Saturday Shorts

There’s been a big focus on the Giro this week and no wonder given it’s the second biggest race on the calendar, with an open list of contenders, some good scenery and a variety of chances. But there’s been plenty more happening during the past week and more to come in the days ahead.

The Tour of California
Eight stages and some stunning scenery, it’s a shame this has to clash with the Giro d’Italia. If there was ever an argument to reshape the calendar, having a race with the potential of the Tour of California clash with the historic Giro

The US deserves a big race given the sport’s growth and the nation’s wealth. Whilst there’s talk of globalising the sport and organising new races in various police states and dictatorships, getting big coverage in the US is a vital attraction for international sponsors.

Away from the politics the sport should be good with summit finishes and a decisive 30km time trial. A lot of the coverage has focussed on Levi Leipheimer’s injuries but there are many more contenders, from Vincenzo Nibali to Chris Horner and my pick, Tejay van Garderen of BMC Racing.

Tour of Azerbaijan
Talking of tough places to run a race, there’s some action in Azerbaijan (pictured above). The central Asian state has had its own tour for some time but its status has just been bumped up by the UCI. Coincidentally one of the UCI’s most senior officials is linked to a vast gas pipeline project in the country. Just fancy that!

There’s more on this at by Fran Reyes (in Spanish).

Augustyn retires
Perhaps it’s unfair but many will remember John-Lee Augustyn as the rider who fell off a mountain. In 2008 he was leading the Tour de France over the Col de la Bonette, one of Europe’s highest mountain passes and had only to descend to Jausiers to win the stage. But with a slender lead he was racing down and went wide on a bend, sliding down the scree to the horror of TV viewers. A photo in L’Equipe shows what happened. He’s off to open a bike shop in South Africa now. Bonette Bikes?

California Testing
I’ve been worried by the announcements that there will be no blood testing during the Tour of California. If you’re not going to test then perhaps it’s better to keep quiet about it. Instead announcing to the media that there will be no blood tests is an invitation for the desperate or the crooked to cheat knowing there are no tests.

Charteau’s Problems
Sometimes testing is good but can leave more questions than answers. There was a strange story in L’Equipe this week saying the French authorities tested some teams at the Four Days of Dunkirk for corticoids. “According to L’Équipe, one rider did not start Tuesday’s final stage as a result of the tests” said and you don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce it was Anthony Charteau of Europcar.

So what does it mean? Well even Charteau seems confused saying he was surprised by the result, telling L’Equipe he’ll seek medical advice to find out why his natural cortisol levels were so low. It made for an awkward situation where a rider and his team suddenly get huge finger of suspicion pointed at them but with no legal follow-up: there’s no move to prosecute for the odd result and there’s nothing from Charteau to rebutt the piece or even sue for his medical data being made public by French cycling. An odd one.

20 thoughts on “Saturday Shorts”

  1. Very concerning.

    We are going back to the bad old days with the UCI trying desperately to sweep the drug problem under the carpet. With press releases alternating between a ‘full programme of drugs testing’ to ‘targeted tests’ to ‘no longer a problem’ to ‘not as bad as other sports’. It is also of concern that the dark teams especially those from Eastern Europe have done so well this season.

    • Yep, Astana are only winning this season because of their regimental doping. Not because of the talent within the rider base nor all of them being on the verge of a breakthrough. All dopers.

  2. Contador may have been the high point for drug-controls in a way. It makes sense for the UCI to slowly walk back some of the tougher stances they took after the 1998 Festina affair.

    My impression has been that they dove in thinking they could get control of the situation. I have a feeling they are realizing that they will never, truly get a clean peloton. Given this conclusion, it seems somewhat logical that the UCI would make the decision, to gradually dial down testing, but still use past, more rigorous programs to put on appearances of a testing program.

    Again – this is my own personal perception….oh…and the Tour of California is sponsored by Amgen….

    • Yep, my thoughts exactly…

      Can’t have a blood-doping positive at a Tour sponsored buy an EPO manufacturer, so let’s make sure this doesn’t happen by not doing any blood testing! Genius!

  3. Given how far away we fans are from the staff meetings and policy making of the UCI/WADA I don’t know that it’s fair to state “We’re going back to the bad old days” as if it’s fact. I think it’s perfectly understandable to question IF we’re going back to those days, although my guess is that those who were close to the sport in the past would still dispute this.

    It also chafes me like a bad chamois on a long ride to hear the “Amgen puts of the ToC” line when talking about doping. Yep, they do, and yep they make pharmaceuticals that are used by dopers, but they’ve also put a huge investment in the sport by bringing us the ATOC for the past 6 years. Amgen has done more for cycling in the US than all of us who read this combined.

    • Pave:
      While I agree, it is bad to associate causation with correlation, it does seem rather coincidental that the one race which is explicit in its lack of testing is the race sponsored by Amgen.

  4. Last year it was announced long after the ToC was over (many months) that no blood testing was done; it was then that I questioned Chris Horner’s amazing climbing speed at age 39 (Sierra Rd & Mt Baldy), not to mention Levi’s prowess on Baldy, too. I was stunned when I read that and my whole perception of that edition changed. No reason to not have tested and no explanation was given at all.

    And yes, how stupid is it to pre-announce that those same tactics will be in place again?

    My whole perception of this year’s race is jaded, sadly. With Johan sending Horner (at 40) to defend his title in the hardest edition ever, and given the history of teams those two have been on (and others), I’m expecting “surprises” from him. Yes, he finished 2nd at Tirreno in March, but his season has been lacking consistency. [BTW, Jens is also 40, but he’s not riding for GC]

    I second Tejay Van Garderen for the win; he’s a great climber and TT and his confidence and results just keep getting better and better. He’s also got great support from BMC’s solid roster.

    I’m a big fan of Nibali and he will very-well contest this year’s race. He’s also a better TT than Horner and I believe he’s squeaky clean, as I believe Tejay is as well. I’d like to see a TJVG – Nibali battle for the win. Sagan should take stage wins again, too!

  5. Forgot to mention, Nibali finished 6th GC overall in the ’09 ToC. I videoed him chasing Leipheimer up Bonny Doon Rd (Stage 2) and was really impressed. The ’09 edition was part of Armstrong’s infamous, so-called “comeback.” Lance finished 7th GC behind Nibali.

    Check out the great photos from that stormy day: (And folks think it’s always sunny in CA!)

    Regarding the torrential rain and hail we had that day + the 5-degree C temp in Bonny Doon, Lance replied, “Holy hell. That was terrible. Maybe one of the toughest days I’ve had on a bike, purely based on the conditions” – (2009)

    Levi’s words were, “Turn the shower on as cold as it goes and stand in it for 4.5 hours and that’s what it feels like out there!” –, 2/16/2009

  6. 1. California doesn’t test (bad) and it goes into the press (stupid). Who will want to shine in the race? If young Horner does another one of his numbers this week, isn’t it going to play to the detriment of his reputation?

    2. Some kind of “informal” analysis (informal, because apparently there are no sanctions) took place in France. But it becomes published, it becomes “formal” in front of the public opinion, who is as usual hasty to judge and harbour suspicions.

  7. If Horner pulls another super-human feat up Baldy, his rep will indeed be ruined and the credibility of the ToC will be in question (like it should be now). Why would officials chance this? Seems to me the timing couldn’t be worse. Esp with the Texan’s record still being analyzed and guillotines waiting to fall. The US doesn’t need doping in the forefront of minds with its biggest race since the old Red Zinger Bicycle Classic (1975 – 1988), later renamed the Coor’s Classic.

    Worse would be if Levi raced up Baldy with a healing fracture and little training time! Then he’d be right down there with Ricco and the ToC should expect consequences. As Forrest Gump said, “Stupid is as stupid does.”

  8. The problem in United States is that we don’t have the road infrastructure for exciting racing as Europe does. Look at that stage race in Colorado, leave town, ride 100 miles in a straight line, turn right, and sprint. Dull.

    • The problem with the California race is that the main population centers are too far from the real exciting racing in the high Sierras. They are doing a good job of trying to balance this out, and remember, as the race ages and matures, it can take more risks, as if has an established fanbase willing to travel.

      The Colorado race falls more into the issues you speak of, and that is due in large part to modern road building and infrastructure planning. Not to mention, many of the roads are built to make travel to the ski resorts easier, and so the grades are lower in general on the roads.

      Not to mention, the mountains in Colorado are, while high, include many high, large, large expansive valleys….so getting from one population center to another means travel along these roads. I will say, the second to last day they missed a great opportunity, avoiding really steep climbs such as Magnolia.

  9. First ToC requested to change its date to conflict with the Giro; remember the race used to be earlier on the calendar, but the Northern California weather didn’t work out for them with rain. Of course they changed the date last year, but still stuffed it up and went for summit finishes last year that clashed with snow… (how the organizers couldn’t figure that one out is beyond me; if the ski slopes are still open…).

    Second, lack of blood testing does not equate to zero testing; there still is urine testing. Sure, it isn’t as complete, but it isn’t exactly leaving the field open to do as they wish. And just because the race doesn’t contract for blood testing, doesn’t mean USADA/WADA won’t come in and make some house calls per the whereabouts system. Of course openly announcing what you are not going to do is a silly strategy.

  10. USADA last year made a great fanfare about having comprehensive pre competiton testing. Also now on record as doing “all” the pre competiton testing this year, lets assume to a similarly rigorous degree.
    Don’t these results ultimately get typed into the ADAMS system, and thus end up in the rider’s passport profile anyway? Or are USADA presumed to, rather pointlessly, keep these results to themselves. As such if USADA want to do this – let them. Also assumes there is no OOC testing by other ADOs or the UCI on the riders involved in the race.

    So that leaves during the race itself that there are no blood tests, just urine testing. The same as at practically every other race without a rest day following the standard protocols.

    Large number of presumptions being made on very little evidence to these eyes

  11. @Touriste-Routier: You make some very good points, however, let me enlighten you with regards to the weather in Northern California, where I have lived my entire life. The date change was essential because having the race in February was absurd — it’s still pouring rain, esp in NorCal in February. Last year it began in May and it’s not typical for it to be blizzard conditions in May in Lake Tahoe, Sierra Nevada. By May, the weather is usually more predictably nice. This was a disaster because Stage 1 was canceled with very heavy snow and Stage 2 had to be moved down to a lower elevation (and shortened) to get out of the continuing heavy snow conditions.

    So, you shouldn’t blame the organizers unless you are very familiar with weather conditions of this area. Look up how an “El Nino” condition in the Eastern Pacific Ocean affects weather in California; we had an El Nino condition last year, but the route was already planned long before that occurred.

    Your comments about urine testing are a good reminder that some testing should still be happening.
    I haven’t read to the contrary, but who knows? The race begins today, and yes, it’s a shame that it overlaps with the Giro. I really dislike that teams are forced to split their rosters and choose which continent they will send riders to. I’m thrilled that I will get to video Vincenzo Nibali, Peter Sagan, Tom Boonen, Jens Voigt, etc. as Stage 2 winds through steep climbs in my town…but, Nibali, as an Italian, would prefer to contest the Giro. He finished the ToC 6th GC overall in 2009. Has a good chance to win this year, but must get past Tejay Van Garderen and a few others on his way.

    Mr. INRNG picks Tejay VG to win ToC. I think he will battle Nibali for the top step!

    I can assure you that the climbing accomplished here in CA is excellent training for gaining form for the TdF. Even Andy Schleck never made the podium in this race after contesting it a few times.

    • @Roadie61 I lived in CA for 19 years, so am quite familiar with the weather, particularly “El Nino”. All I was stating was that the organizers decided to change the date because the weather wasn’t agreeable with their vision. Of course going for higher elevations when some ski areas are often still open (April/May in the Sierras), wasn’t exactly a well risk managed decision; sure blizzards are rare, but snow is not unheard of.

      The nature of the World Tour forces top teams to have 2 -3 squads competing at all times during the season. This has driven up the cost of running teams. In addition to the Giro & CA, there are several historically significant UCI races in other countries such as the Tour de Picardie, Tour of Belgium, and Bayern Rundfahrt which conflict with the Giro, as well as a host of lesser UCI single day and stage races. There are enough teams and riders to support these events, if organizers and fans will accept that you don’t always get the A list.

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