UCI & Lance’s comeback

February 18, 2013

You probably saw (or you may have missed it) that Verbruggen now concedes the UCI suspected Armstrong of doping. But the darn problem was, without proof they couldn’t do anything. In Vrij Nederland Verbruggen said:

‘It was hard for me to the extent that you know more than you can say. You have questions but you can’t express it publicly.’

You know what, I agree with that principle. Innocent until proven guilty is a pretty solid concept I would say, you can build whole societies on that. Of course, it doesn’t explain why Verbruggen went out of his way to tell people Lance “never, never, never” doped, but that’s another story.

The point I would like to make today is not that we should expect the UCI to prosecute without proof, to do things the rules don’t allow. That would be crazy. What we should expect however is for the UCI to do everything the rules DO allow to figure out if their suspicions are correct and to make it as difficult as possible for those they suspect of doping. In this regard the UCI has failed spectacularly.

I can even understand the concept of warning riders who are suspected, on the basis that if you know you can’t catch them, scaring them into reducing their doping may be the best tool you have (even if it is far from ideal). But what I can’t understand is this:

  • If the UCI “knew more”, then it should have been abundantly clear that accepting money from Armstrong “for the fight against doping” was a no-no.
  • If the UCI “knew more”, then surely they should not have facilitated a meeting for Armstrong with the Swiss anti-doping lab.
  • If the UCI “knew more”, waiving the mandatory 6 month waiting period for Armstrong so he could participate in the Tour Down Under makes no sense.
  • If the UCI “knew more”, they should have targeted Armstrong when he came back, so not sending his profiles to the biological passport expert panel after May 4, 2009 (when he had barely commenced his comeback) is negligent.
  • If the UCI “knew more”, it should have cooperated with the US Feds and later USADA as soon as it became aware an investigation was going on. Their suspicions plus evidence gathered by those agencies could have been a strong combination.

Yet the UCI did none of this. Note I say “UCI” and not “Verbruggen” or “McQuaid”. It affects the whole management committee of the UCI, as well as the federations that elect them. Either they knew nothing about this, in which case they aren’t doing their job very well. Or they do knew about it but are deciding to stay silent.

I can understand that in the past, some or even most of this stuff may have been hidden from management committee members. But those days are over, everything is out in the open now. So they either have to act very soon, or accept to be clearly seen as supporting the old-guard and its failing judgements.

British management committee member Cookson was quoted as saying cycling needs “unity” in the UCI right now. There’s a time and place for unity, and it’s definitely not advisable to be seen quarreling all the time. But right now is not that time and place. Unity won’t save cycling, unity will save the status quo. Let’s hope that in the coming months, those who can really change the sport (those on the inside) will figure out the difference between saving cycling and saving your ass.


February 15, 2013

Oh what a surprise, CAS has sided with Katusha in their appeal to being denied a WorldTour license. UCI loses another battle. And as usual, the solution to one problem creates a problem. What now? 19 teams with WorldTour licenses? Demote another WorldTour team to Pro Continental level?

Of course, the UCI will claim it is not responsible. Expect phrases such as “The License committee is completely independent, therefore we are not responsible for their decisions. But look at the wider picture:

  1. The License committee works under the guidelines of the UCI. So if the UCI sets the four criteria (sporting, ethical, financial, organizational) without a proper framework of how to judge those criteria, you end up with decisions that – while they may be correct – are easily challenged.
  2. After the License committee made its decision to deny Katusha its license, everybody knew it would be challenged at CAS. What else was Katusha – the Global Cycling Project – going to do. Fold? So the UCI knew there was a chance CAS would reinstate Katusha.
  3. Given that opportunity, the prudent course of action would be to hand out 17 WorldTour licenses, wait for CAS and then give the 18th license to Katusha or somebody else. By giving the 18th license to somebody else immediately, it created the potential for a mess.
  4. What’s the big deal with 19 WorldTour teams? Races like to pick teams themselves, based on local favorites or other business considerations. With 22 teams in the Grand Tours, having 19 instead of 18 WorldTour teams guaranteed a spot means they can only pick 3 wildcard teams themselves. This is why ultimately the number 18 was picked, it was the compromise between the UCI and the big race organizers on how many teams they could pick themselves. Depending on how big a stink they want to create, race organizers are unlikely to accept 19 WorldTour teams, or they may say to the UCI that it can give out 19 licenses but they will only invite 18 of those 19.
  5. Is there nothing fans can look forward to? Actually there is. Aside from the possibility that the race organizers will put a bomb under the UCI by flatly refusing the 19th WorldTour team to their races, there is another compromise possible which could even make the racing more exciting: They may decide to reduce the team size from 9 to 8. If they do that, then you can fit 25 teams into a 200 man peloton, meaning they could invite all 19 WorldTour teams plus 6 (six!) wildcards. More teams, less control, bring it on.

Lots more in the upcoming weeks, so subscribe here to not miss anything.



UCI vs. Ashenden

February 14, 2013

This particular war of words makes for good reading. You really get an inside view into the process (or lack thereof) that governs the biological passport. It’s best to google it and read the whole exchange so you can see for yourself which side you choose to believe.

The brazenness of the UCI is staggering. With every strike they receive, they hit back without considering the wider implications of their statements. Take the assertion from the UCI that Lance’s profile was sent to the bio pass expert panel on May 4, 2009 and that the panel didn’t see anything suspicious. It further claims that the bio pass software didn’t pick up any anomalies after May 4, 2009 so that Armstrong’s values were never sent to the experts after that date. This is troubling for two reasons:

  1. Of course there is nothing suspicious in his tests up to May 4, 2009. That’s before the Giro had even started. Those tests couldn’t have been much more than establishing his bandwidth, so whether the values are regular or suspicious, you would have to be a complete idiot to violate the bio pass constraints that early on. In short; it proves nothing. If I, with my (according to the UCI) “very weak understanding of this very complex subject”, know this, then so does the UCI.To explain in very simplistic terms, the biological passport is an ever narrowing noose, as the test values that are picked up along the way create a profile of what is “normal” for this particular athlete. So if you’re tested the first time, a value for a human may be anywhere form 0 to 100. If you score 75 on that first test, then we can safely say you should never be below 50. So now your bandwidth for the second test goes from 50-100 instead of from 0-100 as it was for the first test. If that second test is 80, then we know the first test was not you are in fact in that 75-80 range. So for test 3, we may accept only a value from 65-90. And so on.
  2. The claim that the bio pass software didn’t pick up any anomalies after May 4, 2009 is actually very troubling. If that is true, and this is the software by which all samples are judged, then the whole bio pass system is a complete and utter waste because it obviously doesn’t pick up anything. It may explain why there are so few bio pass cases. Ignore whether you think the values from Lance’s 2009 Tour de France prove he doped. What everybody – believers and non-believers – should be able to agree on is that the values are at least suspicious. Or if you insist on an even more benign word: atypical. And the process should be that the software picks out profiles that are suspicious, or atypical, so that the committee can analyze them further. There’s lot to dislike about that process even if it does work properly, but the UCI seems to now state that suspicious profiles don’t even make it to the committee because the software fails to detect them. So in a panicked attempt to explain away their inexplicables, they are now throwing their own biological passport under the USPS team bus.

In the end, there are only two possible conclusions:

  1. Armstrong’s profile was flagged by the software, a sign the tool may be useful, but the UCI decided not to forward the profile to the expert panel for review.
  2. Armstrong’s profile was not flagged by the software, which means the software and therefore the whole protocol is useless.

For the people involved it matters little. Either they knowingly withheld a suspicious profile or they have lied about the effectiveness of the biological passport process they use (you remember, the process that proves they are doing a good job and that cycling is getting cleaner). Either way the blame lays with them.

Expect two things from the UCI in the next few days:

  1. McQuaid will make his trademark switch from “I’m in control, trust me, it’s getting better” to “It’s not my area of expertise, you should ask the experts, the passport is actually the work of WADA”.
  2. Silence

Cape Frustration

February 13, 2013

My Year of True Cycling started so well. Eroica, the Hell Week in Toronto, bigger and bigger training loads for November, December and January. All fantastic and gearing up towards my big block in South Africa culminating in the Cape Epic.

sauser_elephantThe Cape Epic has something mythical for many people, and it definitely has for me. It may have been because of this photo, which is the first I think I ever saw of the Epic.

So when the 10th anniversary event was announced for 2013, it was the perfect opportunity to include the Epic. And with my Open Cycle partner in crime Andy also going and our OPEN hardtail ready for action, it was scheduled to be a great experience (not to be confused with a great race, because I have zero illusion that I would be able to keep up with Andy and his riding partner).

Also, it would be our first trip to Africa with OPEN, and we were looking forward to meeting up with our early followers there (which includes Cape Epic’s founder, Kevin Vermaak).

And then the wheels came off. Andy has his own “Cape Frustration” and was out, then I found myself without a riding partner. Finally, my body mocked my attempts at peak fitness by challenging me to pick up a T-shirt from the floor, resulting in me throwing out my lower back, three weeks of physio and no riding.

I just started riding again but the Cape Epic is unfortunately off the Table Mountain. I will still go to South Africa for a short trip and do the Grape Escape, a 3-day mountain bike event put on by the same people that organize the Pick ‘n Pay Argus CycleTour, but the Cape Epic dream will be postponed for one year.

On the positive side, that will hopefully give me time to practice my T-shirt lifting techniques and achieve that elusive fitness level. Because there is no doubt that I will ride the Cape Epic one day.

UCI vs.

February 13, 2013

It’s hard to keep track of the public wars of words, isn’t it?





UCI vs. Ashenden

UCI vs. Kimmage

UCI vs. yours truly

If only there was a common theme to these wordfeuds so that people can figure out what is really going on? Hm.


February 9, 2013

Jonathan wrote a long rant for cyclingnews. And I don’t say this often, but I think you should read it. Unlike his op-ed in the New York Times (“riders are just looking for a level playing field and wouldn’t dope if they didn’t have to”, that sort of stuff) which I didn’t like, this rant is actually clear and quite concise. I really like it and I even agree with most of it:

  • Indeed the problem is all of cycling, not Lance, or a team, or a president. It’s (nearly) everybody and everything. Either by their actions or their lack of action.
  • While I wouldn’t say it applies to every top athlete, I think there is little doubt that the selection process to get to the pro ranks of any sport favor those who want to win at all costs, and although doping is maybe not their favorite “cost” to win, it is more tempting than to the average human being (you know, the one who was weeded out of the selection process for pro sports when he skipped gym class on the second day). It doesn’t make them any better or worse, other people are tempted by other things (tax evasion, shop lifting, infidelity, whatever).
  • It doesn’t mean every athlete would cheat if they had the chance, far from it, but it does mean that relying on everybody respecting a level playing field when doping would “unlevel” it in your favor is naive.
  • Funding is a bottleneck in anti-doping and it needn’t be. Vaughters commented before that asking teams to pay more to the UCI – an organization they have issues with – is a non-starter and that this hampered anti-doping efforts. I thought this issue is easily solved (give the money for anti-doping to somebody else) and Vaughters makes the same point here. In fact where I dreamed of 18 million, he shoots for 40. Fine by me.
  • This may be the best and strongest current in cycling right now, the push to get a completely independent anti-doping process set up. Independent from the federation, and one would hope independent from the national federations which frustrate an expedient and believable resolution of any doping violation.
  • Even better, it’s not really something the teams need to wait on the UCI for. Anti-doping enforcement can be integrated into the employment relationship between team and rider. As long as every team agrees and deals with it uniformly, it can be done in a way that protects the riders too (and doesn’t favor riders of one team over another). It will take some time to implement, as I am not a fan of breaking open existing employment contracts, but we need to have the long view on this problem anyway. There are no quick fixes.

One issue not really resolved in the end is that – whether you like it or not – you have to decide what to do with the people. If everybody is to blame, what do you do? It’s too simple to say “everybody was wrong but we’ll now have independent doping monitoring so it doesn’t matter”. Maybe that works, but it works in the way East-Germany worked. Repression can only survive for so long.

To achieve more permanent change in the mind-set inside the sport, some people will have to leave. You need fresh blood (no pun intended) to tip the balance. A very simplistic bit of logic: If you have 20 teams and 15 want to cheat, the remaining five will lose out. If 15 want to play by the rules, they will be able to pressure the other five. As I’ve said many times, right now cycling claims that “everything has changed”. Everything, except the people. That is not believable or sustainable.

You could achieve this by replacing absolutely everybody. Toss out all bureaucrats, all team management, all riders, sponsors, everybody. Don’t say it can’t be done, that you need the expertise. You don’t, a sport only requires fans. The rest will follow.

Fans are not served by better race tactics or more clever governance, they are served by exciting sports. And the wisdom gathered by those in the sport isn’t necessary to properly entertain fans. Somebody dreamt up boarder-cross on a rainy afternoon and it got into the Olympics in a blink of an eye. Nobody said it couldn’t be done because they lacked experience.

There is a lot of knowledge people have in cycling, so tossing them out would mean the racing would be a lot less sophisticated and probably slower. But no less attractive to those watching, so in the end that knowledge is useless for the survival of the sport. It’s only useful in competition with for example teams run by people with similar knowledge. And that same knowledge is actually what has damaged it mostly in the past.

Now, I am not actually suggesting cycling has to go that far; it’s a solution but not necessary nor desirable. You do however need that shift in the balance, to get 15 out of 20 teams going in the right direction. So some will have to leave and be replaced by people without a history. In-breeding or nepotism are not the solutions.

Note: I speak about teams mostly as an example, the same applies to the other players in the sport.


January 25, 2013

It’s tough to decide which dumb statement to pick apart today – there’s so much choice. But in the end, it’s hard not to pick Ferrari. As cyclingnews points out, Ferrari wrote on his blog:

“Therefore Armstrong would have achieved the same level of performance without resorting to doping, also thanks to his talent which was far superior to the rivals of his era.”

So Ferrari is telling everybody that he’s a hack, that all the stuff he prescribed to Lance doesn’t work. Basically, he charged more than a million bucks for a placebo effect. You can’t make up stuff like this, can you?

Although it isn’t that far-fetched. Some experts say that four out of the five drugs Lance took were useless, only the EPO wasn’t.


January 18, 2013

A fine mud-slinging contest between these two. Great if you like a pseudo-witty back-and-forth, but unlikely to lead to anything useful. Whichever side first starts to act like a grown-up could really score points here.

It won’t shock anybody to hear I’m not the UCI’s biggest fan, but every time WADA accuses the UCI of not doing anything, I ask myself why WADA didn’t step in (other than publicly protesting that the UCI isn’t doing anything).

I also wonder why WADA thinks that it is possible for cycling to keep all these great doping doctors and doping techniques to itself, without any of those skills ever flowing over into other sports. Since they are the World Anti Doping Agency for all sports, should that not be of great interest to them? And we know from the Vienna investigation that it wasn’t only cyclists, we know from Puerto that it wasn’t only cyclists. WADA is right when it says:

By suggesting a wider truth and reconciliation process (for all endurance sports), the UCI is again attempting to deflect attention from its own responsibilities, which are for those of cycling.

But by the same token, I would say:

By suggesting a focus only on cycling, WADA is again attempting to deflect attention from its own responsibilities, which are for all sports.

Armstrong confession?

January 16, 2013

So reportedly Armstrong confessed to Oprah that he doped throughout his career.

No doubt his PR team has worked countless hours to come up with a rationale that would make his cheating OK in the eyes of a large swath of the public. It will probably work, but only if he succeeds in narrowing the scope to the doping offenses.

Two things to consider:

  1. “Everybody was doing it” will probably be good enough an excuse for mainstream America. It’s of course a new lie to cover up an old lie, but hey, who cares about the details. If you really believe the field was level because everybody was doing the same, then you have to  believe a mediocre time-trialer and climber can become best-in-class through chemotherapy. And you have to believe those US Postal helpers were all more talented than most other teams’ leaders.
  2. Much more importantly, the doping is only a small aspect of Lance’s failings. And apologizing (fake or real) for that shouldn’t let him off-the-hook for the rest. 

Because where Lance was truly one-of-a-kind was not in his training, his focus, his climbing or time-trialing. It was not even in his doping. Where he was truly unique was in the havoc he wreaked on others during his ten-year reign. He didn’t just deny doping like so many of his contemporaries, he actively sought to ruin those who spoke out.

Something tells me Oprah won’t be asking about the countless lives he’s tried to destroy (ironically while protecting himself from scrutiny by wrapping himself in the blanket of ultimate cancer patient protector).

If the confession happens, I am happy for those who have spoken out for so long, that they will finally make the leap from “sad, cynical, jealous bitch/asshole” to “courageous individual” in the eyes of so many who still believe the lie.

But let’s not kid ourselves into thinking this is about them; it’s about Mr. Armstrong positioning himself for the rest of his life. Given the willingness of sports fans to forgive and ignore the bigger picture, his odds are good.

Next up, “what would really warrant a ban reduction for Armstrong”. To receive it automatically, you can subscribe here.

Pancake Ride & Durham-Roubaix

January 14, 2013

The first weekend of Hell Week (November 24+25) consisted of two rides East of Toronto, organized by my friend Lorne. With the first snowfall the night before, there was no confusion that winter had arrived.

Unfortunately, nowadays that means the snow mobiles arrive as well, although there wasn’t quite enough snow for that yet. The biggest threat snow mobiles pose is that their owners seem to be able to convince towns everywhere to smoothen out their rail road beds, making once-hard sections of our Hell Week rides easier every year. Such is also the case for the Pancake ride (named for the post-ride breakfast, not the course profile), although I found it plenty hard.

With the wide range of skills and fitness in our group, we splinter off quite quickly but once you settle into a pace, it’s just enjoyable to be out there in this weather. I’m at a bit of a disadvantage on the gravel roads with my mountain bike, but as soon as we hit a long stretch of singletrack I catch up with  stragglers in front of me. Good thing too, as we soon encounter a fenced-off bridge which would have been tough to negotiate alone (short of just chucking your bike across and hoping for the best).

With that in mind, three of us decide to wait for the two guys still further back, and wait, and wait… Now we get worried, retrace our tracks but nobody to be found. Half an hour and a five degree core body temperature drop later, we give up searching and continue on our route. We later find out they were the first back at the breakfast spot, with “a slight” shortcut.

The rest of the ride is magical, I had forgotten how much fun it is to ride in the snow. Of course, by the time we arrive at breakfast, everybody else is done, but that doesn’t make the eggs & bacon any less tasty.

The next day we line up for Durham-Roubaix. Lorne really has put a lot of effort into this one, getting permission from a few private landowners to cross their land, which opens up some fantastic trails.

PastedGraphic-3 copy

A “healthy” breakfast is enough reward

After what happened yesterday, we have decided to stay together with a group of five including Lorne (tough to get lost with the organizer by your side). Fifteen minutes in, we get a flat. This one proves tough to fix, but eventually we get going again. Then I get a slow leak, which in trying to fix turns into a fast leak. Fixing that fails, and with me being the only one with mountain bike tires, I’m screwed. Durham-Roubaix: DNF.

I’m disappointed not to have seen the whole route, as is Lorne, so we decide to try again two weeks later together with Matt (the OPEN webmaster). In fact, it’s a day after I rode the original Hell Ride by myself, but more on that next time.

Conditions are completely different now, as it has been raining for two weeks straight. The mud is incredible, some slopes are ridable only at crawling speeds while finding a balance between giving enough power to propel yourself and not so much that the rear wheel slips.


At one point, there is so much mud on my bike I can barely lift it off the ground. I know that sounds like an exaggeration and it doesn’t even look like that much mud, but I honestly have trouble lifting it (insert upper strength joke here).

Because of the conditions, the course is so slow today, it takes us roughly an hour and a half more to complete than most people two weeks earlier. Maybe the best indicator of how tough it was is that although we didn’t take any breaks, the Garmin records no less than 45min of stopping time. If your GPS can’t detect your progress, you know you’re in trouble.

But, to me, this is probably my favorite ride of the winter. Partially because I feel strong when I am supposed to feel weak (I rode a hard 6 1/2 hours the day before), but mostly because it’s just great to battle the elements instead of opponents and to get this “we’re in this together” feeling trying to struggle to the finish. On top of that, it’s also a very nice route, with some very unexpected trails in the middle of Oshawa.

One disappointment on these two rides was my GoPro. My charger didn’t work properly, my battery seemed to have problems with the cold, long-story-short it didn’t record very much of these two rides. What it did record, I put in this little clip (the snowy bits are of the Pancake Ride, the rest is Durham-Roubaix).


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