Sunday Shorts

Froome Dolphin

Dauphin in French means dolpin but also runner-up so it’s fitting that Tour de France and Team Sky Number Two Chris Froome gets to dance with a dolphin in waters near Curaçao.

It’s all part of the end-of-season festivities on the Caribbean Dutch colony which conclude with two races The Amstel beer brand gets to promote a race and the holiday resort gets lots of publicity with happy-looking cyclists enjoying themselves in sunny weather. Technically the races are illegal for the pros. UCI rules say they can’t compete in unsanctioned competitions but nobody cares, it’s the rule that is at fault more than the riders.

Skins suit
From riders in beachwear to compressionwear firm Skins. The company that makes recovery clothing is now looking to squeeze the governing body for $2 million and if you don’t believe me, here’s the letter to the UCI from their lawyer.

I’m not sure where this will go, they say they invested in cycling after 2008 under the impression that it had been “fundamentally reformed” but surely they didn’t do their homework or, in corporate-speak, due diligence. A cursory glance at L’Equipe or would have told them about the ongoing problems. At the height of his powers Armstrong used his wealth to set lawyers on critics and this feels the same, the way the legal action is announced for public consumption feels like some viral marketing stunt. Still, if it goes to court we’ll see what happens and await the evidence. If they win others could seek redress too, claiming they too had suffered scandals that sapped sales? One to watch.

Armstrong Appeal?
As ever the lawyers often end up the real winners. There’s been talk from “experts” that the USADA decision should be tested at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Put aside the experts mention make a living from presenting appeals for a moment and the subject is complex but too boring for a full post. In short USADA did push its decision hard under the framework of the WADA and UCI rules. Take the statute of limitations which normally means you can’t go back more than eight years. Only USADA has set a precedent saying it could go back beyond this with the case of an athlete who was eventually caught for EPO but denied it the first time he was caught.

In some ways taking the Armstrong case to the CAS wouldn’t be a bad thing, to make sure the verdict is encased in legal concrete so it cannot pollute the sport any more. But the mere idea of it being appealed any further will have many expressing frustration. And the chances of appeal look even lower as yesterday WADA said it would not do this.

Armstrong Effigy Burned

One thing that’s too late too appeal is yesterday’s fire. Residents of a British town set fire to a giant effigy of Armstrong as part of annual celebrations. Every year they find a celebrity to humiliate and this year it was Armstrong’s turn.

Armstrong newspaper
If the fire had trouble starting yesterday the Brits could have used some of printed works of Doctor Edward Coyle as these might not have much other use today. Coyle spent time writing sports science articles about Lance Armstrong and his main hypothesis is that increased muscle efficiency helped Lance Armstrong on to winning more Tour de France titles but now we know otherwise. The list of articles that borrowed this idea is now amusing. Perhaps there were gains in muscle efficiency but it’s a cautionary tale that scientists often bring hypotheses rather than certainty.

In Vino Veritas?
Talking of embarrassing paperwork, the Italian media have emails suggesting Alexander Vinokourov bought the 2010 edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège from Alexander Kolobnev, the two were away and Vinokourov allegedly paid money to Kolobnev to ensure he was allowed to win the sprint. The story has been aired before seems to getting heated again. A reminder from the rulebook that this is not allowed:

1.2.081 Riders shall sportingly defend their own chances. Any collusion or behaviour likely to falsify or go against the interests of the competition shall be forbidden.

Only we know this often happens in a race. We might see a team chasing a breakaway for no apparent reason or when riders sprint for the line there’s some funny business. It’s so ingrained into the sport that when Vinokourov won the Olympic road race within minutes Twitter was speculating on the amount he paid Rigoberto Uran rather than observing Uran’s poor sprint. Only the difference this time is that there are emails to back up the allegations from 2010 so there’s less speculation.

Unlike other sports, fixing the result of a bike can be tolerated if only because the deals are done at the last moment. You have to be in the winning breakaway before you talk money and unlike a football or handball game, you cannot buy a race before the start.

But what if the story wasn’t really a deal done over a classic in 2010 but instead that the judicial authorities seem to have access to Vinokourov’s email inbox and are leaking it to the media? Also note Vinokourov gets the headlines whilst few are asking about Kolobnev, the apparent seller. Once again it’s proof that the investigation in into clients of Michele Ferrari is wide ranging and contains plenty more than a deposition or two from riders.

It’s all more trouble for Vinokourov and the UCI, days after Astana passed the UCI’s ethical test for a Pro Team licence. And you wonder how Kolobnev is tolerated at Katusha if this proves true. The team has spent millions but got very few results, at least until this year. Here he was, selling the biggest win of the Russian team… and worse, selling it to arch rivals from Kazakhstan.

When does the cycling year begin?
If you’re in the cycle trade then September sees the new products come out, in other words the 2013 range of cycles is on sale already. If you look at the pro calendar then the Tour Down Under is the start and it’s under 80 days away now. But for many pro cyclists this week marks the start of the year as they resume training after the off-season.

Want to start a pro team?
We can follow teams and sadly their demise is often well-chronicled but the work done to get a team started is something we rarely get to see because the project only goes public once everything is in place. With this in mind the interview with Brian Smith done by the VC Don Logan podcast is great audio. Smith talks candidly about the work involved in setting up the Cervélo Test Team and later the Endura team, offering his thoughts on one of this season’s revelations Jon Tiernan-Locke and plenty more.

19 thoughts on “Sunday Shorts”

  1. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, the UCI intend to do about the Astana/Vinokourov situation. Having just accepted the team, on amongst other criteria ethics, one has to wonder what they were thinking of – ethics, thinking, UCI, oxymoron.

    • Plus he is under investigation in the Padova case. I wish the UCI could get ahead this stories rather than react to them, at least to get Vino in and make some sworn statements rather than waiting for a the risk of things in Italy blowing up in their face.

  2. Now that major sponsors are joining in the cry for resignations and large sums of cash from the UCI, maybe some progress amongst the excecutive is possible. However, going on past performance I wouldn’t count on it. The UCI will attempt to sit out this crisis in the mistaken hope that it will go away. Ignoring the fact that many other events are lining up in the wings.

    I really can’t see any future for pro-cycling under the present structure/people. WADA’s rapid intervention now appears the best chance the sport has of getting out of the present mess, and moving forward.

  3. The Kolobnev side of this story is baffling, and as inring points out one can only wonder at the Katusha internal politics. The story of him selling LBL to Vinokourov broke one week after the UCI appealed the Russian Federation’s decision not to suspend him for his doping rules violation. So Kolobnev had both a doping rules violation matter pending in the CAS and a race-fixing allegation hanging over him at the same time. In light of this situation it was hardly surprising read, two weeks later, Hans-Michael Holczer saying that, regardless of the outcome of his CAS appeal, there would be no place for Kolobnev on the Katusha team in 2012. Meanwhile, Igor Makarov hired Viatcheslav Ekimov as advisor to himself and the Russian Federation. When Kolobnev won his CAS appeal, Katusha did an about-face and hired him. Kolobnev said of his hiring: “I thank the Russian Cycling Federation and its President Igor Makarov for the big support that was provided to me. With the help of Mr Makarov I can ride for Katusha again.” (No thanks to Mr. Holczer, apparently.) The denouement occurred when Ekimov replaced Holczer as Katusha director. “The decision came from the Russian sponsor and federation; I don’t know why or the reason… it’s difficult to understand after a season like this. I can’t say any more on it, though,” said Katusha’s spokesman.

  4. The Skins lawsuit may not achieve anything in court but is a way for sponsors to use their voice and share their displeasure/disgust as to how the UCI has managed itself and the sport since the Festina episode. In that respect I appreciate what Skins are doing! All sponsors images are being affected! And if UCI actions (or inactions) are having an adverse effect on their brands then the brands have a responsibility to their shareholders/owners to address the damage accordingly. Seems the UCI does not understand the responsibility it has toward the sport in general, and allows politics to blur their vision. In that respect it is even more pertinent that an investigation of the UCI gets underway, and/or a change in management!

  5. I have a photo of myself meeting Oscar Pereiro in the Skins stand at the TDU in 2010, he and other pros were shopping … I spent up big that day.

    Just sayin’ …

  6. Do not expect the major sponsors to stand up and sue the UCI.

    Be clear that what I am writing is not verified fact, but more like basic logic at work:

    The major sponsors will not sue the UCI since they are also culpable. It is extremely unlikely that none of the people at the sponsor companies suspected that doping was rampant in the teams they or someone else were sponsoring. Think about how that one major bike company could possibly stand up and act all indignant or even sue the UCI for commercial damage due to inferred or observed complicity, or basic incompetence.

    It will never happen as they would all sink into the same cesspit.

    Similarly, “zero tolerance” as misguided as it may seem, is the only way forward. There is no benefit to accepting the cheaters as everyone cheated or knew of cheating taking place. Thus everyone was/is guilty. Mass mea cupla, mea maxima culpa followed by the warm embrace and salvation only works if there are relatively few cheats.

    Zero tolerance extends the omerta, but I think that there is a clearer message now that any supposed indiscretion or superhuman performance will be investigated and dealt with swiftly. As a proof of this I expect DNFs at the grand tours to skyrocket and for stage finishing times to go way up.

  7. I think this is where you need to start in reforming cycling:

    “Unlike other sports, fixing the result of a bike can be tolerated if only because the deals are done at the last moment. You have to be in the winning breakaway before you talk money and unlike a football or handball game, you cannot buy a race before the start.”

    Would it be OK if in a football penalty shootout the shooter offered the goalie money to allow him to score? Or the goalie offered him money to miss?

    • Exactly. Those who suggest buying a race is ok, so long as it happens at the last moment when it’s down to a couple of riders, promote a culture of cynicism among fans that is becoming more and more prevalent.

      It’s not a big deal, it’s just among riders, you cannot buy a race before the start…oh look a squirrel!

      And here it is again from another angle in this post:

      “Technically the races are illegal for the pros. UCI rules say they can’t compete in unsanctioned competitions but nobody cares, it’s the rule that is at fault more than the riders.”

      “…nobody cares, it’s the rule that is at fault…” Really? We’re blaming the rules now? Unbelievable.

      Credibility seems like the kind of fresh air that this “PRO” sport needs if it’s going to remain a going concern. Truth and reconcilliation and zero tolerance…aaaaand GO!

      • I don’t think race fixing’s ok but I can see why the sport has tolerated when others have not. I wrote about it one year ago:

        I’m and am happy with riders awarding wins when they have a common interest, for example two riders reach the final moment of a race together and agree “you take the stage, I’ll take the jersey”. But financial deals are out of the question, that’s another league.

        As for Curacao, I’m normally a big supporter of the rules and enforcing them but busting riders for doing five laps of an island is harmless.

        • How about two in a break-away, just a minute in front of a charging bunch, where one says to the other: Let’s cooperate until 500m, then sprint. Winner pays a third to the other. Would that be OK? If not, then what’s the difference between this, and the stage win/jersey case, as there are monetary aspects there, too?

  8. I laughed watching Vino ride away with the Olympic Gold. What a quandary it created: applaud a great/suspect ride by an unrepentant doper; or cry foul and impugn the Olympic testing program. The collective silence was deafening. The cycling world was awaiting a Cavendish coronation and the joker snatched the crown. Vino rode off into retirement giving the cycling world a big fat one finger salute. He knew that you knew what he was and he didn’t care. The guy was bad for the sport but a whole lot of fun to watch.

    • As nefarious as he is entertaining, I have learned to overlook the shortcomings in order to enjoy the spectacle that he manages to bring at every turn. Even being dropped on a mountain stage in the tdf was exciting, I felt that he was going to attack any time now.

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