Archive for the 'bike politics' Category

The future?

October 15, 2012

So we have revelation upon revelation now, the question is what the end effect will be. Will we simply see one muppet replaced by another, or will there be real, lasting change? Is it really possible to change 80% of the people in charge in a sport? The folks at Sportenkort.dk asked me:

Given the latest revealings in USADA’s Armstrong-case, we would like to get your initial reaction, and what the case might mean to pro cycling going forward. Specifically, what impact will the findings of the USADA make on the pro teams ability to attract new sponsorship deals?

In case Danish is not your first language, here is my answer to them in English (or at least as much of an answer as I was willing to type on an iPhone.

The effect of the USADA report on the ability of teams to find sponsors depends entirely on the sport’s reaction. If the sport uses this occasion to truly clean up on an epic scale, it can be a lighting example of the future of clean sport and the most desirable sponsorship entity on this planet.

Because don’t forget, the implicated doctors like Ferrari and Del Moral (as well as Fuentes earlier) all work in other sports too. So if a sponsor has to choose between soccer, tennis, or any other sport pre-cleanup versus cycling post-cleanup, the latter is the much better and safer bet.

Of course, this is all conditional on this epic cleanup actually occurring, a cleanup that has to include the federations, the teams’ management, doctors, staff, etc. Right now it is not clear how this would happen – the people who can do this exist, but they are not currently in positions of power.

Frankly, the best chance I see is for some ethical VC to take over ASO and organize a completely fresh pro league around it. Given that this would rely on the ASO owners selling (which they don’t want to do) and on finding an ethical VC (sorry, couldn’t resist, but of course those exist), even the odds of the best chance materializing aren’t huge.

This doesn’t mean all hope is lost, the change will happen, it will just happen slower and less visible and so the attraction to sponsors – your initial question – will be much less.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

LanceGate – what strikes me so far

October 12, 2012
  • USADA speaks of the bullying and coercion to get riders to dope. Although there are prime examples of that (Zabriskie for example), it seems a lot of riders were not forced by USPS to dope but were already doping before they teamed up with Lance & Johan.
  • While some needed bullying and coercion, many others seemed to have been pro-actively seeking out the various options. They don’t wear the victim cloak very well.
  • Releasing all the evidence by USADA is both awesome and awful. It reads like a crime novel, but it’s not fiction. People got hurt, their careers trampled, their life made a hell.
  • Furthermore, many people are mentioned in the documents but not charged (either because they fell outside the scope or because the evidence wasn’t strong enough). Yet they will now face the court of public opinion indiscriminately.
  • This release of evidence is unlikely to be the closure some may have hoped for; instead it will probably be the start of a huge cleanup. Will the public opinion be able to generate enough pressure to make that happen?
  • Will those who doped as a rider and then supported/encouraged/administered doping as a staff member or manager be taken out of the sport for good?
  • USADA calls the USPS program “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen”. But I’m mostly struck by how amateur it all sounds. The methods and products seem to be pretty standard for the era, a lot of riders seemed to be storing and administering the drugs and blood themselves, and for many races they had to beg the team to set up a proper program so they didn’t have to do it themselves.
  • Take Tyler Hamilton, does the part in his affidavit where Bruyneel sends him to Del Moral for blood doping sound more sophisticated than when Riis sends him to Fuentes? None of it seems too sophisticated or professional. Definitely not when compared to Balco for example, with designer drugs, etc.
  • The USPS program also appears quite sloppy, it’s rather shocking nobody ever got caught. Yet as soon as these riders went to other teams and kept doing the same things, they got popped left, right and center. There are a lot of inferences about Bruyneel knowing in advance of tests, but no real mention of USADA that this is the case or how that may have been achieved. So for now we’ll just chalk it up to USPS being extremely lucky and riders leaving the team being extremely unlucky.
  • This affair forces a lot of people in cycling to say something, and it is rather revealing. For every thoughtful response from Marcel Kittel or Fabian Cancellara, there are ten that beg belief.
  • Sky’s refusal to deal with the Leinders issue has come back to bite them in the ass. Instead of looking like the progressive, zero-tolerance outfit that they’d like to, they look reluctant and non-committal.
  • Back in the CTT days, I suggested to the UCI that instead of having 18 large top level teams, it would be better to have 25 smaller teams (better match for smaller sponsorship budgets at corporations, as well as a host of other advantages but that’s for later). I remember one of the responses was “where would we find 25 competent management teams?” USADA seems to agree with my reply of “where would you find 18?” Half the current team managers seem to have some explaining to do about themselves or some of their staff.
  • On the positive side (no pun intended), Iwan Spekenbrink of Argos-Shimano continues to impress me. Great team, well-run, and he seems to give his riders the freedom to express themselves and they do so very well (I am not sure if these riders are naturally worldly or if the team also helps them in that regard but it’s either great selection or great education on Spekenbrink’s part).
  • Will this report spark a look into the dropping of the federal investigation and the people who dropped it? With this much evidence (tons of which was also known to the Feds), it seems somebody there has som explaining to do as well.
  • Will the media, sports federations, WADA, etc dare to admit that USPS is not so special, that the same happens in other sports? It is well-documented that Ferrari, Del Moral, Fuentes and others worked with other sports too (and it would be ridiculous to think that these people would restrict themselves to cycling, instead of pushing their services onto any athlete who can afford them).

Fabiani is getting old

October 9, 2012

I so did not want to write my next blog about doping. In fact, I have a whole slew of non-doping posts in the works, ones that actually deal with the part of cycling that is worthwhile instead of all the politics and other nonsense.

I let stupid stuff from Fabiani pass in the past few days when he called the USADA evidence the same old stuff from the same old people.  Clearly it is new stuff from new people, which doesn’t make it true or false but it does make it something other than what Fabiani says.

But I just couldn’t let this latest Fabiani gem (from California Watch and passed on by cyclingnews) pass. It’s in response to alleged blood value irregularities.

“The rules are clear to everyone but USADA: You either pass a drug test, or you fail it. There is no in between. Lance Armstrong has passed every test ever given to him, including every test administered during the 2009 Tour de France.”

Sounds like the same old answer from the same old people. But worse, are we supposed to believe that Fabiani has been dealing with this for several years, and he still doesn’t understand how the biological passport works, since it has nothing to do with passing or failing a drug test.

Are we supposed to believe that the biological passport is “clear to everyone but Fabiani”? No. Because I don’t think Fabiani is stupid, far from it, he just says stupid things. Which must mean that saying stupid things is the smartest thing he can do, likely because the smarter things would make his client look stupid.

On the other hand, it is getting equally tiring how the people who have a clear job to do (like USADA) seem to be playing the cycling world via the media instead of letting the evidence they claim to have speak for itself.

I promise, the next posts will be positive (no pun intended) and awesome. Subscribe here if you don’t want to miss it. (or unsubscribe if you’ve had enough of course!)

Openness behind closed doors!

September 19, 2012

It seems in vogue to let riders testify behind closed doors about their doping sins. While I can understand the benefits during an active investigation, I fail to see how it helps anybody but the rider after that.

We’ll see what happens eventually in the USADA case and if all the statements will become public, but for now let’s use Basso as an example. Here is what he told cyclingnews.com recently:

Asked directly who put him in contact with Fuentes, and whether it was Riis, he said: ‘I told the Italian Olympic Committee how I contacted Fuentes, and I told the truth. A person of 27 or 28 years of age can find things out for himself…”

No, you can’t find out things for yourself when you’re looking for help with blood transfusions – it’s not in the Yellow Pages. And no, you can’t find out things for yourself if you’re known as a pro rider who needs to consult an agent or manager for even the simplest tasks.

But isn’t that handy, the secret statements come to the rescue. He’s already told everything behind closed doors, so we should shower him with gifts and not bother him with pesky questions.

Even if he didn’t say a word to CONI, we can’t prove what happened behind closed doors, allowing riders to simply keep on lying to fans like they always have.

How do I know he wasn’t completely open to CONI? Well, there are three indications:

  1. He got a 2 year ban, so no reduction for being helpful.
  2. Nobody seems to have been charged after Basso’s statements to CONI
  3. His own lawyer confirmed Basso didn’t name any names.

As always, Basso wants to have it both ways. Just like he merely “attempted to dope” without ever succeeding, just like he only extracted blood from his body without ever putting it back in, he now wants his colleagues to believe he didn’t name any names and his fans to believe that he was completely forthcoming with CONI.

Unfortunately for Basso, while he may not have changed in the past ten years, the fans’ appetite for fairytales has.

Motoman madness

September 17, 2012

This was something I didn’t see coming, somebody out of Tyler’s confessional turning into a cult hero. Motoman, the character who allegedly shuttled EPO in refrigerated panniers during the Tour de France.

Motoman would have been nothing but a funny name had it not been for the fact that he and his bike shop appear in photos with Sean Yates, a Team Sky car, various Radioshack riders and Lance anno 1999. Now everybody sees sinister connections.

While I love a good conspiracy, this “evidence” is a total joke in my view. Although it may be completely accurate that all these people had some funny business together, the photos don’t prove anything (nor do they prove the connections are innocent, BTW).

If a photo of Sean Yates or these riders and a guy (allegedly) involved in doping in some way constitutes proof, then surely the thousands of photos of any of them with Bjarne Riis, Johan Bruyneel, Lance Armstrong, Tyler Hamilton, Ivan Basso, etc, etc, etc would have “proven that point” already. What’s so special about Motoman, other than that it actually means less, since you can very plausibly say you had no idea who he is and what he does/has done?

The guy is a Trek dealer, that much is clear. And if you ride a Trek bike for a living and a Trek dealer asks you to pose for a photo with him, you oblige. Pretty logical I think. You don’t first run a background check to make sure the guy is in fact a bike dealer and not a drug dealer. So the photos of him with Radioshack riders at various races seem pretty normal to me.

The photos in front of his shop are a bit different, at least those people must have made an effort to get there. But again, it doesn’t have to mean anything. The bike shop seems to be a legitimate business, so it’s difficult to ascertain whether these riders or Yates go there because it’s a bike shop or because of Motoman’s side business.

What is worrisome is that nobody is commenting. If you don’t have anything to hide, why hide?

Lessons learned?

September 5, 2012

The failure of many sports governing bodies to treat the drug problem more seriously and to take more effective means to detect and deter the use of drugs has contributed in large measure to the extensive use of drugs by athletes. Added to the laxity of enforcement has been a laxity of investigation.

Sounds pretty current, doesn’t it? It’s actually from the Dubin report from 1989 (the Canadian investigation coming out of the Ben Johnson schandal). He also says:

When an athletes was detected using performance enhancing drugs, only the athlete was disciplined and the incident was treated as an aberration. No enquiries were made about the circumstances under which the athlete took drugs and whether responsibility should also attach to coaches, physicians, or indeed the athletic organisations themselves.

Current as ever. I came across these quotes and much more interesting information while reading “The dirtiest race in history” by Richard Moore (@richardmoore73). I highly recommend the book.

“Let’s focus on the future”

August 27, 2012

Oh what torture to sift through all the non-responses following Lance’s lifetime ban. Current riders, ex-riders, it seems as if they all hired the same lousy PR agency. I understand they don’t want to say anything, it’s not fun, but not everything in life is.

I blame it partially on the race radio; the sport has raised a generation of riders unaccustomed to think for themselves. In combination with the sport’s history and a generation of team management raised in the EPO-era, this is a dangerous cocktail – but that’s for another time.

What really irks me are riders saying “I prefer to concentrate on the future, not the past”. Firstly, 2009 and 2010 isn’t that far in the past. Secondly and more importantly, why don’t they understand that this case is all about the future?

Sure, the past grabs the attention with the seven stripped Tour wins, but we all know that’s meaningless with none of the new winners any more deserving than the old one.

The future part, the outcome that will affect current and future riders, is much larger:

  1. Two doctors banned for life worldwide in all sports. Ferrari may be the most famous – I had never heard of Del Moral until last year – but by some accounts it’s a pretty tight battle to determine who is worse.
  2. A third doctor likely to be banned for life soon. This is not just some hypothetical score for anti-doping, this is a doctor who is currently employed by Radioshack-Nissan-Trek and treating riders.
  3. A cycling manager may be banned for life soon too. Again not a hypothetical win, but somebody who till this day deals with cyclists on a daily basis at the same team.
  4. The fact that Lance cannot compete in triathlons going forward is also very much “future” and not “past”.
  5. No doubt this whole affaire will have ramifications for WADA, USADA and the UCI. It may provide the impetus to change how we organize anti-doping efforts. Other sports have had the same problem, but with cycling as everybody’s favorite whipping boy, the powers that be may now spring into action.

So tell the world you think Lance is God, or the devil, or even walk away with a meaningless “no comment”. But don’t say it’s all in the past and you prefer to focus on the future. This is the future.

More coming soon, so make it easy on yourself and subscribe to this blog.

The doping solution

August 23, 2012

Jonathan Vaughters’ interview with Bicycling had this interesting section about anti-doping efforts:

Vaughters called for better anti-doping enforcement. I ask what he meant by that.

“Money,” he says. Money funds better testing, and research for better tests, so that anti-doping authorities can keep up with advances in cheating.

Even though teams do fund most anti-doping, they’re resistant to paying more, too. But to hear Vaughters tell it, the obstacle isn’t the cost alone, or even the specter that with more testing comes more positives and, in the short term, more pain.

The problem is trust.

“When I go to the other team managers and say we should put in more money, I almost get spit in the face,” he says. “They’re like, ‘Fuck that. Why would I put in more money to an organization that only seeks to hurt my team?’”

Well, if that is the problem, then I honestly don’t understand why the teams haven’t solved it yet. This is how to do it.

  • So you don’t trust the UCI? That’s fine, do it yourself.
  • Over the past few years, several teams have had an internal anti-doping program.
  • Ironically, teams with an internal anti-doping program can make a better biological passport profile than the UCI can, if they want to (and don’t have the program just for PR or worse). You see, such teams have their own test results AND the UCI test results. So they have more data points than the UCI and hence a tighter profile.
  • Take this idea but use it across all teams and organize it centrally.
  • Start a Rider Anti Doping Institute – Cyclists As Leaders (RADICAL). This institute can be owned by the riders and the teams, or some foundation, whatever construction teams and riders trust (so not the UCI according to Vaughters). It doesn’t matter.
  • Have the teams put money into RADICAL, the money they would be willing to spend extra on anti-doping if only they trusted the UCI.
  • If the teams are smart, they will understand the amount doesn’t matter for their budget. As long as they are all putting it in, it will come off of the only variable they really have: rider salaries.
  • Nowadays WorldTour teams pay a 120,000 Euro fee for the Biological Passport (somehow this sounds low, but it’s in this UCI bulletin). As most WorldTour budgets are 10-20M Euro, that’s nothing. The fee paid to RADICAL could slowly increase from 200k to 1M per year.
  • You’d have a total of around 30 teams participating (WorldTour and those ProConti teams who want to race a Monument)
  • When you have a 6M Euro fund for anti-doping measurements (already much more than the current bio pass budget, and the two together makes close to 10M), increasing to 30M+ (an insane amount).
  • Now you can really do some research to keep up with the dopers. You can also increase the frequency of testing which makes the passport more effective. It may not prevent somebody doping, but it does reduce the level of doping and therefore the effectiveness, making the playing field more level.
  • Teams should also agree to a few simple measures to make sure their money goes as far as possible. For example, ban training camps in faraway places. If all teams agree, it affects everybody equally so it won’t make a real difference, and you avoid people training on Sicily or Tenerife who can either not be tested at all or only at great cost.

I am sure there are reasons why people say this won’t work, but why not think about reasons it will work?Let me know your thoughts? To be continued, so subscribe to this blog if you don’t want to miss it.

Vaughters – part 2

August 16, 2012

Monday I wrote part 1 of my commentary regarding Vaughters’ opinion piece in the NYT, here’s part 2.

Aside from the personal experience he’s had, the key subject of the article was that it’s important to keep up the anti-doping efforts. Athletes just want a level playing field, if they think they have that they won’t cheat. The goal is to never put the athlete in the position where they have to choose between giving up their dream or doping, to create an environment where this is simply not an issue.

I thought the article was a bit lean on specifics of how that was to be achieved so there isn’t that much to comment on.

In my opinion,  it’s a bit too simplistic that athletes don’t want to cheat and only want a level playing field. There’s good research that most people will cheat a little when given the chance (The (honest) truth about dishonesty from Dan Ariely is very interesting and an easy read on this topic).

But it’s probably true that most people don’t want to mess around with needles and blood bags unless their environment encourages it and makes it feel “normal”. The choice to cheat seems to come from two sources which reinforce each other:

  1. The overall athlete population (the playing field). If the top-100 dope then you have to resign to coming 101st or dope or quit.
  2. Your immediate surrounding (your parents, trainers, and in particular: your team). Does this environment try to keep you on the right path or offer you the doping “solution”. This doesn’t mean the athlete is not responsible for their own actions, but it would be silly to deny that people are influenced by other people.

Surroundings that discourage doping have always existed in cycling. Even in the dark years when “everybody was doping”, some riders and in fact entire teams were not. There is the famous chat session between Vaughters and Andreu from mid-2005 where the former explains that Credit Agricole was completely clean (“believe me, as carzy [sic] as it sounds – Moreau was on nothing. Hct of 39%”). The whole chat is an interesting read.

The playing field you can affect in two ways:

  1. Hunt the dopers. This is what most anti-doping efforts are based on, with doping tests in- and out-of-competition, whereabouts,  internal team tests, biological passports, etc. One can argue about the effectiveness.
  2. Increase the number of immediate environments that are clean. If there are five clean teams on a playing field with 20 teams, that playing field isn’t very level. And dopers don’t really stand out. If 15 out of 20 are clean, it’s much easier to pick out the cheaters and there is enough mental support within the clean group to sustain the effort.

With regards to hunting the dopers, despite all its shortcomings, cycling has done a reasonable job. Especially in comparison to other sports. But if Vaughters truly finds it important to keep pushing these anti-doping efforts, then it’s hard to understand why fewer and fewer teams hire independent testers like Don Catlin to really find out what their riders are doing. Or why no team makes any public statements regarding the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of the biological passport and other efforts. Especially since Vaughters is the president of the team association AIGCP, you would expect him to spend more time talking about these issues.

One gets the feeling the teams don’t mind paying for the bulk of the program as a marketing exercise and are not too concerned how effective it is. That may very well be a general anti-doping problem – how do you prevent the athletes from always being one step ahead.

Unfortunately I don’t know the answer, but the closer you monitor, the more you restrict the doping practices and therefore level the playing field (some may still be doping but less, for a reduced gain, and therefore the clean athlete has a better chance).

As for the number of teams that are clean, there’s definitely been an improvement too. But it’s hard to know if they have been responding to the testing or if the teams are true believers. especially because many of the people are still the same as in the dark years, it’s fair to have your doubts.

Vaughters – part 1

August 13, 2012

So Vaughters has come out and admitted to doping.

Since he has regularly stated that he is not proud of certain achievements as a rider and mentioned his “colorful past”, this should come as no surprise.

I realize his revelations might still have come as a shock to those who think Vaughters is the second coming of Christ (or the third if you count Lance), but I think that for most people, this won’t change their opinion of him. Man races bike, is not proud of some of his achievements, becomes very driven to start a team focused on clean cycling, gives several ex-dopers a second chance, etc, etc. It’s not rocket science.

The previous paragraph may surprise some people given my comments on Frei and Dekker. However, I have never questioned people’s right to a second chance, my point is only that teams equally have a right to give that chance to somebody else and normally I favor giving a first chance to a new rider over giving a second chance to an old one. Which is why, as has been reported before by Jonathan, I disagreed vehemently with him about giving Dekker a second chance.

But does this mean that Vaughters deserves a second chance, this time as a team director? Not sure “deserving” is the right word, but it’s his good right to accept what people offer him. Doug Ellis heard Vaughters’ story and offered him a chance to execute the vision for a different kind of team. And the team seems to have achieved some success in that regard.

That doesn’t make me a fan of Vaughters, but it does make me a fan of Ellis who I think is one of the bright spots in the often disappointing sport of pro cycling.

To be continued Wednesday, you can subscribe to this blog if you don’t want to miss it.

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