Archive for the 'bike politics' Category

The Armstrong Lie – a review

November 24, 2013

The International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam is currently running, and one of the docs screened is The Armstrong Lie. To be honest, I didn’t really want to see it but also couldn’t not see it. And I figured that in the interest of those following this blog, I should.

As you probably know, director Alex Gibney was asked to make a documentary about Armstrong’s return to cycling in 2009. After shooting what was likely going to be a feel-good story in 2009 and 2010, the doping rumors got stronger and stronger and Gibney halted production. After the USADA report and Oprah confession completely changed the narrative, Gibney took the old footage, added new interviews with Armstrong, the Andreus, Bill Strickland and others and turned the Armstrong Love-in into the Armstrong Lie.

I was expecting that seeing intimate interviews with Armstrong pre-confession and comparing them with post-confession statements could be interesting. Other than that I wasn’t sure what to expect. Unfortunately I have to say, I was very disappointed.

The movie basically tells the whole Armstrong story, from triathlete at age 16 through his early career, cancer, comeback and fall from grace.  It jumps back and forth but in the end, everything is covered. This means that unless you’ve lived on the moon the past ten years, you are unlikely to learn much. If you’ve spent that decade not only on earth, but also with some level of interest in cycling, the contents becomes even less exciting.

There’s even space to explain the most rudimentary basics of cycling, such as the common platitudes of “doping is as old as cycling” and “domestiques are helpers to shield the leader from the wind”. Ironically, if you can refrain from plunging your head into the popcorn at these moments, they actually provide some of the most interesting footage.

During the doping-through-the-ages bit, footage of riders raiding a bar and making off with the beer and wine is shown. This footage has of course been available forever, but many will never have seen it (unlike, say, a poster of a smoking peloton).

The footage about domestiques shows footage from a bike-mounted camera while a domestique makes it to the front of the peloton during the Tour de France. It is quite hair-raising.

Other than that, the contents simply disappoints. If you’ve watched 60 minutes or similar programs on Lance before, you don’t need to see the deposition of the Andreus and Armstrong in the 2005 court case again. You don’t need to see Lance deny doping on the View, Larry King, or anywhere else.

What should have been the actual core of the documentary – the unprecedented access – fails to deliver. There are very few interviews with Armstrong, both pre- and post-confession. In short, it’s a different combination of stuff we already know. Even worse, whenever a veil is almost lifted, for example when Strickland basically reveals he discussed with Lance how he could best confess, there is no follow-up.

In the end, the only part that piqued my interest was when Lance talked about his cortisone positive from 1999. After he says that the UCI asked for a prescription, Gibney asked what Verbruggen exactly told him. Lance then answered that he didn’t talk to Verbruggen, that Johan Bruyneel did. This seems to be contradicting Lance’s most recent statements.

Take that for what it’s worth, what it unfortunately wasn’t worth was two hours of my time. So, is there no merit in this movie? I would say that for people who have very little knowledge of the story, this is a good overview. But for those who have followed the events unfold with some interest, it will be old hat.

It might be more fun to watch than the average Hollywood blockbuster simply because the topic interests you, but if you find it playing at a documentary festival and have other options, go see “Return to Homs”, “Ai Weiwei The Fake Case”, “Whatever, forever”  or frankly anything else instead. You’ll be more likely to learn something.

P.S. The other original footage I saw was Lance with one of the Olsen twins (don’t ask me which). I had never seen that before (though I had heard about it) but I can’t honestly say my life has become richer after.

Selling Cycling

October 30, 2013

This is a slightly-modified version of an article that first appeared in issue 8 of 2r magazine. Subscribe to 2r for free HERE.

In my twenty years in cycling, I have experience as a team sponsor working with teams, as a team owner working with bike-industry and outside sponsors, and as an advisor to companies considering a cycling sponsorship. Since not many people have seen the sponsor-bike team relationship from so many different angles, I thought it was time to write about it.

When it comes to sponsors entering cycling, there are some faint indications the worst is over. It’s hard to make definitive statements since the sample size is so small and so many factors are in play, but Blanco turning in to Belkin, Argos turning into ???, the rumored deal between Slipstream and Qatar, Alonso entering cycling and several other pending arrangements seem to point in that direction.

As a former team owner who lived through the post-Lehman drought, these are heartening developments. Yet they are also surprising for a few reasons.

Before I delve into those though, let me start by saying handling sponsorships is hard even at the best of times. When the economy is bad and the sport is in the news for all the wrong reasons, it’s near-impossible. It’s easy to judge it from the sidelines, and in fact that distance can help to see some perspective. In that sense, this article is as much my “Lessons Learned” as it is a view of how teams handle sponsorships today.

Firstly, sponsor acquisition strategies for most teams haven’t really changed that much, and are still relics from the Maurice Garin age.

Some teams work with agencies to find sponsors, but many still do it on their own. This can work – especially when you’re lucky and let me tell you, some teams are extremely lucky – but in general this is a tough route. As a cycling team, you need sponsors so infrequently (assuming they stick around for a while) that it is hard to keep sponsor acquisition skills and contacts current.

As a team, you also don’t have the chance to cross-sell. While an agency may be called in to a company to pitch a golf property, only to find out during the meeting that the company may be better served by cycling, a cycling team would never have gotten into that meeting to begin with.

The second weak spot is how cycling sponsorships are pitched by most teams (though thankfully there are exceptions).

I was invited last year to speak to a large multinational looking to enter the sport. I quickly found out that the teams that had pitched completely failed to address the needs of this company. Their main concern was doping (no surprise), but most teams were either underprepared to address the topic or simply lied about it. One team even presented their internal test program even though it had been cancelled the year before!

Another area of disappointment was the inward focus of the teams. I presented the company with a concept of how to drive the company’s Key Performance Indicators through the sponsorship, but their discussions with teams on this topic went nowhere.

None of the teams (all WorldTour teams) had bothered to address the company’s needs or in fact any form of accountability at all; their strategy consisted mostly of presenting a list of wins and inflated media exposure figures. In the end the sponsor did not enter the sport, although disappointment with the proposal quality was not the only factor.

In case it isn’t obvious, here’s why this approach is a dying breed. A list of wins is like past stock market performances – in no way a guarantee of what the future will bring. Banking on winning instead of providing value independent of racing success is a risky strategy.

The way media exposure figures are used is possibly even worse. You definitely need some figures to show how much the brand will show up, but the pompous conclusions teams often present are off-putting to most sponsor staff with any form of common sense.

Let’s take a step back: media exposure figures are basically calculated by measuring how often the logo is visible and calculating the costs of buying an ad for the same duration or in the same media. Then a discount factor is applied, since having a logo visible is not quite the same as having your fully-controlled message appear.

Instead of this approach, some agencies calculate how many thousands of people are reached across all media and then attach a cost-per-thousand (cpm) to it. Both methods can work, it all depends on how conscientiously you follow through.

At Cervélo TestTeam, we once contacted one of the companies specializing in calculating media exposure. When they started the process, one of the first questions they asked was if we wanted them to calculate with a cpm of $10 or $1. I assumed it was their expertise to figure out what was the right number. Of course, if you ask me as a team, use $10 so my exposure may appear $200 million instead of $20 million.

A similar situation occurs with the other method where a discount is applied to regular ad costs. How big should the discount be, how do you calculate the effectiveness of a logo on a sweaty rider versus your full brand message in a commercial shot with a well-coifed George Clooney?

Note that some factors can make the sweaty rider MORE appealing than Clooney. Although you definitely won’t get the same product message across, the excitement that cycling brings can’t really be replicated in a commercial. As well, a cycling sponsorship may be able to reach people you can’t reach through commercials, because people are trained to tune those out.

You see time and again that name recognition sky-rockets when sponsors enter cycling; within a few years everybody knew CSC, Fassa Bortolo, ONCE, Astana, Katusha, Europcar and soon Belkin. Yet what these companies exactly do is tougher to get across on a shirt, and requires supporting actions. A team can really help with that (and this was the concept I proposed to the large multinational last year). Unfortunately, most teams don’t see that as their concern, they’d rather focus on winning a bike race.

Back to the exposure numbers, it should be clear they can be anything you want them to be, and while it is logical they end up on the high side if a team commissions them, not even a sponsor can get an accurate number if they wanted to.

But it gets worse. Let’s take the Repucom report about the state of global cycling. The main number looks great: WorldTour teams create an average of $88.4 million in exposure. As we saw before, there is a discount factor already applied, and although Repucom won’t share the full methodology freely, they will when you are a client and from what I have seen, it’s a reasonable approach.

That said, there is no point in paying the full $88.4 million for that exposure, companies would want a very significant discount on that amount.

But let’s dig a bit deeper. The Repucom report also states that Team Sky generated $556 million in exposure. Not a surprise given their dominant 2012 season. But if the average of all 18 teams is $88.4 million and Team Sky generated $556 million, then the other 17 teams only averaged $60.9 million. That’s 30% less than the average quoted with Team Sky included.

$60.9 million is a much more realistic number to work with. While sponsors would no doubt like to experience a “Sky year” during their sponsorship, they certainly won’t count on it and won’t be willing to pay for it in advance.

Next up is geography. Given the importance of the Tour de France in the total annual exposure, you won’t be shocked to learn that almost 30% of TV exposure is in France. That’s great if France is an important market for you, but if it is not, that means those 30% of your exposure are a write-off.

This obviously applies to other countries as well, meaning the overall exposure is not that relevant to sponsors. Only exposure in countries they are active in or plan to be matters.

Given that most title sponsors are global brands, this effect may be small, but even if you are active in France, you may not have “use” for $20 million in advertising there.

Finally there are the demographics. If all cycling spectators are 40 years or younger and you sell hearing aids, maybe none of that $60 million in exposure is useful to you. Likewise, when Lotto had a co-sponsor that sold pregnancy tests, not every TV viewer was a potential customer. Just like with any other advertising, demographics matter.

As in the case of the geography, the desired demographics depend on the sponsor, not the team. Therefore the “team exposure” numbers are not very relevant; it’s about the cross-section between the team’s exposure and the sponsor’s potential customer base. The bottom line is that to successfully attract and keep sponsors, teams should focus on what sponsors need rather than on what their standard offerings are.

Sponsorship 101 – for teams

  • Teams should consider working with an agency or multiple agencies if you don’t want to be beholden to luck. Yes, they charge a fee, but 90% of a large sum is better than 100% of nothing.
  • Teams should find out what sponsors need. A pitch is as much about asking that as it is about presenting yourself.
  • Presenting “best case” media exposure figures may work with unsophisticated sponsors, but for most it will be a turn-off. Be realistic.
  • “Winning” may work for the egos of some CEOs or for sugar-daddy sponsors. But for most sponsors it will be a means to an end. And betting on winning to deliver value is a dangerous proposition; there may be lower-risk methods.
  • Brand exposure is a given, and cycling is a great tool to generate name recognition. Don’t dwell on it; instead focus on what else you can do for the sponsor.
  • Beware the “law of the shitty click-throughs”. This says that a new approach attracts a lot of attention and therefore is very effective at the start, but the numbers worsen over time. So you have to keep re-inventing what a team offers sponsors.
  • Don’t overcharge. Of course it’s great to get a more money for a sponsorship than it’s worth, but eventually the sponsor will figure it out (either because they hear from other teams or because their metrics will show poor value) and then you’ll lose them. Give them fair value for a fair price and they may stick around.
  • Be honest. The amount of empty promises and anti-doping nonsense teams spout in sponsor presentations is nuts. Remember that some of these sponsors may have advisors who are quite well positioned in the sport and who can shoot holes in your statements. You lose your credibility, you lose your sponsor.
  • Treat your sponsors – all of them – properly. Most teams don’t have a professional department for this, but they should. Somebody with a small budget to keep everybody happy. Although it is nice to hear, it also makes me cringe when ex-sponsors from the Cervélo TestTeam tell me that was still their favorite team. In my opinion, the way we treated sponsors should have been the standard, not the exception.

Sponsorship 101 – for sponsors

  • If you’re spending millions of dollars on a sponsorship, get proper advice. I see too many sponsors with a lack of understanding of the sport negotiating with the wrong team or severely overpaying for what they get. You don’t need to pay 5 million Euro or anywhere near it for a second title sponsorship, no matter how much logo exposure you get. Get advice, you will save that money tenfold when you sign the final deal.
  • I also see companies relying on one advisor who they happened to know but who knows little about pro cycling. It is really astounding to me how big companies often rely on questionable advice. This sport loses a lot of sponsors to middle-man hacks. Check some references.
  • It’s all in the details. Again at the Cervélo TestTeam, the jersey was clean yet it provided exposure to the sponsors way beyond the average. It was also the best-selling jersey in the peloton, providing additional exposure every time somebody put it on. Even now that Cervélo has stopped the team and is merely a product sponsor, this focus continues to pay dividends. It’s not a coincidence that according to the Repucom report, Cervélo received more exposure from sponsoring Team Garmin-Sharp than either of those two title sponsors.

Finally, some advice to teams and sponsors alike: Find an innovative concept. If you sponsor a team the same way as everybody else, you’ll get the same exposure. To super-charge that exposure, try something new. When we started the Cervélo TestTeam, we were the first bike company-run team in a long time. We also focused on Fan access and product development instead of on winning. Even in the four months before the team started riding, the exposure the team received was way beyond even the biggest-budget teams. And this makes total sense; people are attracted to new stories, not to the same old stuff. Now more and more bike companies follow this route, but as the law of shitty click-throughs predicts, the returns will lessen.

Of course it’s not that easy to create a new concept, but it isn’t rocket science either. Over the years I’ve developed several concepts, some focused on B2C companies and others for B2B (an area for which cycling sponsorship is often neglected but potentially very lucrative). Most of them have never been released but that’s the way teams should work too: create a library of  concepts, waiting for the right sponsor to appear.


September 27, 2013

Cookson is president of the UCI. Wow. Just wow.

Now the real work begins. Can he do it? He may not be the flashiest guy on the planet, but that’s not what the sport needs right now either. It needs painstakingly thorough work, cleaning up the UCI organization, cleaning up the constitution, figuring out how to promote all aspects of cycling, not just men’s road racing.

Most of all, it requires listening to all those people who haven’t been heard in a long time. It means speaking with the great people who used to work at the UCI but left because they couldn’t stand the atmosphere. Because that’s the truly poisonous part of incompetent leadership, the organization below filters out the good people and retains the garbage.

This is not to say that there haven’t been brave people who have hung on for dear life at the UCI – there have been – but let’s hope that the hopelessly incompetent bunch around McQuaid, including Verbruggen, Verbiest, Strebel and many others, will finally leave this sport alone.

Good Luck Brian.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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