Skyfall

October 29, 2012

Announce a zero-tolerance policy when it comes  to hiring people with a doping past and you get ridiculed. That’s the position Team Sky’s Dave Brailsford finds himself in. Just think about that for a second.

Don’t think about how easy or difficult it is to implement, on whether it helps or hurts the omerta, or on what ex-dopers have to offer. Just think about the mere notion of trying to only hire people without a doping past and being ridiculed for it? That’s fucked up, I have no other words for it.

Now, I’ve been unkind to Team Sky on some occasions, and I have my doubts about their direction, but let’s face it; NOBODY has any clue how to fix cycling, not Pat McQuaid, not Jonathan Vaughters, not Brailsford, not me and not you.

So in such a situation, it should be applauded that various people try various things and we’ll see what sticks. Just think of cycling as one enormous sociological experiment right now.

Now to the nuts and bolts of the zero-tolerance policy:

  1. Some are concerned that especially in the support staff, a zero-tolerance policy means there isn’t much choice and the quality of your support staff will suffer. Really? The average level of sports directors – doped or clean – is pretty mediocre. Do we think that Slipstream has good sports directors because they hire ex-dopers? Did we see the now-exposed ex-doping Sky directors make brilliant tactical decisions this year? I don’t think so.
  2. In fact, one could argue that in most sports, the stars don’t make good coaches whereas the struggling players turn into coaching stars. Well, it’s hard to deny that clean riders have been struggling since the advent of EPO!
  3. Additionally, so much of a sports director’s job in cycling is organizational rather than strategical/tactical that racing experience and success (including the doping associated with it) is even less important. In fact, I’m not sure why ex-riders qualify for that job at all. I think I’m with Paul Koechli on this one.
  4. Then the recurring argument of ex-dopers having so much to give to the sport. I don’t get it. Of course they may really love the sport, but more than those clean ones they pushed out? They might really have an insight, but more than the clean rider or the die-hard fan or the journalist or the mechanic? As Arigo Sacchi used to say: You don’t have to have been a good horse to be a good jockey.
  5. To me (and confirmed by Sean Yates who explained that as a sports director he was just driving a car and not much else), the sports director is not a crucial role, at least not during a race. Do we think that sports directors make a race more exciting? I’m sure very few people would think that’s the case. And since in the end the only point of professional cycling races is to be exciting to fans (so that they watch, see the teams, love the sponsors, buy the products and indirectly pay the riders’ salaries), let’s get rid of the sports director and simply eliminate this issue of whether or not they are a positive influence on riders and whether their past helps or hurts.

However, where Team Sky’s zero-tolerance backfires is in what it is trying to prove. The stated goal was that Team Sky wanted to be a clean team with no reason for doubt. And that they could only erase all doubt if their staff had no doping background.

So following Sky’s own logic, now that some of its people turn out to have a doping background, there is doubt. Their logic, not mine. This doesn’t mean they were dirty, but again, by their own logic, there is now doubt.

In other words, they either now say “hm, we had some ex-doping staff, so now we can’t be sure about our performances in 2012″ or they say “we’re still sure about our 2012 performances, so apparently it is very well possible to run a clean team with a staff of ex-dopers, and you don’t need a zero-tolerance policy to ensure a clean team”.

Maybe it is time for everybody to realize the Sky isn’t blue, white or black; it’s grey. Having a 100% clean staff never guaranteed a clean team just like having some ex-dopers on staff never meant a team definitely doped.

Note: Just to be abundantly clear, I have no problem with a zero-tolerance policy, teams should be free to restrict the pool of candidates for various positions as much as they see fit. I just don’t see it as “proof” of being clean.


An open letter from Greg LeMond – cycling hero

October 25, 2012

I would love to hear your views on this letter, but before you respond, please note the following:

  1. Read the whole letter,
  2. If you think Greg is going overboard, then read a random Pat McQuaid interview,
  3. If you still think Greg is going overboard, then think how you would feel after calling out the truth in a desert of denial for a decade or longer,
  4. Don’t waste anybody’s time by discussing style, tone , word choice or even the person, tell me what you think of the points brought forward,
  5. That said, as you’re used to on these pages, all views are welcome.

Can anyone help me out? I know this sounds kind of lame but I am not well-versed in social marketing. I would like to send a message to everyone that really loves cycling. I do not use Twitter and do not have an organized way of getting some of my own “rage” out. I want to tell the world of cycling to please join me in telling Pat McQuaid to f##k off and resign. I have never seen such an abuse of power in cycling’s history; resign Pat, if you love cycling. Resign even if you hate the sport.

Pat McQuaid, you know damn well what has been going on in cycling, and if you want to deny it, then even more reasons why those who love cycling need to demand that you resign.

I have a file with what I believe is well-documented proof that will exonerate Paul.

Pat, in my opinion you and Hein are the corrupt part of the sport. I do not want to include everyone at the UCI because I believe that there are many, maybe most that work at the UCI that are dedicated to cycling, they do it out of the love of the sport, but you and your buddy Hein have destroyed the sport.

Pat, I thought you loved cycling? At one time you did, and if you did love cycling please dig deep inside and remember that part of your life — allow cycling to grow and flourish, please! It is time to walk away. Walk away if you love cycling.

As a reminder I just want to point out that recently you accused me of being the cause of USADA’s investigation against Lance Armstrong. Why would you be inclined to go straight to me as the “cause”? Why shoot the messenger every time?

Every time you do this I get more and more entrenched. I was in your country over the last two weeks and I asked someone that knows you if you were someone that could be rehabilitated. His answer was very quick and it was not good for you. No was the answer — no, no , no!

The problem for sport is not drugs but corruption. You are the epitome of the word corruption.

You can read all about Webster’s definition of corruption. If you want, I can re-post my attorney’s response to your letter where you threaten to sue me for calling the UCI corrupt. FYI I want to officially reiterate to you and Hein that in my opinion the two of your represent the essence of corruption.

I would encourage anyone that loves cycling to donate and support Paul in his fight against the Pat and Hein and the UCI. Skip lunch and donate the amount that you would have spent towards that Sunday buffet towards changing the sport of cycling.

I donated money for Paul’s defense, and I am willing to donate a lot more, but I would like to use it to lobby for dramatic change in cycling. The sport does not need Pat McQuaid or Hein Verbruggen; if this sport is going to change, it is now. Not next year, not down the road, now! Now or never!

People that really care about cycling have the power to change cycling — change it now by voicing your thought and donating money towards Paul Kimmage’s defense, (Paul, I want to encourage you to not spend the money that has been donated to your defense fund on defending yourself in Switzerland. In my case, a USA citizen, I could care less if I lost the UCI’s bogus lawsuit. Use the money to lobby for real change).

If people really want to clean the sport of cycling up all you have to do is put your money where your mouth is.

Don’t buy a USA Cycling license. Give up racing for a year, just long enough to put the UCI and USA cycling out of business. We can then start from scratch and let the real lovers in cycling direct where and how the sport of cycling will go.

Please make a difference.
 Greg


Time to celebrate Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès

October 19, 2012

Who?

Well, late on October 18, 2012 (though it must have been early on the 19th for agitators like UCI Overlord), people interested in changing the sport began changing their Twitter avatars. Gone were the predictable mug shots and in came the faces of key figures of the French Revolution.

The French Revolution, an incredibly messy and bloody period that brought in a new political era. Its effect was not only felt in France, but – as even Lance will admit – in the entire world. Not entirely useless then, those French.

So, French Revolution buff that I am, I quickly changed my avatar to the one on the right. Sorry, maybe I got the wrong memo.

I highly recommend the book though, with Tim Moore as an amateur cyclist riding all the stages of the 2000 Tour de France for fun. And that may have more relevance to today’s situation than you might think – there’s still a chance he could be crowned the winner of that 2000 Tour!

Anyway, it was time to pick a real French Revolutionary. UCI Overlord suggested Jean-Paul Marat, a Neuchatel-born radical journalist and politician. I did live in Neuchatel for some time (even banking at the same UBS bank that is now mentioned by Gazzetta dello Sport, exciting stuff) so that makes some sense. He also spent a lot of time in his bathtub, which I think is an excellent place for reading and thinking (too much information, I know).

But Doug Ellis, owner of Slipstream and a man I hold in very high regard, suggested Lazare Carnot, an engineer turned politician. This of course presented a conundrum, the engineer that I am versus the journalist I would have liked to have been. As George Costanza would say after Jerry Seinfeld invents a marine biologist life for him: “you know I always wanted to be an architect”.

Anyway, as it turns out, I am Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès. Not because he was a clergyman, but for a few statements he made that I whole-heartedly believe in and which dovetail nicely with a project I am working on.

In a French society controlled by the Estates-General where the First and Second Estate (clergy and nobility) could always override the Third (the rest of France i.e. the normal people), Sieyès stated:

What is the Third Estate? Everything. What has it been until now in the political order? Nothing. What does it want to be? Something.

Which of course in today’s society translates into teams and federations making a mess of this sport without fans having any influence, or to paraphrase:
What is the Fan Base? Everything. What has it been until now in the cycling order? Nothing. What does it want to be? Something.

The Third Estate demanded that the credentials of the representatives should be checked by all sides, rather than every Estate only checking themselves (self-regulation without answering to anybody else). When that went nowhere, Sieyès told the Third Estate, now meeting as the Communes (English: “Commons”), to:

Proceed with verification of your own powers and invite the other two estates to take part, but do not wait for them.

Of course it’s just a few people who after a week neck-deep in LanceGate sewage are in desperate need for some silliness, but it’s not bad to draw some inspiration from unlikely sources from time to time.


In defense of Hein Verbruggen

October 18, 2012

I didn’t think I would ever write a blog with this title, but here we go:

Newspaper De Telegraaf printed these statements it said it received from Verbruggen:

“Armstrong has never tested positive, there is no trace of evidence.”

“There are many, many stories and insinuations, but anyone who knows the control knows that there is nothing to regulate.”

“Mrs. LeMond’s story is so absurd that it is not worth an official statement.”

In the article, these statements were presented as addressing the question of whether or not the USADA report was damning to Lance. And so the whole twittersphere (including myself) was in an uproar, and even more so when Verbruggen protested against the article.

It seemed this was now a simple matter; does the newspaper have proof of those statements having been made. It did, in the form of SMS messages, and it published them. Easy work, case closed.

But not so fast, while there is little doubt the statements were made, it is not entirely clear what question was asked and that matters. De Telegraaf has now removed the SMS messages from its site.

If, as Verbruggen claims, the question asked was not “Is Lance guilty” but instead “Is Mrs. LeMond’s story true that a positive test was covered up by paying you 500,000 dollars”, then the answers make more sense. I’m not saying they are true, far from it, but in the context of that question, there are at this point many stories but hard evidence is still scarce.

It would be good for De Telegraaf to publish the entire SMS stream, including all questions and answers. That’s fair for themselves and for Mr. Verbruggen, and no matter what we may think of him, he deserves that.

Of course, I’m sure that a “story” by Mrs. Lemond isn’t just a “story”, I have no reason to believe she’s ever lied about anything. The same cannot be said for some other people.

But that’s something for another blog (to make sure you don’t miss it, you can subscribe here).


The strange case of Levi

October 18, 2012

Of all the confessors in the USADA case, Levi is perhaps the strangest. Almost everything about him is different from the other confessors. But although in my opinion he’s been lucky for years (I was really disappointed when Quickstep signed him this year), I think that being fired yesterday was actually unfair to him. But let’s start at the beginning:

  • He doped from very early-on, according to his affidavit. He started while still racing in the US. Most others claim to have raced cleanly in the US, made the move to Europe based on their talent and only started doping after (this supposedly proves that they deserved to be a pro, deserved to draw a salary and it dismisses any notion that they occupied a spot in the peloton for which there were more deserving candidates).
  • None of this should be a surprise, as his doping practices were described in Hans Holczer’s book (it also states the UCI was aware and recommended he be taken out of the 2005 Tour de France).
  • He’s the only one of the USADA confessors who has been convicted for doping before (in 1996 when, ironically, he rode for Team Einstein).
  • He’s received a 6 month ban just like the others. But they are “first-time offenders” under the rules and this is clearly his second offense.
  • According my interpretation of the WADA code, a second doping conviction automatically calls for a lifetime ban if it is for the offenses admitted to by Levi. With “substantial assistance in uncovering rule violations”, this can be reduced to 8 years. I have no idea how he can receive just a 6 month ban.
  • I’ll grant that the WADA code is a bit vague, in that some violations are less serious – in case of no (significant) fault – but it doesn’t clarify anywhere what happens when there are two violation, the first of which is no significant fault and the second is. But 6 months suspension as if the first offense wasn’t there, I can’t find that anywhere in the rules.

So up to this point he’s lucky if anything. Now for the unfair part:

  • For 2012 Omega Pharma-Quickstep hires Levi, despite everything in Holczer’s book, despite rumors everywhere (if I hear them, everybody hears them).
  • Of course cycling is a sport with rumors everywhere, and you can’t act on rumors alone, but you have to figure that if somebody puts them in a book, he takes a big risk if they are untrue. And the assertions in the book were left uncontested in court, another strong indication.
  • Now that the USADA information becomes public, Levi is fired by the team. Similarly to the Matt White case, it makes you wonder.
  • Did team manager Patrick Lefevere not read Holczer’s book, or any news articles covering it? It rings a bit hollow.
  • Was Levi fired because he doped six years ago, or because it is now revealed that he doped six years ago?
  • If Lefevere knew about Levi’s past transgressions, he can’t fire him now. Aside from the opportunistic cynicism of such a move, any lawyer would have a field day with an employer who doesn’t immediately take action when he becomes aware of illegal behavior of his employee and who instead takes action a year later. Never mind any “it’s in the contract” defense.
  • If Lefevere didn’t know about Levi’s past transgressions, well … then … right.

I hope Omega Pharma-Quickstep shed some more light into this situation, because to date their statement about firing their team leader has been shorter than a press release celebrating an 8th place finish in a Flemish kermesse.

At the same time, maybe they can address whether they are still comfortable with the employment of Dr. José Ibarguren Taus?


Cycling Australia

October 17, 2012

Cycling Australia sent out a long message today, with lots of interesting bits, a bit of whitewash, etc. But all in all, more frank than any other federation to date, even though the buck stops a millimeter short of their own toes.

End result, Matt White is terminated. They state they asked several organizations about White’s past, but it doesn’t state if they asked White himself.

But the biggest breakthrough may be a shot sentence near the end:

We acknowledge that there is now clear evidence that the UCI, until recent times, failed to fully and properly do its part to stamp out doping.

One thing missing is what Cycling Australia thinks the conclusion should be after having realized this. Failure to properly do your part, does that mean the positions of people at the UCI is untenable?


Matt White

October 16, 2012

So Matt White is outed by USADA as a USPS doper, admits to it and is suspended while Cycling Australia investigates. This makes no sense.

Cycling Australia hired White after he was fired from Slipstream for sending a rider to Dr. Del Moral for a health check, instead of letting the team doctor refer the rider to a doctor as is the team policy.

Cycling Australia investigated White in 2011 to see if he could remain their performance coordinator and if he should be hired for Orica-Greenedge. This makes it strange to investigate him again. There are three options:

  1. In 2011, they forgot to ask White if he ever doped himself, in which case there is no point in having an investigation – the Cycling Australia board should simply step down.
  2. They asked White if he ever doped and he answered truthfully, in which case there is also no need for an investigation or a suspension – the Cycling Australia board should simply explain its decision and stand by it. Or alternatively, the board should resign again if they feel their decision in 2011, having had all the facts available to them, was wrong.
  3. They asked White if he ever doped and he lied, in which case there is also no need for an investigation or a suspension as he should be fired right away.

Thus, the investigation sounds more like a smoke screen, one that is gaining in popularity in cycling nowadays.

I think this week will see new blog posts more frequently, if you don’t want to miss one, you can subscribe here.


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!)


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