It should be clear to everyone involved at this point, that the disciplinary process for rule-breaking riders is hopelessly slow, convoluted and ineffective. Further, the length of time it has taken for the UCI and Spanish Federation to figure out what to do with Alberto Contador’s doping positive has compounded the damage of the “adverse clinical finding” ten fold. Pro cycling is killing itself slowly, with drugs, indecision and incompetence.
It seems like every other article I read these days concerns either Contador and the Godot-like wait for a verdict on his case OR Lance Armstrong, Floyd Landis and the grand jury that cogitates in silence on an entire era of alleged pro cycling malfeasance.
This morning it occurred to me that FIFA, the governing body of football (soccer), would never do this to itself. Corrupt though it may be, FIFA lets nothing stand in the way of the game. If football’s biggest star, probably Lionel Messi at the moment, were found to have spiked his corn flakes with banned substances they would have, in conjunction with the Spanish FA, suspended him for some arbitrary length of time and left the chips to fall where they might.
FIFA doesn’t care that much about what’s fair. It allows football fans to seethe in rage, to debate in the most colorful language, to riot in the streets, but eventually to let the games go on. Messi would sit. He might appeal. His appeal would be upheld or denied, and the game would go on, and on, and on, earning and entertaining as it went.
Neither FIFA nor the UCI are governmental organizations. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) hears any extra-organizational cases brought to them, and rules with the force of law.
What the UCI calls “complex,” FIFA calls ordinary. Where cycling dithers, dodge, obfuscates and ponders, FIFA decides.
It is fair to suggest that there is a far bigger doping problem in football than in cycling. It is fair to say that cycling is infinitely more transparent in the way it deals with its athletes. It is fair to say that FIFA is an oligarchy of corrupt old men who pillage their sport’s multi-billion dollar/euro/yuan/shekel revenues for their own fortunes and power. Those things all might be true. Or not.
But what you can’t say is that cycling runs its business more effectively. Someone at the UCI (paging Mr. McQuaid … Mr.McQuaid to the white courtesy telephone) needs to understand that they are as complicit in the sport’s demise as the dopers who steal the headlines. As every official from Paris to Madrid scrambles to avoid accountability for Contador’s ultimate fate, the fiddle music grows louder and Rome continues to burn.
In the 7th century B.C., a law scribe named Draco converted the system of oral law in force in Athens to a set of written laws, famous for their severity. In modern times, “draconian” has a pejorative connotation, but what Draco intended was for the law to be clear and decisive. Setting aside the issue of appropriate punishments for a cyclist’s indiscretions (most minor crimes in the Draconian system were punishable by death), perhaps what the sport needs is a little more draconian application of its rules.
There is a saying that goes something like this, “It is far easier to beg forgiveness, than ask permission.” The UCI needs to act quickly and decisively in all doping-related matters. It can apologize to those it wrongs later.
Alberto Contador may or may not have cheated in order to win bike races. Even when we get a verdict, some will believe and others won’t. All of that is immaterial now. In effect, the reigning Tour de France champion has already served 6 months of a purgatorial sentence. No matter what happens next, the Spaniard has lost, and cycling has, too.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Bashing Floyd Landis has become something of a past time for cycling fans. Even before his first implosion he was a rough-hewn character, the Crocodile Dundee of the cycling world. Within the US Postal Service Team he was Oscar to Lance Armstrong’s Felix in the boys in blue’s production of “The Odd Couple.”
From his first explanation for his positive test (Jack Daniels) he showed a capacity for the unexpected that could take even a fortune teller by surprise. His book, “Positively False” showed a rebellious, impish spirit designed almost perfectly to clash with Armstrong’s iron fist management. As an expression of spirit, it was an entertaining read and fairly complete in its examination of his career—with one not-so-small omission: his pharmacy.
I wrote several posts concerning Landis’ defense and read the entire transcript of the CAS appeal at Pepperdine University. While the UCI acted on an understandable “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” premise, I’m convinced they never actually caught Landis. The initial test was so poorly performed that the case against him should have been dropped. My problem with the case wasn’t that I wanted a cheat to win, it was that I didn’t want to see the same tactics result in the suspension of an innocent rider.
In a spectacular variation on the “guilty but not responsible” defense, I can see how he might have thought, “I’m accused of something I didn’t actually do. I can beat this, because they didn’t catch me at what I did do.”
Who wouldn’t think that?
Landis’ career and life were utterly destroyed as he pursued his defense. Many people are angry that a guilty man took money from them to mount an extraordinarily expensive, but ultimately fruitless, defense. Viewed through the mindset outlined above, an argument can be made that he wasn’t cheating anyone.
But for those who didn’t provide for his defense, an understandable outrage remains: Landis’ doping case cost USADA so much to prosecute that they ran other efforts on reduced budgets. In short, Landis’ defense impinged on other anti-doping efforts.
Since changing his story, cycling fans and the media have seized upon his story as either the raving of a lunatic or the smoking gun necessary to bring down Big Tex. What’s amazing is how often I encounter people who didn’t believe he was innocent when he first tested positive and yet don’t believe him now that he has confessed to doping.
Which is it, people? It can’t be both.
While it is logically possible that both stories could be complete fabrications, that’s highly unlikely. A lie is told to serve a larger purpose and if Landis is lying now, we have to ask the question: ‘To what purpose?’
If what he says isn’t true, the ramifications for him could include jail time, which is perhaps the only meaningful deterrent for him as he is essentially without assets at this point and what lawyers frequently refer to as “judgement-proof.” And I don’t think Landis would willingly choose jail as an alternative to unemployment.
Still, Landis hasn’t made this easy for himself. While he has given investigator Jeff Novitzky a variety-pack of allegations that the dogged and successful investigator is chasing, he has also handed us gems like the suggestion that the UCI protected some riders.
While I can name instances—for which I was present—where the UCI’s application of its own rules was highly irregular, I never saw anything that bordered on protecting a doped rider. That’s not to say it hasn’t happened; Landis has yet to provide anything stronger than a rumor and his other allegations suffer for it.
Now, Landis has asserted that cycling is the Superfund Site of sports, an endeavor in which doping is so inextricably entwined that cleaning it up is less likely than man traveling at the speed of light. His solution? Open a top fuel division: allow doping.
Look, I believe that Landis has seen things and knows things that could help to shed light to investigators on the doping front. Think of him as first mate on the Santa Maria. His eyewitness accounts of Columbus’ voyage to the west would be invaluable. We need him to talk.
However, every time he opens his mouth on something he didn’t personally do or see, he gets into trouble. What he doesn’t understand is that his usefulness to cycling does not extend, currently, to suggestions such as eliminating the doping code.
Here’s something that is not a newsflash: Doping will never be eliminated. In any population there will be those who cut corners, push the bounds, cheat. Those few should not cause an entire society to capitulate. Just because people are murdered, should we all carry guns?
Because so much of what Landis has to say seems to be based in the same variety of nuttiness that led the Octomom to become the world’s only single mother to 14 children, many people simply write him off. It’s understandable, if tragic.
Years ago I knew someone who would buy Lucky Charms cereal and pour small bowls of it and pick the marshmallows out, leaving behind the cereal, which was just Alphabits. I always thought of it as a waste of cereal. Landis has given me the capacity to see the merit in just extracting the tiny bits of gold that are presented. Maybe it’s unfair to compare him to a marshmallow, but not everything that comes out of his mouth is crazy. In dismissing everything he says as a fabrication from whole cloth, we lose an opportunity to learn from his experiences as a rider, and we do that at our own peril.
What he knows could provide an invaluable education to both the UCI and to WADA.
What Landis doesn’t seem to understand is that the UCI can’t be treated as an adversary if your purpose is to help expose the doping problems inherent in cycling. Unfortunately, Pat McQuaid is Floyd Landis’ doppelgänger, and in that he is no less likely to make statements of such sweeping irresponsibility that we have little use for them except to fertilize the whole of the plains states.
This week, with little surprise, Landis announced his retirement, effective immediately. It’s easy to turn his announcement into a joke about the obvious—that he really had no career currently—but the sadder truth is that it was an admission on his part that it was time to let go of a dream.
Landis knows things, helpful things. We should hear him out and we should show him some compassion. He’s lost everything he worked for. Is that really the just result for his transgressions?
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.
Okay, so we couldn’t leave a whole week without a post. It’s been a year of stories often as fascinating as they are frustrating. Robot and I have picked our five most significant (if not favorite) story lines.
1) Fabian Cancellara’s Roubaix/ Flanders Double—Few riders are able to completely dominate their competition quite the way Fabian Cancellara can when he’s in top form. His astonishing attack on the Muur in the Ronde, while seated mind you, is a move I will never forget. Then his turn of speed at Roubaix, with main rival Tom Boonen momentarily asleep at the switch, was thrilling. To ride off the front of a group containing Boonen, Thor Hushovd, Juan Antonio Flecha and a select crew of Classics specialists, demonstrates a power and quality we seldom see. Those two wins made Cancellara’s April my top highlight of the 2010 season.
2) The Rise and Fall of Contador—The American press tried to make the 2010 Tour about the duel between Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong, but Armstrong never had a chance, crashing out of contention early and then fumbling along to the finish. The real match was between Contador and Andy Schleck and that story served up all the drama and controversy of the very best Tours, with Contador standing on the top step in Paris to confirm his inheritance of the Armstrong/Indurain/Hinault/Merckx/Anquetil/Coppi legacy.
Oh, but then soaring so close to the sun, waxen wings melting in the bright light, Contador tests positive for Clenbuterol. And with this positive test, confirmed with a B sample reading, and hurled into judicial purgatory for the rest of the year, we see an abrupt end to the building legend, an end that tarnishes the futures of both the rider and the race.
3) Thor Hushovd’s World Championship—Coming off a World Championship year that saw 2009 winner Cadel Evans represent the rainbow jersey with grit, bravery and aplomb, the talismanic championship seemed open to sprinters and roleurs alike. In the end, the sprintingest roleur won the race, riding a smart tactical race with a short-handed team, only flexing his considerable muscle when it mattered most. Hushovd’s win was big for a hard-working rider, but also big for the jersey itself, as we are now almost guaranteed a second consecutive year of class from the world champ.
4) The First Biological Passport Suspensions—The UCI might have taken a more expeditious path to this stage of the fight against doping, but despite their missteps and the blundering press comments of president Pat McQuaid, the biological passport program finally produced some results in 2010. It remains to be seen how its parameters and administration will evolve as tools against cheaters, but with the first suspensions, we are finally seeing an adjunct program to in-race testing that seeks to catch the dopers who slip through the first net. Love it or hate it, the Passport must have dishonest riders worried that they’re running out of options, and that is, unquestionably, a good thing.
5) The SaxoBank Exodus/Luxembourg Project—It is hard for me to fathom how so many riders (and managers) whose careers were built and fostered by Bjarne Riis would be so willing to jump off the SaxoBank ship to join a fledgling team, regardless of the pedigree of its component parts. That Riis can be prickly, stubborn and aloof is beyond argument, but the mutiny of nearly his entire team is an outcome I never foresaw. Heap on top that insult, the injury of Contador’s doping problems, and it becomes very hard to argue that the Dane will land on his race-winning feet in 2011.
1) Cancellara’s Flanders/Roubaix Double—I have to echo Robot here. Not only were Cancellara’s back-to-back victories the wins of the year for me, I have to say that Cancellara’s attack on the Muur de Grammont—seated and spinning the 25 while Boonen looked to be standing on a 21—was absolutely the attack of the year for me. Both rides had me standing up and cheering.
That anyone would accuse the four-time time trial World Champion of using an electric motor is like asking about Kobe Bryant’s rocket boots he uses to get his jump shot. We should ignore the birthers. They’ll go away faster this way. We have real problems to contend with, as evidenced by number two.
2) The Contador Doping Case—From a standpoint of rules, I don’t see how Contador will escape a suspension due to his positive test for Clenbuterol. American rider Scott Moninger went to incredible lengths to demonstrate that what he tested positive for was as a result of supplements tainted by sloppy manufacturing. He purchased stock made in the same lot as the supplements he took and submitted sealed containers for testing. His defense was rigorously scientific … and he still got a one-year suspension due to strict liability. Contador’s defense has been far less methodical, which makes me far less sympathetic. His claims have, for me, smacked of the ‘dog ate my homework’ variety.
However, the bigger question on my mind has to do with testing for plasticizers. The detection of plasticizers in Contador’s sample suggests that officials may soon be able to prosecute riders more effectively for autologous blood transfusions. This seems to have been the preferred doping method for GC hopefuls for more than five years, but catching these riders has been less than successful. I don’t care who the rider is, if they’re transfusing, I want them caught and suspended as a result of a rigorously scientific prosecution.
3) The UCI’s Technical Criteria for Bike Approval—Bike companies have been screwed like an Ikea entertainment center by the UCI’s technical commission. Cinelli was nearly bankrupted due to the Spinacci fiasco. Their implementation of rules ahead of schedule sparked a seething rant from me that I ultimately deemed too angry to publish. I’m glad that a procedure to approve bicycles is in place. Unfortunately, the fee schedule to get a bike approved is expensive enough that some companies might think twice before submitting a design. Viewed within the larger expense of sponsoring a ProTeam team, it’s not so bad, but for companies that stretch to sponsor a Continental team, this could be a deal killer; after all, $12k is the cost of some riders. Leave it to the UCI to create a system that would scare bike companies from sponsoring a racing team. While this story will make more waves in 2011 than it did in 2010, that the criteria were decided and announced is huge. It’s an important step in the right direction.
4) The SaxoBank Exodus—Once Fabian Cancellara announced that he, too, would depart SaxoBank, I had a Sixth Sense moment. If you recall the Bruce Willis thriller, when you reach the end of the film and realize that he is the dead guy, you must reanalyze the entire picture—better yet, just watch it again. I began to wonder if all the praise riders had heaped upon Bjarne Riis was all Hollywood kiss-kiss, “Love ya, babe.” Presented with a viable option every rider worth anything jumped like passengers from the Titanic. It’s little surprise Richie Porte stayed behind; there’s nothing like watching the heirs apparent abdicate. ‘You say I’m king?! Cool!’
I can’t help but wonder what skeletons rattle in Riis’ closet.
5) The Fall of Lance Armstrong—Long before investigator Jeff Novitzky became interested in Tailwind Sports and Lance Armstrong, many cycling fans rebuked him like a banana republic reformer-cum-dictator. Allegations of doping swirled around him, proven sufficiently to some, while others simply saw the allegations as typical efforts to besmirch a hard-working athlete. Armstrong’s return to the Tour de France seems to have been more than disenfranchised Floyd Landis could bear. My read is that Landis believes he played by the same set of rules Armstrong did, won, and got a very different result. Forgetting for a moment how Landis has conducted himself (the most conclusive thing I can say is that some of his choices seem to have been based on fuzzy logic), it doesn’t seem hard to see how a man who has lost everything he worked for—wife, home, stepchild, a father-in-law, savings—decides he’ll burn the rest down. History is replete with examples of figures who refuse to go down alone, people who want others in the boat with them when the gunwales swamp.
Armstrong’s story has a lot of unfolding left to do. We knew the comeback would be a fresh chapter in the athlete’s career, but no one expected this turn. Novitzky’s reputation indicates that if he tires of his work as an investigator he could teach graduate seminars in tenacity. Armstrong is anything but convicted, but the allegations all point to a conclusion that will change the world’s opinion of him, and probably his foundation. The tragedy is that if he is convicted of charges associated with doping, most casual followers of cycling will think of Armstrong as a dirty athlete in a dirty sport and simply write off cycling as a force for good. Lost will be the story of an athlete who returned from the grave, played by the standard of the day and won the Tour de France … again and again and again and again and again and again.
And so we put the question to you: What were the biggest stories of the year in your eyes?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
For most of the last 40-odd years I’ve been on the planet my mother has asked me for a Christmas wish list. I’ve obliged each and every year, though the results have not always been satisfying. My mom has this belief that if I received everything on my list, the experience would be dissatisfying, a Christmas-day letdown due to the utter lack of surprise. Naturally, I took exception with this, “Let me find out how dissatisfied I’d be.”
As an adult, most of the things I really want I don’t expect my parents to provide for me at Christmas, so my requests don’t have the urgency you would expect to find in a 14-year-old wishing for a slot-car track.
Even now, I still have my wishes. I don’t expect most of these to take place, but as this is the season of wanting, I figured I’d get these out of the way before I go shopping for toys for my son that I think will be fun.
I want YouTube clips of Champion riding in the Triplets of Belleville.
I want a 13-lb. steel bike that is reliable and turns heads the way a Ferrari does.
I want a Richard Sachs. Now.
I want a week of riding and wine in Sonoma County.
I want to climb all the 2000-meter cols in France. Then Italy.
I want to ride la Marmotte and l’Eroica.
I want a contract with Chronicle Books.
I want Dick Pound to shut up.
I want to climb 6-percent grades in my 53×19 like I used to.
I want to go for a ride with Eddy Merckx.
I want to hug Paolo Bettini’s mama.
I want to have a conversation in French with Bernard Hinault.
I want a 2-ounce camera with a Leica lens that shoots 20 megapixel images to take on rides. And a strap that makes it impossible to drop.
I want to drive to races in a Citroen 2CV that can’t break down.
I want to retire in the Cote d’Azur.
I want to know which drugs Jan Ullrich didn’t take.
I want to descend like Sean Yates did.
I want a chain I don’t have to clean.
I want 320tpi tubulars that don’t flat.
I want Alberto Contador to come clean.
I want 26 hours in a day and the ability to multi-task effectively so that I can work more hours each and play with my son while concentrating as I write a new post for RKP.
I want to wear PRO-style long socks and not get an effed-up tan line.
I want to race Killington again.
I want the metabolism of a 14 year old.
I want a responsible organization to replace the UCI.
I want a time machine so I can be 25 again, but this time I would train seriously.
I want to win a mountain stage of the Tour de France.
Oh hell, I want to be the greatest cyclist ever.
The Internet told me that, “Gray is a neutral, balanced color. It is a cool, conservative color that seldom evokes strong emotion although it can be seen as a cloudy or moody color.”
When the news broke that Alberto Contador had tested positive for Clenbuterol on the second rest day of the 2010 Tour de France, I made a promise to myself that I would withhold judgment as best I could, that I would remain agnostic until the news stopped breaking and started coming back together. Keeping this promise has been more challenging than I anticipated, for with every new development in the story, I have been tempted to pronounce a verdict, at least within the cacophonous courtroom of my own head.
The Internet says, “The lighter side of black, gray is a cool color seen in storm clouds and some metals.” Storm clouds, indeed.
The truth is that I am too impressionable. I want to believe everyone. When German media outlet ARD reported that plasticizers were detected in Contador’s urine, along with the Clenbuterol, I thought, “Well, that’s the final nail.” But then Contador came out with the offer to make all his previous tests available now and in the future, for when more advanced testing has been approved. That’s not the sort of thing you say if you’ve got something to hide.
Of course when Sylvain Chavanel and another French rider came out firmly on the side of “not surprised,” I took that as some indication that Contador’s strategies are an open secret in the peloton. That is, until David Millar took up the opposite position.
The Internet says, “Like black, gray is used as a color of mourning as well as a color of formality. Along with blue suits, gray suits are part of the uniform of the corporate world. Dark, charcoal gray carries with it some of the strength and mystery of black. It is a sophisticated color without much of the negative attributes of black.”
Then the report came that Clenbuterol has been banned in Spanish cattle production for some years and that its incidence in current samples is ridiculously low, so that created the impression that Contador’s story was as plausible as Tyler Hamilton’s legendary unborn twin defense.
Then Spanish police uncovered a cattle doping ring operating out of Tenerife and the Canary Islands that made Contador’s story believable again.
The Internet says, “Gray is the color of sorrow. People who favor gray can be the lone wolf type or narrow-minded. Gray with more silver in it can be a very active color. Native Americans associate gray with friendship. Gray is the symbol for security, maturity and dependability. It connotes responsibility and conservative practicality.”
This business with Contador is not black and white. Gray is a variation on the theme of “Negative Capability” we discussed last week. Gray is Contador, the lone gray wolf. Gray is the patience we need to wait for his case to be resolved properly. Gray is the horizon for the Tour de France, regardless of the outcome. Gray is the sorrow we feel for our beleaguered sport. Gray is the steel we will need to overcome and rebuild.
The Internet says, “Gray is the true neutral color. Its energy imparts void, emptiness, lack of movement, emotion, warmth and identifying characteristics. Because of this, gray can be restful. It has a detached and isolated feeling.”
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
When I woke this morning, the first thought I had was, “What other bad news will be revealed today?” I’m not one to experience ennui, but this morning, I didn’t have any energy to go for a ride, didn’t want to look at the news and really only wanted to hang out with my family and enjoy a leisurely morning.
None of those things happened, mostly because I did look at the news. For those who aren’t keeping score:
1) The Tour de France champion tested positive.
2) The president of the UCI denied that Contador was being investigated the day before he admitted the existence of said investigation.
3) The Vuelta’s second place and a teammate tested positive.
4) The home of Riccardo Ricco has been raided and unless Italian police don’t know what aspirin looks like, something suspicious was found in a cabinet belonging to a guy who has been convicted of doping once before.
5) Oscar Sevilla has tested positive yet again.
6) The sister of the winner of the Giro d’Italia isn’t permitted to attend sporting events because of her role in the distribution of doping products.
7) Ex-Oakley employee Stephanie McIlvain put her finger in the dike against the many accusations against Lance Armstrong.
8) Allen Lim told a grand jury that he wasn’t hired to help Floyd Landis dope.
9) Operacion Puerto is to be closed and all the evidence destroyed. The truth won’t out.
The only good news for a jingoistic Yank rests on the shoulders of the world’s third-most-popular Taylor (let’s not forget Swift and Lautner), a 20-year-old who we all must hope never comes to the attention of the Eugenics movement. (If you can breed dogs, you can breed people, right?) Taylor Phinney’s gold and bronze medals in the U23 World Championships aren’t news, they are simply confirmations of his talent. With two more years in that category at the world championships, he could wind up the most-medaled U23 rider in history.
Let’s cover this in reverse order: The blood bags are going to be destroyed and we’ll never know the true depth of Fuentes’ business, but it a way, it’s such old news suspending a rider now based on that case seems kind of irrelevant. What’s significant here is the lack of institutional will to get to the truth and clean up sport. This is going to haunt us like a drunken kiss at a New Year’s Eve party.
How often does a job description reflect the job as performed? Who hasn’t had additional had additional duties thrust upon them out of necessity. The subtext here is that Allen Lim may not have admitted all the ways that he assisted Landis. Lim told ESPN.com, “When I worked with Floyd, I repeatedly told him that he didn’t need to dope and should not dope, and I was absolutely not hired to help him to do so.” Okay, so you weren’t hired to help him dope … but did you? Landis may seem kinda desperate and crazy, but no one has suggested that he’s trying to slaughter innocents. Are we really to believe that Landis would screw saint? That doesn’t fit the bill.
Despite the existence of an audio tape made my Greg LeMond in which Stephanie McIlvain reveals that she did hear Armstrong admit to using performance-enhancing drugs, the former Oakley employee—whose husband is Oakley’s VP of sports marketing—testified to a grand jury that she had no knowledge of Armstrong’s use of drugs or that she heard him admit to using them during a meeting with doctors at which Frankie and Betsy Andreu were present and which they claim she was present as well. One wonders what other questions she was asked besides those two; presumably it shouldn’t take seven hours on the witness stand to say “no” twice. While McIlvain has certainly protected Oakley’s (and by extension, Armstrong’s) interests, investigator Jeff Novitzky has secured perjury convictions against athletes who lied to a grand jury.
Elisa Basso, sister of Giro winner Ivan Basso and wife of former pro Eddy Mazzoleni was snared along with her husband as part of Operazione Athena. Mazzoleni was given a suspended sentence for his role in the drug dealing, while Elisa received a ban that stopped just shy of saying she can’t watch sports on television. Not only can she not work for CONI or any of the national governing bodies for sport in Italy, she can’t attend the events or even enter a place frequented by athletes or their coaches. And competing herself? No chance.
Oscar Sevilla, who tested positive for the EPO masking agent hydroxyethyl starch (HES) has been allowed to return to racing until his B-sample analysis is returned. Technically, the product isn’t banned, but its only use is to mask doping and it can only be administered by transfusion, which itself, is not permitted. Sevilla told Cyclingnews.com, “Let’s say that justice is done because there is no reason to suspend me. There can be no direct doping case, as with a forbidden substance, since hydroxyethyl is not on the banned list.” Even weirder, he added, “I take all the steps and face the situation. Ideally, the B sample will be negative. But if not, then the cycling federation will meet to decide on my case.” Ideally? Methinks the rider protest too little.
Some 50-odd tablets of unknown composition were found by Italian police in a cabinet at the home of Riccardo Ricco. Naturally, Ricco—let us not forget Ricco’s previous suspension for CERA use—claims they are nothing elicit.
Ezequiel Mosquera—the darling of the 2010 Vuelta—and his teammate David Garcia have both tested positive for HES—the same stuff Sevilla tested positive for—a substance of use exclusively to cyclists trying to hide evidence of transfusions or EPO use. Hmm, every positive for HES happens to be with a Spanish cyclist. Coincidence?
Credit or blame (depending on your outlook) that we know anything about Alberto Contador’s positive test can be given to German journalist Hans Joachim Seppelt with the news organization ARD. He specializes in doping stories and learned of Contador’s positive (presumably from the Cologne lab that did the testing) before the UCI had announced anything. When he approached Pat McQuaid, the UCI president denied knowing anything, yet less than 24 hours later a press release was issued. Based on what we know of the case—that clenbuterol and traces of a plastic used in transfusion bags were found in Contador’s urine—there seems to be ample evidence that a suspension is in order while the case is adjudicated. The question is why two months passed since the end of the Tour de France and the public is just now finding out; even Contador knew of the test result in late August.
Of course, the big news of the week is how Alberto Contador not only tested positive at the Tour de France, but the UCI gave him time to prepare a defense. While Mosquera and Garcia found out about their positives through the media, Contador got the bro’ heads-up.
Add to this the just-announced positive of Margarita Fullana for EPO. Fullana would have us believe she only used EPO this year, in which she got virtually no results, and not in previous years when she was blowing by the competition like the Road Runner going by the Coyote. Totaled, we have four positive tests announced in less than a week. Curiously, all of them are by Spanish riders. This little detail seems to suggest that Spain has a bigger problem with doping on a cultural level than any other nation in cycling. While it’s impossible to say that there is a permissive attitude toward doping in Spain, that nation is the highest ranked in cycling according to the UCI with 1868 points, compared to Italy’s 1071 and Belgium’s 882—and that’s even after points were subtracted following Alejandro Valverde’s suspension.
According to a poll in the Spanish paper Marca 78.5 percent of the Spanish people believe that Alberto Contador is innocent of doping. But that figure isn’t quite right. Newspaper polls are notoriously unrepresentative of the actual population; it’s much safer to say that of cycling enthusiasts who read Marca 78.5 percent believe Contador is innocent. Theoretically, this group is better educated about doping and ought to feature a higher percentage who accept that it’s very likely Contador received a transfusion during the Tour de France. Given the number of American cycling enthusiasts who can’t even contemplate the possibility that Mr. Big Shot doped, maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised by this.
Based on last week’s news, I’ve drawn three conclusions:
1) Clenbuterol is the red herring in Contador’s doping case. There’s a reasonable argument to be made that Contador didn’t intend to dope using clenbuterol, as well as a reasonable argument that strict liability is an absurd standard by which to judge an athlete. However, the plasticizer present in Contador’s sample cannot occur from an unintended source. He got a transfusion and this, ladies and gentlemen, should not surprise us. This is how the game is played currently. I hate re-writing record books and results, but if we want a clean sport, chasing brilliant leads like this is how we’ll get there.
2) McQuaid is a bigger problem than I thought and the UCI needs to clean house. Of course, that’s like suggesting to a hoarder that what they should do is toss out the junk and sweep the floor. There’s a fundamental problem with the UCI’s mission. It is charged with governing the sport by overseeing the promotion of races. If the sport of cycling suffers as a result of poor race promotion, the responsibility is the UCI’s. However, it is also charged with disciplining athletes who dope. Punishing your biggest stars is a conflict of interest if ever there was one. Clearly, WADA should have jurisdiction over informing the riders of positive tests and disciplinary proceedings should be turned over to CAS. After all, if WADA was charged with disciplining the athletes they tested, there would never be another false positive or flawed administration of a test. They would bat 1.000 against riders, which is pretty much where things stand.
3) Something’s rotten in Spain. Again, it’s impossible to say where the root of the problem lies, but it strikes me as cultural on some level. Writing that troubles me. I’m not a bigoted guy, but we’ve seen statements from the head of the Spanish federation defending Valverde, an unwillingness by the Spanish judiciary to get to the bottom of Operation Puerto, Spanish cyclists testing positive at a rate far higher than cyclists from any other country. Of course, while it’s nice to have someone call out the Spanish federation, even if it is Pat McQuaid, what we need is a dog with some teeth to go after them.
And now Alberto Contador is threatening to quit the sport. Isn’t that like saying you hate the movies after being grounded? Seriously, though, has he read the Wikipedia entry on Jan Ullrich? Changing nationalities and retiring didn’t really end the scrutiny of his activities.
Lingering in the background of all this doping news is a thought I hadn’t been willing to articulate until now. The French are the only nation of cyclists incapable of producing a rider able to stand on the podium of their national tour. I’ve come to the conclusion that French cycling (ranked 14th among nations) sucks because they—more than any other cycling superpower—really took to heart the whole no doping thing. Remember, we haven’t seen a Frenchman on the podium of the Tour since the Festina Affair.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
For as long as we’ve had bicycle racing, we’ve had off-the-bicycle drama. Three words: Lady in White. She nearly derailed Fausto Coppi’s career. Today we’ve got turf wars between doping agencies, tension between the UCI and manufacturers, conflicts between the UCI and race organizers, and, of course, squabbles between teams and race organizers.
This last, the issues between teams and race organizers should seemingly be the easiest to resolve. Independent of a team’s registration is the UCI’s ranking of teams based on the accumulation of points by the team’s five best riders. It’s an absolute, objective measure of just how good a team is, even if it does favor those teams with a limited number of chiefs over a team like HTC-Columbia that seemingly has the ability to keep other teams guessing about just who may take the day, provided they aren’t setting Cavendish up for a sprint.
As a race organizer trying to position your race as producing a true champion, the best of the best on that course, the self-serving answer is to invite the best two-dozen or so teams as ranked by the UCI. To do anything else is to dilute the field on paper. We know from experience, however, that giving unranked Spanish teams entry into the Vuelta can spark some exciting racing, so some discretion does seem reasonable. But how should that discretion be exercised?
Were a race organizer as partisan as the Spanish federation, it is conceivable that Unipublic could invite only Spanish teams to the Vuelta to ensure than an Italian doesn’t win next year. Though the racing might still be animated, it would lessen the importance of the Vuelta in our eyes, and rightfully so.
Chatter on the RadioShack/RCS tiff has tended to favor RCS. Given the way Big Tex has fallen from favor, we should perhaps not be too surprised. What is more surprising is the brush with which the entire team seems to be painted.
RCS obviously had a reason they didn’t want RadioShack to appear at the Tour of Lombardy. Let’s explore the possibilities:
1) They had been “snubbed” by RadioShack not racing the Giro, which may have felt like insult to injury after Armstrong didn’t toe the line for a much-anticipated appearance at Milan-San Remo.
2) They didn’t want a team facing such serious doping allegations to besmirch their race.
3) They lost the invitation.
So what’s wrong with #1? It’s petty. Teams have a right to decide what riders will race which races. The Shack deserves some criticism for not sending some squad to the Giro, though. They are a ProTour team and there is the expectation that such a team is capable of fielding two competitive squads simultaneously. It doesn’t seem to be an issue for HTC-Columbia. The fans deserve the best racing they can see and that means inviting them, even if you don’t like their choice of squad, which means sucking it up if Mr. Big Shot chooses the Tour of California over the Giro d’Italia. Just deal. Pros have been choosing to race the Dauphiné and the Tour of Switzerland instead of the Giro without retribution for years. Armstrong comes in for a little dressing down of his own, though: Don’t make noise about starting a race (Milan-San Remo) and not show unless you’re injured.
Okay, what’s wrong with #2? Not much, in fact. If you have a fear that your race will become the backdrop to a colossal doping scandal, you really shouldn’t be obligated to invite a team that is under large-scale investigation. This perspective is problematic, I admit, but at the end of the day, if all your sponsors pull out, you have no race, and the race’s survival trumps all else. Let us observe that this is a bigger concern for Unipublic than RCS. But there’s one caveat: Have the cajones to be honest. Don’t hide behind incompetence or lack of sporting results as an excuse.
And what’s wrong with #3? Everything. RCS didn’t “forget” the Radio Shack invitation; they forgot the contract. The team was snubbed by an organization with a short memory, and RCS was unwilling to admit it. This was proven when they (RCS) had to ask the UCI for a waiver that would allow them to include a 26th team in the race. Again, have some balls and be honest.
Look, I know that defending Armstrong on any level is more dangerous than unprotected sex with a lion. That said, talk that RadioShack is a shit team and didn’t deserve the invite they didn’t get to the Tour of Lombardy or the Vuelta really isn’t rational. RadioShack has been ranked as high as eighth this season and is ranked 10th as we speak. To put this in perspective, Caisse d’Epargne is ranked 11th. To all those who think Radio Shack is a bad team, I ask you this: Is Caisse d’Epargne a worse team?
There are plenty of strong riders on RadioShack who have turned in terrific performances this year. There’s just no way to say they are a bad team and come across as rational. All but nine teams on the planet are worse. The team’s median age of 65 is a problem for their future, but we shouldn’t denigrate their performance this year because they have a bunch of old guys, some of whom walk under a cloud of doping controversy that maps like a hurricane.
Based on sporting results, Radio Shack deserved invites to the Vuelta and the Tour of Lombardy. Concern for another Floyd Landis press conference or an announcement from Jeff Novitzky could reasonably make a Grand Tour organizer gun shy. No matter what, great racing is dependent on inviting the strongest teams; if it weren’t so, we’d all be sticking around to watch the Cat. 4s race the local Gran Prix du Industrial Park.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
A little over a week ago I wondered aloud in a Tweet if the Amaury Sport Organization might make a preemptive move against Radio Shack and withdraw the team’s invitation to the Tour de France. It would be an incredible blow to the team, but in the wake of Floyd Landis’ accusations against Lance Armstrong, Johan Bruyneel, Levi Leipheimer and others, were the organizers to take Landis’ accusations as credible, history suggests they might just take such action.
Responses all ran the vein of ‘dead wrong.’ And yet now we have Team Radio Shack being denied a spot in the Vuelta a Espana. Like Garmin-Transitions, Radio Shack joined the ProTour since the 2008 agreement forged between the UCI and the organizers of the Grand Tours in which the UCI and the ProTour teams acknowledged the autonomy of the organizers to select only those teams they see fit.
Selections are not made in a vacuum. To help the organizers gauge a team’s potential competitive power, each team is asked to submit a roster of riders likely to ride the event. After all, if you’re Unipublic and you learn a team will send the same nine riders who rode both the Giro and Tour (not that that has ever happened), you’d be within your rights to conclude that team would be too tired to be truly competitive. Bruyneel’s short list of riders he submitted was an all-star squad: Levi Leipheimer, Andreas Kloden, Chris Horner and Janez Brajkovic. Radio Shack also skipped the Giro d’Italia this year with an eye toward riding the Tour of California and just two Grand Tours.
Bruyneel says he was “speechless” when he learned of the exclusion. Representatives for Unipublic, the organizers of the Vuelta said they left Radio Shack because the team would not be competitive.
It’s true that Radio Shack has been criticized for not being more competitive this year, but let’s take a moment to measure them against the six teams that were invited to the Vuelta by wildcard and their ranking in the world according to the UCI:
Team Katusha: second
Cervelo Test Team: ninth
Sky Professional Cycling Team: 17th
Xacobeo Galicia: unranked
Radio Shack, following Brajkovic’s victory at the Criterium du Dauphiné, is ranked eighth in the world. Prior to that they were ranked 14th.
In his The History of the Tour de France, Volume I, Bill McGann writes that one of the key features that makes the Tour a better race than the other two Grand Tours is that its organizers have largely avoided petty, nationalistic spats that have hurt the other races.
I’d have to say that’s at work once again. In 2006, the ASO refused to allow nine riders to start the race due to their alleged involvement in Operacion Puerto. Because five of those riders were members of the Astana-Wurth team it fell below the minimum number to start the race, so some thirteen riders didn’t start the Tour.
It’s no secret that since the 2009 Tour Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel have been portrayed in the media as public enemy nos. 1 and 2. Whether most Spanish cycling fans feel that way is harder to say, but Marca and As have done much to foster the conflict between Contador and Bruyneel/Armstrong.
It’s impossible to say what Unipublic’s motivations are for the exclusion. No one would be surprised if the snub were as a result of the Landis allegations. It seems that most of Europe will concede both that he’s crazy and telling the truth about his drug use and the drugs he alleges Lance Armstrong took as well. However, Unipublic took a different approach saying that Radio Shack wouldn’t be competitive. I’m sorry, but you could send Chris Horner to almost any race in Europe aboard a Schwinn Varsity and he would still be competitive.
Of the six teams invited by wild card, only Team Katusha was more highly ranked in the world standings. We can objectively refute the organizer’s claims that Radio Shack would not be competitive. Put another way, as good a year as Garmin-Transitions seems to be having (Tyler Farrar is having a truly breakout season), in winning both the Tour of the Basque Country and the Criterium du Dauphiné (not to mention third at the Amgen Tour of California), Radio Shack is having a better season; at least, that’s what the UCI’s numbers say.
Had Unipublic declared that they believe Floyd Landis and harbor too many suspicions about Armstrong, Bruyneel and the rest to allow their race to be besmirched by the presence of a team under such strong suspicion, some racers, officials and many fans would have cried foul. However, such a decision is not without precedent—think 2007 Astana—and given the number of inquiries opened up into the pasts of so many former US Postal riders, many people wouldn’t have flinched at the announcement. More importantly, the decision, while presumptuous, wouldn’t have smacked of the irrational.
But Unipublic didn’t do that. They claimed that Radio Shack wasn’t competitive enough. That’s like saying Los Angeles doesn’t have enough roads. Everyone knows that’s crazy talk, and unfortunately the damage it does is three-fold. Radio Shack loses an opportunity to try to win a second Grand Tour in a season. Racing fans lose an opportunity to see racing influenced by what would be almost surely a dominant team, and Unipublic loses some of the respect we reserve for events whose integrity we believe helps to elevate sport beyond mere entertainment.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
The middle of June. The precipice. The brink. Just a few weeks left to tune up for the Tour de France, which means that all the “just riding this race as training” is almost over. Top Tour contenders will be getting in their last minute collarbone fractures at the Dauphiné and the Tour de Suisse. Aerodynamic positions are set. The UCI is getting its crack Reject-a-Bike squad ready for the time trials, and the AFLD and UCI are ratcheting up their those-guys-don’t-know-what-they’re-doing rhetoric in anticipation of some really wearisome l’Equipe headlines.
At this stage we are beginning to draw up our list of favorites, a list that must begin with Alberto Contador and include Andy Schleck, but from that point breaks off and meanders through the peloton with a lot of maybes and possiblys.
From last year’s podium there is Lance Armstrong to consider. The now 38-year-old former champion and globe-trotting cancer fighter has had an early season to forget, one in which he made the biggest news by being accused of serial doping. Again. Between injuries, illnesses and general lack of form, you have to wonder if the Lance v. Alberto narrative we’re bound to have crammed down our collective throats is even worth spinning in the first place.
Then there’s Bradley Wiggins. Team Sky’s million dollar baby has thus far flattered to deceive in the black and blue of his new squad. With a nose for the controversial headline, Mr. Wiggins’ 2010 has been remarkable for an utter lack of remarkableness. He can’t possibly sneak up on the competition this year, but could expectations for the Brit be any lower?
And what of the Italians? Ivan Basso won the Giro going away, but could he possibly be strong enough to do the double? Or will he turn super domestique for Vincenzo Nibali, the young talent who served him so well on their native roads?
World Champion Cadel Evans can’t be discounted entirely, but the Giro might have proven that BMC don’t have the riders to support a Grand Tour winner. Evans has done the rainbow stripes proud, but the last time the World Champ won the Tour was Bernard Hinault in 1981, nearly thirty years ago.
You’ve also got riders like Denis Menchov, last season’s Giro winner, moving his focus to the Tour in an attempt to round out his palmares. In a similar situation to Evans, you have to wonder if Rabobank have the riders to deliver Menchov to the top step. The Russian also has an amusing habit of falling off his bike, which is usually a bad idea in July in France. Ask Joseba Beloki.
This week’s Group Ride looks at the favorites for the maillot jaune and wonders who is in the best form and why? Is it one of the riders mentioned above or is there an outsider you think has the goods? Has Contador done too much with wins in Volta ao Algarve, Paris-Nice and Vuelta a Castilla y León, not to mention his current escapades at the Dauphiné? Will Andy Schleck’s knee be strong enough to let him dual with Contador in the high mountains? Let the pre-race chatter begin.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International