Friday Group Ride #168

The Giro was snowed out today, which suits Danilo Di Luca quite well, I’m sure. It has been a dramatic race, mostly due to the weather, but also because Vincenzo Nibali has shown himself to be head and shoulders above his peers around nearly every bend of Italian pavement.

In fact, Nibali was so good in the uphill time trial to Polsa that only Sammy Sanchez got within a minute of him. That means he was more than 2% faster than everyone else. I saw the gap, and I immediately thought, “there is no way,” which may just be where we are with pro cycling. I don’t have any reason to suspect Nibali specifically, but that’s a big gap in such an important race.

Subsequently, Vini Fantini-Selle Italia’s Di Luca got popped for EPO (EPO for christ’s sake!!!!!), and I thought, “hey, all the time I’ve spent not paying attention to the racing was time well not spent.” I am sadder about that than I sound here, mainly because I always shroud my sadness in sarcasm. It’s a family thing.

Padraig summed it all up well just the other day, but perhaps recent events suggest the moment he described is passing like so many moments before it in pro cycling. Is it about the racers? Is it about the teams? Vini Fantini DS Luca Scinto sure did sound sad and pathetic announcing Di Luca’s test result. Fool me twice, eh Luca?

This week’s Group Ride asks the simple question: How believable is pro cycling today? Use a scale from 1-10, with 10 being unimpeachable and 1 being pro wrestling. Where are we? Do wins like Tejay van Garderen’s last week do anything to shift the balance against the news of Di Luca’s positive test?

Image: Fotoreporter Sirotti

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  1. nrs5000

    4 at best. No, 3 at best. I love cycling (in the sense of getting out there and riding), but I care less and less about pro racing, especially the Grand Tours. The way the sport is run has everything to do with it. It’s a soap opera, complete with bringing dead characters back to life for all the wrong reasons.

  2. Scott

    3 maybe 4. I watched almost all of the Giro and never really got involved. I enjoyed the scenery and the spectacle but the attachment isn’t there like it used to be. You used to be able hear me yelling/cheering from down the block. Now that’s just during football season. And sorry to say, Nibali’s TT, I can’t swallow that. Seems the Italians still don’t get it and Astana team, c’mon?

  3. Sam findley

    2. Maybe.

    Except for the cobbled Classics, which are a 10. Well, not really; but the one-days are the only races that still motivate me to get up early to watch the whole thing. Even if I’m pretty sure that they’re not running on l’amour et l’eau fraiche, it still seems like racing.

  4. Langley in Tierrasanta

    Honestly, following racing on either TV or in print no longer does anything for me. Sure I know what time of year it is and know what races are going on but to watch them, no way. If it’s a grand tour I follow them with Charles Pelkey at Live Update Guy and all the fine LUGNuts there. It is a group of cynics and like-minded cycling people. For me the LUG format gives me the ability to follow the race without feeling like I wasted my time.

  5. rideold

    Yep, 2 (3 if I’m feeling charitable). I kind of don’t care now that the cable companies have locked down the viewing to us non-subscribers. Ticked me off last year when it happened but now I’ve just lost interest in the theater. Show biz just don’t do it for me. I’d rather get out and ride. Leave the doping to the dopers. The elite riders, coaches and promoters are irrelevant now. They killed it for themselves and they can race for themselves now.

  6. Ransom

    It’s strange. I’ve been very slow to adopt the idea of not paying any attention to racing, even though I’ve never followed it very closely, and my own racing has been laughable at best.

    There’s something beautiful about racing. There really is.

    But I have a lot of other interests to attend to, and I think I’m ready to go ride my bike with no thought past the visceral pleasure of riding and the beauty of scenery. I think I hope this will pass.

  7. Ransom

    Oh bloody hell, way to skip answering the actual question, self. 6 or 7. It’s still hard. It’s still pretty. Nobody gets up the mountains for free. But the missing three or four points carry a lot of meaning.

  8. Q

    I guess I’m a real optimist in this group by saying 5. The Science of Sport bloggers wrote a great article a year or two ago showing the statistical evidence from the blood passport (aggregate numbers over all tested athletes) that blood doping dropped significantly with the introduction of the blood passport. That and the slower climbing times show that something has changed. The problem is that we can never prove that any given rider is clean, so the past history haunts us every time we watch an impressive performance. I don’t think anyone questions whether Nibali should be able to win this Giro, yet everyone wonders whether he should be able to win so convincingly. Really the question is: if we had a completely clean peloton, is it normal for one rider to have a really dominating performance?

  9. Drew

    Isn’t this the wrong question?

    I have been enthralled with this tour even with only being able to read online ‘live updates’.

  10. Bo L

    Di Luca’s positive just reinforces my scepticism about all the “squeaky clean” up-and-comers. Pro cycling has always hovered around the 5 range for me as to believability. I still love it, though.

  11. DanL

    Between the Giro, ToC, and ToB the past couple weeks there have been ~450 pro men battling out on those nasty roads. Am I way out of line to split it up and say 95% of those guys get a 10 and the dirty 5% get a 1? That leaves still 23 or two+ squads worth of dopers still not caught…. er, make that 21.

    Q — to your point, I’d say Vos in the women’s peloton. I think she’s clean, and she is clearly dominant across multiple disciplines, and that group has got to be significantly cleaner than the men. Are they completely clean? Hmmmm….

  12. Peter lin

    By definition, professional sports is a business, so I would say 2, 3 at best. That doesn’t stop me from watching professional sports, not that US channels provide decent or good coverage. I enjoy it for the spectacle. It’s no different than watching NFL, MMA, NBA or MLB. Money is the driving factor, not fairness, morality or ethics.

    Non professional sports, I give 8 or 9. Even some amateurs dope or juice, which I never understood. Why a high school football player needs to juice is beyond me, but it’s more prevalent than one would think. For some people, they must win at all costs. Human Ego is a powerful drug!

  13. JRF

    I don’t think its fair to equate transcendent performance with doping. Its too easy and its sloppy. Are you arguing that Nate Robinson’s performance v the Heat was chemical? Dominant athletes are common in many other sports. Sometimes they are cheating, sometimes not. For an example of real dominance see Edwin Moses not losing a 400m hurdles final for over 9 years, 122 straight races, setting four (I think) world records and technically changing the way the event was run. No one thinks he doped. And what about Kenyans and the marathon?

    So I’ll let myself appreciate Nibali’s fantastic Giro and Contador’s Vuelta last year because its sport and sometimes incredible athletes really are, well, incredible. But it is cycling and yeah I can only go maybe 6 or 7 for the sport as a whole.

  14. Patrick O'Brien

    Five. I still think most of the riders get it now. If we could have an independent testing agency, with no advance warning to teams and riders from the insiders, we could get to 6 or 7.

  15. Alex TC

    I’ll beat the optimistics here and give a 6, which would be a 7 or even 8 if it wasnt’t for Di Luca’s positive and today’s stage cancellation. Ueah I know it looks hopeless when you drop the pink lens but I’m coming from an exciting classics season, the build-up for the grand tours, the Froome-Wiggins Sky dilema, the exciting and credible performances of Cavendish and Evans (and most others to be honest), the rising of new talents and… heck, I just love cycling that much really. What can I do?

    1. Padraig

      Everyone: Thank you for your comments. I know this is kind of an ugly question and it may seem odd to be coming from a cycling site rather than another media outlet that doesn’t mind bashing cycling when they get the chance. The unfortunate reality is that the correlation rate between winning and doping has been much to high for too long—though it’s much better today I think. Robot rarely fails to surprise me with the way he sets up these questions, rubbing a little poison oak on the arm to get the itch going, at which point many of us can’t help but scratch and scratch at the answer. For myself, I’d never considered how clean I think cycling is on a 10-point scale. I’m noticing that the answer isn’t coming quickly or easily. Keep your answers coming!

  16. Alan

    4 and rising. Still a few weeds that need to be pulled, and a some bad gardeners to be removed (Hein Verbruggen, McQuaid)

  17. Harold

    5 or 6, maybe even higher. I don’t think a twilight-of-his-career-last-gasp-convicted-doper like DiLuca doping is all that surprising nor do I think it’s a condemnation of younger coming-into-their-prime racers putting in remarkable rides. That said, I also don’t have a problem appreciating a thrilling race as just that. After it’s over I don’t wring my hands while wishing “I sure hope there wasn’t any doping going on.”

  18. Eric W

    I rate it a 2 – not worth my time.

    I’ve just read Tyler Hamiton’s Book and I’m pretty cynical about the whole competitive sports scene. Starting to think that no-one should be a Pro cyclist and this is a sport that belongs to kids. I know I’d be happy to e the fastest kid in my state. Don’t think I’d be happy ten years later trying to make a buck as a cyclist racer.

    Used to but now I know more about the business of sport. Don’t think I admire any of these athletes…

    There’s no way I’m giving money in the form of fees to the UCI. I’ll maybe race, but not for those guys.

  19. Harold

    I just watched highlights of today’s stage of the Giro and doper or not I would still buy the guy a drink.

  20. Slow Eddy

    Some place from 2-6 on a given day. I love anything bicycle and have followed these clowns for over 25 years. I have nothing on Nibali, it just looked too much like when Basso won the Giro, and then claimed he only planned to dope at the Tour. I am to the point I just find it hard to understand why they are only banning riders, why not the team? As many positive tests as Astana have had they really should not exist. I feel like riders sort of gravitate to teams that “allow, encourage, aid, or enable” doping. So when I see a cyclist win and they are riding for a team with someone like Vino in the background it shoves that score down into the 2 range. Sort of the same with Riis and Saxo-Tinkoff.

  21. Rick

    0 or 1 if you won’t accept 0. Not sure why Teejay winning would make any difference. I trusted Tyler, George, Christian, Tom, Dave Z and Bobby J. There’s money to be mad, tests are easy to foil and there nothing to lose. Not a single positive from any rider including the new crop of Americans would surprise me. Fun to watch however.

  22. emil tanner

    I Blame Pharmaceutical companies. Think how their incessant tv adds push “low-T” remedies…and encourage every DICK interested in “reinvigorating” his organ or any other muscles outside the UCI’s scrutiny to “go-pro” like Lance did.

    Alas, I believe hormone/blood abuse is prevalent even in schlep ranks these days, so it’s hard to feel thrilled even by local crits or mtb races anymore. I Give the pro’s a 2- and schleps a 7+.

    Until sponsors/coaches/docs are legally tied to their athletes in ALL sports, doping will persist….and as crazy as this sounds, conceivably hormone and blood “therapies” may eventually be considered healthy “maintenance” for all aerobic athletes….that is, if the makers of Viagra have any sway.

    Can’t help reflect on that scene in “The Triplets of Belleville”: all those washed up riders grunting like horses on mechanical trainers, and the guy with the gun coldly putting them “down” once they can’t keep up. It’s a chilling but fair image for what athletes face in the sporting world today: Keep up or forget any hope for respect/admiration, let alone financial security.

  23. Jesus from Cancun

    I say 8. From the perspective that pro racing is a TV show for the masses and a business. Sponsors invest big in their riders and they want them to be healthy and perform to their maximum capacity.
    They invest in medical care for their stars and their supporting riders.

    Nobody rides on bread and water, and there are zillions of performance and recovery enhancing products that are taken legally and under medical supervision.
    I am talking about vitamins, enzimes, aminoacids, etc.
    I’m fine with that and I believe that while the whole peloton is medicated within the legal parameters, there will always be a few who will be tempted to go over the line.

    I still have a lot of fun watching races on TV. I know that by now very few riders go over the line, and if they do, they can’t be too far ahead of the rest. It’s not like you race a quarter miler against a mule. As someone said earlier, nobody gets a free ride to the top of the mountains. Even guys who have that 2% artificial advantage have to pedal their way up there.

    I am glad to see when someone who got that illegal advantage gets busted. That hasn’t stopped me from watching. I shrug and say oh, well.

    It’s just a show, after all.

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