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Kiss-of-death UCI presidential race predictions

September 26, 2013

Tomorrow we have the UCI presidential election. And nothing has changed, we still have a candidate who knows no shame and therefore cannot be slowed down by any type of logic.

Merely a week after the 2005 Verbruggen letter leaked which showed the Verbruggen/McQuaid camp clearly didn’t want a fair election but rather a coronation, we have the federation president of cycling powerhouse St. Lucia accusing Cookson of wanting a coronation and not an election.

This is the same clown who claims that McQuaid almost singlehandedly eradicated doping in cycling while conveniently forgetting the obstruction of USADA, the whistleblower-killing lawsuits against Kimmage and Landis and the bending of the rules in favor of Armstrong (for example for his early return in 2009).

Vaughters very clearly indicated why Cookson is the better choice in his op-ed piece this week. Whether this endorsement helps or hurts Cookson, I don’t know. Do the people who are voting tomorrow care what Vaughters thinks, do they not see him as an enemy of the state and therefore would rather do the opposite of what he suggests? We’ll soon know.

One of the more interesting bits in his piece may be the influence Verbruggen still wields – this is often whispered but rarely discussed with the outside world. But I can confirm it’s absolutely true.

At the start of 2010, we changed our banking arrangements and as a result, we wanted to exchange our old bank guarantee for the Cervelo TestTeam for a new one. So we sent the new guarantee, and the UCI sent back the old one. So far, so good (well, it wasn’t quite as straightforward as I describe here, things never are with the UCI).

But then the old bank wanted a letter to confirm that indeed the UCI relinquished their claim on the old bank guarantee. They did, after all they now had a new one, but for weeks and weeks we called and were told the letter would be sent, but it never was. Weeks turned into months, and still no letter. You have to understand, this was quite a pile of money tied up. As a Continental Pro team, you have to provide yearly bank guarantees for 15 months. So in the Spring of 2010 our old 2009 guarantee was still active (from Jan 1, 2009 until March 31, 2010, our new 2009 replacement guarantee was still active (also until March 31, 2010) and our new 2010 guarantee was already in place (Jan 1, 2010 until March 31, 2011).

After the umpteenth call to the UCI legal department and the umpteenth promise we didn’t believe, somebody had a stroke of genius and called Verbruggen. He said “I’ll take care of it” and the next day we had the letter from the UCI legal department.

We got a lot of love from Verbruggen that Spring, as our success while holding a Pro Continental status was ridiculing the value of  a WorldTour license. So while the official UCI was trying to punish us with last-minute rule changes to increase the fees we had to pay for our license and anti-doping, Verbruggen was trying to charm us into turning WorldTour. While we weren’t nearly as important as Vaughters, his stories have a familiar ring to them. This combination of sucking and blowing didn’t lead to anything (doesn’t the saying explain you can’t suck and blow at the same time) as we didn’t want to be WorldTour and couldn’t afford it. By June the nastier stage of the process commenced. But that’s for another day.

For today, I will give my kiss-of-death UCI presidential race predictions.

  • Cookson has obtained the 14 votes of the European delegates, but some of those delegates will not play by the rules and vote for McQuaid anyway.
  • Asia-Pacific goes mostly to McQuaid, these are countries and people who have benefited from several UCI programs and they like how things are going for them. Why rock the boat?
  • Africa is the same story, a significant portion if not all of it will go to McQuaid. Based on absolutely nothing other than status quo is good for these delegates.
  • The Americas will be a mixed bag

With all 14 European votes going to Cookson, he would have a real shot at beating McQuaid. With several of those delegates going against the UEC vote and supporting McQuaid, it’s hard to see how Cookson can win.

P.S. Hopefully my kiss-of-death predictions will have the usual effect on those in the race. Boonen, Sagan and Cancellara can all testify to how difficult it is to overcome favorite status in my predictions. The curse of the rainbow jersey is nothing compared to the curse of the kiss-of-death predictions. I figured I may as well use it as a force for good!

Running wild

August 22, 2013

Sports Illustrated ran an article about anti-doping testing in Jamaica. Five conclusions:

  1. It highlights the problem of how poorer countries should allocate resources to anti-doping. One cannot possibly claim that funding that is more important than funding basic needs.
  2. At the same time, this is of no concern to the athletes competing against the Jamaicans. And the fact is that JADCO is responsible for out-of-competition testing of its athletes even when they are abroad.
  3. If they wanted to, Jamaica could fund the world’s best anti-doping program with just 10% of the proceeds of their millionaire sprinters. So install a testing tax on the athletes, and the problem is solved. Note that if this is a fixed tax that applies to all their athletes indiscriminately, it is not comparable with the Armstrong donation to the UCI. Simply the costs of being a pro athlete.
  4. One would think that for the athletes, this would be a great opportunity to lend credibility to the claim that they’re clean. As it stands, with 1 OOC test in the two most important months of 2012 (when it comes to doping to prepare for the Olympics), suspicion is cast upon all Jamaican athletes. They simply were not tested in a way that any credible statement about them being clean could be made.
  5. Fans of Jamaican sprinters react the same way as Lance Armstrong fans did in the BO-era (Before Oprah)

Race to the bottom

August 21, 2013

[Published August 9, 2013 in issue 9 of 2r. For all issues of 2r, download the app for iPad and iPhone here]

McQuaid attacks, Cookson responds. Cookson lobs in a grenade, McQuaid seeks shelter – briefly – and retaliates with a salvo.

Say what you will of the UCI presidential race, but it has all the action and plot twists of the most successful reality TV shows. Sadly, it also matches them in its lack of class, decency, substance and belief in the good of humanity.

Unfortunately for cycling, there is no sign this theatre will be over soon, not even after the election. With the process tainted by multiple nominations, court challenges, attempts to amend the rules mid-way and a complete inability from the incumbent to concede defeat, comparing cycling to a banana republic is offensive to most such republics, and all bananas.

Worse, it’s not even clear it really makes a difference who wins the race.

The first issue to be resolved is the nomination by the Swiss cycling federation:

  • The UCI rules clearly state “THE federation of the candidate” must nominate the candidate. It was the Irish federation who nominated McQuaid in 2005 and 2009, and he represents Ireland in all UCI documentation (IRL behind his name). Furthermore, by first asking Ireland to nominate him, McQuaid himself MADE Ireland THE federation of himself.
  • Despite claims of having “long-standing ties” to many federations, it has emerged that McQuaid only joined Swiss Cycling on May 1, 2013, a whole 24 hours before seeking their nomination for the UCI presidential race. In all fairness, sticking to anything – a conviction, an idea, and presumably a federation – for 24 hours seems like a very long time for McQuaid.
  • It is clear from their meeting minutes that the Swiss Cycling board did not agree to nominate McQuaid in their meeting, but rather to wait a little and look into it further. The federation president, Richard Chassot, then announced the nomination.
  • It should be noted that Chassot is a long-standing (more than 24 hours) friend of McQuaid. He was on the witness list on McQuaid’s behalf in the lawsuit against Paul Kimmage. He is also on the board of the World Cycling Centre chaired by McQuaid.
  • Furthermore, and maybe most damning, Chassot owns the company that organizes the Tour de Romandie. Unlike the Tour de Suisse, of which the rights are owned by the Swiss federation, those for the Tour de Romandie is held by Mr. Chassot’s private company.
  • This makes Mr. Chassot financially dependent on the UCI, since it is the World Tour status awarded by the UCI that allows the Tour de Romandie to make money. In fact, Mr. Chassot stated during the Swiss board meeting that supporting McQuaid “would contribute to ensure the position of the Tour de Romandie and the Tour de Suisse”. If you ever wondered how such a small race could obtain World Tour status, follow the Swiss lawsuit.
  • The rules of Swiss Cycling clearly states that “if a member of the board has a personal interest in the matter, he or she can not participate in the decision”. But not only was Mr. Chassot present, he was the one pushing the case for McQuaid.

Therefore, it is virtually beyond doubt that the Swiss nomination of McQuaid for UCI president will fail, for any of these four reasons:

  • The Swiss Cycling board will withdraw the nomination out of fear it may be financially ruined if it loses the lawsuit over it.
  • Chassot may actually wish to withdraw the nomination so that no further light is shown on his Tour de Romandie and his relationship with McQuaid.
  • McQuaid may not want the judge in this lawsuit to come to a decision (see below)
  • The lawsuit goes ahead and Swiss Cycling loses.

The next hurdle would be the Malaysian amendment that would allow any two federations to nominate a candidate, rather than only THE federation of the candidate. In itself this is a proposal with merits, the problem is the part where they suggest it should retro-actively apply to this election. Quite simply, this proposal will be rejected, it doesn’t have the votes at the UCI congress to pass.

It is possible that the amendment will be amended, and that for future elections any two federations may nominate a candidate, but the qualified majority to allow retro-activity simply isn’t there.

Anyone who might conclude that therefore, McQuaid does not have a nomination, is not thinking using Pat’s brain. After all, he will now tell you that not only could he be nominated by Ireland or Switzerland, ANY federation of which he is a member could do so. And since he is a member, and has the nomination of both the Thai and the Moroccan federation, either of those will do.

This is the part where McQuaid would not want a Swiss judge to have rendered a decision in the Swiss Cycling nomination case. You see, if that case goes all the way to the end, a Swiss judge may reject the Swiss nomination on any number of grounds. If it is rejected based on something to do with Swiss Cycling’s rules such as Chassot’s failure to recuse himself, that’s OK for McQuaid. But if the judge rules that THE federation of McQuaid is Ireland and not Switzerland, then it follows that it is also not Thailand or Morocco.

McQuaid could – and probably would – argue that these are completely separate cases, but his position is somewhat weakened by the fact that Switzerland is not only the relevant jurisdiction for Swiss Cycling (which is why the current case appears there) but also for the UCI itself. It makes it a bit hard for the UCI president to ignore. However, it is probably a lot harder for McQuaid to step down from the UCI presidency, so expect him to further cement the image of cycling as a lawless entity.

In all likeliness, this would mean the election between Cookson and McQuaid would go ahead, and in such a case there is a real chance McQuaid wins. While he doesn’t have the qualified majority to get retro-active rule changes approved, he may have the simple majority to get re-elected.

Clearly, if that happens, his Thai/Moroccan nomination will be challenged. This may take time, any appeals may take more time still and in the end, assuming the case is decided by not only the competent court but also a competent court, the nomination will be invalidated.

Less clear is what would happen next. Would the number 2 of the election become president? One could argue for that, but one could equally argue that other candidates would have stepped forward had they known the incumbent would not be in the race.

There is no straightforward answer for this question, since no such situation is contemplated in the UCI rules. So we either get a quiet ascension, a quick second election or either of those two choices followed by legal action from those who disagree with that choice. In short, it could take a long time.

But maybe it’s all much simpler than that. Maybe McQuaid will decide that after yet another defeat, it’s been nice and he graciously bows out of the election process (the way he graciously tried to take all the credit for taking down Armstrong after resisting USADA every step of the way). In that most positive of cases, what will happen to cycling?

Well, we don’t know. We know very little of Cookson’s plans, since his manifesto lacked in specifics. On top of that, he seems to have changed position on several important topics in recent months. On truth and reconciliation and women’s racing for example. This is OK, changing your mind is a subtle way of showing you’ve gotten smarter, but we must hope that a clear direction emerges. Otherwise, the changes smack of opportunism.

Last but not least, spare a thought for all the forms of cycling that are part of the UCI but are not men’s pro road racing. Mountain biking, BMX, cyclocross, marathons, artistic cycling, cycle ball and other disciplines you have never heard of. It is the UCI’s mandate to promote and foster them too, but 99% of the discussion ignores them.

The only dissident group successful in disrupting the substance of the proceedings has been women’s road racing, thanks to the brilliant “Le Tour Entier” campaign. If you want to feel you’ve made a difference this UCI presidential election and don’t have the money to start a court case in Thailand or Morocco, consider signing their petition.

Next steps to oust McQuaid

August 5, 2013

As I explained last week, McQuaid has made it clear he cannot run for UCI president.

Basically, his interpretation of the UCI rules is that unlike what everybody thinks, you can be a member of multiple federations. Unfortunately for him, if you read the rules that way, then it also follows that once you become a member of multiple federations, you give up the possibility of being nominated for the UCI presidency since you no longer have any “THE federation of the candidate”.

Therefore the only logical conclusion is that he will not run anymore in the upcoming UCI elections. But it goes further.

After all, he has indicated he’s been a member of the Moroccan federation since 2009. Was that before or after that year’s presidential election. If it was before, then there is a good chance his nomination for that race (which wasn’t even a race since nobody else ran) was counter to the rules as he wouldn’t have had any “THE federation of the candidate” back then either.

Even if his Moroccan membership was post-election,  his Swiss membership likely pre-dates 2009. And he claims to have a total of 6-7 memberships, so surely one of them is pre-2009.

That means McQuaid was never nominated in 2009 and therefore should resign immediately. Anybody ready to take him to court on this one?

McQuaid quits UCI race

August 1, 2013

Velonation as usual has done a great job of sorting out the Pat McQuaid nonsense. I really urge you to read this particular article.

In the article, Velonation has excerpts of Myles Dungan interviewing McQuaid for the RTE radio program “Today with Pat Kenny”. The most interesting part is this:

MD: Again to come back to this Article 51… ‘The candidates for the presidency shall be nominated by the federation of the candidate.’ The rules state ‘the’ federation of the candidate, not ‘a’ federation of the candidate. Surely you have got to make a decision what is your federation? And Morocco, let’s face it, Pat, is not your federation…

PMQ: Morocco is a federation I have close association with, close ties with. They have made me a member of their federation and they have nominated me for president.

MD: But it is not the federation of the candidate…

PMQ: But I don’t have any ‘the’ federation of the candidate. The fact is that I am the president of 175 federations. I left Ireland eight years ago so I have little or nothing to do with the Irish federation.

Of course, the first logical question is: If you have little or nothing to do with the Irish federation, why did you seek its nomination in the first place?

But the more exciting part is this: Pat McQuaid states here unequivocally that he doesn’t have ANY “the federation of the candidate”. Yet the rules clearly state, as even McQuaid agrees, that only “the federation of the candidate” can nominate a member.

Therefore, the conclusion has to be that NO federation can nominate McQuaid, since no federation is “THE federation of McQuaid”.

Expect McQuaid to withdraw from the UCI presidential race shortly.

8 Random thoughts on doping

July 31, 2013
  1. Why does everybody “drive across the border” to buy drugs? Is it the thrill of potentially getting caught by border guards (yes, those still existed in Europe back then).
  2. What a lonely life where everybody dopes all on their own, without any help.
  3. With some exceptions (and more so in later years), pro riders have often struck me of being very dependent people who couldn’t survive on their own in the real world. I find it hard to believe some of them could cook a meal for themselves, let alone drive across the border and buy drugs.
  4. If you are a famous cyclist, would you walk into a pharmacy to buy doping products? Even if it was “across the border”?
  5. Combining 3 & 4, would it not be more logical to assume that in virtually all cases, somebody else bought the drugs for them and therefore, others were involved? At the very least as a mule, if not much more intricate than that?
  6. O’Grady, Zabel and others have stated that they resorted to doping because they couldn’t compete but quickly stopped. We now know the sport didn’t get cleaner after their “short bout with doping”, so how did they effortlessly compete afterwards? For Zabel we now know the answer – he couldn’t and doped throughout his career.
  7. Between USADA, various books and the French Senate report, we can conclude that many riders doped and some did not. Therefore, this is now officially no longer an interesting topic. Topic should now be, how do you fix it.
  8. People point to the number of cycling viewers and spectators this year to show the doping fallout is not so bad. Pro wrestling, Paris Hilton and the US Senate are also popular (together, all senators collected almost 100% of the US vote!) It doesn’t mean you have credibility, the ability to affect change or even a bright future.

How unlucky

July 27, 2013

Imagine you’re a professional rider for almost two decades

Imagine all these years, against a tsunami of cheating, you ride cleanly

Except for two measly weeks

For two measly weeks you used EPO

Imagine that of all the weeks you could have done that, you picked two weeks before the Tour de France

But luckily you came to your senses and stopped. Phew.

Now imagine that at some point, years later, they decide to retest Tour samples

Imagine that of all the years they could have chosen, they pick the year you cheated

Fortunately, it’s for scientific research and the riders are never identified. Phew

Now imagine that another decade later, some country decides to waste tax payers’ money to look into doping

Imagine the chance that this country is France

Imagine the infinitesimally small chance that they not only target your sport, but also that one year, and that they manage to unearth the rider names behind the positive samples

Now imagine that although there is no real reason, they decide to make the names of the dopers public

There you are, always played by the rules, one little slip-up and you’re caught

Just like Erik Zabel really, oh no, wait, his claim to have used EPO only once turned out to be a complete lie

Now imagine that fans of the sport have gotten so accustomed to the excuses that they don’t believe you

How unlucky. Truly.

Note 1: Paris-Roubaix 2007 has always been one of my favorite races, making the recent revelations a pretty bitter pill to swallow

Note 2: Instead of only focussing on the positive tests, let’s also acknowledge that apparently several riders won stages in the 1998 Tour without using EPO. Maybe that should give us some hope for the future, and if nothing else it should serve to show the claim of “I had no choice, everybody was doing it” is off the mark.

Mind the gap!

July 17, 2013

With Froome so far ahead, what can keep him from winning? Mind games and rain. And in that sense, Contador may have scored a first point, albeit unintentionally.

Contador’s crash clearly shook Froome a bit, the five, six turns after that were very wobbly for the Brit. And it seems he wasn’t able to forget about it at the finish either, given that last night at 11pm he still tweeted:

Almost went over your head @albertocontador.. Little more care next time?

It looks like Contador has gotten into Froome’s head, like a pesky Spanish bilharzia bug. Add to that the possible rain on the descents today and the next days and strange things could happen.

We saw it in the Giro with Wiggins, confidence in descending is a funny thing. As much as Froome tries to be different from Wiggo, in this sense he may be similar. I don’t like the train of thought that Wiggins and Froome are mere human robots following orders from their coaches, but it cannot be denied that they do rely greatly on being told what to do. While Cavendish dove into the gap during the echelon stage and was the last guy to make it into the front group, Froome who was 10m behind decided instead to get on the radio.

With a strong team and good preparation, this is a golden set-up. But on the descent, team mates and radios are of no use. It’s just you and your thoughts, and if those thoughts are thoughts of fear, you’re in trouble.

In the time trial, this may pose a small problem for Froome, especially if it stays wet. In the coming days, the problem may grow. I have little doubt that Contador will descend like a maniac off the back of Alpe d’Huez. That road is terrible at the best of times, in the rain it will be the ultimate test of nerves. Especially if Contador decides to take some bad lines to freak people out, we may end up with more than a few riders hanging off the trees there. Or worse.

I can’t say I am looking forward to it, as I just hope that everybody stays safe. But descending is as much a part of cycling as climbing, and it is a legitimate spot to attack. If Froome doesn’t want to be caught behind a crashing Contador again, he’d better make sure he is ahead of him. And Sky fans should pray their sports psychologist has learned from the Wiggins case.

The positive positive

July 16, 2013

Rarely have I welcomed a positive doping test as much as Mustafa Sayar. Here comes a rider out of nowhere and starts winning races like he’s Asafa Powell. I mean, it was crazy. And how he got busted for EPO.

This is great news for cycling for two reasons. First off, while Sayar was winning the Tour of Turkey, several riders openly expressed their disgust. What they saw simply couldn’t be real. Kevin Seeldraeyers said:

“I exploded myself trying to follow the Turkish guy”

Marcel Kittel’s tweet was more explicit:

“I was not often in my life so angry about a result of someone else. And I see many people around me feeling the same.

I have a dream!, in which riders actually refuse to take the start when they are in a situation like this. And in which they do this not just with small Turkish riders, but with any rider, including teammates. But it’s a good start.

The second piece of good news is that Sayar doped and WON. Just think about that, all these talented riders could not match a doped Sayar. So the peloton can’t be very doped if Sayar can handily “outdope” them.

Sure, you may argue that Sayar outdoped them by using so much he was caught, and maybe in a peloton of micro-dopers, the macro-doper wins. I’m not pretending this is definite proof of anything, but I certainly take it as positive (ahum) news that for Sayar to win, he must have been competing against a peloton significantly cleaner than himself.


Stop asking questions

July 15, 2013

I think I have a solution for Froome et al. A few posts ago I described the conundrum top riders find themselves in; how to prove the unprovable, that you ride cleanly. Reading and watching some Tour de France coverage this month has not made me any more optimistic, but not on account of the riders. It’s most of the media that seems to have learned little (with hopeful exceptions). But don’t despair!

Conscious of their failure to seriously address doping in the EPO era, it seems that many journalists have vowed to not make that mistake again. So every chance they get, they bug riders with the dreaded “Are you clean” question. Sometimes it’s even dressed up as a service to their audience, gramatical error included: “Can you promise our viewers you are riding clean?”

In the history of sport, I am not aware of any athlete who has ever spontaneously answered “No” to that question. This makes it a non-question, a podium purportedly showing the journalist’s commitment to “asking tough questions” without really asking anything. I am actually amazed at the patience riders have for this question.

I’m not sure which is worse, the journalists who keep repeating this same question or those who ask it once and then  proclaim that “Froome has been asked the question, he has answered it and that’s what we have to go with.” Really, is that the media’s job? To ask a rhetorical question and then when you get the only answer you could possibly get, declare the case closed? Isn’t that exactly what they did in the Armstrong years, ask the same, get the same answer and go with it?

Careful, I am not accusing Froome of being in any way similar to Armstrong, what I am saying is that the media doesn’t give Froome any chance to prove he is far different from Armstrong. And no, publishing power data or blood values would not help him either – Armstrong has done some of that too in his career.

The epiphany came to me when I heard an ex-rider (Rob Harmeling) tell a journalist that he should continue to chase the doping story, but refrain from insinuating without proof or “lying in the bushes to follow riders”. Very sensible advice, but after initial disgust, riders may warm to the idea of finding some journalist behind a tree while mowing the lawn.

Would it not be a a godsend for Froome if a journalist spends the next year lying in the bushes following him, and then reports he found nothing? Would that not be one of the few ways even the most skeptical followers might be convinced?

Right now, I think there are only three ways in which credibility can be restored:

  1. Proof that the media is doing everything it can to unearth doping practices and coming up empty. This means not asking “are you clean” when there is only one possible answer, but true investigative journalism.
  2. A new doping test for a product that is super-effective and until-then undetectable. If you’re going to dope, you would do it with such a seemingly “no-risk-all-benefit” drug (why use something that is less effective or more easily traced). So springing a test for such a product on an unsuspecting peloton would show you who rides cleanly out of conviction even when there is “free speed” to be had. The last time this happened was with the CERA test in 2008, it could have happened with an AICAR test in recent times but unfortunately it hasn’t.
  3. It’s a version of #2, only less elegant. It is of course through retro-testing. If the AICAR test is now available and you retro-test samples from the past eight years and find nothing, that would be a very strong indication that the peloton is able to withstand the sirens of shady speed.

Note that I am not listing two other ways:

  1. Police investigations and the like. Many of the most recent anti-doping successes have come from police investigations, US government actions or anti-doping agencies. But while that is useful, it is unlikely to ever be of help to prove the opposite. No government agency would ever admit to having done a very extensive investigation into doping and having found nothing. You celebrate your successes and hide your failures. It’s ironic in a way, and applicable to investigations in all areas of society; the more they investigate the worse our world view becomes, because we only hear about it when they find something bad.
  2. The riders. There is really nothing any athlete can do to prove his innocence. Of course, dodging questions may look suspicious, but answering them freely is just par for the course. Even if you would come up with a novel, very credible looking tool to make your innocence plausible, such a tool would quickly be copied by clean and dirty athletes alike.

P.S. Just when I finished this, Brailsford from Team Sky said he would be willing to hand over all their data to an expert appointed by WADA, as a sort of “biological passport PLUS”. That’s a great idea, although when you think about it it shows how the passport is not working. Brailsford correctly states that the passport should be more than a few blood values, it should look at weight, power, etc. But right now there aren’t enough tests being done in the passport to even get a credible clean sheet with regards to the blood values.

Even better than giving an expert access to bio pass and internal team data, give a bunch of experts the power to take blood samples and get the power data for all riders. Fund it through the teams & riders, make this expert independent of teams & riders and independent of the UCI. Of course that is the independent anti-doping organization many are calling for, it’s just a matter of how to fund it (and some thoughts on that are here.)

Get the blood tests to several per month or per week, get constant info on power readings and before long you will have a system so tight that although it may not prevent all doping, it will make the micro-dosing so micro that the advantage is minimal. Thus clean riders can compete, and cheating ones have such meagre returns they may decide it’s not worth the risk anymore.