Nearly 19 months after his rest-day urine sample showed trace amounts of the banned bronchodilator clenbuterol, the International Court of Arbitration for Sport has stripped Alberto Contador of his titles at the 2010 Tour de France and 2011 Giro d’Italia and suspended him until August of this year.
In a 98-page decision issued on Monday, a three-member CAS panel ruled in favor of an appeal from the UCI and World Anti-Doping Agency challenging last year’s ruling by the Spanish Cycling Federation that Contador had accidentally ingested contaminated beef during a dinner in Pau, France.
The panel found no factual basis in Contador’s claim that the low levels of clenbuterol in his urine and subsequent blood samples were the result of the illegal use of clenbuterol by Spanish cattle producers. Conversely, the panel did not accept the Appellants’ claim that the presence of plasticizers in Contador’s blood was an indication that he had been engaged in blood doping, using blood stored from earlier in the season when he could have been using clenbuterol for its performance-enhancing qualities.
“Mr. Contador did not prove but should prove that he did ingest the specific meat he refers to for the meat contamination and that such meat contained the banned substance,” the panel noted. “In this respect, the UCI refers to reports concerning to the specific meat Mr. Contador considers as contaminated, which concluded that no contamination with clenbuterol is involved.”
Based on those findings, the panel reversed a February 14, 2011, ruling by the Spanish Cycling Federation that had cleared Contador and ruled in favor of challenges subsequently filed by the UCI and WADA.
Crediting Contador with time served during a provisional suspension, his two-year ban from the sport officially began on January 25, 2011. The suspension will total two years, but with credit applied for the time he served in the months immediately after he received notice of the test, he will be eligible to ride on August 5 of this year, meaning he could opt to compete in this year’s Vuelta. The decision means that Contador’s win at the 2010 Tour de France has been negated, giving the victory to Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck.
For his part, Schleck said he had no reason to celebrate.
“There is no reason to be happy now”, commented Schleck in a release issued by his team. “First of all I feel sad for Alberto. I always believed in his innocence. This is just a very sad day for cycling. The only positive news is that there is a verdict after 566 days of uncertainty. We can finally move on.”
“I trust that the CAS judges took all things into consideration after reading a 4,000 page file. If now I am declared overall winner of the 2010 Tour de France it will not make me happy. I battled with Contador in that race and I lost. My goal is to win the Tour de France in a sportive way, being the best of all competitors, not in court. If I succeed this year, I will consider it as my first Tour victory.”
Contador will also be stripped of any results and prizes he earned after the January 25, 2011, suspension went into effect, including his apparent victory in the 2011 Giro d’Italia. Michele Scarponi, who finished second in last year’s Giro, will be named the official winner of that race.
Contador, who has been competing in the annual Majorca Challenge, has not issued a statement in response to Monday’s CAS ruling. In the past, the 29-year-old Spanish cycling star has suggested that he might retire if he loses the case. Contador’s brother and manager, Fran Contador, told reporters on Monday that the rider has no plans to retire and will serve out his suspension and be ready to compete later this year. The route for the 2012 Vuelta features an exceptionally mountainous profile and some have suggested that it was designed with Contador’s talents in mind.
Alberto Contador and Saxo Bank general manager, Bjarne Riis, have scheduled a Tuesday press conference to discuss the ruling and the rider’s future plans.
The decision noted that the same panel will issue a separate ruling on a UCI request that it be allowed to fine Contador at least 2,485,000 euros in the case.
Is testosterone therapy the fountain of youth? If so, WWWD? (What Would WADA Do?)
As a retired lawyer and long time cyclist, I thoroughly enjoy your column.
Here’s one that might be arising more in the Masters’ ranks, which have had their share of doping positives, recently.
Doctors are increasingly treating below normal testosterone levels with (and Big Pharma is increasingly promoting) testosterone replacement therapy for older men. The therapy is based on research that tends to show that below normal T levels lead to various premature aging symptoms, low energy levels and low sex drive.
For those who race in the masters’ classes, is a TUE available for this therapy, with or without limitations? If not, is there any effort by WADA to consider it?
Given the threshold method of triggering tests, the ratio of epitestosterone to testosterone, would it even come up in testing if the therapy resulted in levels in the “normal” range?
Your hypothetical for the day.
First off, let me thank you for your kind words. Given my relatively short time as an attorney (I’m just three years out of law school), I am always nervous when other lawyers – especially the experienced ones – read this column. Like anyone, I appreciate the kudos, but I do want to encourage anyone to send me a note if they notice a bone-headed mistake. I will correct those and make note of them.
Now, to your questions. The quick and simple answer regarding testosterone is yes. The World Anti-Doping Agency does make an allowance for the therapeutic use of testosterone. However, before we see the entire middle-aged masters’ peloton veer off to the doc’s office, you need to keep in mind that according to the rules, a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) for testosterone is issued under the narrowest of circumstances. Most of us would probably not qualify.
Under the current WADA Code, a national doping agency is permitted to issue a TUE for testosterone only after an athlete has been diagnosed with primary or secondary “hypogonadism.” In other words, the testes are not producing enough of the hormone to bring the level of what is considered “normal.” (NOTE: While testosterone replacement therapy is offered to women in rare cases, WADA has concluded that there are more effective alternatives, so no TUE for testosterone will be granted to females under current rules.)
The definition of “normal” is based on several factors, chief among them age. Measured in nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL), normally blood testosterone levels in the general population of adult males run anywhere between 300ng/dL and 1000ng/dL. Of course, a 24-year-old with blood levels of 300ng/dL would be a cause of concern for his doctor. That same level in his 85-year-old grandfather might be considered to be within normal parameters.
Generally in a healthy and relatively young male, a serum testosterone level below 350ng/dL is considered to be a cause for concern and would make the patient a candidate for treatment.
However, it’s important to note that low testosterone levels due to the normal aging process are usually characterized as “functional” hypogonadism and would not qualify for a WADA-issued TUE. What would qualify is hypogonadism that is the result of a medically defined cause.
Rather than get into an analysis of each contributing factor recognized by WADA, I am simply including the causes of primary and secondary hypogonadism for which the agency says it would consider a TUE:
Klinefelter syndrome, bilateral anorchia, cryptorchidism, Leydig cell aplasia, male Turner syndrome, Noonan’s syndrome, congenital adrenal hyperplasia.
panhypopituitarism, idiopathic hypogonadotropic hypogonadism, Kallmann’s syndrome, constitutional delay of puberty, LH deficiency, Prader Willi syndrome
That’s the general list and there are other contributing factors for which WADA – or a national anti-doping agency – could consider a TUE request. The bottom line, though, is that anyone seeking a TUE for testosterone must submit a detailed diagnosis, with supporting medical evidence, to justify the claim that his low serum testosterone levels are due to one of the medically recognized causes.
In the words of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), “It is extremely unlikely that a Therapeutic Use Exemption will be approved for ‘functional’ hypogonadism (a diagnosis of hypogonadism based on low testosterone levels but without a defined etiology).”
Getting old sucks. Is there a cure?
So let’s assume that the members of our hypothetical field of masters racers are not suffering from any of the aforementioned afflictions, but merely “functionally” hypogonadistic. The theory is that these men, too, would benefit from testosterone replacement therapy and you’re right, Larry, there has been an increase in interest (and marketing) in recent years, especially as we Baby Boomers get older.
Aging is a key factor in reduced testosterone levels in men. According to one study (Vermeulen A and Kaufman JM  “Ageing of the hypothalamo–pituitary–testicular axis in men.” Hormone Research 43, 25–28) about seven percent of men between the ages of 40 and 60 have serum testosterone levels below 350ng/dL. That number increases to 21 percent for men between 60 and 80 and 35 percent for men 80 and older.
The symptoms of low testosterone levels – even those due to aging – are not pretty. There is the whole diminishing libido thing. (Of course, if that’s a problem, then the other common symptom, erectile dysfunction, probably won’t bother a guy as much.) But beyond those, there is a decrease in muscle mass, fatique, increased abdominal fat, loss of bone mass, frequent urination, high cholesterol and depression (probably caused by all of the other symptoms).
Like the Stones said, “what a drag it is getting old.”
So, would restoring those levels back to the way they were when you were 25 help reverse some of the symptoms of the normal aging process? Some studies say yes … and some studies say no. There is a big study going on right now, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, which involves tracking 800 men over the age of 65 who are using a gel-based testosterone supplement. So, we may have a more definitive answer once all of the data is reviewed in the next year or so.
One thing is for certain, though. While there may be benefits that accompany testosterone replacement therapy for functional hypogonadism, there are risks, too. One key concern is the effect testosterone supplementation will have on the reproductive system, especially the prostate.
Exogenous testosterone can contribute to an enlarged (but non-cancerous) prostate, a problem known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BHP) and some studies indicate that it can also contribute to the growth of cancer cells in the prostate.
Exogenous testosterone can also result in a decline in the production of natural testosterone, as the body adjusts in response to unnatural increases in serum levels of the hormone. That can also result in decreased production of sperm to the point that fertility may be put at risk.
The natural conversion testosterone to estrogen can also contribute to the growth of the much feared “man boob,” with men experiencing enlarged and tender breast tissue.
Indeed, the aforementioned side-effects are to be considered so potentially serious that any male with high risk factors for prostate or breast cancer (hey, it does happen) is automatically off the list of potential candidates for testosterone replacement therapy.
There are other side-effects, including liver toxicity, sleep apnea, fluid retention and increased risks of other cancers.
On a somewhat positive note, doctors also warn of one side-effect that would actually play pretty well with our little peloton of aging cyclists, though: Polycythemia. Yup, that’s an increase in the production of red blood cells. Unfortunately, that is also accompanied by an elevated risk of heart attack and stroke, not something you want to toy with in an age group whose cardiac risk factors are already on the increase.
Gee … this “therapy” sounds appealing, doesn’t it?
Since we’re in hypothetical mode, though, let’s assume that the NIH study comes back with stellar results and all of the 800 test subjects emerged from their two years with the strength, energy and looks of a 25-year-old. As a result, our masters all opt to take the chance and go with the therapy …. USADA be damned.
You asked if they might test positive in the rare event that USADA’s testers show up to request samples from the men’s 55+ field. The simple answer is yes. The initial test is based on the famed T/E ratio, the same test that caught Floyd Landis at the Tour de France. That test, for all of its flaws, is based on the assumption that the body produces testosterone and epitestosterone at about the same levels. WADA allows for some wiggle room, and the Dope-O-Meter™ isn’t tripped until the T/E ratio exceeds four-to-one (Landis, by the way, was 11-to-1).
Further study – using the Carbon Isotope Ratio test – would show that the elevated ratio is due to the presence of exogenous testosterone and that could result in a two-year suspension. In other words, that lucrative masters’ racing career could be at risk.
So in conclusion, testosterone therapy should probably be considered by a relatively small number of those for whom it might prove beneficial, especially if you want to live by the rules of our sport.
For the rest of us … well, I always like to remember the words of Mark Twain, who observed that “age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
The Explainer is now 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.
Every week, it seems like there’s bad news on the pro team sponsorship front, a steady drumbeat that began with the announcement in August that team Highroad/HTC was unable to land a sponsor. In their wake, Leopard-Trek, the hot new team of 2010 merged with Team RadioShack. Then Team Geox, fresh of their surprise Vuelta victory lost their title sponsor. Garmin-Cervélo apparently secured and then lost a French co-sponsor, BigMat, which may or may not take a leading role on the French team FdJ. There are rumblings that Saxo Bank-Sungard (about to be Saxo Bank) isn’t on sound financial footing, but there have always been rumblings about Bjarne Riis’ formations. And Euskaltel-Euskadi, a reliable formation if there ever was one, is allegedly on shaky ground after next season.
It can be depressing. But we’re going about it as the cycling fans, like the cyclists, we are. We’re worried about doping; we think it might be the state of the world economy. Rational responses, and concerns I share. But I can’t help but feeling that we’re sane people in the psychiatric ward. There’s comfort in feeling right in crazytown, but it probably isn’t the way to success.
I see this most strongly when looking at how we beat ourselves up over doping. And how we let the world beat cycling up over doping. I have no doubt that doping is a problem in cycling. I want to get rid of the dopers, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this. At the same time, I am certain that doping is a problem across the entire spectrum of sports, and cycling is doing more to root out doping than other sports. Yet when doping in sport comes up, cycling seems to get more attention than other sports, which work mightily to sweep their doping problems under their rugs. Look at how pro baseball tipped off their players when testing was first initiated. Look at how professional football barely gave a penalty for doping, and is now backing away from their pledge to test for human growth hormone. And this is before anyone discusses what seems to be common use of cortisone in pro football, something that is supposed to be strictly limited in cycling. The notorious Dr. Fuentes of Operacion Puerto fame claims he worked with football (soccer) and tennis players, yet nothing has been heard of that.
Look at sponsors in other sports. It’s easy to see that businesses have no trouble backing tainted athletes. Tiger Woods wrecked his carefully-cultivated public persona on his own, yet most of his sponsors stood by him. Accenture didn’t, but Rolex came on board. There has been no exodus of advertisers from The Super Bowl broadcast over drug use in football. Mark McGwire, the St. Louis Cardinals slugger was caught with steroids by a reporter in his big home run chase in 1998 (the reporter who noticed it in his locker): McGwire denied it, admitted it, and is still popular and employed by the team he “disgraced.” I don’t think sponsors care about perfect actors, but a patina of cleanliness and plausible deniability.
Doping isn’t a real issue. Nor is the world economy. There’s high unemployment, but corporate profits are at record levels. Products always need to be marketed. There’s a oft-repeated story told by marketers about how going in to The Great Depression, cereal manufacturers Kellogg’s and Post were about even in market share. Post decided to cut back on marketing, while Kellogg’s increased their marketing budget. At the end of the depression, Kellogg’s was the dominant player, a position they’ve held ever since.
Companies need to advertise their goods and services. Sometimes it’s something new; sometimes it’s reminding the public of something that’s already around. Some products always have a need to be marketed. Cars, banking, insurance, telecommunications, beverages, and lotteries are some of the evergreen advertisers. Massive companies with huge operating expenses and big advertising budgets. HTC, a mobile phone company, the most recent sponsor of Highroad, doubled their profits from $20 billion to $40 billion between 2010 and 2011. Whether or not this was a result of Highroad’s success is never discussed. Their advertising budget in the United States alone was $50 million per quarter, or $200 million dollars a year, starting in 2009. It’s easy to imagine their worldwide advertising budget was over a billion dollars annually. And that would make a $10 million dollar budget, probably much more than what Highroad received, for strong ProTour team is less than 1% of HTC’s advertising budget.
Highroad’s owner, Bob Stapleton claims that his team offered an amazing Return On Investment (ROI). HTC either disagreed or didn’t care. This plays against a core belief for the cycling fan: that their demographic is valuable. Let’s assume that Highroad had impressive data that showed investing in the team yielded an incredible ROI. It wasn’t enough.
American tifosi look at the growing popularity of the Tour de France in the U.S, with daily reports in major newspapers, dominating cable TV presence, and then add in the fact that the Tour is the most-watched sporting event in the world, eclipsed only by the quadrennial events of the Olympics and soccer’s World Cup, and figure that there must be advertising gold to be made out of camera time at the Tour. Mix that in with the growth of cycling both for commuting and recreation. It seems to herald a consumer who is tech savvy, spends on her health, and has plenty of disposable income.
For better or worse, perception plays a big part in determining value. Almost a decade ago, the ABC television network was poised to bring Late Night with David Letterman to their channel, which would have meant canceling Nightline. Funny thing was, Nightline had more viewers, but they were seen as less important than the Letterman viewers. And Nightline viewers made more money. They were deemed less important because they were older. Cycling could be suffering from a similar problem. Maybe cycling eyeballs aren’t important enough. Frustratingly, they will remain probably not important enough until they are.
But the reason our eyeballs might not be important enough is that ProTour-level racing has grown to cost sponsors something. It’s not nothing, but it’s not big money like a Formula One team (probably over $100 million) or an ad buy at the Super Bowl ($3 million every 30 seconds). This could put sponsoring a ProTour team out of reach for a passionate company chief, who might have sway in terms of how his company’s marketing budget is used, but not to the tune of several million dollars. At the same time, $10 million might be too small for the biggest companies to consider, as the impact might be hard to see, and consequently measure, as making a difference.
This could be why at least half the ProTeam organizations seems to have angel investors backing them. It also could be why many Pro Continental outfits have their jerseys littered NASCAR-style with small sponsors, many of whom get a benefit out of sponsorship, but the benefit is tied up with seeing themselves as good citizens or promoting their passion. These sponsors like the ROI, but it probably isn’t what drew them to get involved, nor is it what’s keeping them involved.
And this is the big place where being the rational person in the psych ward cannot only be counter-productive but self-defeating. We’re providing data that proves investing in a cycling team is a smart business decision. It makes us feel good that we can prove the value of bike racing. But in so doing, we’re giving out a means for potential sponsors to not only turn us down, but dismiss us. We’re telling potential sponsors we’re good for them, like we’re telling them to eat vegetables when they want to be sold on the idea that it’s a juicy steak.
While I’m sure there’s data demonstrating to potential sponsors of big time sport in the U.S. the value of sponsoring commercials during baseball games and the benefits of having a company name next to the scoreboard or any number of proposals involving businesses putting money into sports, I doubt the data is what sells the companies on putting their dollars behind a sport. I bet they’re sold on the passion, and yes, they have the data.
They way we’ve dealt with this reminds me of how cyclists advocate for cycling in the U.S. It makes sense on an environmental level, on a health level, on an economic level, and most cyclists are happy about that. Then a non-cyclist points out that a person riding a bike might get sweaty and the discussion is over.
We’ve tried rational. Rational doesn’t seem to be working. Maybe it’s time to roll out crazy, an attractive crazy, and start focusing on that.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
So HTC-Highroad is no more. Technically, that’s not quite accurate; the team will come to an end with the close of this season. But it feels like the team might as well be mothballed now. Any wins that come will carry a certain lame duck pointlessness as they won’t have the ability to attract a sponsor or serve as confirmation that an incoming sponsor made a good choice.
How bad is Bob Stapleton’s inability to find a new title sponsor for his program? It’s the worst thing that will happen to cycling this year, perhaps for years to come. Here’s why: There’s not a single doping revelation that can confirm potential sponsors’ worst fears about the sport the way the dissolution of this team does.
We’ve already had the Tour de France champion test positive twice in the last five years. Stapleton’s failure to secure a sponsor is directly due to that. In a conference call with journalists, Stapleton admitted that doping scandals were a topic of conversation in “every negotiation.”
Compounding matters was Stapleton’s refusal to be confined to irrelevance by racing on a shrunken budget while battling Sky and Katusha—teams that each have an estimated annual budget of $20 million. After all, if part of your raison d’etre is to lead the sport into a new, cleaner era characterized by better management, you can’t do that from the back of the bus.
The end of HTC-Highroad is the corollary to the Leopard-Trek dilemma. It proves (at least for the court of public opinion) that doping is what prevented Brian Nygaard’s formation from landing a real title sponsor (or co-sponsor, for that matter). Worse, the fact that Katusha, Sky and Leopard are funded by ultra-rich businessmen who could use the tax write-off makes the sport that much less relevant. It could be argued that BMC is no better given that few people seem to believe that BMC is selling enough bikes that Andy Rihs could fund the team exclusively out of the operating capital of that one company.
If bicycle teams become the playthings of oligarchs, it will be hard to sell the public on the idea that the sport carries the moral mantle of doping-free athletic achievement. There is a general perception that billionaires play by a different set of rules than the rest of us, and the recent phone-hacking scandal in London that brought down Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World and killed his play to become majority owner of bSkyb is all the proof many people need to come to the conclusion that cycling lacks a moral compass. After all, if Murdoch’s businesses will run roughshod over the most basic elements of privacy, why would anyone think his cycling team is any more ethical?
I’ve met a number of principled people in cycling. I’ve met plenty of truly ethical people in the sport as well. I don’t think I’ve ever met a smarter, more decent person in cycling than Bob Stapleton. I’ve met no one with higher aspirations for helping the sport to function in a cleaner, more transparent manner—in other words, to be its best—than Stapleton. He brought credibility that simply can’t be purchased elsewhere and served as the ever-reasonable counterbalance to the ill-considered pronouncements of the UCI. He was a sort of sanity constant.
As I mentioned before, losing Stapleton and his team isn’t just the worst thing that will happen in cycling this year. It’s the worst thing that will happen in cycling for years to come. If the sport can’t keep a man universally respected and admired, then it will be no better than the cesspool of politics because it may only draw people we’d rather not have dinner with, figures like Bernard “Dr. Mabuse” Sainz.
Sainz’ nickname comes from the Fritz Lang film of the same name. The film was a commentary on post World War I German society, a time of amoral criminality. Dr. Mabuse, “the gambler,” was a megalomaniac who ruled—via hypnosis—an organized crime syndicate of counterfeiters, thieves and murderers. I can’t think of an uglier thing for cycling to be compared.
We’ve lived through that once, or something thereabouts. If the riders don’t get the idea that they need to clean up their acts, there won’t be a sport left to employ them. But we can’t place all the responsibility on the riders. The UCI has an obligation to make sure that testing is performed in a rigorous manner and justice handed out promptly and equally. Until John Q. Public sense we’ve turned that corner, it will be hard to attract leaders like Stapleton and sponsors like HTC.
If you’d asked me before the Tour started to list ten things that might happen during this year’s race, I don’t think the list would have included Alberto Contador losing time on multiple stages. I wouldn’t have suggested Andy Schleck would pull up timid on a rainy Alpine descent and brake his way out of contention. And I certainly wouldn’t have listed an assertive ride by a yellow-jersey-wearing Thomas Voeckler as perhaps the best single piece of evidence that the peloton is cleaner than it once was. God knows I wouldn’t have envisioned Thor Hushovd winning two mountain stages.
Nope, I wouldn’t have considered any of those as even remotely possible. But every one has come to pass.
With his ride in stage 16 Contador has proven that to count him out is to define foolhardy. I’m doubtful of his chances to win, but one can afford to be nonchalant in his presence the way one can be nonchalant around a cobra. Even if he can manage 15 or 20 seconds on all his rivals over the three remaining mountain stages and the time trial, that won’t be enough to boost him onto the podium.
One wonders whose ambition it was to even dream Contador could sweep all three Grand Tours this year. Was it Contador himself or was it Bjarne Riis? And if it was Riis, what will the repercussions be should Pistolero not pull a rabbit out of his hat before Paris? If Contador can’t pull off this victory, the age of the Giro-Tour double will truly have passed.
With the piece of descending we saw Schleck exhibit on the drop into Gap, the timidity that resulted in him losing 1:09 to Cadel Evans and 1:06 to Contador probably dashed his hopes to win this Tour. Frankly, his riding was so un-PRO that he doesn’t deserve the podium.
Darwin wrote that the story of the world was one of adaptation, descent with modification. Faced with obsolescence at the legs of Mark Cavendish, Hushovd has reinvented himself more thoroughly than any rider since Laurent Jalabert’s phoenix act in the 1990s. I consider him one of the three smartest riders in the race. He is the embodiment of the adage, “le tete et le jambs.”
As to Voeckler, he was already on what is arguably the best season he has ever enjoyed even before arriving at the Tour. So we must grant that he’s a better rider than he was in 2004, the first time he took the yellow jersey at the Tour. That said, in the era of Armstrong et al, sheer combativeness and tenacity weren’t enough to hold on to yellow. To suggest that will alone is enough is to believe that you really can stop a bullet by putting your finger in the barrel of a gun.
French cycling has been very nearly the laughingstock of the peloton since the Festina Affair. I’ve wondered if French athletes didn’t take some lesson from the incident to heart. Following the confessions that came as a result of the Festina Affair only six French athletes have tested positive (many countries have had two dozen or more), and the only one of them who was a notable GC rider was Pascal Hervé (yes, he of the Festina Affair), and that was in 2001.
I’ve often thought the fact that there has been only one prominent French GC rider (Christophe Moreau) in the last 10 years and the fact that French cycling has been curiously devoid of doping scandals weren’t just coincidences. I see it as cause and effect.
There’s an arc to this story. French riders were late to the EPO wagon; the Netherlands and Italy led the way, but they caught up, and in a big way, which is why Richard Virenque was one of the most feared climbers in the peloton during that time. And then we get Willy Voet’s ill-fated border crossing and Virenque’s teary confession in front of a judge.
To me, that past, those details and now Voeckler’s performance en jaune are of a piece. If you’re at your limit because the peloton rides at two speeds, then there’s no way for you to respond to an acceleration by a certified contender like Ivan Basso. That is, not unless everyone’s on the same program.
This is guesswork on my part; educated, but still guesswork. Still, it leads me to say that I find it easier to believe that Basso and Contador are clean than Voeckler is dirty. If we can have guilt by association, then maybe we can have innocence by association, too.
After all the scandals, the mudslinging, the unsubstantiated accusations and crazy revelations, the best possible thing that could happen for cycling right now is for Thomas Voeckler to arrive in Paris, clad in yellow. I’m not willing to put five bucks on that happening just yet, but it’s an outcome I’d cheer for, just the way I cheered in 1999.
Image, John Pierce, Photosport International
Author’s note: Padraig asked me if I thought there was a previous Tour edition that might have similarities to the 2011 Tour and if a look at the older race might give some insight as to what this year’s race might bring.
The 2011 Tour is a victim of Tour boss Prudhomme’s war on time trialing. With four summit finishes, yet only 42.6 km of individual time trialing and no white-road or pavé stage to lend balance to the race, it is effectively a climbing championship.
That brings to mind the 1976 Tour with it’s back-to-back eight stages of climbing plus a Puy de Dôme hilltop finish. Yes, there were 89 km of individual time trialing in 1976, but that year the mountains overwhelmed everything. Also, it featured a war between the era’s two best climbers, Joop Zoetemelk and Lucien van Impe. Perhaps there is a parallel to 1976’s brutal war in the mountains in the coming match between 2011’s most prominent contenders Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador.
Zoetemelk, the better climber that year, lost the race because of a profound tactical failure in the face of Cyrille Guimard’s brilliant management of van Impe. The only major errors that I can remember Contador committing (I’m sure RKP’s readers will remind me of others) involved his dallying in the back of the peloton and missing important moves. I doubt his new director, Bjarne Riis, will let the Spaniard sleep at the wheel in this Tour.
It may come down to a series of drag races up France’s steepest slopes, but I’m betting that given the likely even match between the two, it will be like 1976 and again come down to the rider with the greater strategic savvy. I believe that plays to Contador’s advantage.
Like Tour father Henri Desgrange wrote, it’s head and legs.
Eddy Merckx started 1976 by winning Milan–San Remo for a seventh time. He also won the Catalonian week. But that was it for Merckx in the win column for spring in 1976. He managed a second place in the Tirreno–Adriatico stage race, but only sixth place in Paris–Roubaix and Liège–Bastogne–Liège. In the Giro, he came in eighth. Not able to find his usual form and needing surgery for saddle-sores, he did not enter the 1976 Tour. There would be no rematch between Bernard Thévenet and Eddy Merckx that year.
There were plenty of other fine young cannibals, however. Bernard Thévenet went to the Tour fresh off a win in the Dauphiné Libéré. Luis Ocaña, looking for another shot at glory, had come in second in the Vuelta and fourth in Paris–Nice.
Joop Zoetemelk was the odds-on favorite. He won Flèche Wallonne and had high placings in the Dauphiné Libéré, Amstel Gold and the Tour of the Mediterranean. He had been second in the Tour in 1970 and 1971 and had never finished worse than fifth.
Every Tour is different. Each year the cast of players changes slightly as older racers retire and new young men with fresh ambitions arrive. The route changes each year as well and with differing emphasis on flat roads, time trials or mountains, different racers can find some years suit their talents more than others. The 1976 Tour was clockwise, starting on France’s west coast, circling north up to Belgium before heading south for the Alps. There the 1976 Tour departed from tradition. Normally after one of the 2 major mountain ranges is ridden there are several transition stages before the hard climbing resumes. This year there were 5 days of climbing in the east, starting in the Vosges in stage 7 and ending in stage 11. Then there was a rest day before 3 very hard days in the Pyrenees. That was 8 days in a row of mountains. If that weren’t enough, stage 20 finished at the top of the Puy de Dôme. Importantly, 5 of the mountain stages ended with hilltop finishes. This is a huge advantage to smaller riders who don’t have the power to maintain a time advantage gained on a climb through a long descent and flat roll-in to a distant finish line. No wonder Lucien van Impe announced that he would be riding this Tour for the overall win, not his usual King of the Mountains title. Van Impe’s changed circumstances involved more than just having a race itinerary that matched his talents. His previous manager was Jean Stablinski who is often credited with having one of the finer tactical minds in cycling. Stablinski was replaced with Cyrille Guimard who had mounted a real threat to Merckx in the 1972 Tour. Guimard was so recently retired that he was still the 1976 French Cyclocross Champion. In taking over the Gitane-Campagnolo team he remade the squad so that van Impe would have better support. As we’ll see in unfolding years, Guimard not only knew how to ride and win his own race, he knew how to get others to ride and win for him.
There was a new comet in the heavens. Belgian racer Freddy Maertens turned professional in 1972. His fantastic sprinting, time trialing and overall strength let him win all but the steepest races. In 1976, the first year he rode the Tour, he won 54 races including the World Pro Road Championships and the Belgian Road Championships. His erratic career was at its peak in 1976 and 1977 before it fell off to almost nothing. Then, in an astonishing act of will, he rebuilt his career and won the 1981 World Championship.
Maertens did not disappoint Belgian fans who were unhappy with the absence of Merckx. From the gun he was on fire. He won the Prologue time trial thumping a monstrous 55 x 12 gear, and then the first stage. Then he won the stage 3 time trial, beating such accomplished chrono men as Ferdi Bracke by 2 minutes, 23 seconds, Raymond Poulidor by almost 3 minutes and Bernard Thévenet by 3 minutes, 32 seconds. When the Tour entered the Vosges mountains he won stage 7. In stage 8, he managed only second to Peugeot’s ace sprinter Jacques Esclassan.
With the riders poised to begin their days in the Alps in stage 9, the General Classification stood thus:
1. Freddy Maertens
2. Michel Pollentier @ 2 minutes 4 seconds
3. Hennie Kuiper @ 3 minutes 16 seconds
4. Jean-Pierre Danguillaume @ 3 minutes 23 seconds
5. Raymond Poulidor @ 3 minutes 31 seconds
Van Impe, Zoetemelk and Thévenet were sitting at about 4 minutes behind Maertens.
Stage 9 was 258 kilometers that had the pack ascend the Luitel before finishing at the top of l’Alpe d’Huez, the first hilltop finish there since 1952. Even sprinter Freddy Maertens made it over the Luitel with the good climbers. But when Peugeot rider Raymond Delisle opened the hostilities on the Alpe, Maertens was tossed. From then on Zoetemelk and van Impe attacked and counter-attacked each other all the way to the top with Zoetemelk getting the win by 3 seconds. Poulidor, Thévenet, Baronchelli, Kuiper and the others were what a modern military man would call “collateral damage”. They were incidental victims of a relentless shooting war between the 2 best climbers of the time. The result of the day’s brawl was that van Impe was in Yellow with Zoetemelk trailing by only 8 seconds. Maertens was third, down about a minute.
The next day was another mano-a-mano climbing fight between the 2 leaders. After ascending the Lautaret, the Izoard, and the Montgenèvre, Zoetemelk was again only able to beat van Impe and Thévenet by 1 second. Zoetemelk now trailed van Impe by only 7 seconds in the Overall. The pace was so hard 7 riders were eliminated for failing to finish within the time limit.
The third mountain stage was one of those races in which the peloton just doesn’t feel like racing. They let José-Luis Viejo ride away without being chased. His final margin of victory, 22 minutes, 50 seconds, was the Tour’s largest postwar solo winning margin. The peloton was content to rest their tired legs. Indicative of the slower pace, sprinters Gerben Karstens and Freddy Maertens took second and third places.
With the Alpine stages completed, here was the General Classification:
1. Lucien van Impe
2. Joop Zoetemelk @ 7 seconds
3. Raymond Poulidor @ 1 minute 36 seconds
4. Bernard Thévenet @ 1 minute 48 seconds
The first stage in the Pyrenees, the fourth mountain stage, was another odd day. Van Impe and Zoetemelk were only worried about each other. They kept an eye on each other and let Raymond Delisle, an excellent but slightly aging racer, get away. Delisle was eighth in General Classification when the stage started. When it was over, Delisle was in Yellow and van Impe and Zoetemelk were almost 3 minutes behind.
The next stage didn’t affect the standings. The big guns held their fire. The only notable event was that stage winner Regis Ovion failed his drug test and his name was stricken from the record of that stage. Willy Teirlinck was awarded the stage.
It was stage 14, the fifth of these mountain stages, that made history.
In previous Tours, van Impe had won 3 of his eventual 6 Polka-Dot Climber’s Jerseys, in the same fashion as modern riders Laurent Jalabert or Richard Virenque have done it. They would go out early on a mountain stage and scoop up the points in all the early mountains, not always worrying about getting caught and dropped on the final climb by the men seeking overall victory. The Polka-Dot Jersey was generally van Impe’s entire ambition. In later years he has said that he regrets those years in which he turned to trying for the overall victory. He thinks he might have had 10 Climbers’ Jerseys instead of his 6.
There were 4 major climbs that day. On the second, the Portillon, Luis Ocaña attacked. Ocaña was no longer the dominating rider he had been in the early 1970s, but he was not to be ignored. Cyrille Guimard, van Impe’s director, told van Impe to go after him. Van Impe was reluctant: Guimard and van Impe did not completely agree on tactics and goals that year. Guimard told van Impe that if he didn’t go after Ocaña, he would run him off the road with his car.
Van Impe took off and caught Ocaña on the Peyresourde, the day’s penultimate climb.
Zoetemelk didn’t chase him. He may have thought van Impe was chasing some Climbers’ points and not really going after the overall lead. And surely by now Ocaña was nothing more than a shell of his former self. Instead Zoetemelk sat on the wheel of the man whose Yellow Jersey was threatened by the attack, Raymond Delisle. Normally this would be an astute strategy, forcing the leader to defend his position. It would have been astute except that Delisle could not close the gap. In fact, Delisle was exhausted and eventually lost over 12 minutes that day. Up the road, van Impe and Ocaña were flying.
Ocaña did the hard work on the flat road leading to the final climb, towing van Impe. Ocaña remembered that Zoetemelk had never helped him in his struggles with Merckx. This was a tough bit of pay-back.
On the final climb, the Pla d’Adet up to St.-Lary-Soulan, van Impe jumped away from Ocaña and won the stage and the Yellow Jersey. Zoetemelk came flying up the hill, going faster than van Impe, but it wasn’t good enough. He was 3 minutes, 12 seconds too late.
The Ocaña/van Impe/Zoetemelk attacks shattered the peloton. 45 of the remaining 93 riders finished outside the time limit. Peter Post, the manager of the Raleigh team asked on behalf of the riders that the Tour management waive the elimination rule for the stage. They did.
The new General Classification with van Impe back in Yellow:
1. Lucien van Impe
2. Joop Zoetemelk @ 3 minutes 18 seconds
3. Raymond Delisle @ 9 minutes 27 seconds
4. Walter Riccomi @ 10 minutes 22 seconds
5. Raymond Poulidor @ 11 minutes 42 seconds
The final day in the Pyrenees, even with the Aspin, Tourmalet and the Aubisque, didn’t change the top of the standings. The lions had to digest their kill.
The stage 17 time trial showed that van Impe was a more rounded rider than one might expect. Ferdi Bracke won it but van Impe was able to beat Zoetemelk by more than a minute. That put Zoetemelk 4½ minutes behind the Belgian climber with only one more chance to take the Tour leadership, the stage 20 climb to the top of Puy de Dôme. Zoetemelk won the stage, beating van Impe by an unimportant 12 seconds. Impressive, but to no real effect. That moment of careful, conservative calculation on the road to St.-Lary-Soulan cost him the Tour. Zoetemelk was the better climber that year, but van Impe had the tactical genius of Guimard to give him the needed push.
Thévenet had been losing time and at stage 19 he finally abandoned, weakened by hepatitis.
Lucien van Impe won the Tour, beating Zoetemelk by 4 minutes, 14 seconds. It was his only Tour victory and he remains the last Belgian to win the Tour. To this day, he is troubled by Guimard’s remarks that van Impe would not have won the Tour without his encouragement and threats. Van Impe says that Guimard talked to him as if he were a child, and after the 1976 season, van Impe changed teams.
Freddy Maertens won 8 stages in the 1976 tour, equaling the record set by Charles Pélissier in 1930 and Merckx in 1970 and 1974.
And Raymond Poulidor? He finished third, 12 minutes, 8 seconds behind winner van Impe. This was the fourteenth and final Tour de France for the 40-year old Poulidor. He abandoned only twice and finished with 3 second and 5 third places. In all those years of riding the Tour from 1961 to 1976 he never spent a single day in Yellow, not one. Poulidor’s 8 times on the podium is a record. Zoetemelk, Hinault, Ullrich and Armstrong each accumulated 7, and Anquetil, Merckx and Garrigou 6.
Celestino Vercelli, riding with G.B. Baronchelli, Walter Riccomi and Wladimiro Panizza on the SCIC-Fiat team, talked to us about the 1976 Tour: “This was the year the Cannibal Eddy Merckx stayed home. This Tour was won by van Impe. Every stage of this Tour was very, very hard. Just to get an idea of the difficulties we faced, in Bordeaux, in incredibly hot weather, we raced 3 stages the same day. In the evening in the hotel (hotel is a big word for the place we stayed), we slept in big rooms together. I was running a high temperature, I was very tired and hot. I don’t have words for that day on the bike.
“When we were riding the Pyrenean stages, the asphalt melted. You can imagine the huge difficulties we faced riding in the mountains in the soft asphalt. In the descent the situation was better with the tires holding the soft road very well. The big problem was the difficulty in removing the asphalt from our legs in the evening.”
Final 1976 Tour de France General Classification:
1. Lucien van Impe (Gitane-Campagnolo): 116 hours 22 minutes 23 seconds
2. Joop Zoetemelk (Gan-Mercier) @ 4 minutes 14 seconds
3. Raymond Poulidor (Gan-Mercier) @ 12 minutes 8 seconds
4. Raymond Delisle (Peugeot) @ 12 minutes 17 seconds
5. Walter Riccomi (SCIC) @ 12 minutes 39 seconds
1. Giancarlo Bellini: 170 points
2. Lucien van Impe: 169 points
3. Joop Zoetemelk: 119 points
1. Freddy Maertens: 293 points
2. Pierino Gavazzi: 140 points
3. Jacques Esclassan: 128 points
Excerpted from Bill and Carol McGann’s The Story of the Tour de France, Volume II. You can find both volumes here.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
When I was 10 or 12, my mother assembled a synergy of coupons so powerful that our local supermarket paid her nearly a buck to take home two 4-lb. jars of grape jelly. For the next two years every time I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich it was accompanied by grape jelly.
As an adult, I still eat PB&J, but in my refrigerator you’ll find preserves of strawberry, raspberry, blackberry and sometimes, even cherry. I have never purchased grape jelly.
The only thing in the world I’m as sick of as grape jelly is news of doping, so I’m going to try to keep this brief, but I need to address some recent quotes by David Millar.
I think Millar is a stand-up guy. He’s got my respect. When caught, he manned up and took his lumps. He seems to have a much less materialistic and more mature and empathetic life post-suspension. I dig that.
He speaks out about doping issues and particular dopers. I double dig that.
However, he was quoted in the Telegraphe regarding Alberto Contador’s performance at the Giro, saying things that simply don’t make sense. So nonsensical they are that I honestly have been wondering if he has some odd, covert agenda in mind. If true, it’d wreck my opinion of him. For good.
And let me hasten to add, this really has very little to do with Contador. Any rider who delivers a performance such as he did at the Giro and looks that fresh standing on the podium (does anyone recall how wasted LeMond always looked on the podium at the Tour?) shouldn’t expect to escape suspicion.
Here’s what Millar told the Telegraphe:
“Alberto Contador is untouchable as rider, he is a physical freak and we in the peloton have known that for a long time and respect his supreme talent. I would be very surprised if he didn’t end up as the greatest Grand Tour rider in the history of the sport. It’s a tragedy that he has got mixed up in this Clenbuterol thing but I am keeping an open mind on his case.”
“Does anybody out there seriously doubt that Contador was riding clean in the Giro d’Italia that has just finished? You don’t win the biggest races in the world with such clockwork regularity and comparative ease, and in such style, by not being the supreme talent and clean. In my experience the profile of a doper is always much more erratic and unpredictable.”
“The rest of us mere mortals have “magic days” when every so often when we can take on the world. Contador’s default setting is a “Magic day”. His only departure from the norm is when he experiences merely an average day. They are the only two levels he rides at. My strong instinct is to trust that.”
Let’s do this like a geometry problem and lay out our givens:
1) Oxygen vector drugs speed recovery and all but eliminate bad days.
2) Anabolic agents such as testosterone also speed recovery. Faster recovery = fewer bad days.
3) Gianni Bugno led the 1990 Giro start-to-finish. A strong case can be made that this was the first Grand Tour win courtesy of EPO. Pink from start to finish indicates no bad days.
4) If we assume that the various allegations against Armstrong are true, seven victories at the Tour suggest he had no bad days (except for a couple of bonks).
5) Before the age of oxygen vector doping we frequently saw riders deliver a spectacular day at a Grand Tour and follow it up with a stunning fold.
Millar has expressed doubts about Ivan Basso’s 2006 Giro d’Italia win, where he finished more than nine minutes ahead of Jose Enrique Gutiérrez. Is he suggesting that nine minutes is superhuman, but six minutes (Contador’s margin of victory) is merely mortal?
Everything we know about human physiology says that even when you’re at peak form you can’t ride around at threshold for six hours a day for three weeks. Everything we know from our own lives tells us we have bad days, even when we’re not on the bike. Bad days are a normal part of life.
It is within human nature to want to be our best on every ride. We often ride like we believe it’s possible. It’s a hell of a statement of hope. I like that. However, if someone tells you that a rider’s default setting is magic, get out your shovel. That’s not mud around your ankles.
In American cycling, the proverbial other shoe seems to keep dropping. Tyler Hamilton’s revelation that yes, in fact, he did use EPO, that everyone was using EPO, that he saw EPO in Lance Armstrong’s refrigerator, that he saw Armstrong inject it, ought to be the bombshell of all bombshells.
Instead of being met with gape-mouthed stares of shock, most of the cycling public are scratching their heads. After years of denials, a conviction, a suspension, a return to the sport with lukewarm results followed by a second positive test followed immediately his retirement from the sport, Hamilton has chosen this moment to come clean. Why now?
Hamilton says it was the occasion of testifying before the federal grand jury. His time in the hot seat lasted six full hours and he likened the event to the Hoover Dam breaking; it was the first time he had told anyone the complete truth of his involvement in and knowledge of doping.
Floyd Landis hasn’t had much luck getting the powers-that-be to listen to his tale of woe. Pat McQuaid figures that as a convicted doper, Landis was lying when he defended himself. And because he defended himself, proclaiming his innocence in the wake of his positive test, for him now to admit that he was doping means that he’s a liar. Try not to parse that logic too much, it’s tantamount to saying that if 3 + 5 = 8 then 5 + 3 = 9.
Landis, in spouting off on an ever-more diverse array of events and unprovable accusations, has done himself no favors. He and Hamilton share in common the belief that telling the truth will set them free; they are probably right. Most rehabilitation programs include some form of confession; from the Catholic Church to Alcoholics Anonymous, telling the truth is a fairly universal step in healing. But Landis seems to have confused what be believes to be true from what he has actually seen; whether or not that’s the case, too few people are listening to what he has to say. He has been re-cast as the big boy who cried wolf.
Hamilton has a chance to do what Landis could not. Before his positive test, subsequent defense and ultimate suspension, Hamilton was universally admired. The guy everyone liked, even the Lance haters. He was hailed as unusually bright and polite among pro cyclists, cut from finer cloth.
I can’t claim Hamilton as a friend. He was an acquaintance at best. But he knew my face and remembered me each time we crossed paths, whether I sought him out or not. I believe he’s a guy with a moral compass, a conscience, that the decisions he faced, the choices he made, were hard, soul-rending. Nonetheless, he made them, and as the events of his positive test unfolded, his achievements crumbled.
It’s easy to dismiss him as a doper. The only way to understand the magnitude of the problem, the depth of the coercion is to picture the land from their shoes. And while not everyone was on EPO during that period, more cyclists were than were not. What he knows could be useful in the fight against doping and based on his statements, it sounds like doping wasn’t something he welcomed. Most cyclists see it as a do-or-die choice. That’s no excuse, but listening to those who have faced that choice could help the sport avoid those situations in the future.
Hamilton says it’s time for a change in cycling and that for the reform cycling needs to take place, big changes need to begin at the top. Let’s hope those who need to are listening.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Alberto Contador has been determined to have Clenbuterol in his system. Clenbuterol is a banned substance. Contador is guilty of doping, right?
Maybe, maybe not. Let’s consider the situation in the abstract. Let’s imagine Contador as the driver of a car and doping as a pedestrian.
Scenario 1: A guy driving down the street at night doesn’t see a pedestrian step out from behind a car. The pedestrian is drunk, stumbles backward and falls in the driver’s path. The pedestrian is run over and dies. The driver stops and waits for the police at the scene.
Scenario 2: A guy driving down the street at is speeding, enjoying his new sports car. He’s traveling 110 mph and when he suddenly sees a pedestrian in a cross walk. He hits the brakes, but it’s too late; his car fishtails and hits the pedestrian, killing him. The driver stops and waits for the police at the scene.
Scenario 3: A guy driving down the street at night and sees the boss who fired him a week before for stealing from the company. In a fit of rage he swerves and bowling pins the old boss, killing him instantly. The driver flees the scene, but is caught soon after.
Scenario 4: A guy is pissed that his boss fired him for stealing from the company. He waits in his car outside the guy’s house. When the ex-boss comes out of his house, the guy steps on the gas and runs him over. Unsure that the boss is definitely dead, he backs over the guy, spins his tires and then flees the scene, but is caught soon after.
We have four different events that share a death. What separates them is intent. The principles of jurisprudence in most countries hold that in scenario 1, the driver is not at fault; no crime was committed. However, in scenario 2 the driver didn’t mean to kill the pedestrian either, but he failed to take adequate care for the health and safety of others; a crime was committed, involuntary manslaughter. In scenario 3, the driver murders his boss, pure and simple, but it was an act committed as an “act of passion.” His future prospects aren’t good; in most places, he faces a likely prison sentence of life. In scenario 4, the driver has planned his murder. As human beings, we generally agree that premeditated murder is one of the worst crimes you can commit. In some places, he faces a possible death sentence.
With Alberto Contador’s case, I believe we can outline three possible scenarios by which the Clenburterol entered his body.
Scenario 1: Contador raced the Tour de France clean and ate steaks that his team chef traveled with in an effort to control his diet as rigorously and responsibly as possible.
Scenario 2: Contador raced the Tour but accepted a bottle from a fan out on the road. The fan happened to want to see a certain Luxembourger win and also happened to be a fan of Macchiavelli. Because ends justify means in the authors world, the fan spiked the bottle with Clen, hoping a positive test would knock Contador out of the Tour.
Scenario 3: Contador took Clenbuterol to help him lose weight in the spring and withdrew blood too shortly after taking the Clenbuterol, which is why the concentration was so low.
Scenario 2 is far-fetched the way a walk to Nevada is, if you’re starting in Texas. Still. Due to the concept of strict liability, any rider who has a banned substance in his body is guilty. It is the responsibility of the rider to demonstrate that the substance arrived by means not nefarious.
It is my personal belief that unless Contador proves conclusively that the Clen entered his body accidentally, he hasn’t distinguished himself from the rider who meant to dope. This isn’t American jurisprudence and so the notion of reasonable doubt isn’t at issue. Dog-ate-homework excuses have been trotted around by every doper since admitting doping became a career liability … which was fairly recent, in fact.
Let’s put this another way: Strict liability means a rider is guilty of scenario 4—murder—unless he proves otherwise. A rider is literally as guilty as can be. Think of strict liability as a bit like Napoleonic code: guilty until proven innocent.
The Napoleonic code seems a barbaric way to mete justice. It can be difficult and often downright impossible to prove a negative. With doping, the situation is different. We start with a given: a test reports that a rider tested positive. Because the rider agreed to the rules of his national federation and the UCI, this is no time to say he doesn’t like the system. If he didn’t dope, he must prove he was a victim of circumstance.
Contador has offered up a reasonable explanation. However, according to the rules handed down by the UCI, that’s not sufficient. To deserve anything less than a typical two-year ban, he really must prove his case. Had he produced a steak purchased from the same butcher who sourced it from the same rancher, I expect the Spanish Federation and the UCI could have reasonably given him a one-year sentence. I don’t think it’s as rigorous scientifically as the sport deserves (it certainly wouldn’t stand up in an episode of CSI Miami), but the UCI (not to mention the Spanish Federation) isn’t exactly a bastion of logical thought.
From everything I’ve been able to find out Contador has provided nothing more than a story and when doping is present, stories are worth less than chaff, and to most reasonable people, anything short of a smoking steak isn’t adequate.
Were Contador to prove his intent, I’d immediately change my position on him. Further, I’d put it, and an apology, in a post.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
The weekend shooting in Arizona has the United States—indeed, much of the world—discussing the need for civility in political discourse and beyond. The shooting of Representative Giffords is a tragic response to someone who represented her district according to her convictions.
One of the great treasures of our planet is its amazing diversity. From the blue whale to the ebola virus, planet Earth is full of unlikely and exciting life. Similarly, human beings are prone to just as diverse an array of beliefs and opinions … and all-too-often we act on those in ways that can horrify.
Where I live, the cycling community is enormous. Within 50 miles of me there are more group rides each week than I can number. There are countless more riders in the area who ride alone or with only a few other cyclists. The groups I ride with are made up of a stunning array of people. We’ve got engineers, shop rats, lawyers, baristas, real estate moguls, coaches, tailors, loan officers and plenty of other professionals. Off the bike, some of these folks and I would agree about very little.
However, on the bike we agree about much. Thank God. For a peloton to work, the riders must aspire to a Borg-like single-mindedness. Few things can result in a crash as quickly as a disorganized pack. It is because of this common ground on the bike I can entertain conversations on any topic with the reassurance that we can remain friends, no matter what we discuss.
The many comments on my recent post on helmets have kept me thinking about the intersection points between personal freedom, rational choices and personal responsibility. One comment in particular got me to thinking more about my views on the responsibility we each bear to our brethren of the peloton.
Each time we roll out for a group ride or race, we’ve done so with certain assumptions about the other riders present. Even if we’ve never met them before, we assume that because they have joined this ride that they know not just the basics of shifting, braking and cornering, but the delicate etiquette of the pack.
Most of you probably learned the basics of pack riding years, if not decades, ago. The unwritten rules are voluminous:
- Don’t grab your brakes suddenly
- Hold your line
- Don’t make unannounced turns that the whole group isn’t making
- Accelerate when the rest of the group does
- Don’t chop wheels
- In a paceline, don’t half-wheel the rider next to you
- Spit down, not out; same for the nose
- Don’t let gaps open
You get the idea. Those assumptions are the basis for the peloton itself. After all, without them, we would not be able to go out and ride in a pack. The pack is possible because we assume it will behave in a certain way. Society works best when we operate with a similar set of givens.
There are, however, many other distinctions that can’t be classified under basic riding skills, but fall, at least in my conception, under the heading of etiquette as well.
I admit that when I’m on a group ride, if I see a guy in tube socks, I’ll probably make a comment about Pistol Pete. I’m not likely to follow his wheel either—at least, not in the first hour or two. But I won’t go so far as to say he needs to get with the program. After all, socks don’t really affect the group.
But as I’ve mentioned, not wearing a helmet on a group ride can have consequences for the entire group—at least those who stop—should there be a crash. Not wearing a helmet isn’t the only decision that you make than can have consequences for others. Bottle cages that shoot bottles James Bond-Aston Martin-ejector-seat-style are a hazard to other riders. And riding threadbare tires that could flat at any time simply shows a lack of respect for those around you.
Dissimilarly, riding without a seat bag that contains the items necessary to fix a flat is foolhardy, but not really harmful to the group. Just don’t expect anyone to stop for you, though.
When I was in the Boy Scouts 35 years ago we were always taught, “Be prepared.” The riders I most admire are the ones who seemingly can take anything in stride without the pack-mule-style Camelbak on their shoulders. We all flat, but it’s the rider who has not only the fresh tube and CO2 (for the fastest-possible inflation), but also has the old tire casing for a boot, who gets the points for consideration. I appreciate any rider who stops out of consideration. The kindest turn and best thank-you the rider with the flat can show is the speedy fix. And the guy who carries food enough to help out a bonking rider is especially stylish in my eye.
Showing our gratitude is perhaps one of the classiest turns I see. On occasion I’ve seen one rider buy another a coffee as a measure of gratitude for a strong pull, closing the uncloseable gap, or just stopping for that flat. Riding with cash enough to buy another rider a coffee is preparation of a different order.
It is through the etiquette I described above that makes even the most competitive of rides civil affairs among friends. However, in contemporary discourse there’s a belief that if you can remain civil when discussing the most charged issues—say religion or politics—then it shows you have no conviction. Similarly, if you really take your beliefs to heart, then each engagement is all but a fight to the death.
As a writer, I lack apprehension about wading into any of cycling’s more charged issues. They don’t carry the weight of abortion, socialism or immigration, but most of us have strong feelings where doping, the UCI and even bike building are concerned. That RKP has remained civil in its discourse has less to do with me than it does with you, the readers. As a community, you obviously value this dimension every bit as much as I do.
If there’s any chance that what we experience in our cycling lives can inform our larger lives, then I hope you’ll take some time to follow this link and consider the idea of convicted civility—the possibility that we can have firmly held convictions and yet remain respectful and even warm to those with whom we do not agree.
This was a belief I, myself did not carry for much of my life. I watched James Bond (what is it with me and the Bond references tonight?) films and could never understand how Bond could sit down to a pleasant dinner with some arch villain who he knew was busy plotting our hero’s death. How the hell do you have dinner with a guy who plans to feed you to a shark? No one ever had more on the line than his life, and Bond has never been anything other than polite. James Bond may seem a trite metaphor, but I suggest that we cyclists—in our quest to vanquish competitors under the most physical of circumstances—understand the value of civility better than most.
In civility lies the future of dialog in this world. And we, as cyclists, can inform that conversation with our peers.