Sunday, July 20, 2008

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Cobra Snared

Micera isn't supposed to be detectable by a WADA-approved test, and yet, it has been announced that Ricardo Ricco has been caught with exactly that substance in him. Provided the testing was performed reliably, this is great news for PRO racing. Ricco is arguably the highest profile rider at the Tour de France not riding for a team with a longitidunal testing program in place.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Bernard Hinault - The Badger

Part I - 1977 - 1979

Part II - 1980 - 1981

Part III - 1982 - 1983

Part IV - 1984 - 1986

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Don't Mess With the Tour

On the subject of the ASO's proprietary sense of ownership of the Tour de France, this may say it all. The Badger stepped in personally to remove this protestor, showing that more than 20 years after his last Tour victory, he still won't be intimidated.

Image courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Best?

Our feelings about the ASO’s rejection of Team Astana notwithstanding, the 2008 Tour de France will nonetheless be a spectacular drama. It seems a rotten shame to hold the race without the previous year’s winner, especially if he hasn’t been conclusively convicted as a doper. There were far stronger rethe ASOns to have kept Pedro Delgado out of the ’89 Tour than to keep Alberto Contador out of this year’s race.

To be fair, it seems the ASO is taking the long view on reforming cycling into a clean event. Whatever unfairness happens this year, may have happened last year … or the year before, may be tolerable in their view if it ensures the survival of the world’s largest annual sporting event.

There are two ways to look at the situation: The first is that as the pinnacle of cycling events, the Tour de France is incomplete if the previous year’s winner isn’t there for reasons other than injury or retirement. Similarly, the event is incomplete if the season’s most consistently performing team in stage races isn’t there. It seems worse still if that champion is from that team. If the best aren’t present, how can it be a true test of the best?

On the other hand, the Tour de France is a privately held business venture. It’s not unlike a restaurant. The restaurant owner has the ability to choose who is served. We’ve all seen signs that say, “No shoes, no shirt, no service.” The ASO might as well have put up a signs that says, “No dope, no suspicion of doping.”

We may not be able to fathom why the ASO cares so much about doping when there were such clear signs of it in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but Patrice Clerc and company seem to want a clean race now. The only way to make sense of Astana’s non-invitation is forget about Vino, Kashechkin and the others, but rather to consider this a referendum on Johan Bruyneel; Lance Armstrong has suggested as much. And while winning the Giro bolstered the team’s argument that they are the best stage race team, the fact that Contador won the race after arriving in something other than finely tuned form only served to further the ASO’s belief that Astana races on bread and water … and a little something else.

And yet, the race will go on. The obvious GC contenders are Cadel Evans, Allejandro Valverde, Denis Menchov, and the brothers Schleck who both seem more destined to greatness than Carlos Sastre. Kim Kirchen is an unproven commodity in Grand Tours and seems unlikely to wind up on the podium. World Time Trial Champion and new Swiss National Time Trial Champion Fabian Cancellara seems bound to wear yellow for a few days.

Damiano Cunego might make a convincing run at the polka dot jersey, but to do so, he’ll have to get through Mauricio Soler first. Ricardo Ricco might provide some fireworks in the early mountain stages, but he seems rather young to make it to Paris among the leaders in his second Grand Tour of the year.

But what of the Green Jersey? With no Boonen and literally no help for McEwen, it will be interesting to see what teams have both the power and the will to marshal forces on the front to shut down breakaways while keeping the bunch strung out in the closing kilometers. It seems likely to be a battle between Thor Hushovd and Philippe Gilbert

And the disappointment doesn’t end with no Contador, or Boonen. Levi Leipheimer, while too old to have been considered a real threat for the win would have been competitive nonetheless; this year was arguably Leipheimer’s last chance to have a strong ride. David Zabriskie is one of the only riders who could have competed head-to-head with Cancellara in the time trials and unfortunately, he’s still recovering from his crash in the Giro. And then there’s Mr. Non-selection, Tom Danielson. It’s a shame that he’s never been able to put together the form and fortitude necessary to even attend the Tour de France. Heck, at least Vaughters started it a few times.

There are absences enough from this year’s Tour to frustrate any fan. But that’s no reason not to watch. Pantani and Ullrich missed the ’99 Tour and it turned out to be a great race—even if you weren’t a fan of Armstrong’s.

Image courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Sine Qua Non

Without which there cannot be. It’s a Latin legal term for what is indispensable, essential— the body that denotes the crime. More recently it has come to stand, in a broader social context, for the thing that gives meaning to life.

That we think of cycling as sine qua non is no surprise. Anything that adds meaning to life with each rising sun cannot be otherwise. For us, cycling is a beloved part of any meaningful day.

This spring a friend had a crash—his second this year—which left him sore for weeks. It was enough to shake his faith in cycling. He admitted some weeks later that he considered getting off the bike.

His statement got me to thinking about the cyclists I’ve known over the years who have given up the sport. Some drifted away, appearing on group rides less and less over a succession of months until one day someone asks, “Hey, whatever happened to…?” Others seem to vanish, disappearing as suddenly as if they had moved to another city. And then others moved on to the next fad when Lance retired. Ten years ago they were into fly fishing, and now it’s golf or something. No matter which way, I’m always mystified by their turn away from the sport. How someone can log hundreds of miles per week for years at a time and then suddenly turn it off like a light switch at bedtime is a bigger mystery than the fall of Rome.

Notwithstanding the incredible demands that family and career can place on our lives, some cyclists simply move away from the sport. That anyone can decide, “I’ve had enough of this,” has caused me to wonder just what it is so many of us find so requisite. We may think cycling’s draw is to obvious what Michael Jackson is to freak show, but we also know we’re in the minority on this. Frankly, it’s easier to understand those who never come to appreciate cycling’s draw than it is to comprehend those who wander from the light.

Cycling’s place in the lives of the lifers isn’t at the pinnacle; it only seems so. It’s easy to think that because cycling is often the most enjoyable thing we do in a day, it must be the best part of our lives, but you’d never say such words aloud. The truth is, cycling can be the glue that holds the fragile bits of our lives together. It’s the release that makes paying the bills, taking out the trash and the unfinished action item possible.

Back in the good ole days when Greg LeMond was wearing the yellow jersey, he made a statement that gets at the heart of the matter. Alluding to his family he said (and I paraphrase), ‘Without them none of this would have been possible. I’d never have won the Tour; I wouldn’t be in yellow now.’

And maybe that’s the secret. Cycling gives us the ability to achieve more than we could without it. Our relationship to cycling is a sort of marriage. But it’s married to more than us—we’ve wedded it to our lives. When it works, it can teach us not the value of sticking with something, but how walking away from anything robs us of more than the thing itself.

Team CSC's Scott Sunderland

BKW friend and local firefighter, TK spent the first part of April following the Classics with Peter Easton's tour company Velo Classic Tours and was practically blown off his machine when a surprise guest rider showed up to accompany the group onto the stones of L'Enfer du Nord. Peter had arranged for retired PRO and CSC Director Sportif, Scott Sunderland, to show the group just how hard the cobbles are and to share a few tips on how to survive the Arenberg Forest.

TK was fortunate enough to monopolize an hour of Scott's time. As summer begins to hit its stride, it feels like the right time to step back and once again indulge in the anticipation that preceeds Roubaix. The following discussion took place on the battered roads that lead to Roubaix.

TK: Hey Scott, great to see you, I have been a fan since you were on Fatka!

Scott: Yea those were good times on that squad. (The Arenburg Forest is approaching).

Scott: Alright mate, here comes the toughest section of cobbles, so keep all your weight on the pedals, keep your arse off the saddle and don't white knuckle your handlebars.

TK: Thanks!

Scott: See you at the end of the section!

(At the end of the section...)

TK: I made it!

TK: After that, any special preparations for Roubaix?

Scott: Not to much, we usually ride some sectors of the pave on Friday before PR and adjust our bikes per the weather and the conditions.

TK: Any special equipment this year?

Scott: Just the usual 24-25mm tubular tires, with 32 spoke wheel, depending on the rider.

Tk: I like the tube carrier on your bike!

Scott: Yea, I always have tons of spare CSC water bottles, and when I was on TVM, one of the mechanics took two water bottles and cut the top of the bottles off and put them together to carry tools, tubes, and food.

TK: Very PRO.

Scott: What's that mate?

TK: Cool

Scott: (laughs)
Scott's cell phone rings while riding, it's one of the mechanics looking for Fabian's tubulars, which he cannot find, Scott tells him where they are located.

Scott: Sorry mate, chaos happening before Roubaix

TK: No problem, just trying to keep up with ya!

Scott: (laughs)

TK: You still have your Harley Davidsons?

Scott: I sold the one last year. A persistent Belgian who had no idea who I was kept coming to my house and offering more money for my bike. I finally sold it to him!

TK: You still have the other one?

Scott: Yes, it's up on the blocks right now. I am having a former Alessio-Bianchi mechanic do work on it.

TK: A bicycle mechanic working on a Harley?

Scott: Yes, he went to the Harley Davidson Mechanics school after Alessio, and now works on motorcycles, including mine. I am currently putting some performance modifications to it to rip through the roads of Belgium.

TK: Sounds fun!

Scott: Yea, how about you, what do you do for a living?

TK: I am a fireman.

Scott: That's cool, and you've come for the Queen of the classics?

TK: Yes, this is my favorite race of the year, I have been watching it since 1986. I was 8 years old when I first saw this race!

Scott: Wow, been in any bad fires?

Tk: Nothing lately, most of the time just resetting fire alarms!

Scott: (laughs)
As we were riding, Scott mentions to me that this is where he told Stuey to attack!

TK: And what did he say?

Scott: He wanted to wait and see who was hanging with him, Fabian said he had no legs. Stuey said he felt great, so he attacked.

TK: How about Riis?

Scott: He's a great Boss. When I first started with CSC, we were at PR. Riis wanted to drive the team car for the race and I had to talk on the radio. I asked him if he knew the roads in Belgium, and he said that we would follow the other team cars. I then told him to switch spots as I knew all the back roads in Belgium and the northern part of France. Riis agreed!

TK: Great story! Any other great stories!
At this point, we were passing an old German concrete bunker in the middle of a farm field.

Scott: When I first started riding for a pro team, we had this East German rider who talked like the singer from Rammstein. On this exact spot he saw this bunker and told the team that the bunker used to be his Grandpappy's summer home in France! Scott said that the team almost crashed as some were laughing and others who were in awe!

TK: Rammstein? You like heavy metal?

Scott: I like everything, except rap and country.

TK: What no country?

Scott: I know I have an Aussie accent, but country music has that twang sound!

TK: What do you think about the Astana team?

Scott: I think it's a shame what's going on.

TK: Any stories from the Discovery team? Did you guys work together as was portrayed in the media?

Scott: We work with any team if it's in our interest.

TK: I see, any shady moves out there?

Scott: Yea, especially with the radios. A certain team was on our frequency and giving our riders orders, the team thought the orders were coming from us. We found out and confronted them, they said it was an accident! CSC knew it wasn't.

TK: I think I know who the team was!

Scott: Just smiles! Alright mate, gotta head back to the hotel to get ready for the press presentation. So, good luck, and by the way, Quick Step is coming with all the paparazzi, so don't crash into them, or you will never make it out of Belgium!

TK: Thanks, Scott! And good luck at PR! (Quick Step flies by me on the cobbles!)

Photo Courtesy: Mike McGarry / PhotoSport International, TK

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Hit or Miss?

Researchers led by Dr. Carsten Lundby at the Copehagen Muscle Research Center have just published a paper on testing for EPO via urine sample. Lundby and company administered recombinant EPO to eight male subjects to track the performance-enhancing effects of the drug. While the results of this study are plenty revealing in their own right, in the course of performing this study the researchers decided to send the samples to two laboratories to see if the subjects would test positive using the current test protocol approved by the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA). The results of this study were just published by the Journal of Applied Physiology, a peer-reviewed journal.

The seven-week study began with a two week “boosting” period in which subjects received high doses of EPO, followed by a two week “maintenance” period of reduced EPO administration and ending with a three week “post” period. During this time some 32 urine samples were sent to each lab. In the paper the labs aren’t identified; they are just labeled “A” and “B.” Lab A found all samples from the boosting period positive. However, it only found two of 24 maintenance-phase samples positive.

Much worse was the record of the lab labeled “B” in the study. It didn’t identify a single sample as positive, and only determined only seven of the eight boosting period samples as suspicious; no other samples raised proverbial red flags for the lab. Lab B has since been identified as the Laboratory for Doping Analysis (LDA) in Cologne, Germany. The LDA is a WADA-accredited lab. It’s director, Wilhelm Schanzer said the study’s finding that the lab could not accurately identify recombinant EPO is “outright false.” He went on to say, “It’s not true that you could take EPO and not be detected.”

Schanzer went on to claim that because the samples were for a research project his lab didn’t perform all the tests necessary to verify a positive finding. He said under normal testing procedures his lab would have detected EPO accurately. He makes a great claim, but there is a problem with it: all of the samples were submitted blind. LDA weren’t told anything about the samples that might tip off the lab’s staff.

Perhaps more chillingly: One sample taken during the post period when theoretically no EPO should have been detectable was deemed positive by one of the labs.

BKW spoke to Paul Strauss of the Agency for Cycling Ethics to get some perspective on the issue. He began by saying, “WADA needs to look at this very seriously.”

The first observation he made was to note that the markers used to distinguish EPO depend on its production. He says the test WADA uses is optimized to find Amgen-produced EPO, while EPO produced in Mexico or China, and recombinant EPO can all escape detection if lab technicians only look for Amgen EPO.

Strauss also said that the criteria for a positive result can and do vary from one lab to another.

Ultimately, it may be that in the short term the best way to deliver clean riders to the start of races will come through programs such as Strauss’ Agency for Cycling Ethics, Paul Scott’s Scott Analytics or Danish physician Rasmus Damsgaard’s testing program.

“Longitudinal analysis which uses statistics to compare individuals and populations of athletes is very effective in raising a suspicion of doping in a particular athlete,” Strauss said.

However, even longitudinal testing has its own drawbacks. Strauss continued, “Its weakness is that it is not specific as to the exact drug being used. This leads to the problem of pursuing a sanctionable event for doping on a non-analytical adverse finding.”

It may be a foregone conclusion that catching athletes using performance enhancing drugs will remain an imperfect science. The question that remains: What we are willing to accept as the margin of error—the innocent or the guilty? What is the greater injustice: To allow some cheaters to escape detection and gain wins that shouldn’t rightfully be theirs, or to wrongly convict the occasional athlete who didn’t break the rules?

If we look to legal systems for parallel, this is where the United States and some European countries differ significantly. The American view of justice is that no innocent person should be convicted (in theory, if not in actual practice), while many countries, such as France with its Napoleonic Code, would rather scoop up a few innocents along with all the guilty. This characterization paints with a broad brush, but it seems a helpful way to frame what ought to be a conversation for how drug testing should be considered.

Even if Landis had succeeded in his defense, the result would hardly have been as damning as this study which was funded in part by the Danish anti-doping agency. The message is simple: Use recombinant EPO and finish your boost phase before the Tour starts; we won’t catch you.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


So the International Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has rendered its decision in the Floyd Landis case. Saying that his charges were “unfounded,” the court delivered a shocking rebuke to the Landis defense.

The 3-0 decision found no merit at all in Landis’ defense which is surprising given that even the American Arbitration Association (AAA) panel uniformly agreed that there were problems with the work performed by the French National Anti-Doping Laboratory at Chatenay-Malabry (LNDD), though ultimately they weren’t considered enough to exonerate him. You may recall that the panel found the LNDD had performed the initial test resulting the non-negative testosterone-epitestosterone result poorly enough to disallow the finding. It also stated that it might be difficult to find athletes guilty in the future should the LNDD continue to perform work in a manner other than specified by the World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA).

Bluntly put, CAS would not have thrown out the initial T:E result. The panel stated in its decision the lab was guilty of nothing more than "minor procedural imperfections." One could be forgiven for thinking of Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Newman presiding over the proceedings with a “What, me worry?” bubble above his head.

The head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), Travis Tygart, was quoted saying, “We did a full review of the evidence from the start. Before we brought charges in this case, every day we reviewed the evidence we had and asked the same question, ‘does this point to a doping violation?’ We were comfortable that we had the case when we started.”

This statement simply isn’t supported by the facts of the proceeding. Tygart never questioned the validity of the test results that lead to Landis’ prosecution; rather than mount an inquiry for the truth, Tygart and USADA worked to defend the LNDD.

I’ve read the full transcript of the AAA hearing at Pepperdine Law School in Malibu, California. More than 1000 pages. I don’t see how a reasonable, rational person who doesn’t have agenda can come to a conclusion other than Floyd Landis wasn’t caught doping. That doesn’t necessarily mean he was innocent, but if he was doing something, LNDD didn’t find it. That’s fundamentally the problem with the outcome; the truth got swept aside in the rush to get a conviction.

Landis’ next step (Surely you didn’t think the plus-size gal had had her moment on stage?) would be to challenge the outcome in U.S. federal court. Such a move has been hinted at in the past by Landis’ attorney, Maurice Suh. This move may be in doubt given that the panel took the extraordinary step of assessing Landis $100,000 of USADA’s defense costs as a penalty for “the unprecedented scope and intensity of the technical challenges" the defense raised despite the fact that they had been rejected in the first proceeding.

This is a punishment for style, not substance, and that goes against everything Americans understand the judicial process to be.

If athletes who appeal a conviction are punished for, in essence, appealing the conviction, this outcome will have a very chilling effect on any athlete attempting to defend him or herself against doping charges, whether or not the lab work was performed correctly.

Image courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International