As we approach the end of what has been a momentous year for cycling, a lot of us are left wondering where the sport goes from here.
Padraig and I have been chatting back and forth and one thing he asked for was something of a follow-up to the piece I did on the likelihood of reform at the UCI.
As I mentioned in a recent column – “When it comes to the UCI, change is needed … but it ain’t easy” – the structure of our international governing body is such that, despite its superficially “democratic” façade – real power in the organization is held in the hands of a very small number of people with the same set of skewed priorities and ingrained conflicts-of-interest that caused the problem in the first place
Padraig was interested in hearing about how our own national governing body was set up and whether we could possibly start the “revolution” from this side of the Atlantic.
Is reform possible?
Well, the short answer is “no.”
Back in the day, the old U.S. Cycling Federation (USCF) was something of a democratic organization. You bought a license and you earned the right to vote for members of the board of directors. Admittedly, not all that many voted and we’d see boards composed of people chosen in elections with less than 10-percent voter turnout.
Indeed, you still have the right to vote for board members, but your vote just doesn’t count for much. In 1999, a few years after the creation of USA Cycling, the successor to the USCF, there was a “special” meeting of the Board of Directors called by president Mike Plant (who, you might recall, remains a member of the UCI Management Committee) for which the agenda included some major changes to the Bylaws of the organization.
The measure was essentially railroaded through the board, without much discussion, save a vigorous effort from board member Les Earnest. If you’ve not heard of Les, you should, especially if you’re a reform minded cycling fan. Les’ professional background is in computers. He’s responsible for the development of the first spell checker, the first effective pen-based computer and was appointed as the executive officer of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab in 1965. The guy is wicked smart and he loves bike racing. We’re lucky to have him around. (Author’s Note: I was incorrect in naming Les Earnest as the sole opponent of the Plant “reform” initiative. Board Member Chuck Collins was the member of the board who voted against the measure, as is correctly reflected in his comment below. My apologies to Chuck and I guess I’ll chalk up my error to an aging brain. I even wrote about Chuck being a lone voice in the wilderness at the time.)
Anyway, Plant’s changes were couched as an “emergency measure” (with no real explanation as to what the exact “emergency” might have been) and as such went into effect immediately upon passage. The net effect of those “reforms” was to place considerable voting power into the hands of a small group representing the USA Cycling Development Foundation. Indeed, while representing less than one percent of USA Cycling’s membership, the Foundation can effectively choose the majority of the membership on the USA Cycling board of directors.
Now, if you want the particulars, I am going to direct you to Les’ site, where he recently posted an essay describing the cycling’s current problems, a series of “coups,” representing what Earnest calls a “flagrantly crooked takeover by business interests” of the sport and the legal challenges that have resulted from those.
What is disheartening is that you find yourself agreeing with Earnest’s conclusion to the question “is reform possible?”
In short, it is not, unless there are serious changes to federal law (namely the “Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act). It is a dire conclusion when you realize your hopes of reform are rooted in that painfully rare phenomenon known as “Congressional Action.”
We do have one huge advantage
Now, I have to say that I have my reasons to believe that the situation here in the U.S. is still better than that of the UCI. It’s not that this country’s governing bodies are somehow better or less encumbered by conflicts of interest.
No, what sets American governing bodies apart from their international counterparts is that collective decision by those U.S. Olympic Committee-affiliated NGBs to hand off their authority to deal with doping cases to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
Recall, that one allegation out there in the whole Armstrong case is that his “donation” to the UCI to assist in its anti-doping efforts was merely a pay-off to the organization to cover up an alleged positive doping test from the 2001 Tour de Suisse. While the UCI has yet to share the documents associated with that incident, how can anyone – after having seen USADA’s evidence – reasonably conclude that Lance Armstrong honestly made a contribution to the UCI to actually boost its efforts to control doping? (If you’re one who can reach that conclusion, by the way, give me a call. I have a really nice bridge to sell you in New York.)
The one element of the American system that should serve as a model for the rest of the world is precisely that separation of powers.
Read Les’ article and think about it for a minute. Then try to imagine the outcome had every bit of evidence in the Lance Armstrong case been in the hands of Mike Plant, Jim Ochowicz or Thom Weisel. The record books would remain intacct and few would be talking about reforming things these days.
It took a tenacious – and, above all, independent – agency to reach the conclusion that the Emperor did, indeed, have no clothes (well, at least no yellow jerseys).
That sole element, though, doesn’t mean that the U.S. system is otherwise any better than that which governs the UCI. We need fundamental reform. If you have a racing license, vote. And then let your opinions be heard. Contact the members of the board. Despite the lopsided and undemocratic imbalance of voting power, there are some good folks on the USA Cycling Board of Directors. Let them know how you feel. Demand changes. Finally, be willing to back up those demands with action … or as some suggest, in-action, meaning that you don’t renew your license for a year.
The sad truth, though, is that the current structure is largely the result of the inherently apolitical nature of folks in the sport. Hell, we didn’t get involved in cycling to add yet another political aspect to our lives. As a result, though, we let these folks take control. In some cases, they’ve done okay. In others … well, not so much.
If you want to see change in the organization, get involved. It will take all of us.
The big events of 2012?
Padraig had some other thoughts about closing out the year. I know at my old job, we would have editors and a few contributors sitting around voting on who was worthy of this, that or the other prize for things they did over the course of the previous year.
Certainly we here at RKP are not above pontificating now and then, but I want to hear from you, too.
I have my own opinion as to whom, for example, should rank as “Person of the Year” in cycling. What I like, though, is to hear what you have to say.
Please, use the comments section below or send me an email (Charles@Pelkey.com) and let me know your thoughts about the year in cycling.
- What were the highlights?
- What were the low points?
- Who are the heroes?
- Who are the villans?
- Which was the greatest day of racing?
- Which of the three was the best grand tour?
- Which was the best one-day race of the year?
- What great technical development may actually prove to be more than just a way to get you to spend more on bikes?
Feel free to comment on anything and everything. We’ll cobble together an awards column, but rest assured, it will be with your input.
Finally, dear readers, I first want to thank you for indulging my off-topic detour last week. Like all of us, I was pretty shaken by the events of the previous day.
I managed to attend the funeral for my friend, Bob, and tears aside, the event quickly devolved into an opportunity for many of us to share stories about an old friend. My contribution?
Well, a few years back, we were having lunch on campus at the university here in Laramie, when a young man walked past, resplendent in full western regalia: hat, boots, vest and even chaps, despite there not being a horse anywhere within miles.
“Ya know, Charles, I never got that; the whole cowboy thing here in Wyoming,” Bob said. “I mean, I’m from New England … and I don’t dress up like a @#$% ing Pilgrim.”
A lot of us ended up the day laughing as we shared a host of Bob’s best one-liners. I hope we can all leave that kind of legacy when we’re gone. I’ll miss you, Bob, but I will almost always remember you with a smile.
The Explainer is a weekly feature on Red Kite Prayer. If you have a question related to the sport of cycling, doping or the legal issues faced by cyclists of all stripes, feel free to send it directly to The Explainer at Charles@Pelkey.com. PLEASE NOTE: Understand that reading the information contained here does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Charles Pelkey. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained therein without first seeking the advice of qualified legal counsel licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.
So far we’ve covered Men of the Hour and Up-and-Comers as part of our 2012 Season Preview; now it’s time for a list of the riders and teams who find themselves “on the hot seat” heading into the 2012 season.
Andy Schleck—It’s rarely a good thing when you’re being compared to Joop Zoetemelk. But that’s just the awkward place in which Radio Shack-Nissan’s Andy Schleck finds himself heading into the 2012 season. Schleck has now finished as runner-up at the Tour de France four times*. The good news: Contador’s not racing and Schleck will find himself leading a stronger squad with nine-time Tour de France winning DS Johan Bruyneel driving the team car. The bad news: he’s running out of excuses. And with a 2012 Tour route that emphasizes time trialing over climbing, Schleck could soon find himself one race away from equaling Zoetemelk’s record of six second-place finishes. Then again, even Joop won the race once.
(*Andy’s not counting 2010 as a victory, and neither am I.)
Janez Brajkovic—Two seasons ago Slovenia’s Janez Brajkovic won the Criterium du Dauphiné for Team RadioShack with an impressive mix of climbing and time trialing; at the time he looked to be Johan Bruyneel’s next grand tour champion. But cycling’s a cruel sport and a year later Brajkovic found himself lying on the side of the road during Stage 5 of the 2011 Tour de France; his injuries sent him home less than a week into the Tour. The 28-year-old now rides for Astana, a squad that will welcome another GC contender to ride alongside Roman Kreuziger. Assuming Kreuziger targets the 2012 Giro d’Italia (a race in which he finished sixth last year), Brajkovic might find little stands between him and another chance at Tour leadership.
BMC—Earlier I included BMC on my list of Men of the Hour—and they deserve the distinction. But they also find themselves on the Hot Seat—here’s why:
- Philippe Gilbert, Cadel Evans, and Thor Hushovd will draw intense scrutiny after their 2011 exploits. The only feat more impressive than Gilbert’s 2011 season would be repeating the feat in 2012. As for Evans, he’ll soon find that winning a Tour is one thing, while defending the title is an entirely different proposition (just ask Carlos Sastre and history’s other 1-time winners). And Thor? Well, he did a quite bit of talking in 2011 about how unhappy he was at Garmin-Cervelo. Now he gets to show us what he can do while riding for a team where he feels his “leadership” is safe and secure.
- America’s great young hopes—Taylor Phinney and Tejay Van Garderen—need to show some progression in 2012. Phinney needs to turn his lessons from 2011 into results in 2012 while Van Garderen needs to win a week-long stage race—Paris-Nice would be a fantastic start.
- Aging and former stars such as George Hincapie and Alessandro Ballan will fight to stay relevant just within their own squad. I’m still holding out hope that Thor’s arrival will give Hincapie the leash he needs to win Roubaix. As for Ballan, his continued presence on the roster surprises me considering his lack of results and the continued investigation of his role in the Mantova doping case.
- Last, but not least: chemistry. It takes a lot to manage the egos and aspirations of a professional cycling team, let alone a squad with so many high-profile stars. Evans, Gilbert, and Hushovd have all had moments where they appeared unable to play well with others—or at least unable to do so while keeping their mouths shut about it. Jim Ochowicz and the rest of BMC’s management will need to anticipate flare-ups before they happen and work quickly to extinguish problems before they spread.
Mark Cavendish—British rider, British team, World Champion, London Olympics—assuming he makes it through the Tour unscathed, Team Sky’s Mark Cavendish will likely face more Olympic pressure than any rider has ever known. With two stage wins in Qatar, at least he’s off to a good start.
Riders with Names Ending in “-ov”—In particular, I’m thinking of Alexandre Vinokourov, Alexandr Kolobnev, and Denis Menchov. As for Vino, he’s trying to end his career with some measure of respect at Astana, while putting behind him the “allegations” that he bought the 2010 Liege-Bastogne-Liege from Alexandr Kolobnev (who’s been provisionally suspended for testing positive for masking agents at the 2011 Tour de France). Denis Menchov made a major career mistake when he transferred from Rabobank to Geox-TMC after a 2010 season that saw him finish third in the Tour de France. Unfortuantely, the supposed skeletons in the closets of Geox’s management meant there would be no Tour de France for the Spanish squad, so Menchov found himself sitting at home in July; he finished 8th in the Giro and 5tht in the Vuelta, but failed to make a major impact in either race. This year he finds himself riding for Katusha and should get another crack at leading a team the Tour. Believe it or not, the parcours suits him quite well, and another podium shot is certainly well within his reach.
Italy—Italians won 102 races in 2011, but few of any import. Worse still, the country’s grand tour riders came up empty after winning the Giro and the Vuelta in 2010. So it should come as no surprise that changes are in store for 2012. First, Liquigas rider Ivan Basso seems to have given-up on his Tour de France dreams; the 34-year-old has instead set his sights on winning his third Giro d’Italia. As for Vincenzo Nibali, the Tour de France was supposed to be his big goal for 2012; he finished 7tht in 2009 and has learned how to win and lose a grand tour in the two seasons since his breakthrough. That said, Nibali hasn’t ruled-out the Giro d’Italia either, an interesting proposition considering his toughest rival might also be his teammate.
In the classics, another poor season for Filippo Pozzato lost him his World Tour ride; he now leads Farnese-Vini, a team whose prospects—and race invitations—seemed to be improving until the charismatic,but frustrating, Italian “star” broke his collarbone. More weeks of training down the drain. Damiano Cunego still seems years away from his former race-winning self and Alessandro Ballan? Well, your guess is as good as mine.
But of all the Italians feeling pressure to perform in 2012, national team coach Paolo Bettini is likely to be feeling it the most. He’ll have two chances to redeem himself in 2012: the Olympics and Worlds. If he can’t do it, look for a change at the helm of the federation’s national squad.
Thomas Voeckler—Europcar’s Thomas Voeckler will be hard-pressed to re-create his Tour de France heroics from 2011. Let’s hope he doesn’t really take his Tour prospects seriously enough to sacrifice his chances in other races, as he’s one of the sport’s most exciting stars.
Monument Race Organizations—Changing the route or the date of a Monument is never a popular decision, but in 2012 we’ll see significant alterations to two of the sport’s oldest and most prestigious races. First off, the organizers of April’s Tour of Flanders have decided that the traditional Muur/Bosberg finale is too…predictable? Easy? Boring? To be honest, I’m not really sure what they were thinking, but if this year’s “new and improved” set of finishing circuits doesn’t lead to a spectacular win for either Philippe Gilbert or Tom Boonen, there will be hell to pay in Oudenaarde.
As for Italy’s “Race of the Falling Leaves”, il Lombardia (a name I’m still getting used to saying), a move to September means the leaves won’t be falling anymore. The UCI is hoping that an earlier date will see more in-form riders contest the late-season event, even if the scenery proves to be a less spectacular. The switch has a better chance of producing a more exciting race than the changes to Flanders do, but the sport’s purists are still shaking their heads.
Campagnolo—With more and more teams choosing Shimano or SRAM for their components, Campagnolo has to be feeling some pressure to remain relevant. Of the 18 teams in this year’s World Tour, only three (Lotto-Belisol, Lampre-ISD, and Movistar) will be riding the Italian groupsets in 2012 (Team Europcar, one of the sport’s better Professional Continental squads, will be racing Campy as well). The company’s new EPS electronic group was beginning to generate a bit of buzz—and then SRAM introduced its new Red grouppo and stole most of the spotlight. Campy’s still relying on decades of cachet to drive sales, but one has to wonder if they can keep up.
Team NetApp—They won one race last year—the time trial at the 2.2 Tour Gallipoli. They barely made a ripple at last year’s Amgen Tour of California—one of the biggest events on their calendar. Now they’re riding the Giro d’Italia? If the Giro had a Super PAC, Net App would have just made a significant donation.
Bjarne Riis—Even with a suspension and the loss of two grand tour titles, Alberto Contador will be just fine. As for Bjarne Riis and Team Saxo Bank-Sunguard? Well, that’s another issue entirely. It seems that Riis is almost always struggling to find new sponsors to help his team survive from one season to the next; now he faces six months without his Spanish star and the possible loss of his team’s World Team license. There were rumors circulating that Stefano Garzelli might sign with Saxo Bank after his Acqua & Sapone squad was not invited to the Giro d’Italia. Given Garzelli’s track record at the Italian grand tour, that might not be a bad option for the Danish general manager.
Who’s on your Hot Seat? Share your comments below.
Follow me on Twitter: @WhitYost
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
We decided to do some year-end awards here at RKP, but because we don’t see much point in awarding someone “best Danish single-speed cyclocrosser with no ink”, we figured we’d give some nods to those people, events and moments most memorable. And to add to the fun, we invited Whit Yost and Jeremy Rauch from Pavé to join in the fun.
So here we go:
Rider of the Year—Despite not notching a win another monument this spring, by virtue of the fact that Fabian Cancellara finished on the podium in Milan-San Remo (2nd), Ronde van Vlaanderen (3rd) and Paris-Roubaix (2nd), he proved to be the strongest rider in this year’s spring campaign. That Cancellara was chased as if an attack from him was everyone else’s ticket to glory was unseemly. It appeared—given those who latched onto his wheel—he was chased less to prevent him winning than as a springboard to anyone else’s.
Most Valuable (Non) Player—This has to go to Francesco Moser for doing more to liven up this year’s Tour de France short of any rider other than Thomas Voeckler. By instructing the Schlecks on how to win at bike racing, Moser inspired Andy Schleck to take the single most interesting flyer at this year’s Tour. Frankly, it did much to illustrate the criticism that due to radios riders no longer know how to ride tactically. The greater lesson is just how the greats were. How about a mentoring program for today’s GC riders? The racing might get more interesting if we dusted off more GC champions from the ‘70s and ‘80s.
The We-Don’t-Know-What-to-Call-It Award—Thor Hushovd has easily been the peloton’s biggest crybaby for the last two seasons. Of his seemingly endless skills—honestly, has anyone else delivered more unexpected and surprising wins?—diplomacy isn’t one. He may be the only guy who could teach Bradley Wiggins a thing or two about badmouthing a previous team. That said, his cunning has proven he is more than worthy of both protection and a free hand. Maybe we should call this one the Wild Card Award. You just never know with this guy.
The Mad Ambition Award—This goes to Jim Ochowicz and the rest of the management at Team BMC. On one hand, they are geniuses for vaulting BMC to the top of the pops in just two years. Their ability to sign riders of real quality was confirmed in a royal flush back in July when Cadel Evans finally won the Tour de France. So how they managed to court and sign both Philippe Gilbert and Thor Hushovd can’t simply be magic; it’s more like sorcery. Evans was on record saying anyone on his Tour team (and it is his Tour team) won’t freelance, won’t go for stage wins and will bury himself for the team. Somehow Gilbert and Hushovd—who between them took three stages of this year’s Tour—claimed they were okay with that. We also give this the Most Likely to End in Tears Award.
The Most Coveted Award—This has to go to Zipp for the new Firecrest 303. There’s not another set of wheels I’ve heard spoken of with a more covetous tone than the redesigned Firecrest 303. Lighter than a supermodel’s brain, more aerodynamic than a Cessna and more durable than any aluminum rim you’re riding, the only question is who doesn’t want this wheel.
The Relief Award—Bike fans breathed a collective sigh of relief with the announcement that Campagnolo will finally begin selling its long-awaited electronic group, EPS. Though we heard that the Italian maker was working on this group back in 2002, Shimano came to market with Di2 a full two years ahead of Campagnolo. This is quite a contrast from the introduction of index shifting and integrated control levers. Shimano’s stuff may have worked better in both instances, but at least Campy had a ready response. The good news is that EPS seems to be kink-free, so this year you’ll be able to enjoy electronic shifting and 11-speeds all in the same group.
Worst News of the Year Award—The demise of HTC-Highroad. To have Bob Stapleton depart cycling is the worst news the sport will get for a long, long time.
The Textbook Courage Award—If you needed any proof of the talent at Andy Schleck’s disposal, his attack on Stage 18 from Pinerolo to the Galibier in this year’s Tour de France showed exactly what the young and often hapless Luxembourger is capable of. Down on GC and running out of road, Schleck had to do SOMETHING. What he did was one of the most courageous and awe-inspiring attacks we’ve seen this decade. First, Leopard – Trek put Joost Posthuma and Maxime Monfort into the break. Then, Schleck attacked with 60km to go, took a gap, stretched it to two minutes and then latched onto Posthuma and Monfort to stretch his lead, ending just 15 seconds out of yellow, as Tommy Voekler buried himself on the imposing slopes of the Galibier. This is the racing fans have always wanted from Schleck, but he has seldom delivered. Cautious to a fault, on this day Schleck was a legend.
The Have No Cake and Fail to Eat It Either Award—I, for one, thought it was a good idea for Zdenek Stybar to try his luck on the road, especially with a Classics-oriented squad like QuickStep. Unfortunately, Stybie flopped in his first season and has now relinquished his dominance of the Euro Cyclocross World Cup Series to Kevin Pauwels. What’s the Flemish for “Oops?”
The Straight Face Award—It’s been 18 months since Alberto Contador tested positive at the Tour de France. The saga of inaction since then is well-documented. Under WADA guidelines, it doesn’t matter how or why the “adverse analytical finding” came about, the rider should be suspended, and yet Contador has argued, with a straight face, that he deserves to ride, and UCI head Pat McQuaid has gone on as if the fleet Spaniard isn’t receiving preferential treatment. If we say up is down long enough, will we all learn to fly?
The Ricco Suave Award—This award is reserved for dopers who approach the rank stupidity of Ricardo Ricco in their efforts to cover their tracks and/or protest their innocence. This year’s award goes to Ezequiel Mosquera. After a positive test for hydroxyethyl starch at the 2010 Vuelta, at which he was runner-up, Mosquera cried foul. But the test for hydroxyethyl starch has been around a long time, and that substance’s use as a masking agent for doping products is well-documented. Compounding Mosquera’s guilt, one of his Xacobeo-Galicia teammates, David Garcia, also tested positive for the same substance at the same race. The Spanish cycling federation (RFEC) rewarded Mosquera’s cheating with a two year ban ON TOP of the 14 months he’s already been off the bike. The rider has said he’ll retire. Don’t do us any favors Ezequiel.
Cyclist of the year—All new cyclists. They may be annoyances right now. They might reduce our cool, bad-boy cred. They may do stupid things in the road, at lights, on the trail, etc. But they’re making the world a better place for us. Growing the sport makes the roads safer, will eventually make the public more sympathetic, and some day, some of them will be giving us their draft as they pummel us in their wake. Cycling is growing so much that some places, like New York City, are experiencing a backlash. I think the backlash will be shortlived. We’re going to win and all new cyclists are helping.
The “Why Would Anyone Need X” award:
This year saw a number of new technical innovations: some good, some bad, but all the victim of some variant of the pace-line putdown “Why would anyone need <insert component here>”. The list of what would surely be past winners is long and filled with the things we take for granted today, and would surely include clipless pedals (“Too dangerous in a crash!”), index shifting (“I don’t need click-shifting to find my gear!”), Di2 (“If I wanted to play video games, I’d just stay home and play Nintendo!”) and 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and yes, 12 speed rear clusters (“Why would anyone need more than 5/6/7/8/9/10/11 speeds?”).
2011′s award, based on the seemingly never discussions on the topic, goes to disc brakes in cyclocross. With a battle cry of “if they were good enough for De Vlaeminck*, they’re good enough to me”, the canti-devoted dismissed the disc as unnecessary – too heavy, too powerful, not hydraulic, and just plain pointless. It’s true that the disc options when using brifters are incomplete; quality cable actuated brakes like those from Avid aren’t quite as effortless as hydraulics, and the mechanical/hydraulic adapters look like a mechanical in the making. That said, any mountain biker will tell you there’s no denying the performance of discs in the muck. Wet or dry, discs just work. It’ll take a few years for vendors to come up with ideal, rather than adapted solutions to discs in cyclocross. But when they do, I suspect the naysayers will see their benefits and at the very least, wish they were on discs too. Hey, give me hydraulic brifters, and I just might be willing to move off this 9 speed setup – because really, more than 9 speeds is silly, but disc brakes are awesome.
The shut-up and ride award—By now, we’ve all seen the video of Juan Antonio Flecha and Johnny Hoogerland getting whacked by the errant media car in Stage 9 of this year’s Tour de France. Both men suffered injuries that would have sent most of us crawling into an ambulance or at least the broom wagon. What was impressive, though, is that both of them got up, finished the stage and then made it all the way to Paris nearly two weeks later. It’s a story worth bringing up next time one of your non-cycling friends tries to tell you that American football players are the toughest athletes on the planet.
The great French hope—It was fun to watch Thomas Voeckler reprise his 2004 role as the beloved – but doomed – defender of the yellow jersey. (Voeckler actually earned the jersey as part of the aforementioned break from which Hoogerland and Flecha were taken out.) Voeckler is now 32 and his years may be numbered. It was inspiring to see the entire Europcar squad rise to the occasion and protect the jersey for 10 stages … all the way up to stage 19 when another member of the team earned the spotlight and maybe even signaled the start of what would be a welcomed renaissance in French cycling. Pierre Rolland showed more than a flash of brilliance on the slopes of l’Alpe d’Huez, out-classing Samuel Sánchez and Alberto Contador atop that storied climb. Not only did he win the stage, he grabbed the best young rider’s white jersey for good and finished the Tour in 11th on GC. Like another promising young rider in the season’s final grand tour, you have to wonder what this guy could have accomplished had he not been saddled with domestique duties for most of the race.
Maybe, just maybe, we will see an end to the French drought at the Tour, a race the hosts haven’t won since 1985.
Out of Africa―Having grown up in in Kenya and South Africa, Chris Froome showed he was more than able to meet the challenges of the European peloton in this year’s Vuelta a España. Froome finished second in the Vuelta and one can only imagine how the 26-year-old Team Sky rider would have fared had he not been obligated to ride in support of Bradley Wiggins at critical moments in that grand tour. As is the case with Rolland, I’m looking forward to seeing Froome ride without other obligations holding him back.
The No-Man-Is-an-Island Award―This last one is purely personal. Not to beat a dead horse, but I’ve hit a few rough spots over the past few months. Had you told me in January that things would have taken the turn they did in July, I would have predicted that I would just curl up in a ball and stay in bed. The darn thing, though, is that there are folks out there who just wouldn’t let that happen. Anything that I’ve accomplished or anything positive that has happened to me over the past months is purely due to the fact that people have been generous and spectacular. I have to extend my thanks to a host of people, including the gang over at NYVeloCity.com, their readers, the folks who follow me at LiveUpdateGuy.com, countless friends and family and, of course, those responsible for my new home here at Red Kite Prayer. I can’t even begin to count the ways that I have reason to be thankful. All of you gave real meaning to the words “cycling community.”
Most Disappointingly Successful Stage Race-Winning Strategy—Thanks to victories by Alberto Contador, Cadel Evans, and Juan José Cobo in this season’s grand tours, it was easy to overlook a rather unexciting “trend” in the art of winning stage races. Of the eleven non-grand tour stage races on the 2011 World Tour, eight had at least one time trial. Of those eight, seven were won by men who took either only the time trial or no stage wins at all, a race-winning strategy calling to mind Miguel Indurain.
Take Bradley Wiggins for example. The Brit from Team Sky won the Criterium du Dauphiné—without winning a single stage. The same can be said of RadioShack’s Levi Leipheimer at the Tour de Suisse. Both riders used top rides in individual time trials as the foundations of their victories then simply hung-on for dear life in the mountains. Of course, both victories were well deserved—after all, consistency goes a long way—but race fans can’t be blamed for wanting to see a bit more aggression from their champions. At least Germany’s Tony Martin actually won stages (both time trials, though) at Paris-Nice and the Tour of Beijing for HTC-HighRoad on his way to taking both overall victories.
What does it all mean? Not much, perhaps. But it could inspire more time trialists to find some climbing legs for a week every now and again. Or maybe a few of the sport’s aggressive riders might find themselves spending some time in the wind tunnel or behind a motor scooter, doing their best to defeat the sport’s Martin’s, Wiggo’s, and Leipheimer’s at their own game.
Then again, this is professional cycling—there are no style points. Victories bring contracts and unless your name is Thomas Voeckler, no one cares about how much excitement you generate in losing. We need to give credit where credit is due, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it.
So Omega Pharma has announced it will merge with another team. L’Equipe is reporting that there will be no Belgian superteam merger with QuickStep. Rather, the merger is likely to take place with Dutch formation Vacansoleil.
Why no announcement has been forthcoming from Vacansoleil is curious. If the deal is done enough for Omega Pharma to announce that there will be a merger, one wonders why Vacansoleil needs to wait.
Regardless, the merger is unfortunate. Any team merger—such as this season’s merging of Garmin and Cervelo—invariably results in a game of musical chairs that leaves a number of people without seats. From riders to mechanics to soigneurs, there are always some good people who are left scrambling looking for paychecks when one formation ends, and that happens even if they don’t act like Trent Lowe.
The two best Belgian climbers in a generation (or two), Jelle Vanendert and Jurgen van den Broeck are said to be headed to the new Lotto formation, and that—quelle surprise (exclaimed with not even a hint of irony)—Philippe Gilbert is headed for BMC. That’s great for Gavin Chilcott, Jim Ochowicz and Andy Rihs, but I mean, dude.
I began today thinking that today’s FGR would speculate on just what formation would join forces with Omega Pharma, but with these latest revelations, the question has changed.
If you have Philippe Gilbert, who is unquestionably the finest one-day rider of this season, at your disposal, would anything short of your personal, professional and moral bankruptcy allow Gilbert to slip from your clutches? There’s no denying that Vanendert and van den Broeck are gifted climbers but nothing signs sponsors like a win, which is something Gilbert can do against anyone, any day.
And while we’re at it, you can’t help but wonder what else BMC has up their sleeve. Are BMCs selling that much faster than Cervelos that Rihs can fund a formation with some of the world’s top riders out of his pocket without suffering the same fate as the Canadian frame maker? Not to put too fine a point on it, but multiple sources told me that team nearly bankrupted the company. Do you think Rihs is really funding the team strictly out of BMC’s operations or is he feeding it with his own money?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
So Alberto Contador won the Tour de France by a margin slimmer than many said was possible, a margin equal to what he clawed out with the aid of Dennis Menchov and Sammy Sanchez on stage 15. We can argue about all the places each rider gained or lost time, but really, the race comes down to two fateful events: Schleck’s mis-shift on 15 and his later 39-second gap in the final time trial. The symmetry of the two events is more difficult to ignore than the economy.
And just to be ultra-clear about this, yes, I’m saying that without help from both Menchov and Sanchez, Contador wouldn’t have won the Tour.
I should also point out that even though he twice went for stage wins for himself, Alexander Vinokourov proved to be both valuable and loyal to Contador in the mountain stages. Vinokourov sat on Schleck on stage 15 and never rode for himself by taking a pull at the front of the group. He’ll always be an unpredictable element in my mind, but he demonstrated his value to the Astana team repeatedly. He deserves to be recognized.
But individual performances aside, if we back up and look at the 2010 Tour de France as an elaborate chess game involving 22 players, some interesting questions emerge.
First, what the hell has Johan Bruyneel been thinking? He fielded the most experienced team in the Tour de France, sure, but it was also the oldest team by an Egyptian pharaoh. The most youthful element of the team was the management company’s formation documents. Even if we accept the possibility that the fight went out of Armstrong following his daily crashes so that by the time the time trial came around, he really wasn’t trying—which is why we didn’t see the form necessary to win the race overall anywhere in the same time zone as him—we should still ask the question: Why did no one else other than Chris Horner ride like his career was at stake?
Speaking of recognition, let’s hope that Horner feels some satisfaction and vindication at his stellar ride. It’s one of the best performances by a rider over the age of 35 ever at the Tour, and is his single best performance there. It was his misfortune to sign for a French team when he first went to Europe and his worse fortune to have his career coincide with Armstrong’s. Had he hit Europe five years earlier than he did, he could have led Motorola in its quest to do something significant in a Grand Tour. Or not. There have long been reports that Jim Ochowicz (director of Motorola and now one of the powers that be at BMC) had issues with the formerly feisty San Diegan.
Back to Bruyneel. His reputation as a kingmaker able to deliver a worthy rider to a Grand Tour victory has suffered its first setback. Even with the triple-barrel shotgun of Armstrong, Andreas Kloden and Levi Leipheimer he was unable to deliver any one of them to the top 10. Horner’s performance was the sort of showing that the French teams generally hope to luck into but can plan no better than a chimp considering retirement.
With that much talent and so little to show for it, the brass at The Shack might be understandably perturbed.
This time last year many of us were beginning to rethink what might be possible age-wise in a Grand Tour. Now, the near complete waterlogging of Radio Shack has most cycling fans thinking that, yes, age really does slow you down. Too much to deliver a win on the world’s biggest stage.
And cast in the light of failure, Armstrong seems less ambitious, less hungry, less focused on highlighting the cause of cancer than just gluttonous, a corpulent ego.
But that’s how we play it isn’t it? When our heroes fall, we pounce.
But even if the Radio Shack board is less than thrilled, imagine what’s going on in the boardroom at Sky. Isn’t the question there whose head rolls first?
Seemingly a world away, Bjarne Riis has proven that he knows how to bring the race to anyone he wants. He’s delivered Tyler Hamilton, Carlos Sastre, Ivan Basso and Andy Schleck all to podium finishes at Grand Tours, though his record of wins (just two) is rather slim despite the obvious strength of his team.
Yvon Sanquer, a name you may not be very familiar with even after his team’s success, is the director of Team Astana and has kept a profile nearly as high as that of newly mown grass. His previous best result as a team director was after being brought in to rescue Team Festina (not unlike what he was asked to do with Astana) and his riders (mostly Marcel Wüst) were able to take a stage of the Tour de France along with four stages of the Vuelta plus some stages at lesser stage races. Before 2010, his riders’ closest association to the winner of a Grand Tour was if they had chatted with him.
And yet, somehow Sanquer brought together what seemed to be an underpowered team and saw to it that Contador was rarely without help in the mountains.
Despite the Astana team performing as if it were still run by Johan Bruyneel—admit it, it was an impressive performance that very few thought could truly deliver the goods as a cohesive unit this past January—I am surprised by the number of people I hear from who just plain don’t like Alberto Contador. To the degree that maybe many cycling fans were less than enthusiastic about him, it seems that even if his counter attack on stage 15 didn’t rile people, the fact that he lied about not knowing what was going on with Andy Schleck seems to have sent some fans around the bend. I’ve not been a fan of some of his tactics, and have thought some of his interviews with the Spanish media were whiny and meant to play the pity card, which strikes me as unseemly—like the Super Bowl winning team sniffling about playing hurt, but it struck me as insulting to fans everywhere for him to claim he couldn’t tell there was anything wrong with Schleck.
Which brings me to Jonathan Vaughters. Of the teams bidding for Contador’s services last year, Vaughters’ Garmin-Transitions formation was one of the teams in the running to sign the diminutive Spaniard. There are reports that after all of his efforts to leave Astana he is now considering a new contract and staying.
Contador would do well to leave, so long as he left for Vaughters. Of the many team directors at the Tour de France, Vaughters is the one that seems to have an uncanny ability to help riders achieve greatness in the GC that he never could reach on his own. In three years of competing in the Tour de France Vaughters has delivered three different riders to top-10 finishes, first with Christian Vande Velde’s fourth place, then Bradley Wiggins fourth and now Ryder Hesjedal’s seventh place. In each case the riders were uniformly believed to be talented, but no one—other than Vaughters—considered them real GC vehicles on which to pin a team’s hopes.
Sanquer’s success with Contador suggests competence, nothing more. After all, if you can’t guide a previous Tour de France winning to yet another victory, what kind of team director are you?
Bjarne Riis has consistently put together one of the strongest, most cohesive teams on the planet. That he hasn’t won more may be a question of formula more than anything else. The question seems to be, ‘Why didn’t he win?’ rather than, ‘What’s it going to take to secure another win?’
Bruyneel is the great curiosity this year. He’s ripe for criticism. How should he deflect the charge that he went with Armstrong less for career than paycheck? If he didn’t go to Radio Shack for the paycheck, then why? It’s hard for Bruyneel to charge that Vinokourov is a more tarnished rider than some he has worked with. Contador clearly has a greater future than Armstrong does. Maybe the question is just how loyal a guy is Bruyneel. Some folks are loyal to a fault. Could it be so with him?
Even if he didn’t go to Radio Shack just for a bigger paycheck that is virtually guaranteed not to dry up mid-way through the season, where does he rank his ambitions as a director? Twelve of the team’s 26 riders have had their 30th birthday. Six of them are older than 32. The only rider on the team who is showing talent and is early in his career is Janez Brajkovič. Taylor Phinney doesn’t count because he’s only a staigiaire.
How else do you wind up with that many riders in need of a retirement party than by selecting a crew that can be depended on being utterly devoted to Armstrong? Now, there’s nothing wrong with being committed to supporting your team leader, but it is fair to ask how smart it is to construct a team for a single year’s performance. Even if Leipheimer, Klöden, Horner and Rubiera plan to ride Grand Tours next year, how capable will any of them be? Horner is the only guy I’d bet on as a good support rider for the simple reason that he is obviously still proving his value and talent long after most guys have quit.
You want to make the 2011 Tour de France really interesting? Get Vaughters to sign Horner.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
In part II of our talk with Steve Bauer we ask him about his best day ever, the ’88 Tour de France where he finished fourth and his decision to become a team director. You can read part I here.
RKP: What about when you look back on your career—your best day. What’s the day you look back on with greatest pride or most satisfaction?
SB: I think the best day, the best one-day race I did was in the world championships in Chambery where Greg won [ed. note: 1989]. I punctured at the top. I was on really top form and I just won the Championship of Zurich the week before. It was a very difficult course that maybe I wouldn’t put myself as one of the favorites, but I was just so strong I rode an excellent race. I was patient, I waited for the attacks and the last lap I was there with all the best and over the top and the break was right there. Greg had just bridged across and I was coming across and I got a flat tire. So you know … I was on, and Kelly was under-geared. He only had like a 13 on and I had the right gear. Who knows if I had done a stupid attack or not done something right. I’m thinking to myself if Greg had led me out for 300 meters (laughing)—which he did. You watch the tape—like Fignon goes and Greg chases him down, he turns the bend and down the straight. He’s on the front for a long time and nobody can come by him. Konyshev was in the break all day.
I think to myself, if he’d led me out like that I don’t think he would have held me off, that’s how good I felt. It’s just bad luck. But I wasn’t there in the sprint because I had punctured, so who knows what would have happened. If I would have changed up or if I had waited for the sprint or if I’d attacked, who knows? You just never know ‘cause I wasn’t there.
RKP: The ’88 Tour. Going into the Tour that year. What were your expectations, how it unfolded. Did you see yourself stepping into such a major role?
SB: You know what? I don’t think so. Maybe I didn’t believe enough in myself. It was one of those Tours where it was extremely hot. A lot of guys were dropping out, or had trouble. Fignon was dropping out. There’s sort of a lot of favorites who weren’t there. Greg wasn’t there. That’s not to say it was a totally soft Tour because some of the guys were out, but I think the conditions that year suited me really well. I would say I was on the peak, the peak of my career so I was on super form. I can’t say I expected to be so close to the podium, but that’s the way it evolved. I just found myself climbing well and just in super condition. That’s what it’s all about, you know? Being at the top of your form.
RKP: So now you’re involved with Team Spidertech presented by Planet Energy. How did that come about?
SB: That was kind of interesting. I’ve been asked a lot—well, more than a few times—to be a director for a pro team. As far back as Jim Ochowicz asked me when I moved on to Saturn Cycling Team in 1996, if I would continue on as director with Motorola. I said, ‘Nah, Och, I want to race another year.’ So that was kinda the first time. And then the same year the Postal Service was starting and Mark Gorski asked me if I was interested in racing for their team, but they wanted me to continue on as a director afterward, sort of like double value. He was interested; I can’t say negotiations went very far.
And then I got into the bike touring thing because that’s sort of what happened to finish the career. Wanted to race, got into the Olympics, looked at alternatives, then started doing the bike touring thing. I was about two years into that and Lance asked me if I wanted to direct the team. So that was when they were looking for a new director and, uh, history has it they took Johan Bruyneel. Because I said no. And the reason I said no was the timing wasn’t good for me in my life; I just wasn’t ready to do it. And over the years there’s been other asks, so when this came along, the chance to go back to grass roots in Canada—I saw the Canadian racing scene had evolved, there were some good riders, obviously have more riders on the ProTour now. the sport’s evolved competitively in Canada, I thought, ‘You know what, there’s some good riders here, maybe we can work with some of them and build something.’
That felt right. I don’t know why, but it just sort of felt right. Why Lance would ask me and I wouldn’t go with Lance and start our own thing—I don’t really evaluate it that much, but that’s what happened. It feels good but it’s a lot of work. It feels like the right thing to do. To be back in the game, in a special way, it feels good.
RKP: Is it fair to say that because it meant developing primarily Canadian riders that it had a greater attraction for you?
SB: That was a hot button. Working with Canadian partners … the Canadian theme is definitely strong within our mandate but I don’t know if that’s the principal reason. I think taking ownership of something that you build is intriguing; it’s a lot more work obviously, but we set our own destiny so to speak. That’s sort of been my life in cycling. I haven’t really worked for anybody else. I’m not saying that’s the pure reason either, but sometimes timing makes the difference for everything.
RKP: In terms of objectives, what are the big races you are hoping to get into and what are the big performances you’d love to see?
SB: Well, I think in two short years we’ve evolved nicely. You always want to grow quicker, win bigger races, but I think our evolution is on track. We have a stronger team this year than we did last year. We have a little bit of experience behind us now—we won some nice races and we have the potential to win more. I think winning a stage of Missouri last fall was a fantastic opportunity and proved that we have some pretty talented boys on the squad.
RKP: It was a very high-profile performance.
SB: Yeah, you don’t go by the fastest guys in the world every day. But, you know, it just shows our focus was right and we were there to win a bike race and not just to be part of the show, and show that we could go on the attack. We did some of that too, but we also won a bike race, which is what it’s all about.
This year our fingers are crossed for an invite to the Tour of California. We believe that we’re going to get that opportunity. It’s a much tougher race than Missouri and obviously the competition will be deeper and we’ll be well prepared, but the opportunity—if it arises—we have some pretty fast guys and you never know. You get a little bit of luck, the right chance and it’s within our grasp to win a stage. I’m not saying I think that’s a dream, I think it’s possible. We might not even get top 10 in a stage, but there’s guys on this team that are capable. We won’t get many chances. You know what I mean? There’s 16 teams and there’s only eight stages. And most of them don’t really suit our team well. So, if we got one shot at a final sprint, we might have an opportunity. Even a podium or top five would be pretty cool.
Philadelphia is a big goal because it’s totally within our grasp to win that bike race, and that’s a big focus.
Then the rest of the season we’ll move through our regular goals of the Tour de Beauce and the Canadian Nationals, and then in the fall we have the big ProTour events in Canada, which we’ll compete in as a national team. We have a wild card as a national team. Spidertech will be a part of that and our infrastructure and our riders will be, too, but we won’t fill the whole roster, because that would be a little bit too bold to expect all our riders could fill a national team. There are some other good boys on other North American continental teams that are pretty good that would supplement our guys pretty well. We’re looking forward to that and we’ll need to do some pretty tough races to get our guys prepared, because those are going to be tough one-day races—up and down, climbing, perfect classic bike races.
RKP: Are there any plans to go to Europe this year?
SB: We’d like to go to Europe in August. We’re aiming to do one or two stage races in the middle of August to prepare for the ProTour events in September. We’d like to have more bike races in North America, but we might need to go to Europe for a few weeks—two or three weeks max.
RKP: That should be educational for the guys.
SB: Yeah, some guys have been there; actually, in year one we went over to Belgium and showed them a little bit of the toughness of the Belgian one-day races there. We got beat up pretty good and guys got sick and the whole nine yards. It was probably a little early in our evolution, but the thing is there are no bike races here in March. There’s not much going on, it’s too bad. We need more stuff in February, like the old Tour of Texas; I don’t remember just when it was, but it was early. I remember racing against 7-Eleven back then.
Images: John Pierce, Photosport International