Sunday Shorts

I hope you’re enjoying the track cycling at the Olympics. It’s proving to be a good contest but at the same time a strange one. For example the rule of one athlete per nation in a race means some of the best riders are left at home, indeed the field is of a lower quality compared to the World Championships. Although because only the best get selected by each nation of course we still get worthy winners. It’s just we’re denied the full show.

One of the joys of the Olympics is that minority sports get big TV airtime and world attention. People take notice of badminton, trampoline and other sports… including track cycling which almost never appears on TV. But the flipside of this is that these sports get a tiny window to show the world what they can do. It’s here that track cycling needs a fundamental review. It is an exciting, dynamic and high speed contest but excluding big names, seeing a farce where riders were celebrating their win only to be be denied and more means it’s probably useful to have fundamental review to make sure the sport looks as attractive as possible and that the speed on the velodrome isn’t diminished by rulings that even the TV crews find hard to communicate to a curious audience.

Olympic Halfway Point
We’re now halfway in the Olympic games and halfway in the Olympic cycling programme too. Nine medals have been awarded and Great Britain lead the cycling medals table by some margin with five gold medals. At this point in the games if British Cycling was a nation it would be eighth in the medal table across all sports.

Bryan Coquard to Europcar
The omnium is currently being led by Frenchman Bryan Coquard. He’s got some way to go before winning a medal but he’s already won a pro contract and will join Europcar for 2013.

Ag2r change tactics

Carlos Betancur
Carlos Betancur

Talking of French teams and recruitment, we got news in the week that Ag2r-La Mondiale have signed Colombian Carlos Betancur and Italian Davide Appollonio. It’s a change in plan for the French squad as they’ve actually recruited two proven winners rather than an invisible rider with a sackload of ranking points. Appollonio will be useful for a few wins in France with his sprint power but Bettancur is a very promising and aggressive rider who can win on a variety of courses.

McQuaid’s Public Confusion
It’s not just on the water where people row backwards, the UCI is now caught in a public spat with the US Anti-Doping Agency USADA.

If you wanted an image to sum pro cycling right now it would have come from last night’s medal ceremony in the London velodrome. Another gold medal for the British team sums up the home nation’s strength but it was also the moment where Canadian lawyer Dick Pound presented the medals alongside UCI President Pat McQuaid.

Pounding the UCI

Pound is the former head of the World Anti-Doping Agency and an outspoken critic of the UCI, he once said the UCI was so blind to the problem of doping that “they should not be allowed outdoors without white canes and seeing-eye dogs“. Pound’s loud ways didn’t work, it just gave President McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen someone to brawl with in public. Now the UCI is being sucked into public spat with USADA over who has jurisdiction of the so-called “US Postal Conspiracy”. It looks appalling. First President McQuaid told the media:

The position of the UCI is that we are not involved in this…it is a USADA investigation, they are doing all the process in the United States. It is nothing to do with the UCI and we will wait and see what the eventual outcome is.

But only days later it turns out the UCI changed its mind and tried to get USADA to stop the investigation so that the UCI could take over matters. Shane Stokes at Velonation is all over the story if you want more.

Whether it likes it or not the UCI is now on the back foot and getting terrible publicity: at best because it can’t understand its own rules and at worst because it gives the impression that it is taking sides. A few people at the top are making the UCI look bad. Worse, the UCI doesn’t have an articulate and confident leader to control the story.

Vuelta a Burgos
The Spanish stage race is a good guide for the Vuelta a Espana. Last year Juan José Cobo won the big mountain stage, a big clue as to his form. Today’s mountain stage is the big test for many so be sure to scan the top-10.

Eneco Tour
For some reason stage races in classics country never seem to work, as if the landscapes that lend themselves to one day battles feel wrong for a stage race. The reverse can hold true too, for example the one day Classique des Alpes never took off as a climber’s one day competition.

Still this time the Eneco Tour starts tomorrow with an extra interest, namely Alberto Contador starts racing again. It’s hardly a race suited to him but he’ll welcome the chance to rub shoulders on rough roads, the kind of experience his training could not replicate and we can see how he performs in the time trials. Watch Taylor Phinney for the overall too, two fourth places in the Olympics mean he is in form and he took his first win as a pro in this race last year.

25 thoughts on “Sunday Shorts”

  1. The UCI is an embarrassment to the sport. I thought there was talk of Vaughters & Co. pursuing an independent federation; have you heard any word of progress on that front?

    Tour of Utah is starting this week as well (!) followed by the US Pro Cycling Challenge at the end of the month. Maybe we could get a second-half of the season preview?

  2. UCI fighting with USADA makes them look like they’re trying to hide something. Whether that is true or not isn’t the issue, it’s the appearance that counts. UCI badly needs a PR guy to a) muzzle McQuaid b) come up with some rational and understandable reasons for whatever the UCI is doing. Of course that is a very difficult job since McQuaid seems more and more like the “Mad Hatter” and the UCI’s position on rules and other issues seems to confuse even the UCI! I was very cool to the idea of a new governing body for pro cycling but the UCI’s actions since the idea first surfaced are starting to make me warm up to the thought. Pro cycling is darn close to the “it can’t get any worse, can it?” situation these days.

    • This latest development from the UCI sounds like they worry something bad will come out about them (neglect) and so hope by taking over the case that they can absolve themselves (hide).

      • Something makes me feel more than ‘neglect’ is being covered over. Everyone knows they didn’t do enough to stop/discourage industrial-scale doping, so that horse has already bolted. To me, it seems like something much bigger is waiting to raise its head and McQuaid/Verbruggen et al are bricking it.

  3. I would hope that after the exciting competition at the velodrome the IOC/UCI give a bit more credence to the track program and add more riders and events. I would like to see the individual pursuit and points race back in, and then also the kilo TT. Also remove all the silly restrictions such as the ominium rider must be in the team pursuit squad, sprinter must be in the team sprint, etc.

    The velodrome has been full of the IOC great and good these last few days so I hope they like what they see.

    As for the UCI. Words fail me. A clean out at the top is needed. Brian Cookson for the top job?

    • Can anyone explain the reason why the UCI arranged the track events like this? What is the rationale for ‘one rider per nation per event’, no individual pursuit, kilo, points race, etc., and the rider must be in multiple events rule?

      • I think that is an IOC rule isnt it? It seems stupid and unfair, in all other sports you can have as many as you want from a nation, e.g. the 100m final, 3 USA, 3 Jamaicans, a Dutch and a Trinidadian.

      • In Beijing, the was a large disparity in medals that could be won by Men vs. Women in cycling. As part of the deal to bring medal equality, the UCI agreed to drop the Points race, the Madison, and the Individual Pursuit. There were then new events added:

        Omnium – Men and Women, which includes time trials at pursuit and kilo distances
        Keirin – Women
        Team Pursuit – Women

        The UCI agreed to drop the Kilo from the Olympic program to allow the inclusion of BMX.

        I don’t know why the UCI has to drop events in order to add new ones, but the 2012 Olympic program is better than the 2008 one: equal medals for Men and Women, and there is still a points race and a pursuit, just part of the Omnium.

  4. re UCI, their latest press release even appears to have the facts wrong. They claim the US federal investigation was into “alleged doping fraud”. Surely it wasn’t about doping (which is/was not a federal crime) but into financial fraud as federal money (postal service) may have been used for illegal activities. This means they may well have clearly established doping, but not that it was paid for with federal dollars. This smacks of incompetence, stupidity, or a deliberate attempt to spin (following the play book of the Armstrong Inc armada), none of which the governing body as a *governing* body should be associated with. It does support the “fox guarding the hen house” observation, as no matter why or how they got something like the facts of the case wrong in a public press release, it does suggest that they are not competent to be given such contentious material.

  5. When things get this messed up (the UCI), I tend to get philosophical. And I believe McQuaid is a bigger problem than the UCI itself, but his leadership has been so abysmal as to completely discredit the organization. So, maybe things will get so bad, that we will finally get the mythical new governing body we’ve been hearing about, to steer the sport we so dearly love, out of this pit of despair.

    It’s so obvious they are trying to take over the case because they themselves are implicated! This thing really could take down the UCI. Me thinks there is an upcoming vacuum to be filled! Let’s hope whomever fills it is better than what we had!

  6. Thanks for those updates. The only coverage we get in Australia is from uninformed journalists and people who missed out on selection, whinging that we haven’t won enough gold. As long as you give it your best attempt, no one should ask for anything more!

  7. “At this point in the games if British Cycling was a nation it would be eighth in the medal table across all sports.”

    It’s also worth pointing out that if the medals table classification was made proportional to population size, Team GB would be streets ahead of The US and China.

    Looking back to Atlanta, where we only got one gold, it’s clear that the targeted injection of national lottery money, ie state investment, has made an enormous difference.

    Obviously private investment (particularly by Sky), and private patronage (eg the trap shooting gold) have also helped, but it’s public money that has made the biggest contribution to team GB.

    This may be anathema to free market fundamentalists, but it’s a fact.

    On the other hand, something like 50% of GB’s medal winners went to private schools and competed in sports like rowing and sailing which have significant entry costs.

    Furthermore the government has just cut 165 million pounds per year from the state schools sport budget, which does not bode well for the future.

    Cycling, as far as I can tell, bucks this trend, possibly because the entry costs, at least in the early stages, are not vast, and its traditions are not steeped in privilege. When I was a kid, I remember going with my dad to watch Reg Harris (who won two silvers at the 1948 London Olympics) at the Fallowfield velodrome in Manchester, a stone’s throw from where I lived, and if ever there was a working-class hero it was him.

    That said, I haven’t been able to research the school and social backgrounds of all our best riders, and it might be an interesting line of research for a future article.

    • Your statement – On the other hand, something like 50% of GB’s medal winners went to private schools and competed in sports like rowing and sailing which have significant entry costs – needs challenging.

      The “50%” stat has been de-bunked, only papares like the DailyMail and certain Tory MPs are still quoting it. True that rowing, sailing (+equestion, shooting events etc) take most of their participants from fee-paying school, but the majority of “accessible”sports are far more representative of the UK.
      Wiggins, Ennis, Farah, Rutherford, Murray all state school pupils, to name but 5 recent medal winners.

      • “The “50%” stat has been de-bunked”

        Yep. You’re right.

        The figure I quoted was for Beijing. This year’s stats are better for state schools.


        Education of Team GB is a hot issue – at the beginning of August British Olympic Association chair Lord Moynihan said it was “wholly unacceptable” that half of Team GB’s gold medallists in Beijing four years ago were privately educated. It’s at an early stage but the odds appear to have improved: so far 32% of Team GB’s medals are from privately educated athletes.

        The full article is here:

        Cycling is interesting, as the figures for both track and road show a preponderance of state-educated medal winners (10-1 and 2-1 respectively).

        Rowing appears to be the sport with the highest percentage of private school medal winners (17-11). Equestrian and sailing events have a similar private school bias.

    • “It’s also worth pointing out that if the medals table classification was made proportional to population size, Team GB would be streets ahead of The US and China.”

      The “population card” doesn’t really work here. Team GB has more athletes at these Games than any other country, since the host nation automatically qualifies for every sport.

      • Continuing, India has 1.2 billion people (four times the population of the U.S.) and has zero golds. Indonesia has 240 million people and has zero golds. Ditto for Pakistan (170 million).

        What really matters is the size of your delegation. GB has the largest delegation at the games, so you can’t cry poverty here.

        • Also, it’s worth pointing out that the number of medals per sport varies wildly. The United States is as dominant in basketball (men’s and women’s) as Britain in track cycling, if not even moreso – but we have only two medal opportunities compared to like 10 for the Brits. Rowing is the same deal – I can’t believe how many medals are available in such an obscure sport.

          The British seem to have really targeted a handful of sports that offer a ton of medals (track cycling, rowing and sailing) and focused their energies there. Not a bad strategy as far as finishing high in the medal count goes, but let’s not get carried away here.

          • I was thinking the same about USA and swimming – I was surprised how many medals there are in swimming and how a good swimmer can pick up multiple medals (with the events being similar and multiple relays).

            As of writing USA have 28 golds and 61 medals in total. Swimming has provided them 16 golds and 30 medals. USA swimming would be 4th in the medal table on their own. Without the swimming medals the USA wouldn’t be so impressive in the medal table.

            If I was to target a single sport and focus on it I would go for swimming (or athletics), a sport where there are loads of medals on offer and multiple entrants from each country, rather than sports with only one entrant per country.

  8. Two Olympics in a row I’ve been amazed by how entertaining track cycling is. OK so there are issues, in particular some of the events can seem un-necessary confusing, but still its absolutely brilliant to watch.

    So that brings me to a (possibly dumb) question, has there ever been an attempt to put together a yearly professional track cycling league?

    Not entirely sure what form it would take and it might be impractical but if it could be made to work I do think it could draw in an audience.

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