Monday, May 31, 2010

This Memorial Day, 2010

Memorial Day for me was long linked to New Jersey's Tour of Somerville, a race I won as a junior and finished 3rd in as an elite yet always, always enjoyed. But the reality of the holiday is that is was conceived of to commemorate US soldiers who died during military service - something a trite more serious than my winning or losing a bike race in Jersey, eh?

My father and both his brothers served in the US Army, and while I never had the chance to don a uniform, I often thought what an honor it would be, and even went so far as to meet with recruiters for different branches of the service.

For most Americans, despite our being at war in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the notion of "war" is about as foreign a concept as Chinese human rights - there's no basis for even attempting to approximate the experience of one who's lived through a conflict, let alone fought in it (never mind he who died in battle, or those left behind). Yet I myself am fascinated by that momentous event known as World War II and never tire of learning more about the men who fought for both the Allies and the Axis, the various campaigns in which they died and their individual stories of heroism and triumph. Right now I'm especially interested in fighter aces of the German Luftwaffe, men who were probably some of the noblest soldiers in an ignoble conflict.

The highest-scoring ace of the war - and indeed the history of air combat - was the German Erich Hartmann, with 352 confirmed kills (and certainly many more that went unconfirmed). Three-hundred-and-fifty-two confirmed kills! By contrast, the last "Ace" in the US Navy was Randall "Duke" Cunningham, who scored five confirmed aerial victories during the Vietnam War. I cite the disparity in their scores not because I think Hartmann was any better a pilot than Cunningham, but rather because the historical conditions that enabled the German to tally such an unprecedented number of kills will likely never be repeated. And yet Hartmann was not the only German to have shot-down more than 300 opponents! His compatriot Gerhard Barkhorn claimed 301! (List of WWII air aces.)

We live in an age of technology so complex and sophisticated that nowadays a pilot need not even see with his own eyes the hostile enemy aircraft he intends to shoot down. And yet the danger to these men - and women - is no less great than it was for Hartmann and Barkhorn while they hacked away on the Eastern Front. Nor was the threat of death any less real for Randy Cunningham - though it wouldn't be a North Vietnamese MIG fighter that brought-about the California native's downfall, but rather a corruption scandal while he was a member of the US Congress... (proof that even heroes are mortal men who can be led astray by the temptations of a very material, self-focused world?) Cunningham's failures as a leader stand in direct contrast to Hartmann's heroism both during the War and after, when he endured 10 years of Soviet captivity.

But despite their fascinating stories, and service to their respective countries, neither man lost his life in combat. And while both deserve the recognition that has been duly accorded them, let us spare a thought now for the tens of thousands of American soldiers unknown to us who throughout the years have made the ultimate sacrifice and given their lives in battle to defend the interests of a nation and her people.

I previously wrote about Remembrance Day, and "Der Gute Kamerad,", a video of which I'll repost below. But let me leave you with "In Flanders Fields," written during WW I on 3 May 1915 by Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae:

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Russia: Ex-Premier Accuses Putin in Tycoon’s Trial

Vladimir V. Putin, then Russia’s president, ordered the prosecution of an oil tycoon because he was supporting political parties without Mr. Putin’s permission, former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said in court on Monday. The tycoon, Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, owner of the now bankrupt Yukos company, and his partner, Platon Lebedev, are accused of embezzling 350 million tons of oil. After Mr. Khodorkovsky was arrested, Mr. Kasyanov, left, pressed Mr. Putin for an explanation. “He said something like this: That Yukos was financing political parties — not just the Union of Right Forces and Yabloko, which he, President Putin, allowed them to finance, but also the Communist Party, which he, President Putin, did not allow them to finance,” Mr. Kasyanov testified. He said he was shocked to learn that “lawful support of political parties still required secret approval from the president of the Russian Federation.
By ELLEN BARRY - May 24, 2010

Saturday, May 22, 2010

UCI: A Dirty Deal - The Unjustified Firing of Vladimir Gusev

According to the English-translation of an article reposted by NY Velocity, the case of the Russian rider Vladimir Gusev uncovers the concealment, the parallel system of justice and the abuse of power in the International Cycling Union UCI. It also suggests how riders like Lance Armstrong and his team director Johan Bruyneel have been able to get away with the accusations such as the ones their former teammate Floyd Landis launched this week. I myself am privy to less-than-flattering details of questionable dealings by UCI officials (more on that sometime later), and despite what's been said by some, it's absolutely possible to corrupt the anti-doping process by encouraging manipulation on the UCI side. But the following article is even more damning than any accusations we could level. Apologies to both NY Velocity and Klaus Wivel for reposting...

The Unjustified Firing

By KLAUS WIVEL, Weekendavisen, May 22, 2010

FEW examples are better at illustrating how the top of the international cycling world works than the case of Vladimir Gusev.

According to many critics the story of the Russian rider shows the power abuse, it shows how the greatest teams get special treatment, and it reveals the system of parallel justice which prevails independently of the sports courts and which riders have to follow. Thus, cycling’s most famous team manager Johan Bruyneel has been able to give orders to the presumably independent anti-doping department of the International Cycling Union UCI.

The case adds fuel the allegations that Bruyneel and his main rider Lance Armstrong has received special treatment by the UCI doping authorities. This week Wall Street Journal reported that their former teammate, the scandalized American rider Floyd Landis, accused Armstrong of systematic doping with help from Bruyneel.

According to Weekendavisen’s sources the treatment of Vladimir Gusev reveals the power abuse and the parallel justice prevailing outside the official sport courts.

The story can also been seen as another example of the socalled 'black list' that several riders and observers believe prevails in UCI (see article 'Fxxx off', Weekendavisen, March 26, 2010, ed.). This “black list” allegedly points to the fact that some riders are being punished and others get allowed to run although they have made the same offense.

The story of Russian rider’s misfortune also tells of the law of silence which dominates professional cycling which is why it is appropriate to give a note of warning: If you as a journalist wish to get to the bottom of this story then you are forced to use hidden sources. Crucial parts of this article is based on testimonies from people who do not wish their names to appear. I should also state that Vladimir Gusev himself and his lawyer have not wished to contribute to the article.

The story begins in autumn 2007. The young and talented Russian is riding for the Kazakh team Astana which is only just over a year old and in which several riders already have been found guilty of doping. Among is also the founder of Astana, Kazakhstan's star rider Alexander Vinokourov, who was taken for blood doping during the Tour de France in 2007 and kicked out of the race with his team.

Astana is in other words in a crisis. To clean up and restore a positive image Belgian team director Johan Bruyneel is recruited. One of the first thing he does is to associate the Danish anti-doping doctor Rasmus Damsgaard, who has successfully established an internal anti-doping program on Bjarne Riis' Team CSC – a team which met its great challenge during the scandalous Spanish Operation Puerto in 2006. By virtue of his independent test system Damsgaard shall act as a guarantor that the riders are clean so that Astana may send a signal to the outside world that the team takes the fight against doping seriously.

Bruyneel also recruits Alberto Contador who he managed when the Spaniard won the Tour de France in 2007. Therefore it comes as an unpleasant surprise for the team when the organization behind the Tour de France in February 2008 announces that the team will not be allowed to participate in Tour de France 2008 because of the many doping scandals depriving Contador of his opportunity to defend his yellow jersey. Astana is suddenly in danger of closing. More than ever Bruyneel needs to show that Astana can take care of the problem.

In May 2008 Rasmus Damsgaard discovers that Vladimir Gusev has "abnormal blood values". According to the Dane the test suggests that Gusev has taken the performance-enhancing drug EPO. Damsgaard informs Bruyneel of his findings.

Two months later - in the middle of a TV broadcast on Belgian TV, where he is hired as a commentator for the Tour de France 2008 - Bruyneel announces that he has fired Gusev on the basis of their internal anti-doping program. The message receives maximum press coverage and the news goes around the world.

Fighting doping is not what the Belgian sports director and former rider has been known for. Alongside Lance Armstrong he built a bicycle empire during the American's seven year reign over Tour de France until Armstrong retired in 2005. And it had always seemed as if the two led a war against doping inspectors and too pushy questions from journalists and others who suggested that American's incredible feat was based on illegal drugs. They were often met with letters from Armstrong’s and Bruyneel’s lawyer.

Floyd Landis is probably receiving the same kind of letters these days. This week the Wall Street Journal reported that the American rider who was stripped of his victory in the Tour de France in 2006 after testing positive for testosterone send three emails to the highest authorities of cycling, including the UCI. In the mails Landis describe how he and several other American riders, including Armstrong, whom Landis rode with at U.S. Postal, used dope for years, among others blood transfusions and EPO. Landis could also report that it was Bruyneel who in 2002 and in 2003 introduced him to doping. The team manager told him how to use EPO and blood doping without being detected by the doping authorities.
In the very detailed emails Landis writes that the blood bags were stored in a refrigerator which was hidden in Armstrong's closet. Landis calls the fight against doping a 'charade'.

Landis also states that Armstrong in 2002 “while winning the Tour de Swiss, the month before the Tour de France, tested positive for EPO at which point he and Mr Bruyneel flew to the UCI headquarters and made a financial agreement with Mr. Verbruggen to keep the positive test hidden.” Mr Verbruggen was at that time the president of the International Cycling Union UCI.

Both Bruyneel and Armstrong has rejected the accusations and accused Landis of trying to blackmail them.

Perhaps more surprisingly Pat McQuaid, the now president of UCI who always talks of his firm commitment in fighting doping, did not pause for many hours before he flat out refused to give Landis’ allegation any credit. McQuaid questioned Landis’ motives and indicated that statements given by a doping sinner should not by taken at face value.

When he was UCI president, Hein Verbruggen has actually told the press that Armstrong for years had given a considerable amount of money to UCI’s anti-doping campaing. When Verbruggen informed the press about this Eurosport wondered why captain Armstrong really supported the ones who had plagued him for years and who have pushed good friends as Tyler Hamilton into a scandalized early retirement?

In April 2005 Eurosport asked Armstrong if Verbruggen was correct and the American confirmed.
"So, if I've done money to the UCI to combat doping, step up controls and to fund research, it is not my job to issue a press release. That's a secret thing, because it's the right thing to do," the former cancer patient replied although he never made any secret of his massive financial support for cancer research.

Armstrong admitted that it ”wasn't a small amount of money" he had given to the UCI.
Armstrong himself has repeatedly been accused of doping use. Among other things the French newspaper L'Equipe in August 2005 wrote an article about six of his samples from 1999 that had been studied in a scientific experiment with new tests and which showed traces of EPO.

Because of the time period and due to the circumstances surrounding the revelation Armstrong was never a convicted. According to the The Sunday Times the three times Tour de France winner Greg Lemond stated that Armstrong revealed to him in August 2001 that he used EPO. This week on his own website Lemond writes that he believes “most of Floyd Landis’s statements”.

But Landis admites that he has no proof. Armstrong actually managed to win seven Tour de France victories as captain of an unusually clean team. Not a single rider on Armstrong and Bruyneel team were ever revealed as doping offenders. It took more than a decade until a minor Chinese rider a few weeks ago was charged at the couple's new team RadioShack for using the banned substance clenbuterol. It seems quite impressive when taking in account the wealth of doping cases that has devastated the sport the past decade.

However many have wondered why some of the riders that since switched from Armstrong and Bruyneel team to another team soon eventually would fall into the doping trap. Several of their former teammates have since been convicted, including Roberto Heras, Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis.

During last years Tour de France news surfaced that could indicate that the UCI were less strict when it came to controlling the riders of Armstrong and Bruyneel. At the time Armstrong had returned from his temporary retirement in an ambitious attempt to regain the Tour de France in 2009. Of course it was his old friend Bruyneel who brought him to his new team Astana in autumn 2008. With Armstrong and Contador and with a new anti-doping profile the Tour de France organizers showed mercy on the team and invited Astana to partake in the Tour de France 2009.

The road seemed paved and apparently in more senses than one.

During last year's Tour de France when Contador and Armstrong took the first and third-place the head of the French anti-doping agency Pierre Bordry complained that the UCI doping inspectors showed "laxity" when it came to doping testing Astana riders. According to French sports newspaper L'Equipe UCI inspectors drank coffee with employees of Astana and waited a full hour to test the team's riders. "There was a little bit of avoiding going on," the French minister of sport Roselyne Bachelot told French TV.

During the same tour the French anti-doping authorities found "suspicious syringes" in Astana’s waste container.

Bruyneel has dismissed the events as a form of witch hunt from the French authorities who allegedly have always been envious of the fact that it was an American - and not a Frenchman - who had taken their precious Tour. This point of view he shares with many of the journalists Weekendavisen have spoken to in connection with this article. They view the allegations as theories of conspiracy.

It may seem ironic that it is precisely the one that Bruyneel actually got fired due to evidence of doping which really gives the Belgian problems.

Vladimir Gusev sued Astana for unfair dismissal and taking the case to sport's highest legal body CAS. He wins in summer 2008. There was no valid evidence that Gusev had "violated the rules of UCI and/or WADA," as stated in the sentence. As compensation Astana owners is asked to pay the young Russian rider over 650,000 euros in damages. A very considerable amount.

Until now the story has been based on open sources. Here the closed sources begin to take over.
Despite the CAS-decision Gusev experiences that no team wishes to hire him, according to the sources because Bruyneel spread the rumor that the young Russian had stuffed himself with EPO. The compensation which Astana’s owners owed Gusev was also being delayed.

In the spring of 2009 WADA changed the rules which made it possible to test for the kind of EPO, Rasmus Damsgaard told Bruyneel he had found in Russian’s urine sample and get him convicted.
Damsgaard while still working for Astana asked Anne Gripper - who was then leader of the UCI anti-doping office – that she should consider Gusev’s test again according to the new WADA laws. She did as she had been told.

According to the critics this was a crucial mistake. This made UCI vulnerable for charges that the anti-doping work did not work independently of the teams. According to Weekendavisen’s sources UCI actively and on demand from a private team tried to get a rider convicted who had a CAS verdict that his firing was unjustified. They view this as evidence that Bruyneel does indeed get special treatment from UCI.

Gusev and his lawyers got wind of the new initiative and took action. Through a confidential litigation in a civil court in Switzerland they accused UCI of testing samples that were taken in connection with an internal control in Astana. In addition they accused UCI of giving Gusev's name to the laboratory where the samples according to the law must be anonymised in order to prevent power abuse.
The Swiss Civil Court judged in favor of Gusev and his team. UCI was not allowed to reconsider his samples. The case also came before CAS and sport the highest legal authority reiterated verdict from the civil court.

This case was completed some weeks ago and finally Gusev got his money from Astana’s owners. By now he had won all the trials, but he still had no team, although almost two years had gone by since Astana fired him.

But Gusev had a trump card. He could sue UCI for damages. A new civil trial threatened to be long and expensive and Pat McQuaid devised a plan. According to Weekendavisen’s sources he suggested Gusev a deal. If the Russian did not demand compensation from the UCI, Pat McQuaid would in turn help him find a team. The 27-year-old Russian would rather ride than to spend the rest of his cycling career in the courtrooms. He said yes.

At the beginning of this month Gusev signed contract with the new Russian ProTour team Katusha.

According to Rasmus Damsgaard he himself took initiative to contact the UCI because he believed that Gusev's EPO result should be reconsidered under the new WADA-laws.

"The fact is that all urine samples followed the usual anti-doping practices and that the tests I was planning on Astana riders were UCI samples. The trails are judged on a wrong basis."

The Danish doctor says he proofed that Gusev was doped.

"I do not believe that Gusev is cleared of the accusations. The Russian is only represented by some talented lawyers who have managed to raise doubts among judges about the technicalities," says Damsgaard. He states that Bispebjeg Hospital where he worked can not be categorized as a private company. It was certified by the UCI to view the samples.

“My work on the bike teams have always been conducted under the condition that all samples were taken, analyzed and evaluated in accordance with WADA and UCI rules," says Rasmus Damsgaard.
Damsgaard believes that the Gusev case should be viewed as a story about doping sinners who was protected by outdated rules.

Weekendavisen’s sources on the other hand says that the case shows that the UCI and the cycling’s top manager can determine who is to ride and not ride. The sources also say that Gusev’s case reveals that Bruyneel, whose riders not until recently has tested positive for doping, has direct influence on UCI’s anti-doping work.

“The current system is not sufficiently transparent and the key roles are not sufficiently independent. The UCI acts as administrator, investigator, prosecutor and judge,” says Martin Hardie an anti-doping expert and lecturer in law at Deakin University in Australia.

“It matches the anonymous samples against the names of riders, decides who will be prosecuted and whether they are guilty. This situation is fraught with legal problems. It also renders the UCI vulnerable to allegations of improper and unfair conduct. Allegations such as these in the Gusev matter reflect serious mistrust in the integrity of the UCI. Proper and transparent processes will protect not only the riders but also the UCI”

Martin Hardie views the Gusev case is yet another example of the tendency which has bothered riders, managers and cycle reporters for a long time: It reveals that some riders can do anything without being punished and other riders are being punished even if they are acquitted.

For example, the International Cycling Union works actively at expanding the prohibition to the whole world which the Spanish rider Alejandro Valverde has recieved against riding in Italy. Valverde was allegedly involved in the case of blood doping known as Operation Puerto in 2006, but he has never been banned by the Spanish Cycling Union. However his compatriot Contador who has worked for Bruyneel until recently whose his initials allegedly were found on some of the many blood bags in 2006 is still free to ride. UCI is not running any campaign against him nor are they pursuing Fränk Schleck from Bjarne Riis’ CSC Team although he also was in involved in Operacion Puerto because he send money to the doctor who is charged with running the illegal program.

From Michael Rasmussen's case we also know that some riders who are have served their doping convictions are excluded for life while others are allowed to return. Two of these riders play a key role in this year's Giro d'Italia. One, the Italian Ivan Basso - who in 2007 received a two year ban for his part in Operacion Puerto and apologised after having served his sentence - got a big contract and is riding excellently. The second, Alexander Vinokourov - who also served a two-year sentence - returned to Astana although he made no apology. He also rides incredibly well again.

When the Kazakhstani recently won Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Christian Prudhomme, head of Tour de France - which also organizes the spring classics – said that he is now free to participate in this year's edition of the Tour de France.

"It's like in real life. Vinokourov made a mistake, he was punished, he has served his sentence and returned," the director declared.

These principles do not apply to everybody. Michael Rasmussen who unlike Vinokourov has never been tested positive cannot return. Perhaps it is because he continues to complain about these unfair conditions.

”The UCI’s conduct renders it vulnerable to accusations that it plays favourites with those coming back from bans,” the Australian Martin Hardie says.

“Favoritism would be a clear breach of the UCI's duty to treat all its constituency in a fair and impartial manner. This possibility adds to the concerns of riders who are still subject to a ban that they could be sacrificial lambs, offered to show some evidence of action against doping, while the administrative status quo is preserved.”

Pat McQuaid has assured Weekendavisen two months ago that he does not interfere with whom the ProTour teams employ - or don’t employ. He stated this was when the president was asked to respond to allegations that the UCI is threatening teams who wishes to hire Michael Rasmussen. The Gusev case shows that he himself certainly believes that he has the ability to interfere. It did not take long after Gusev and McQuaid reached their secret agreement before the Russian rider was back in top cycling again.

Weekendavisen has not been able to secure a statement from Pat McQuaid, Johan Bruyneel and Lance Armstrong.

Friday, May 21, 2010

USA Cycling Inquiry

The post concerning Levi Leipheimer's positive doping test from 1996 has been updated to include the email response from USA Cycling to our request that they confirm the sanction and provide some measure of detail concerning it. You can find it here. Enjoy your weekend, and if time permits - ride your bike! We'll leave you with this - a photo from Ed Hood taken at this year's GIRO:

Floyd - Speak No Evil?

As I mentioned before, there are those who say that in cycling there is Omertà. But at least the mafia takes care of its own. In cycling you’re expected to keep quiet, deny the truth and protect your former teammates and rivals, even as they call you a crazy bastard and laugh that you’re a pathetic egoist.

UCI President Pat McQuaid told the Associated Press that Landis' allegations were "scandalous and mischievous."

"These guys coming out now with things like this from the past is only damaging the sport. If they've any love for the sport they wouldn't do it." - Pat McQuaid

Doping is such a corrupting process that it's hardly surprising to me that Floyd Landis would deny having cheated for four years, only to suddenly and violently reveal not just his guilt, but that of his former teammates. The economic incentives alone could have been enough (at the time) to persuade him to fight an illegitimate campaign. But in the end, like Greg LeMond predicted it would, the corrosive effect of living a lie finally got to Floyd and he cracked, but in a cathartic way. It's no doubt a bitter, disappointing experience for those who supported Landis for all these years (and worse for those who gave him money), but at the same time his confession and accusations hold the potential to help the sport. Seeing the reaction of Pat McQuaid alone was worth the chaos Floyd caused. McQuaid revealed that he - and by extension UCI - still cling to the mentality that exposing malfeasance in cycling by yourself or others is bad for business. [Irish radio interview with McQuaid, here.]  He also trotted out that lame complaint that if riders loved the sport, they wouldn't drag it through the mud by talking about doping. Anymore, that's like defending segregation during the height of the civil rights movement.

I've read through countless emails and comments responding to Landis' admissions, but admit that I feel  disappointment at the sudden ambivalence manifested by many who were apoplectic in the aftermath of previous doping revelations. That the first time a member of Lance's most inner-sanctum accuses him of cheating and provides detailed notes concerning what happened - only to be dismissed in some quarters as a kook - well, this in itself is telling.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Floyd Landis - Admission of Doping - The Armstrong Myth

On Friday, April 23, 2010, I authored the following post for Pappillon: "LeMond was clean; maybe Ullrich could have been, too?" In it, I wrote:

"I'll give L.A. credit for protecting himself by linking the fortunes of so many individuals and organizations to his own fate, thereby creating a determined network of defenders. I think it highly likely possible, however, that someone in his inner circle will break the omertà eventually, however, and he'll may be a big enough name not to be marginalized. Who this courageous individual might be, I dare not do not know and will not speculate, but he is may be out there, waiting."

Obviously that day is upon us, and that person is none other than Floyd Landis.

Floyd Landis is incredibly courageous in coming forth now to finally share his true experiences in the world of professional cycling and at the side of Lance Armstrong. The culture of doping is so pervasive in our sport that it encourages good people to do bad things. But Floyd is now doing the right thing, and telling the truth. I support him fully and unequivocally, and in no way doubt the veracity of any of the statements he's made regarding doping at USPS and Phonak. As for Lance Armstrong, the accusations against him cast serious doubt upon his credibility, and have forever altered the "Armstrong Myth."

UPDATED: It’s very easy for Lance Armstrong, Pat McQuaid and others to say that Floyd Landis has no credibility after his having claimed for four years that he was a clean rider. But it’s often only after the doping lie has nearly consumed you that it becomes possible to let go of the lie – face the truth – and admit to yourself, your family, and the world the magnitude of what you’ve done. What choice did Floyd have? Keep lying? For what? To protect a system that ground him up and spit him out like dirt? Everyone says that in cycling there is Omertà. But at least the mafia takes care of its own. In cycling you’re expected to keep quiet, deny the truth and protect your former teammates and rivals, even as they call you a crazy bastard and say you’re a pathetic egoist. No, Floyd Landis is a courageous man, because he no longer is willing to perpetuate a lie – and the Armstrong Myth. I support him unequivocally and have no reason to doubt the veracity of his claims.

Bonnie Ford at ESPN provides coverage here.  
WSJ here.
NY Daily News - here.
Late to the party: The NY Times.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Leipheimer Quits Radioshack, Resigns with Astana

In the space of just a few paragraphs during the Tour of California's Stage 3 race report (via, Levi Leipheimer apparently quit the Radioshack squad and resigned with Astana.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Help Identify this Rider, Please!

Pappillon is asking its readers to help identify the rider in the following photo, for cycling photographer and archivist Hugo T. in Belgium. If you know the identity of the mystery cyclist (ex-Trek/Livestrong 2009?), would you please enlighten us and leave the info in a comment? Thanks!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Roddy Hammersmythe podcasts at Twisted Spoke

Roddy Hammersmythe is a versatile rider, a rouler, hard man and captain on the road for Team Sky’s debut at the prestigious Giro D’Italia. The last man signed by manager Scott Sunderland, Roddy brings a wealth of experience and a dominating personality whenever and wherever there’s a bike race to be won. Right now that race is in Italy, and friend-of-Pappillon Twisted Spoke will be talking with Roddy via phone after each stage to get his unique and entertaining view of the Giro d’Italia.

There is no mistaking the excitment and passion Roddy brings to Team Sky. “My role is to bring the hammer,” he says. That’s the attitude, right? I set the tone on the squad and it’s all about the hammer.”

Working with a British team and so many British riders is a dream come true from Hammersmythe. “We got got something special here, it’s like when Deep Purple would hit the stage or Led Zeppelin. The lads believe in each other and we’re putting on a show,” says Roddy. We’re here to rock ‘n’ roll, top the podium and score UCI points.”

With major stars like Bradley Wiggins, Evald Boassen Hagen and Juan Antonio Flecha, it would be easy to overlook the major impact that Roddy has on the squad. “He’s the spark plus, the emotional leader of Sky, he brings the hammer,” says manager Scott Sunderland. “He makes my job easy, because Roddy knows exactly what to do at any given moment in a race. There’s nothing he hasn’t seen or done.”

Stay tuned to Twisted Spoke because we’re sure you’ll be hearing plenty from Roddy as team Sky tackles the Giro for the first time.

Regarding the Opening Stages of the Giro d'Italia

While Christian Vande Velde can't possibly have anything good to say about the opening road stages of the Giro, having crashed-out of the beautiful Italian Grand Tour on the same day for the second year running (stage 3, this time), and we lament his forced-abandonment ("crabandonment"?) the more sophisticated cycling fans are savoring two days of road racing in Holland that saw game-changing racing in week one of a GT.

No one likes to see riders like CVV abandon because of injuries sustained in a crash, but watching Brad Wiggins be all but eliminated from the GC when he couldn't get back to the first echelon, just as overnight leader Cadel Evans lost the leader's jersey because he, too, missed the split and was left isolated, without a single BMC teammate to help him chase...this was fiercely beautiful racing that evoked memories of the Merckx-era, when anyone with aspirations of winning a GT was expected to fight for supremacy from the first kilometers of the race if the conditions demanded it. Francois the Postman, a contributor to the forum, explained it best after today's stage (3) and we quote him here:

"Normally I am sorta lukewarm about the opening stages, but this was great viewing, and we certainly are hitting Italy with an almost perfect set-up for fireworks.

It's a shame some folk got really hurt on the road, but I totally disagree with the Eurosport commentators. To me the last two days highlighted what I really dislike in most stage races, that they are taking all risks out of racing by sticking to wide roads and perfect run-ins. Always felt they were neutering something that I think is part and parcel of a GT: endurance, trial, challenge.

Knowing that the end run ins are following the usual pattern, and cruising on great roads to it, it just breeds that calculated let's have an escape group dangling out there and then reel them comfortably in when it's "that time". A flat stage style that I hate, but have been forced to endure far far too often. Here, that really doesn't work as a race approach.

The only thing that would have worked, as pointed out, is to make the race on Dutch roads hard from the get-go, to make that big group smaller, and thus the road less risky. I know we have a long 3 weeks ahead of us. So what? Isn't it the point that no stage should be "comfortable, controllable and predictable? We got waaay to used to "the normal way" a 3 week GT rolls out. The last 2 days showed that that doesn't need to be the way. You don't even need tome bonuses to create interesting gaps artificially.

Everyone knew yard by yard where they would be racing. If they were so keen their main man really safe, teams were simply not deploying the right attack attitude: make the race a lot harder. They chose not to. And reaped the rewards for that attitude: Dutch lottery.

But why should only mountain stages run folk into the red in the last week and a bit?

It proved to me that the current crop of GT specialists, riders and directors, can learn a trick or two from the classic folk too: how to race here. We have started to specialize over the last decade and a bit. Well, please let that era come to end quickly if the stages can be this entertaining from the start.

As a group, they were bloody nervous, out of their comfort zone, and, ironically, too careful. And that was responsible for more crashes than anything the road threw at them.

And the main riders who actually have more all-round skills knew it. Even after yesterday's crash fest, the only thing I got from most interviews by the big names was that the nervousness was fingered more than the actual route taken.

So, to my delight, 2 great telly days. And we are having some great gaps, after the first 2 proper stages. And all we crossed was a pancake. Wow.

Glad they brought the Tour here too. Could keep me more awake than usual during the first days."

For Pappillon, the real treat is to see Vino in pink! We can't wait for Wednesday's TTT!

Saturday, May 08, 2010

C3 = Cadel Craves Cash

[Note: I'm well aware of the fact that Cadel's millions aren't being earned from book royalties.]

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Thomas Frei and Doping as a Public Health Issue

Former BMC domestique, Thomas Frei, who previously rode for Astana, spoke in greater detail about his involvement in doping in cycling and explained the motivation to cheat, and the conflict he experienced in doing so. A translated version of the interview he gave to NZZ Online is available here.

I'm not surprised that he articulates a feeling of relief at being caught, almost a liberation. He says that once having begun to dope, the only way out was with a positive test:

NZZ: Jetzt, da Sie überführt wurden und Sie gestanden haben, sind Sie erleichtert?
Now that you have been convicted and have been you, you will be relieved? 

TF: Ja. So doof das klingt: Wenn man mal mit Doping begonnen hat, ist der einzige Ausweg die positive Probe.
Yes. So stupid that sounds, if one has even begun with doping, is the only way the positive sample. [That is, once you've started doping, the only way you stop is by testing positive.]

I was recently asked if I would have continued doping 1) had I not been caught and 2) had Whistle gone ahead and delivered me the lucrative contract they promised for 2007 when the team would become Cinelli-Endeka-OPD.

My response:

"I don’t think it would have mattered if I’d gotten a huge contract or not, b/c my subconscious had already done me in – I believe that I subconsciously wanted to get caught b/c it was the only way I would stop doping. I consciously don’t think that I could have brought myself to the point of stopping, b/c it facilitated my continued , participation in elite cycling in Europe. But I didn’t want to continue and remember a moment of self-reflection when I recoiled at the fact that I had become more adept at injecting myself w/ an IV than most nurses."

David Millar has consistently expressed a similar sentiment, though at first I thought he was just being self-serving. Now, however, I understand that doping exerts a powerful hold over its practitioners, and even the ones who would seem to have a strong sense of character and an intellectual understanding of right and wrong can find it inescapable.

In 2004, Millar told the Guardian UK, "You dope because you are a prisoner of yourself, of glory, of money. I was a prisoner of the person that I had become."

And then earlier this year, during an interview with Cycling Weekly, Millar described his two-year ban and forced hiatus from the sport as something that he no longer saw as destructive:

"That's a positive of getting caught, and getting out of that spiral I was in. It allowed me to reboot my life. There's no way I'd be here now, if none of that stuff had happened, and if I'd continued the linear development I was on as a young athlete, I wouldn't have found such happiness. You end up in this eternal, success-driven, materialistic world. I escaped that by losing everything and having to start again."

The theme of being trapped, of being a prisoner to doping is constant. And what can or should you do with riders like this after they've gone positive? Do you try to flip them and prey on their own self-loathing in hopes of turning them publicly against doping and the riders they know who remain undiscovered, or do you just banish them without study, intending to make a harsh example to others of what happens when an athlete is caught?

My own situation not withstanding, I'm wondering if doping is not something that could also be studied as more of addiction-related condition, rather than just a question of greed or criminal behavior. When someone wants to stop (as Frei implies he did) but can't, and even says that only testing positive would halt the individual's cheating...maybe appeals limited to the ethical or moralistic aspects of a rider's personality are incomplete and should be augmented not just by threats of prosecution, but also by approaches one might use with an addict? Before anyone makes the mistake of thinking that I'm trying to excuse such behavior, I'm not. But if there is a disease component to someone's anti-social behavior, is that a valid point of inquiry when searching for a solution?

This WADA report on the attitudes and experiences of medical doctors towards doping in the Balkan region is an interesting starting-point for further study.