors for ’82. In ’72 it was Eddy Merckx, of course, And ’62? That was the great Jacques Anquetil. The shirts, then, are dubbed the Cinq Decennies de Champions—the five decades of champions.
So will this year’s victor enjoy a similar streak? Who knows? We’re not going to settle that this month … or even this year.
The world is full of crappy T-shirts with barely more thought afforded to their design than the garden-variety reality show. These shirts are the West Wing of T-shirts. Witty, smart, insider and aimed at those invested in the whole series, each of the creations speaks to the history of the rider. The shirt colors evoke the designs of their best-recalled teams. Better yet, at the top of the back of each shirt, a small icon appears. The The icons recall details like Indurain’s legendarily low resting heart rate or, in the case of Merckx, a variation on the skull and crossbones to recall his nickname, the Cannibal. And in another stroke meant to speak to the cycling roots behind these designs, the shirts sport a pocket, only it’s not a breast pocket; it’s in back, practically on the hip.
Rapha claims that the shirts are constructed of an ultra-wicking cotton. I can’t really speak to how well it wicks as I never wore it in a sauna (or outside when I went back to Memphis). What I can tell you is that they travel well. I’m not wild about pulling a shirt from a suitcase only to realize it’s too wrinkled to wear. Even after a there-and-back I noticed the Merckx shirt was prêt á porter.
At $60 a pop, these are the most expensive T-shirts I’ve ever encountered. Kinda no other way to slice it, huh? The flip side of this is calling these shirts T-shirts is something of an insult. Never in my life have I owned a T-shirt made from such a fine cotton. And if I could source a shirt this nice for the RKP designs, believe me, I’d consider it. These things are likely to become heirlooms in my family.
Should you wish to go in for the full collection, there’s good news. You can get all five shirts plus a stylish (like it would be anything else) musette bag for the price of four shirts—$240.
I’ve always liked the passion behind Rapha products, but these shirts may be the best marriage of their passion, design work and concept of quality I’ve seen.
Despite suspicions that the apparent turmoil at Team RadioShack-Nissan was just that, apparent, a bit of strategic misdirection from Johann Bruyneel ahead of the Tour, Andy Schleck has now pulled out of the Grand Boucle with a fractured tailbone. Bruyneel has been targeted in a USADA investigation into systematized doping, and team owner Flavio Becca has, allegedly, withheld the riders’ May salaries (via Inner Ring) to express his disappointment with overall performances.
Now the Schlecks, who have publicly fallen out with Bruyneel, are rumored to be looking for a new team, possibly a return to Bjarne Riis’ SaxoBank squad. What?
We have been here before, with the ridiculous game of musical chairs that saw the Luxembourgers leave SaxoBank to start Leopard-Trek, while Alberto Contador joined Riis and won the Tour (later to be DQ’d for doping). Both of those teams lined up against Radio Shack, then under the leadership of Bruyneel and Lance Armstrong, which subsequently merged with Leopard-Trek. All those deals were undergirded by competing sponsorship dollars from Specialized and Trek, each of whom desperately wants a TdF winner on their machines. There just weren’t enough serious Tour contenders around to support three teams after Armstrong finally quit, so that merger made some sense, except that Cadel Evans won the last Tour for Andy Rihs and BMC.
You know what, forget musical chairs. This is a freaking Russian novel with too many characters, too many plot lines and too much melodrama.
Obviously (maybe), the Schlecks can’t go back to Riis, who just re-signed Contador to a three-year deal. The other rumor is that they’ll go to Astana (the former home of Contador and Armstrong), but that will only put Vincenzo Nibali in an awkward spot. He just signed on to be their main GC man.
As with all big name/money transfers, nothing is clear this time of year. It’s our Russian novel, written with a stick, in sand, too near the tide line.
This week’s Group Ride asks a series of crazy questions: Will the Schlecks leave the Shack? If so, does it even make sense for Flavio Becca to own a cycling team with or without RadioShack also involved? And who benefits most from the chaos? Bjarne Riis and the soon-to-return Contador? Team Sky, with Bradley Wiggins coming on song at possibly the right time? Or someone else? BMC? Look into your crystal ball, get out your Russian-English dictionary, take a wild stab. How will it all play out?
I thought things in cycling would be quiet before the start of the Tour on the 30th of the month, but here we are again, with cycling hitting the headlines, with doping and Lance Armstrong mentioned in the lead paragraph again.
I got into cycling because of Lance Armstrong and I loved the guy as he killed it on the roads of France. Over the years, I learned more about him as a person and, still admiring him as an athlete, came to the conclusion that I probably wouldn’t enjoy spending a lot of time with the guy. Obviously, he has issues, but what the heck, he’s gone. He’s retired. He was even cleared by a grand jury. Why the hell is USADA going after him now?
Isn’t it a waste of time and money to persecute a retired jock for cheating whether he did it or not?
What are they going to charge him with? Who gets to decide his guilt? How long before we hear about the result?
On one level, I have to agree, Roy. I guess Michael Corleone put it best when he (and later Silvio Dante on the “Sopranos”) said “just when I thought I was out … they pull me back in.”
And yeah, I pretty much thought we were done with this stuff, but we’re back touching on the same subject that’s been rattling around in my head since 1999, when I spent the entire three weeks of the Tour sharing a car and hotels with the man who would soon become Lance Armstrong’s chief accuser, David Walsh of the Sunday Times of London.
Look, no matter how you approach it, the story was compelling: The young American one-time world champion returned from death’s door to win the greatest bicycle race – nay, the greatest sporting event – in the world. Even one Tour victory would have capped that narrative, let alone seven. The story is – to use an oft-overused term – awesome. If it had merely been a movie or a novel, knowing cycling fans would have quickly dismissed it as fantasy.
Miracle or fraud?
Me? I have to go back to what Greg LeMond once said about the other American to win the Tour. “If Armstrong’s clean, it’s the greatest comeback,” he noted. “And if he’s not, then it’s the greatest fraud.”
It was a few years later, when Armstrong celebrated his last win in Paris in 2005, when he issued a rather flaccid response to that observation, “the last thing I’ll say to the people who don’t believe in cycling, the cynics and the skeptics: I’m sorry for you. I’m sorry that you can’t dream big. I’m sorry you don’t believe in miracles.”
Let’s deconstruct that. Yeah, I believe in cycling. I admit I’m a skeptic. Cynic? No, a cynic would be one to believe that people are too stupid to ask the questions a skeptic would raise. Hey, I even like to dream big, but I am not so much in the “miracles” camp. Apparently, neither is the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
So here we are, 13 years after that first miraculous Tour win and a good seven after that farewell speech from the podium in Paris. We’ve all reviewed charges, read books and heard accusers from all sides, but the “world’s most tested athlete” has emerged relatively unscathed. His most recent brush ended when André Birotte, the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, called an end to a grand jury investigation into Armstrong and others on a host of charges that were said to include allegations of doping, fraud and conspiracy.
A lot of people were surprised by Birotte’s decision, not least of which the investigators and Assistant U.S. Attorneys working the case, who reportedly received only 15 minutes’ warning before the news went public.
Cooperating with investigators in that case were officials from USADA, including the agency’s CEO Travis Tygart.
Wednesday’s news should come as no surprise then, especially to those who recall Tygart’s statement the day Birotte shut down the grand jury investigation.
“Unlike the U.S. Attorney, USADA’s job is to protect clean sport rather than enforce specific criminal laws,” he said. “Our investigation into doping in the sport of cycling is continuing, and we look forward to obtaining the information developed during the federal investigation.”
You’ve got mail!
At this point, the agency has not received much, if any, information from the U.S. Attorney’s office. There are specific provisions governing the release of grand jury information in the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and we may yet see the Department of Justice share some of that in the future.
The charges outlined in a June 12 letter to Armstrong are largely based on the evidence that USADA has gathered on its own over the past few years.
The agency outlines the elements of a potentially strong “non-analytical” case against all of the respondents. Much will depend on the quality of the evidence presented and whether Armstrong’s legal team can successfully attack that evidence. We’ll see.
We already know that there is a great deal of witness testimony out there, including statements from former staff and teammates. Some of those will offer testimony that the defense will work to impeach, largely because they themselves were caught doping. Chief among those, of course, are Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis.
Personally, I think Tygart is a pretty cautious sort and I doubt that letter would ever have been dropped in the mail if he didn’t have what he sees as an airtight case.
While nearly all of the attention has been focused on Armstrong’s inclusion in that list of respondents, included in the charging letter are Johan Bruyneel, doctors Pedro Celaya, Luis Garcia del Moral and Michele Ferrari and trainer Jose Pepe Marti.
USADA is seeking penalties and sanctions against all of them. Each of them, the document charges, has violated rules against the possession, trafficking, administration – or attempted administration – of banned substances and/or engaged in banned practices. The list of substances and practices includes all of the usual suspects: the drugs EPO, testosterone, Human Growth Hormone, Corticosteroids and assorted masking agents, as well as violations of bans on blood doping and the use of saline and plasma infusions.
The agency is looking to suspend each of the respondents in this case and, citing aggravating circumstances, may seek the imposition of life-time bans.
Normally, a first-time violation of the rules will result in a two-year suspension, but the revised UCI rules and the World Anti-Doping Code do allow an anti-doping agency to seek stiffer sanctions when there are aggravating circumstances. In this case, each of the respondents has been charged with “assisting, encouraging, aiding, abetting, covering-up and other complicity involving one or more anti-doping rule violations and/or attempted anti-doping violations.”
It’s that charge which serves as the basis for the conspiracy and cover-up charges outlined on page 12 of the USADA letter. The agency alleges that each of the respondents has been involved in a long-running and coordinated effort to acquire drugs, encourage their use among riders on the U.S. Postal, Discovery, Astana and RadioShack teams and then use “fear intimidation and coercion to attempt to enforce a code of silence (or omerta)” to keep those practices secret.
With the risks faced by any individual rider who might choose to come forward, the code of omerta tends to work pretty well, too. But there appears to be a tipping point, too. After a certain number of riders come forward and speak publicly, the whole thing begins to unravel like a two-dollar sweater.
Frankie Andreu and Steven Swart started things when they spoke out about doping years ago. Floyd Landis, Tyler Hamilton and others have since come forward and, according to the USADA letter, virtually every rider they contacted – with the exception of Armstrong himself – has cooperated with the investigation and “agreed to meet with USADA and to truthfully and fully describe their involvement in doping and all doping by others of which they were aware.”
If that’s the case, the code of silence ain’t so silent anymore.
USADA says it is also prepared to present medical evidence, including blood testing data from 2009 and 2010 that are “fully consistent with blood manipulation, including EPO use and/or blood transfusions.”
Armstrong was quick to respond on Wednesday, denying the charges and characterizing the case as “baseless, motivated by spite and advanced through testimony bought and paid for by promises of anonymity and immunity.”
“I have never doped,” Armstrong added, “and, unlike many of my accusers, I have competed as an endurance athlete for 25 years with no spike in performance, passed more than 500 drug tests and never failed one.”
That sounds like a guy ready for a fight. But is he?
Just last month, in a Men’s Journal interview, Armstrong seemed to suggest that he was expecting something from USADA, adding that if something did emerge, he was not going to waste his time challenging it.
“In my mind, I’m truly done,” he said. “You can interpret that however you want. But no matter what happens, I’m finished. I’m done fighting. I’ve moved on. If there are other things that arise, I’m not contesting anything. Case closed.”
Frankly, it’s understandable. The guy has a comfortable life. He’s focused on other things. He has the foundation, he has kids, he has amassed a fortune and he has his health. If he fights it we can expect a two-year battle, starting with a hearing before a three-member panel. Depending on how that turns out, we can also expect an appeal – by either party – to the International Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Take a look at the timelines in the Hamilton and Landis cases, if you need an indicator of how long this will take. Then add the complexity of multiple respondents, more serious charges and the evidentiary issues that will arise in a “non-analytical” case and we could see this thing go on for even longer. (Of course, on the plus side – at least in my book – that translates into lots and lots and lots of billable hours for the lawyers involved.)
At this point, walking away would mean a somewhat sullied reputation and a ban from his recent return to triathlon. All things considered, that may not be a huge price to pay, especially when weighed against the risks involved in losing a protracted fight.
Of course, there may be other reasons not to fight. Testimony in USADA cases is given under oath. Anything he says will be carefully scrutinized and there could be the potential for perjury charges – like those levied against the last athlete who embraced the “world’s most tested athlete” moniker, Marion Jones.
There’s also nothing to keep the Department of Justice from re-opening its now-abandoned grand jury investigation. Charges were never filed in the last one. Double jeopardy is not an issue … although the statute of limitations has long been an issue in my mind.
Evidence in this case could well be used in pending civil actions, including the currently dormant “whistle-blower’s suit” filed by Floyd Landis a few years back.
Still, even if Armstrong doesn’t fight, I can’t imagine Bruyneel, et al. will be satisfied to have their careers stopped in their tracks.
No matter what, we can probably expect to hear about the case and the charges outlined in USADA’s letter for years to come.
Is that a good thing? I don’t know. Frankly, I think the scrutiny is healthy. I honestly believe the sport is significantly cleaner than it was the first time Armstrong retired in 2005. Am I happy that we’ve waited this long to assemble evidence that’s been out there for years? Not so much. We would have all been better off had all of this happened earlier. Nonetheless, I really do want to see the evidence and finally be comfortable saying whether I believe this miraculous story was the greatest comeback … or the greatest fraud.
But what the hey, what do I know?
The Explainer is a weekly feature on Red Kite Prayer. If you have a question related to the sport of cycling, doping or the legal issues faced by cyclists of all stripes, feel free to send it directly to The Explainer at Charles@Pelkey.com. PLEASE NOTE: Understand that reading the information contained here does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Charles Pelkey. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained therein without first seeking the advice of qualified legal counsel licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.
So the big news is that USADA is finally charging Lance Armstrong with doping—really and for true! Let’s consider this for a moment: nearly two full years after one of cycling’s greatest practically washed out of the 2010 Tour, Travis Tygart is going after Armstrong for what he claims is clear evidence of doping. Among the penalties Armstrong is said to face is the possibility that he could be stripped of all seven of his Tour de France victories. While there is some doubt that could take place, what is very real is that Armstrong’s nascent triathlon career has been encased in carbonite.
It’s an event more problematic than whether or not Los Angeles will behave itself for the Stanley-cup-winning Kings parade, but a good deal less important than, say, the civil war in Syria.
Why problematic? This will prove to be a lengthy, costly case. Armstrong has already begun to remind the public that these are tax dollars at work. The argument that this is a bad use of tax dollars is a red herring. The moment we question whether doping cases should be prosecuted with tax dollars, the whole of USADA’s mission enters the blades of the combine. The more appropriate question is what good can come of this?
Several outspoken cyclists have commented that we should pursue the case because if you gradually clear away all the dopers you will, at some point, end up with a clean rider. It’s an idiotic assertion. What you eventually end up with is a rider who just never got tested. If every rider were tested at the end of each race or each stage of a stage race, it would be another matter, but it has been possible for riders to go weeks or more without being tested. Clear away doper upon doper from the ’90s and what you are left with is a guy you just can’t prove is clean, nor can you prove he doped. What kind of improvement is that?
The problem isn’t that Armstrong is innocent. If you’re reading this, it’s highly unlikely that you believe he’s innocent. Lance Armstrong is Santa Claus for grownups. Sorta. The world can be divided into those who believe Armstrong is innocent of doping and those who believe his innocence is as possible as the elimination of the student loan debt.
Armstrong has even been called the cancer Jesus. It’s a rich vein of irony, waiting for a pickaxe. There’s the obvious miracle of his seven straight Tour wins—statistically, it’s a stunner. The miracle that no accusation could stick. The messianic quality he has in giving those on death’s door hope. And then the wry fact that Armstrong himself is an atheist. But I’m not here to poke fun at religion, or at Armstrong, for that matter.
Armstrong has not one, but two dilemmas. In a tweet earlier today I used the hashtag #roadrunnerandcoyote to point out the inevitability of Travis Tygart’s pursuit of Armstrong. Tygart and USADA are his front-burner problem. He’s got to deal with this and he has to deal with it convincingly for everyone who still puts out cookies and milk on Christmas eve. History suggests that with his batting record, he will find a way out. He has on every previous occasion. The odds seem to favor him even now.
But Armstrong has a bigger problem. Competition is his raison d’etre. He nearly spelled that out when he came out of retirement by telling the world that he was most useful to the LiveStrong foundation as a competitor. As a competitor, he’s an example of clean living (try not to snicker), and that’s what gives hope to millions. When he’s hanging out on the beach with Matthew McConaughey or dating one of the Olsen twins (which one was it?), he’s just a playboy, which is to say a rich slacker. Not exactly role model stuff.
So, to continue his role as “the cancer Jesus” he needs to stay in the public eye as a competitor, whether as a cyclist, triathlete or marathoner. It’s a tough part to play. After all, there’s a shelf-life for everyone who plays at the most elite of levels. And unless Tygart gets taken out by a band of ronin, he’s not going to tire of playing Javert.
Which brings us to Tygart’s problem. And yes, Tygart has a problem. He’s beginning to seem like Inspector Javert chasing Jean Valjean. Armstrong stands accused of much more than Valjean was, but the great tragedy of Hugo’s Les Miserables is that Javert pursues Valjean relentlessly, showing a capacity for cruelty and spite that suggests he’s more of a villain than Valjean ever was.
And that is Tygart’s problem. He risks looking like a tyrant and losing public support for his efforts. He could make Armstrong look like a victim.
The other oft-asked question is why Armstrong won’t just come clean (pun intended). The reason is Tygart. Armstrong still has much to lose. LiveStrong isn’t worth much without Armstrong, no matter what the foundation says. They need him because he is the brand, their best advertising.
So back to that earlier, unanswered question of what good can come of this prosecution. I’m going to assert that nothing good can be achieved. We can’t really change the results, not at this point. Armstrong will forever be remembered as the winner of seven Tours de France. Try and strip them away and soon enough that asterisk that says “stripped of victory” will be forgotten, the exact details washed away from the public consciousness the way no one remembers Oliver North’s specific misdeeds. Let’s bear in mind: There is doping going on today, doping that needs to be stopped and chasing the past will really do nothing to help us in today’s fight. And frankly, I know a bunch of racers who are angry enough about facing doping in masters races they are ready to do some back-alley ass whooping. A full-court prosecution of Armstrong will take a lot of human capital that could be devoted otherwise.
It seems unlikely that these proceedings will result in anything that pleases anyone. And that means we are left with a decision. How do we want to remember Armstrong? There are plenty of cyclists out there who despise big Tex. It seems that some of the dislike for him comes from his alpha-male demeanor. Others dislike him for simply dominating the Tour for seven years. And I suppose some are angry that he seems to have gotten away with stuff that sank other riders. But the most surprising group are those who have told me they feel betrayed by Armstrong, that they believed he was innocent and now they see those years of his wins as a bushel of lies. I wonder if maybe this isn’t mostly embarrassment at having been naive enough to drink the Kool-Aid.
Armstrong won in a dirty time. Stripping him of his victories won’t fix that. And unless WADA is prepared to go after every cyclist who rode at that time, the pursuit of Armstrong will be perceived as unjust because it is an unequal enforcement effort. Forgetting for a moment all the foreign riders who will never be pursued—the Spaniards especially—what of other American riders? What of George Hincapie? Does anyone really think he was clean? Is the only reason to leave his meager legacy intact just that—because it was meager?
Some of the bitterness for Armstrong smacks of the “I never loved her anyway” that follows high school breakups, which is my way of insulting some of the anger directed at him as being childish.
And so now I’m going to say something I suspect will be wildly unpopular: I cherish those years. I loved watching Armstrong win. I recall sitting near the top of the Col du Glandon in 2004 and watching le train bleu come by at the speed of freeway traffic and hearing the guys chatting and laughing within the pack—laughing! I walked back to our van with a stupid grin on my face, knowing I’d seem something special. I’d have to stop to think about all the stages that I watched with the same breathless anxiety that school girls reserved for the Beatles. I loved every minute of it.
Lance doped. He’s not gonna confess. We can’t fix the past, but we can police the present. So unless you’re prepared to see all of cycling burned down like Dresden, let’s leave it alone.
The Killer Kit is back. Well, not quite. This would be the Son of the Killer Kit. Designed once again by the über-talented Joe Yule of StageOne Sports, those of you who have eyed (or ordered) the RKP kit in the past may recall that Mr. Yule is the man behind the look of both the Garmin-Barracuda and SpiderTech teams. That RKP gets some of his down time is no small miracle.
Joe suggested that we do a slight evolution of the existing design. Think of our previous efforts as the spring jersey and this new design as the summer jersey. We’ve also got a new all-black pair of bibs so that if you only want a pair of RKP bibs, the blue won’t look silly with your existing collection of jerseys. Which is to say, we will now be offering the jersey and bibs separately.
Panache will be doing the clothing once again. We continue to be impressed with the quality of the clothing overall, but especially impressed with the CyTech pad they use in the bibs; it remains our favorite pad found in custom bibs. You’ll find sizing information in the store.
We expect an early August delivery.
Click on the image to see it in greater detail. It has some pretty stylish touches, if we do say so ourselves (and we do). In addition to the jersey and bibs, we will be offering arm and knee warmers; sorry, no leg warmers. The knee warmers, as you can see, will be black with the kite this time around.
For those who know they are interested, we are offering a 15% discount for pre-orders. You can order what you want of the new kit until Monday at noon and get the discount. Check it out in the store.
We also have some old stock, odds and ends mostly, that we’re blowing out for 40% off.
One other important note: Padraig (who fills all the orders) will be at Bike PressCamp the week of 6/18. Any orders placed after 6/16 will go out the week of 6/25.
There was a time, not very long ago, when the average fan’s perception of Cadel Evans was not entirely favorable. Clearly a huge talent, Evans’ demeanor suggested a lack of maturity, a tendency to whine and the distinct impression that the biggest prizes would elude him. Perhaps it was the influence of the late Aldo Sassi, perhaps it was winning a World Championship, perhaps it was getting married, but Evans finally got himself over the hump.
It was a patient and tempered effort that saw the Australian win last year’s Tour de France. Where once he might have bemoaned his bad luck or chided his teammates for not being more helpful, Evans finally assumed responsibility for his own destiny. Think back to Stage 18 of that Tour when he responded alone to the attack of Andy Schleck, dragging the Luxembourger back by sitting on the front of a chasing group, grinding out the gap and keeping Schleck in his GC sights. He neither panicked, nor asked for help. While it was the Stage 20 time trial that finally put him in yellow, it was the bravura performance on the way to the Galibier that won him the Tour.
Just how Evans transformed himself from a not-entirely-convincing contender to a worthy champion is a mystery. Somehow he dragged himself over that hump. From my perspective, the hump is as important as it is hard to define.
Following on from last week’s Group Ride, can we ask: Is Brad Wiggins over the hump? He’s won a handful of one week stage races, including this season’s Paris-Nice and Dauphiné. He has World Championships on the track, and time trial medals from World Championships on the road. He is highly accomplished. There is no doubt. But can he win a Grand Tour?
Third at last year’s Vuelta, fourth in the 2009 Tour, he is nearly there. But the distance between third and first in Paris is more than the two foot rise from the third podium step to the first. There is a mile of luck and a bit more in experience necessary to bridge that gap.
If you look at Wiggins, tilt your head to one side and squint just right, you can imagine that all the bluster he summons in the press, the sarcasm and arrogance that some interpret as supreme confidence, is just the opposite. It is the demeanor of an elite athlete still harboring doubts about his ability to mount those last two steps and a resentment perhaps that, despite already achieving so much, he is expected to do more.
Andy Schleck, who has now withdrawn from the 2012 Tour, finds himself in the same purgatory as Wiggins. “Winner” of the 2010 Tour after Alberto Contador’s doping conviction, Schleck has never won a stage race on the road as a full professional. He has done everything but, standing on consecutive podiums, winning white jerseys, taking stage wins, but never bridging that last, narrow gap, never making it over the hump.
What’s it about? Is it an unwillingness to improve his time trialling skills? Despite hemorrhaging time to his opponents in every time trial he rides, he steadfastly refuses to do the basic work to be better, or even in some cases to pre-ride the courses to know what challenges await him. Is it maybe a reluctance to attack? How many times have we seen young Andy looking around an elite group, waiting for someone else to make a move? Or are all of these things together indicative of being stuck in second place without the maturity to accept and conquer his shortcomings?
One rider who appears to have been born over the hump is Alberto Contador. Discount him as a doper if you will, but that seems too facile when you consider the mental approach and discipline the Spaniard has taken on his way to a string of impressive, if tainted, Grand Tour wins. He has been audacious when audacity was called for, calm when when he needed to be, strong when he was under attack from within his own team and imperious when accused of cheating. He is a rider of great talent, but also of supreme self-possession, and that, in essence, is what the hump is about. To be self-possessed is to understand your own outer limits, to accept that there is no one else who can take you there, and to have the focus to get there.
Now, it will be easy to read this post and flame it, just as it was easy for me to say that the guys who’ve won the Tour are over the hump and those who haven’t aren’t. In elevating Contador, who is cooling his heals after a doping positive, I am praising the wrong man. And yet, I can’t escape this feeling that what separates Evans and Contador from Wiggins and Schleck is not physical. There is something more. It falls under the umbrella of maturity and mental toughness, of luck and tactical nous. To win the Tour de France, the stars must align, but you must also be ready for them to align.
Until then, you train in Mallorca, you screw around with your nutrition, your race schedule and your bike set up. You change teams. You change coaches. You train on feel or you devote yourself to studying power numbers. You weigh your food on a scale. You switch roommates.
All just hoping to get over the hump.
Follow me on Twitter: @thebicyclerobot
Image: Fotoreporter Sirotti