Survival

Survival

Drug addicts are remarkable people. Not my favorite, but interesting from the standpoint of resourcefulness. As the conditions of their lives deteriorate, they continually find fresh methods for acquiring their drug of choice. As their options dwindle they employ increasingly desperate measures to get high. The creativity to look for alternatives is a basic behavior hardwired into our brains. Pour a couple of cups of the fear of death over the amygdala to gin it up and what you find is someone who’ll go to crazy lengths for something that makes no sense to the rest of us.

Take heroin, for example. The drug hijacks the amygdala, making the addict think on a deep and unconscious level that without their drug of choice they will die. That’s why rehab has such a tough road.

For all that the Union Cycliste Internationale is not, they’ve made it a good deal harder to dope. They’ve made it so hard to dope that they’ve made it unpleasant to be a pro at all. From the blood draws to the whereabouts system to the visits at non-business hours for said blood draws, being a pro, in practice, is nothing you’d fantasize about.

But some folks are always going to want to take a shortcut. There’s a particular blend of narcissism and missing work ethic that really does help make the (lousy) case for eugenics. The upshot is that I think we may be at an odd point in the history of cycling.

For several years we’ve been talking about the specter of motorized bikes in the pro peloton. Folks may want to call it mecha-doping, but it’s just old-school cheating. And we finally got our first catch with Femke van den Driessche at Cyclocross Worlds.

But what are some other ways you can cheat?

How about holding on to vehicles? Vincenzo Nibali was ejected from the 2015 Vuelta a Espana for holding onto a team vehicle that was shuttling him a 40 mph. Damn TV helicopters.

After winning the 1989 Tour de France Greg LeMond told a story about how Laurent Fignon said to him, ‘You’re lucky I didn’t make a stink about you cheating with aero equipment.’ LeMond’s reply was, ‘Yeah, well I never said anything about all those times you held on to the photographer’s motos on the big climbs.’

And now Matteo Tosatto (Tinkoff) and Eros Capecchi (Astana) have charged Milan-San Remo winner Arnaud Demare (FdJ) with taking a tow up the Cipressa following a crash at the foot of the climb. There are two eyewitnesses who say that the race winner went by them at a speed significantly greater than their own holding onto a vehicle.

Let’s not get distracted by whether he was holding onto the window or a sticky bottle. Let’s also not go down the rabbit hole of Strava analysis. He was going faster than the rest of the peloton. A sprinter recorded the KOM on the Cipressa. Would you like some WTF with your cup of disbelief? There are bigger questions to tackle.

The chief commissaire told the press that without video or photographic evidence his hands were tied. This raises the single biggest question. Since when in any sort of investigation is the eyewitness testimony of two different people insufficient? But that’s not the only question raised, by any means. Why aren’t the commissaires actually conducting an investigation to gather testimony from photographers and to review their raw takes from the climb of the Cipressa? That climb was crawling with photographers the way ants swarm a picnic. The UCI isn’t even trying to investigate.

The answer why is actually pretty easy. They don’t want to be faced with unavoidable evidence that Demare cheated. As long as they stick with, “Nothing to see here, move along,” they can avoid the monumental embarrassment of disqualifying the winner of Milan-San Remo. Despite the many wins that have been stripped due to doping, I can find no record of the winner any of the five Monuments being disqualified. This would be history-making. But what’s worse than disqualifying the winner of Milan-San Remo? How about ruining the credibility of the whole sport?

But here I want to turn our attention from the idiocy of the UCI to the decision makers at potential sponsors. The purse holders responsible for doling budgets of $5 or $10 million do so with a sharp eye. They are keen watchers of the sport. Imagine what they are thinking when they look at cycling and see how the sport has taken such a blind eye to so egregious a form of cheating. Try, because I honestly can’t fathom the disdain they must feel as they decide to look at F1 or bass fishing instead.

I’m reminded of that addict’s hijacked amygdala. That tiny and primitive brain region will convince the junkie that they won’t survive without their drug of choice right up to the point where they don’t.

The very credibility of bike racing is on the line.

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23 comments


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Law enforcement places a very high priority on eyewitness testimony. Sometimes that’s all they have to go on. It’s silly that a less rigorous organization would require a higher burden of proof.

    2. James

      Really? Go back and look at Demare’s remarks. Every one of them a variant of the kinds of things that guilty people say… every last one.
      Then consider how much more credible the two witnesses are than Demare.
      Regardless, the general points of the column would hold true whether Demare was arrested by the ninja agents of the government of the United Nations and tossed into Gitmo or a shining beam of light lifted him skyward so that he could receive the gift of total enlightenment — and one of those $450 floor pumps — for leading such a life of righteousness.

    3. donncha

      1. Cipressa avg. gradient is only 4%. It’s not like it’s a 40min @ 8% at altitude climb.

      2. Demare’s only 70kg anyway.

      Law enforcement may well place a very high priority on eyewitness testimony, but that’s only if they are sure a crime has been committed. Otherwise it’s worthless.

      As you’ve mentioned, the Cipressa was crawling with cameras, either TV, official photographers or fans by the roadside. If there was legit footage of Demare getting a tow, it would have surfaced by now. All that showed up instead was a different FDJ rider getting a bottle on the Passo del Turchino, with people pretending it was Demare.

      Storm. Teacup.

  1. John Kopp

    What about the 1904 Tour De France? The winner and next three finishers were all disqualified for taking the train. The fifth place, Henri Cornet was declared the eventual winner. Cheating is nothing new!

  2. Olivier

    Strava is by no means an adequate method for determining anything with any precision, so the fact that Demare has the Strava KOM does not mean he was the fastest. I have worked races where the actual leaderboard vs the Strava leaderboard were almost completely swapped. If the Cipressa was swarmed by motos and journalists, not to mention Commissaires and other team vehicles, how did FDJ manage to tow a rider up it at 80kph? So two Italians have a beef. Maybe they don’t like a Frenchie winning their race, and it looks like they were off the back anyway (and when I’ve been in that position it sure feels like those other guys are going fast). I believe that power bottles and all of these issues certainly need addressing but Strava is not the way to police the peloton. Nibali was kicked out of a Grand Tour. If they had cause, they would have relegated Demare as well.

  3. Fred

    I agree with Padraig that the UCI should investigate the allegations, including follow up interviews with the two accusers. But, insinuating that Demare clearly got a tow based on Strava data is not something an impartial member of the media should do. I have gotten KOMs on Strava that were clearly based on technological errors so I don’t think that Strava data is something that can be used to incriminate or exonerate a rider. That being said, this is your website and there is no reason for you to be impartial rather then to please some random and anonymous people online 🙂


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Fox News claims to be impartial, and we all know that’s a joke. I don’t claim to be impartial; I’m a human being and I have my biases, the difference being, I try to be honest about what they are. If the only allegation against Demare was the Strava KOM, I’d have said nothing, but I find it an interesting possible corroboration of what two eye witnesses have alleged.

  4. MattC

    Demare claimed there was a Commissaire right there with him after the crash and he would have been DQ’d if the story was true. If that is the case, why haven’t we heard from that Commissaire? Nobody official has stepped up to say “I was there and it didn’t happen”. Is Demare lying about that? I did see that he took the Strava KOM on the Cipressa climb…which honestly is pretty damning…to say that HE currently has the FASTEST TIME EVER on that climb? Of ALL the pro’s? EVER? And he didn’t have any ‘assistance’? If it smells like a duck and quacks like a duck…well…you know. I’m just saying I smell duck. And btw, speaking of eyewitness testimony vs actual “proof” (video or physical evidence), wasn’t He Who Shall Not Be Named banned for life from cycling completely from eyewitness testimony?

  5. Pingback: Milan-San Remo, Peter Sagan’s Legs, Life’s Chain Sucks, Campy Gruppo | RKP

  6. Enrico

    Please understand that the story was in La Gazzetta Dello Sport only, no other newspaper can find the same words for Tosatto and Capecchi now. La Gazzetta prints false stories on transfers, sponsoring, doping and cannot stop fantasies of Pantani’s death. Gazzatta discovered two tired riders and took their exaggerations to make the buzz, their article did not even ask Demare because accusing which ignored the basic rule of journalism. There is more cheating in the media than the peloton.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      The story has been picked up by numerous sources, not just La Gazzetta Dello Sport. Demare has been interviewed about the allegations elsewhere and his response was less than confidence building.

  7. peter easton

    1934 Paris Roubaix Roger Lapébie was disqualified for changing bikes. Gaston Rebry was awarded victory.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Thanks for that catch Peter. I figured there probably was something pre-WWII, but just couldn’t find it in my admittedly brief scan.

  8. Andrew Christensen

    As a amateur based sporting organisation trying to swim in a professional based sporting world ,cycling falls through cracks of it’s own devising.
    Rules, rulers, arbiters of fact, enforcement, through to accounting, advertising and salaries still have a long way to go before we can hold our standard up to the mirror modern professional organisations .
    MSM and it’s 2016 story is one of the problems that is bigger then it should be because of that.
    The UCI appears to have little or few rights to access riders, teams, journalists , photographers and spectators stories or evidence. This severely limits what it can and should do. It also has the same problem with enforcement .
    Organisations such as FIM or FIA have more control and enforcement because they have found a way beyond being an umbrella group who licence national and/or independent race organisations.
    Amaury Sport would not be happy with the UCI treading all over the results of one of their races for example and thus a political bun fight is to be avoided or fought.

    For example if this was an infraction dealt with by the FIM and Dorna ( their licenced body) I expect that evidence would be extracted and produced, summarised and enforcement handed out if needed with no fear of upsetting an outside body or a inside national body,

    Phew got on a roll there. Lots more to say but nothing else to add.

  9. Vince

    I respectfully disagree, Padraig. To me, this seems to be a nationalistic smear campaign, initiated by two sore losers quoted by biased media outlets as eyewitnesses. The logic you offer in support of these two eyewitnesses is fallacious. Likely Stannard had the real KOM up the Cipressa, right, as he started behind and then led Visconti over the top? Stannard is 5 kilos heavier than Demare, according to procyclingstats.com. Luckily, most judges, including the commissaires of the UCI, are well aware that accusations are not evidence. This episode, enflamed by the Italian media, should quickly disappear into the dustbin of sensational “journalism.”

  10. Aaron J. Humphrey

    Off the top of my head I don’t know what the UCI rule book says, but in other sports the race jury is dissolved within hours of the finish and the protest period ends. It can be difficult to pull officials and athletes back together days after an event. This may not be considered a valid reason in discussions and arm-chair analysis, but if the rules don’t allow a revisit after the event then officials hands are tied by the rules they must enforce. And yes, I have dealt with issues that have arisen after events have completed, so although my experience is not with cycling, it is first-hand. In that sport, the rules and officials guidelines also specifically state that the benefit of the doubt goes to the athlete.

  11. Hautacam

    Were you being intentionally ironic in mentioning F1 and bass fishing? I am a sometime fan of one but not the other, but even a shallow internet dive will quickly reveal that each have had their share of cheats too, some of them pretty breathtaking. Like industrial-strength tech spying, or buying fish, slipping them into your cooler and claiming to have caught them.

    No shortage of people willing to break the rules to win, regardless of the setting.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      My reason for mentioning both F1 and bass fishing was exactly that irony. They have cheats too, but it never seems to tarnish the sports, the way doping has crippled sponsorship for cycling.

  12. James

    Nobody seems to have Video or Photographs of Demare bridging up at all… With or WITHOUT the use of motorized assistance.
    SO MUCH for the “Crawling with Cameras and Fans”.

    Both Italians knew that their claims could EASILY have been refuted with power data. For the sake of discussion: Assuming Demare did not cheat, If he released his power data right away, it would have reflected the work he did to win (it would not have reflected a magic low wattage high speed on an incline). The Italians could not have known when they made the accusations that Demare would NOT release the data. So, why would they risk their reputations?
    Some of you are proposing that these two Italians (within the span of about half an hour at the end of a Monument) somehow knew that Demare would:
    1. Win the race.
    2. Not share his data.
    And:
    3 . Immediately conspire against Demare as they crossed the line. (I’m assuming they weren’t conversing while riding. Full Gas is Full Gas… regardless if this was the “Easy Monument”.)
    4. Remembered a time after the crash that there were NO cameras around to tell the real story.
    5. Both though that this would be the best reason to jeopardize their own credibility. Through their careers so far, have no history of making such accusations.

    Have we not learned from history? Ofcourse I’m thinking of Emma O’Reilly and Betsy Andreau etc. etc.
    Multiple people with nothing to gain and everything to lose don’t tell the same Lie about the innocent (not in cycling, not so far).

    Good Article.

  13. Rod

    Respectfully disagree as well. On these grounds:

    The standard expected for race complaints is to formally lodge one with a commissar at the end of the race. As reported by the inrng blog, no formal complaint was filed. So you get two incensed guys at blatant cheating…. that never went through the proper channel and instead decided to contact the equivalent of the gossip pages. Heck, they didn’t even need to do it themselves, their DS can do it for them if they are too afraid of missing their crucial cool down and massage.

    Of course the UCI has to pick up at what now is hearsay, not witness testimony (“rider A alleges Demare got a tow at point X in the race” is hell of a lot different than “La Gazzetta reports that rider A says that Demare got a tow”). And with no formal accusations nor other evidence (ask Nibali) there simply is no process to be opened. For those still curious about this, I recommend the entry at inrng and Cyclocosm’s video.

    I have personally filed a complain at the end of a cat-slow race. For dangerous sprinting. And yes, you have to do it with the commissars on site, and with due opportunity. It’s not like doping where you have to wait for months for results of the analysis. So why didn’t Tinkoff or Astana did? Trial by media won’t get anyone reprimanded.

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