Over the weekend, Andrew Hood of VeloNews posited that the upcoming year could be the one for Fabian Cancellara to win the Tour de France. Hood’s logic is that with the emphasis on the individual time trial and the de-emphasis of summit finishes, Cancellara, the best time trialist of our generation (ever?), who can be a fairly effective climber, could, in the fashion of Miguel Indurain, vanquish a Grande Boucle of the kind we shall see in 2012. Of course, being teammates to the brothers Schleck makes this line of reasoning a non-starter; however, Hood is not the only one who thinks that Cancellara could contend for the final malliot jaune.
For what little it’s worth, I wholly agree with Mr. Hood’s assessment and nominate Cancellara as the most compete rider of the last 10 years, may be more.
He can win on most any terrain and type of race. The diversity of his wins is unmatched by any rider in the current pro peloton. His time trial ability is unquestionable, despite Tony Martin having the upper hand this year. He can win one-day classics on cobbles and gravel (Roubaix, Flanders, E3, Eroica). He can win where sprinters typically prevail (Milan-San Remo, flat Tour stages), and in 2011, nearly beat the sprinters on their own terms with a second at MSR, a fourth (third??) at this year’s Copenhagen Worlds, and fourth on the Champs Elysee. He can win in the one week stage races with significant climbing (Tour de Suisse, Tirreno-Adriatico).
On Monday, Bernard Hinault celebrated his 57th birthday, and Cyclingnews paid tribute by asking if “The Badger” was the greatest of them all. Hinault is the last rider to win in a Grand Tour, a Cobbled Classic, an Ardennes Classic and a World Championship, laying the foundation for his claim to greatness. It also makes him the last of the complete riders, who could ride, and win, from late winter through the spring and summer into the fall in any kind of race.
Arguably, only Cancellara has come closest to matching Hinault’s swath of victories, and even he falls well short, at least so far. Why is it that in the past 25 years since Hinault’s retirement no other rider has been able to truly take on the complete rider mantle?
The answer may lie in a strange irony. Fitness.
Specifically, the idea that today’s pro cyclist is a fitter, stronger, more precisely honed machine than ever before.
When Francesco Moser took on the Hour record in 1984 he opened the flood gates to whole new method of scientific based training that was elevated by Greg LeMond and made the indispensable standard by Lance Armstrong. Riders today, and not just the pros, but even we weekend warriors, can train to such specific peaks in ultimate fitness so as to time them for pre-determined goals. To be competitive at any race on the calendar requires riders to be within one of their peak fitness windows.
The science behind this training also tells us that humans can only achieve these sustained performance peaks for a few weeks at time only two, may be three times a year at most.
While sports medicine was around in Hinault’s day, it was rudimentary by today’s standard. It would be fascinating to look back and know whether Hinault and his cohorts raced in a perpetual state of over training or under training. Ignorance being bliss, they raced on for nine months of the year simply because they had no reason to do otherwise.
Today, Cancellara and every other rider in the pro peloton, knows from the outset that defining specific goals necessarily requires sacrificing others. With riders so specialized in a particular style of racing, the odds simply don’t encourage Cancellara to sacrifice the spring for the summer.
Much ballyhoo has been made on both sides of the argument for and against banning radios to improve racing. But, if what we yearn for is a return to the halcyon days of the complete rider, then instead of banning radios, we should ban practitioners of sports medicine, nutritionists, physiotherapists and osteopaths, along with power meters, heart rate monitors and the rest.
Or, we can simply accept progress for what it is and revel in the moment that we are in, and look forward to what the future has in store, while we recall the greatness of what once was.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Forgive my candor, but I write today about my pee.
You see, like our canine and feline friends, after every pee, and poop for that matter, I inspect the contents of my toilet bowl. Mind, you I don’t stick my head all the way in there to put my nose right up to it, but I do give a good look and take in its aroma. I do this for this same reason dogs, cats, and I should imagine other mammals do, chiefly, as a gauge of my health. Bodily excrement says a lot about the state the state of one’s health, and from the yellow and brown stuff, I can get a good idea about if I am well hydrated and have sufficient fiber in my diet, among other things.
Then, the other day, something odd happened. My pee didn’t smell they way it should. I knew instantly that something was off, but what? I stood above the bowl with furrowed brow, and exhorted all the powers of my olfactory. Like a sommelier detecting the flavor profile of a Pinot Noir, I inhaled attempting to distill what had tainted my pristine pee.
I was flummoxed.
My first thoughts went to asparagus, which always adds it own particular bouquet. However, I counted back to realize that I had not eaten any for four days, so it couldn’t be that. I went to bed with the mystery unsolved.
The following morning, upon returning to the loo, I duly peed, and again my nose was accosted by this offending aroma. Determined, I took a deep whiff, and processed it through the data bank in my head. The olfactory nerve is closely tied to the amygdala and the hippocampus parts of the brain where much of our long term memory is stored. My pee had smelled like this before, but when, and for what reason.
Some hours later, it hit my like a ton of bricks. My pee smelled like it would if I had taken a dose of antibiotics.
How could it be? I had not taken any antibiotics, nor medication of any kind for nearly three years, but I distinctly recalled the smell of my pee during a round of penicillin to clear up an infection before having some teeth ripped out.
I soon realized when and where I had been unintentionally doped.
I don’t eat out often, or at least not as often as many people I know, and when I do, I make every reasonable effort to eat healthy, wholesome food. At home, all meats and produce are strictly organic, or at least all-natural. (For those who don’t know the difference, foods can only claim to be organic if every step in the chain is certified organic, whereas natural means that the primary food product has been raised or grown without the aid of pesticides, antibiotics, or hormones, etc, but the soil or food from which it was nourished may not have been without these additives.) Which leads me to my lunch out.
It happened at a popular and otherwise pretty good ( 3 out of 5 stars on yelp.com ) restaurant in Santa Monica, California. I ordered a turkey / avocado club sandwich on toasted sourdough and a pale ale to drink. I was proud of myself for abstaining on the french fries. Aside from that, other than water, organic oatmeal, fruit and some leftover, homemade spaghetti and meatballs made with all natural ingredients, I ate nothing else during the day in question.
So how convinced am I that I had been unintentionally doped with a healthy dose of antibiotic courtesy of the turkey who gave his life for my lunch? Well, I have no scientific data to back it up. I did some research to try and discern how prevalent the use of antibiotics is in poultry production and was unable to find a specific number; however, the FDA recently published guidelines to ween farmers off of the use of antibiotics on their livestock. The FDA is motivated by the fact that the population as a whole evidenced developing an immunity to antibiotics through food consumption, the results of which could pose an unintended health risk in the form of higher infection rates and the inability to treat them in the acute phase. I also learned that 70% of all antibiotics in the U.S. are used in the non-theraputic treatment of livestock. I take it, then, that my hypothesis, while unproven, is highly probable. It made me wonder what else I have eaten without my knowledge, despite being more careful than the average bear.
While this has nothing to do directly with Alberto Contador, Li Fuyu or any other riders who claim to have been unintentionally doped by innocently consuming a food or supplement, it does serve as reminder of what we non-professional athletes seemingly take for granted every time we eat or drink. It highlights how so many years of hard work, suffering and sacrifice can be wasted by just one bite of something tainted. Imagine the next time you go out for dinner, you arrive to work the following morning to find a Controlle Dopage awaits you at your desk. Though you have done nothing intentionally wrong, you could be fired from your job and your reputation publicly, and forever, sullied because of a turkey / avocado club.
For me at least, it was a sobering experience.
By the way, I consulted WADA’s 2010 list of banned substances and antibiotics are not on them.