Archive for the 'bike politics' Category

Consultation overload

December 13, 2012

The UCI is funding the “UCI Independent Commission” (UCIIC) looking into whether or not it is complicit in the doping problems ransacking the sport. Some expect good things from the UCIIC, others think it’s window-dressing because the man suggesting its members has close ties to McQuaid & Verbruggen. I’m willing to keep an open mind.

Simultaneously, the UCI is starting a “wide-ranging consultation exercise involving all cycling’s stakeholders to build a bright future for cycling and work together to tackle issues of concern within the sport.” Although the focus is very different (looking at the past vs. the future), it feels the two could get in the way of each other.

Furthermore, the written invitation was sent to some, but far from all stakeholders. As I didn’t receive an invite (nor would I have expected one), I’ll offer my free consultation session here.

Probably the oddest part of this consultation is that although some sponsors have received an invite, the concept of “sponsor” is completely absent from the topics of consultation suggested in the letter.

So cycling, the sport with the greatest reliance on sponsors of any major sport (due to its lack of a box office and its relatively low TV contracts) is going to try and build a bright future without discussing how sponsors might feature in it?

Another issue is that the time to respond is excessively short. I received the letter On December 10, not directly from the UCI but via-via-via-via. Several important sponsors I spoke to are unaware of the existence of this letter even today. Yet the final date to respond was on December 10!

Of course the UCI can run any consultation it sees fit, and invite whomever they want. However, if the goal is to truly get input from all stakeholders and really build a bright future, more time, more participants and more topics may be required. Doing so would give the process more credibility.

It may mean that this process ends after the UCIIC reports its findings, which may not be what some intended. But I think that would actually be better; first deal with the past and then with the future. Otherwise, should the UCIIC lay blame with some of people involved in the consultation, it would immediately taint the outcome of said consultation. And that definitely would not help in building a bright future.

What a great month

December 7, 2012

What a great month of cycling it’s been. No doping, no discussions about investigations, barely a douchebag tweet seeping through. For me at least.

Because while the storms seemed to be swirling around the cycling world, I decided to stick my head in the sand – literally on a few occasions – by just spending the month riding my bike on- and off-road. Where I had thought that being in Canada for the whole month would be an impediment, I logged around 1,000km (which is a lot for me) and I still have all my fingers and toes.

And you know what, I feel good about it. In the end, that’s the real cycling, the stuff you do yourself out on the roads and trails. If pro cycling can’t get its act together, there’s no reason we should feel sorry for anybody. If they do get their act together, it’s just a bonus, be it a magnificent bonus of being able to watch the best sport in the world without the constantly nagging doubts. Time will tell.

So does this mean I’ll continue to ignore pro cycling? While I like the adage of “If ignorance is bliss, why be knowledgeable”, there’s little doubt that – as the Dutch say and wonderfully inappropriate as a cycling expression – “the blood creeps where it can’t go”.

I believe that transparency is one of the biggest agents for change, so you can expect this blog to continue to make observations about pro cycling. And if some of those sometimes highlight something some of you missed, then that will be my little contribution to transparency.

Forget backdating

October 31, 2012

Speaking of Lance’s 1999 cortisone positive, the “guilty or not” discussion always focuses on proving the prescription was backdated. What’s usually ignored is that even without backdating, it is undisputed – even by the UCI* – that their rules were broken.

  • Lance was tested at the 1999 Tour and both A and B sample showed cortisone.
  • AT THE TIME OF TESTING, Lance did not reveal he had a medical authorization for cortisone.
  • According to the rules, only medical authorizations revealed AT THE TIME OF TESTING can be considered.
  • So it doesn’t matter if a medical authorization is produced later on, even if it is dated (honestly or otherwise) before the test.
  • The only way a medical authorization is acceptable under the rules is if it is revealed at the time of the test.

So by accepting a medical authorization that was not presented at the time of testing, the UCI broke its own anti-doping rules. If according to your own information you broke your own rules, surely it’s time to go.

* When I say “undisputed even by the UCI”, I mean that I sent this to the UCI more than 2 weeks ago for verification. You may remember they once chastized me for not doing so, although in the same breath they said “the result of UCI’s anti-doping work has been unanimously recognized by international experts”, so I am not entirely sure if their offer for verification was entirely serious. At any rate, they didn’t have any comment on the chain of events that I describe.


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.

Time to celebrate Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès

October 19, 2012


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.