The Dark Side of the Moon

1969 saw Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin land the Apollo 11 spaceship on the moon and Eddy Merckx rode a Masi bike with Campagnolo Nuovo Record to win his first Tour de France. But just like the moon there’s a hidden side to everything.

Cycling’s dark side is doping. On the day the Apollo 11 mission was launched five riders were rousted for doping during the Tour de France. Antoine Blondin wrote in L’Equipe on 14 July 1969 that the cycling planet was like the hidden side of the the moon with “its valleys of trickery, craters of suspicion and seas of repression.”

The mysteries remain and doping continues to eclipse the sport at times. The video clip above grabbed by Cycling Inquisition shows Universal Sport’s Steve Schlanger and Todd Gogulski saying it’s “only fair” to ask if Nairo Quintana is doping after his win in the Tour of the Basque Country. Only it’s grossly unfair.

Let’s return to the Basque country. As this site’s pointed out Quintana hasn’t come from nowhere but won the Tour de L’Avenir in 2010 and plenty more since then. Last week the Colombian impressed me with his positioning skills, able to ride at the front when it mattered, something that’s not always obvious for a 59kg climber.

Some say his time trial success happened because the course was hilly, that he’s done well in time trials before and he took risks on the wet descents. The trouble here is that any explanation is a hypothesis, it can be right… but it’s impossible to prove. Unwittingly we end up in the universe of epistemology. This is the study of knowledge itself, a field of philosophy to debate what we know to be true. When Isaac Newton saw an apple fall from a tree he knew something was happening and tried to explain it. We got the law of gravity, only his hypothesis was flawed and to this day science hasn’t resolved Newton, Einstein and gravitation.

What does this have to do with cycling? Well on the the same terms, like the hidden side of the moon or scientific theories, there’s no way of knowing what Quintana gets up to in his hotel room or the back of the team bus. But this is the same for everyone. Even teams with “embedded” journalists will find this; if you had a writer or a TV crew staying for a week I bet you’d tidy up your home before they arrived.

Given the sport’s past, it’s normal to have your suspicions especially since the past is not measured in spacetime but days thanks to cosmonaut Serebryakov. Hey, even the UCI compiles its own list although this was supposed to be private rather than on TV. But there are reasonable grounds and there’s wild speculation. Just as internet forums suggest there are “cloaked alien bases” on the hidden side of the moon, others claim such-and-such rider is doping. L’Equipe famously labelled Lance Armstrong “extraterrestre” and the problem is distinguishing Galileos and Copernuicuses from the shamens and crackpots.

Once some thought the moon was made of cheese and others believed Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France on bread and water. Now these ancient ideas have been debunked gravity brings the pendulum swinging back in the other direction. If US television gave Lance Armstrong the benefit of the doubt, now we see others getting the raised eyebrow treatment because they’re not yet famous. This is compounded by distance and nationality where the more alien a rider, the more questions they face. If Nairo Quintana was called Nathan Quinton, Nico Quentin or Nikita Konstaninov it’s likely the media treatment would vary. Riders get judged by the company they keep, being on a team with Alejandro Valverde does not help and it’s why Team Sky’s management has been embarrassed by Doctor Leinders.

Often we turn to science for proof but a lab coat is no security. Anti-doping tests are imperfect, the same for peer-reviewed papers that once explained Armstrong’s wins thanks to gains in pedalling efficiency. We’re back to epistemology, it’s impossible to be sure and beware those who claim to know things they cannot. But precisely because of this we need to be careful not to launch witch-hunts because the trial by media is impossible. The media can raise suspicions and debating surprising performances is valid but the discussion needs balance.

Going nowhere?

I’d been meaning to write this piece for a while because every now and then I get emails asking if so-and-so is doping and my reply is obvious: how on earth am I supposed to know?

Mankind often leaps to conclusions. But the gravitational pulls of analysis and responsibility should prevent people calling out a lone rider without reasonable grounds, nor giving them the right of reply. Schlanger and Gogulski unfairly eclipse Quintana’s win with shadow. But this can be explained, if not excused, as an equal and opposite reaction to the past. Note the TV channel gets free publicity because as the pair probe the frontiers of broadcasting. It’s possible Quintana is doping, it’s possible he is clean. Unable to prove anything, people end up speculating because a rider is winning.

Heightened scepticism can be good thing and cynicism, in the modern sense, is the price to pay given the dark matter discovered in recent years. But the next time you look at the stars, check your charts.

139 thoughts on “The Dark Side of the Moon”

  1. A 59 kg climber getting close to the reigning TT champion in a time trial with some flat parts (and not losing much time in this part, see splits after the last climb to the finish) is at least a reason to raise the eyebrow a little bit..

    • I hear you. But on television and in other places you need to be careful, especially when singling out one rider. For every suspicious hypothesis there are supportive ones and in no time people are trading views, each camping on their firm ground but actually neither side can know.

      • Personally, I find it refreshing that the guys from Universal Sports were saying what everyone else was thinking. Contrast that to Phil and Paul who just cheerlead everything with blinders on or refuse to admit the obvious in the case of Lance.

        • I don’t know if either approach is correct, but you make a great point. It is startlingly hypocritical for anyone who bashed Phil and Paul for the way they overlooked Armstrong to then bash these two for not overlooking. And FWIW I don’t think @inrng is guilty of this. But others are.

          I think the depth of the outrage against a couple of guys who are asking questions suggests that we as fans bear a fair amount of responsibility for the doping community not being held to account. Gripe about blind-eyed coverage if you want, but it’s clear that going out on a limb like this will hurt the speaker more than it ever helps them.

          • I didn’t want to make it all about these two nor Quintana but it’s a helpful case to illustrate the piece. As I say, we can see the pendulum swinging the other way and so their action is explainable.

            I was more interested in explaining how it’s always impossible to know these things so the media has to treat these cases with care. By all means explore, question and even provoke but if you’re going to stand on slippery ground… equip yourself!

        • For me the problem with Phil and Paul is they never talk about doping, except perhaps mentioning riders having been punished. It’s not just Lance, or whoever the hero of the moment is, they just don’t talk about it. I don’t want wild speculation like apparently some people are doing about Quintana, I want them to talk about what they think is going on in the sport more generally. There’s statistical evidence to show that things are cleaner since the blood passport, though obviously no individual can prove they are clean. Why don’t Phil and Paul talk about that? The doping Phil and Paul may have witnessed or had to compete against when they were racing was pretty tame stuff compared to the newer methods, so maybe the problem is they are too old. I’d like someone at the microphone who was there during the EPO era and can talk about what they are observing with the kind of sophistication that Jonathan Vaughters does.

          • In France we have Moreau, Virenque, Jalabert, Vasseur from the EPO generation commenting races and it’s no good. They often comment as if the guys are still on EPO, like they expect teams to ride up front during 100km or escapees to maintain advantage over a charging peloton or being surprised by one guy being dropped prematurely. Sometimes it’s really embarassing.

          • Phil and Paul appear likely under the continuous trance of elixir of ales and vinos along that lubricates their franchise gravy train of journalism cultivated through their slapstick duo over many years, which is rewarding them nicely. Why not focus on fluff and repetition, it is easy, and it always gets a “atta boy” slap on the back, and pays well. Bringing up the “hard problems” such as “doping in sport” requires effort, attention, and a reduction in jolly times. I don’t see Phil and Paul looking for that kind of professional challenge.

    • Plus Quintana was 27 seconds down on Porte in the uphill Paris-Nice time trial only a few weeks ago. Obviously there are several possible explanations for the change but its a fairly major turn around.

    • So why not raising your eyebrows on that reigning TT champion, who sucks like hell in the whole race, sitting only in gruppeto, but delivers (like in most of Martins races) then ahead of all on hilly course? Doesn’t these Germans all dope?

        • Someone, probably Kimmage, said recently that a “normal” situation would be when the big german guy wins the time trial and the small columbian the mountain stages. I agree with that but apparently this is not considered by many as the normal situation. So what would have been the normal situation ?

        • I know that this is the tactic of TM, though I dislike that. Boring.

          My point is that that picking out the one guy Nairo is insane, if you wanna question riders performances, why not all the riders around, why is Porte always so strong (like whole Sky), why can Martin ride so fast TTs? Are they unsuspicious just by saying so and only when a new one appears on the scene, the raising brows starts. And Nairo has a history, unlike other Kenyans, one barely can find anything where they come from. Columbia is only ‘nowhere’ from a very Euro- or US-centristic viewpoint

  2. Inrng, you are of course correct to warn about speculation.

    Quintana produced a surprise performance against all pre time trial predictions. He rides for a team with history. In my judgement if something appears to good to be true, it probably is. Unfair, of course, but given recent events I am afraid not to be cautious would make one rather unwise. The sport has to live with its’ past I am afraid. The 2011 UCI list shows just how careful we should be concerning official statements – LA only in group 4 ! The sport got itself into the mess it did, partly because journalists, with a few notable exception, chose to ignore what most of us knew.

    Unfair yes, and I hope Quitana proves me wrong, but until such time as I can be convinced I will remain open minded.

    • It’s worth nothing the suspicion index was not as obvious as the title suggests. Riders who had not been tested for some time scored higher and we know that those with the best help managed to escape detection. The point is that everyone is going to have suspicions but even the UCI’s ones were private… until someone leaked it to L’Equipe.

    • However using the arguement that if something looks to good to be true… means you extend that logic and bring into doubt Gilbert’s 2011, Wiggins’ 2012, Porte’s 2013, Voeckler’s re-emergence, and Froome’s career i.e. cycnics will question why in a dope-ridden sport supposedly clean riders are able to dominate.

      The result of which is that rides with existing question marks, or doping suspensions seem to be considered believable…

      • Of course we need to extend that logic and question Wiggins, Froome, Porte, et al.
        If we don’t know by now, as cycling fans, that something that appears too good to be true probably is, we’re fooling ourselves.

        Except for the part about where you seem to be assuring us that the above named riders are clean…..

        • Thanks for “too”. Come on people… too ain’t not be the same as to.

          All are guilty until proven innocent. Why on Earth would I think any of these guys are clean? I still love watching it though.

      • Should we not then question Pereiro winning the TdF in 2006 or Sastre in 2008? Both guys career domestiques with some stage wins here and there, but nothing in their palmares to suggest they were capable of winning a TdF.

        Because of the suspicion and past history the stain or question marks are well deserved. Which leads to the true victims. Guys like DiGregorio who come under suspicion then are immediately and irrevocably banned from competing. Even when their names are cleared, no one wants to hire them.

        Whatever became of Barreda and LLS. Guys who were accused and have disappeared from the scene without trials or hearings ?

        Doping in sport and sexual abuse have become the modern day witch hunts. All it takes is an accusation, whether based in fact or not, and you have destroyed someones life, even if they are later cleared.

        • Destroyed someone’s life? How’s that.

          There are a host of guys who have had remarkable races/wins/seasons/streaks that should be under suspicion, still out racing their bikes, collecting endorsement money and living the life.

          Your point should be that if you win a lot, you’re on easy street, if you win a big race out of nowhere, you might be toast. Except for Froome…..for some reason, he’s excepted.

  3. The way Quintana has been villified is absolutely ridiculous. He has peformed reasonably well in ITT before and he was in form going into the race. His palmares shows that he’s an established rider who’s capable of winning the race. No disrespect to the race but he won Pais Vasco, not Giro or Tour.

    When Eurosport commentators say that Bradley Wiggins has won multiple track gold medals and hence his Tour de France victory is not surprising, nobody raised the pitchfork then.

    • Probably b/c we’re looking at English language websites.

      The Spanish speaking commenters are vociferously supporting Quintana.

      As long as it’s our cheater winning, we’re cool.

  4. I agree with Ankush. Hilly week-long race, hilly TT. Won by a climbing specialist. His performance in the flatter sections of the TT was impressive, but he’s been decent in TTs before. As for Tony Martin and Porte, they’d raced a very hilly stage race behind the likes of Quinata. How much would they have had left in the tank? If Quinata had won a pan-flat prologue, that would be a different story.
    Overall, I was a little surprised, but not to the extent that, if I had a media outlet, I’d be making accusations. This was hardly a Ricco moment.

  5. It’s a fair question. How can it not be? Cycling has been dirty forever and our wishing it would go away wont make it so. The sport is clearly run by individuals who are for the most part willing to let certain things slide by (possibly with a price). This is the result of a business as usual mentality in relation to drug use in cycling.

    Is it a shame that a rider who wins is immediately questioned about drug use? Yes it is, but thats the nature of the sport right now.

  6. Regardless of the pro’s and con’s of the subject of this piece, once again I’m left in no doubt as to why Inner Ring is the 1st choice in my day’s reading when it come to real cycling journalism/writing…..topical, informative, objective and not afraid to ask the right questions in an insightful and intelligent way….excellent as ever. Thanks for your excellent site 🙂

  7. During 2011 Tour de France Spanish TV commentator Carlos de Andrés expressed his suspicions about Europcar’s riders (specially Voeckler and Rolland). Would have he done it if they were Spanish? I doubt that. As you point out, Quintana would probably have been treated differently if he had been born in North America, Australia or Great Britain. There is this kind of “chauvinisme” all around the world.
    By the way, the Colombian has had some interesting TT performances. For example, he was among the five Movistar riders that won 2012 Vuelta’s opening TTT. He surely didn’t come “out of nowhere”.

    • This is correct. British journalists (and fans) are prone to turn a blind eye to Sky’s danger signals, Spanish ones to Contador’s and Movistar’s, and so on. There seems to be an additional dynamic in the US, though, which is that since Lance was cheating *everybody* must be cheating.

  8. It seems that emerging ‘stars’ of cycling need good PR people to smooth away concerns over possible doping. In the case of Sagan, there have been so many stories in the press re. his off the charts physiological tests and great success as a junior that most people look at his current success as unsurprising. Someone like Quintana is called into question because ‘he came out of nowhere’ (at least for those 2 knuckleheads on Universal Sports). The press and fans crave a back-story that lends credibility to accomplishments. These back-stories don’t prove anything but riders and their teams would be well served by getting such info out there.

      • Is there any credence to the notion that phenoms may have been doping in their youth, and the benefits (e.g. greater capacity to train, injuries avoided, success giving access to high-level coaching etc.) are sustained into adult life? Most of the science of doping goes over my head, so I never know what’s proven or otherwise.

        Of course, physical proof of earlier doping is going to be pretty much non-existent, and such doping is not particularly relevant to the phenoms being discussed here – from the stories I’ve read, it seems Sagan and Quintana didn’t have a wealthy upbringing, so presumably a doping programme wouldn’t be high on their shopping list.

        • I’ve heard accusations like this before, that one-time dopers have gained an advantage for the rest of their careers even if they have stopped. I’d really like to see some science on this. My own view is that this may be true to some extent for things like steriods that could help build muscle mass, but the impact of those kinds of things is going to be more limited in cyling than some other sports. When it comes to EPO and blood doping, the reason those methods have been used in the middle of grand tours is specifically because the benefits tend to be short lived.
          This seems to be borne out anectodally. In the Frankie Andreu interview published recently in 2r, he wasn’t really specific, but implies that he had quit the doping products prior to the 2000 Tour and found it the most difficult one to get through that he remembered.

  9. Every rider getting to the top of the game will be questioned and suspected for dope. This became a normal topic of conversation and default situation for some talkers. Wiggins last year – DOPE, Quintana – DOPE, whoever wins – DOPE

      • And this is the crux of the problem.

        Confidence in “clean” performance has been shattered, no matter the truth.

        The truth however is far better than the alternative, but I’m uncertain if wide spread confidence in clean performance will ever be regained. Most were blissfully ignorant, and seemed happy with that, but the exposure of recent years has changed the dynamic IMO. But that’s perhaps my own small world view.

        Many more people will assume there is a continuing underbelly of deceit and will cast aspersions on current and future stars because of the reprehensible doping behaviour of the majority of recent generations (riders, management, support and the scum who hang on to make a big/fast buck). And of course some dopers are still being caught.

        And when doping and it’s insidious side effects (and I don’t mean physiological side effects) negatively impact people you know personally, it’s a scar that doesn’t heal quickly, if ever.

        BTW Inrng – thank you for not saying “dark side of the moon”.

  10. Another nice piece.

    Between Schlanger, Gogulski and Quintana I’m going with Quintana. But, it’s interesting that nothing has really changed since man’s first witch hunt: most of our personal conclusions are determined by our emotions. The forums are Full of examples but so is my brain; with Brailsford’s arrogance, Wiggo’s passive aggressive too cool for school demeanor and the Mod haircut and Froome’s TDF disrespect, his excuses, his denials and his girlfriend’s twitter cat fight plus the team’s (good) results, it’s hard not to consider that Sky might be juiced. Froome and wag’s sideshow almost has me wishing that he is a doper and that he get’s caught. Bernie, EBH and Boswell are clean though, aren’t they?

    With Vaughter’s sideburns, his spotless GQ look and his Expert opinion, I’m sure he’s up to something; I’m pretty sure it’s not doping, but it’s just as bad.

    The Russians? Well, they’re Russian. Even though I love the country, it’s long history And the girls.. But the Russians are my new East Germans. Suspect. Then there’s Jens. I’m a realist, but how can you not love Jens? Contador is a tough one too. I was sure he was a doper (how can he be that skinny? HCHB that good?), but he’s won me over with his tactics and his love for his home. I despise Lance for letting me down. Hincapie, on the other hand, seems like such a good guy. Euskatel? I love all things Basque. I know, right?

    Anyway, I’m joking, but not completely. I know I have No idea who’s clean and who’s not. I know it would be a full time job to do the research in order to have a reasonably educated opinion. Thank goodness there’s so much more to the sport that makes it fun to do and fun to follow.

    • Good call here. So much emotion and pre-conceptions cloud our judgement when bandying about aspersions. It’s not just cycling – in our personal lives or at work we can excuse things from our friends that when people we dislike do similar things we are ready to jump all over it. All prefaced with “yeah but…..”

      Anyway, I await to see what the media makes of the 60kg Peter Kennaugh belting out excellent TTs in years to come.

      • Yet another great article. And + 1 for Kennaugh. Having seen him lapping the entire field in a Scratch Race (Revolution Series), I’m really looking forward to his TT skills coming through.

    • @LM: Hahaha, well said, especially “I’m sure he’s up to something; I’m pretty sure it’s not doping, but it’s just as bad”.

      Brailsford’s always talking about how athletes need to tame their ‘inner chimp’, well as fans we have to maintain constant vigilance over our ‘inner stupid’, or we end up basing our ‘logical concerns’ on our most basic feelings.

  11. I still have not heard of a convincing reason why all riders don’t publish all of their blood values and bio-passport data.

    Despite that I still suspect that many of them are clean but who’s to know. My perspective is that guessing who’s clean and who’s dirty just adds another level of intrigue to the sport

    • Pretty sure that JV has said before that the data is complex and needs expert interpretation. Back in the early days of Slipstream the team would release their (in-house testing) blood data for riders but only to journalists who had a haematologist to interpret it for them.

      Releasing raw data, no matter how laudable, won’t necessarily help.

    • They do publish their data: to the people qualified to interpret it, and decide whether there are anomalies. Not seen a convincing reason why they should go further, and make this personal information available to people who aren’t so qualified.

    • Because it won’t convince anyone of anything. People who pay attention to such things aren’t particularly open minded. They already made their mind up.

      If someone has been bashing away on the internet and twitter for a couple of years saying how a particular rider has been doping and that rider then presents genuinely clean blood values, then the internet guy (who is louder and more persistent than normal people) will either

      a) focus on a small deviation from a smooth ideal graph and blow it up to be proof of abnormality
      b) say how the rider has been microdosing to create a perfect profile (perhaps too perfect)
      c) cast doubt on the validity of the numbers, claiming they could be made up
      d) claim they are using some new super drug instead
      or e) concoct some huge conspiracy involving the UCI

      What they will absolutely not, under any circumstances, say is “I was wrong. He’s clean”.

      In summary, there’s nothing to be gained from it

      • I understand that the data need to be interpreted by sufficiently qualified, independent people (ie not the UCI), but wouldn’t a clean pro voluntarily publish these interpretations (along with supporting data) to assist with convincing more fans, sponsors, etc that they’re clean? Given cycling’s history, surely more transparency could help the sport improve it’s marketability – to the benefit of clean riders’/teams’ bank balances.

        There will always be internet haters (Digger Forum is one of my faves) who use whatever info is out there to construct evidence to support their beliefs. Publicly releasing data doesn’t make this any worse than it already is.

        I can understand why top riders don’t release power data – it could give away competitive advantages – but blood values? What are they scared of?

        • Setting aside concerns about privacy, dignity, and there being no value in publishing this data, might the blood values reveal information about lactic thresholds and other similar information which would give a competitive advantage to opponents? (Genuinely open question.)

          • There are no privacy/dignity concerns if a rider chooses to do it ‘voluntarily’, which is what I clearly stated in both my comments above.

            But yes, it is a legitimate question as to whether any trade secrets could be revealed from releasing blood data? And if so, then why did Slipstream do so previously? Or have they stopped now? Again, these are genuinely open questions. Perhaps I’ll try pestering Mr Vaughters on twitter for the answers

      • Absolutely 100% correct.

        Pros should be more angry at dopers than they are simply because *every* line of defence against accusations of doping has been taken away and discredited (to a greater or lesser extent) by the likes of LA et al.

    • As soon as you are willing to publish the results of all your employer directed drug tests, lie detector tests, and other personal or private data will they be willing to offer up theirs.

      Really? You need to ask this question ?

    • If someone will cheat by manipulating your blood values, breaking the law in some countries and getting medicines via crooked prescriptions or the black market, what’s to stop the cheat publishing fake blood values?

      Plus if you publish the UCI values it’s still not proof, just grounds for suspicion.

      My point here is that each step taken will only find more suspicion and the data could become a Rohrshach test. If you’re convinced Rider X is doping then you’ll look for the stories or data to fit.

  12. Didn’t TJ Van G come out of nowhere too? He only placed second in the Tour de Avenir, whereas MQ won it. So where I ask is the openly aired suspicion on a US based network of this amazing rise from obscurity to secure the white jersey in the TdF and in the process eclipse his team leader (and defending champ)? This is another reason I prefer to watch races on my computer in languages I don’t understand and follow the previews, updates and post race commentary on twitter and websites like this one. For one thing, it’s made me invest in a bigger monitor.

    I agree that journalists shouldn’t bury their head in the sand, and this is what led to the Armstrong saga. But raising these suspicions over a young (hey, he’s columbian!) rider who is on trajectory after an impressive but not wholly unsurprising win is, as our author puts it, grossly unfair. Maybe there will come a time when the victories and coincidences become too many to ignore (a la Armstrong long before his downfall), but now is the time to let this amazing young man savor his accomplishment without smear and uninformed innuendo.

  13. It is naive to believe that after Lance Armstrong, there is no longer any doping. Recent history has shown that doping is the rule, not the exception. It is normal to be skeptical, but I agree that there is an aspect of xenophobia about doping allegations. Funny that US TV accuses relatively unkown (to them) riders, while continuing to worship disgraced riders like Tom Danielson and George Hincapie.

    Speaking of embedding, there hasn’t been any word from David Walsh lately.

  14. I think these accusations are insane, we as individuals may talk and dispute among each other of riders who we think are doping or not, but journalists, TV presenters and anyone with media access needs to be intelligent in what they say and how they accuse.

    I also think it’s insane that people write that “ohh that question needs to be asked, because of the Team that he rides for?”

    Here are 2 riders that are around the same age as Quintana, and have won or placed high in races that rider for teams with dark pasts!

    Andrew Talansky – Team Garmin Rider – riders for a team that the director confessed to dope, several of the riders have also confessed of doping

    Taylor Phinney – Team BMC – up until last year was the team of another doper

  15. How about Contador emerging, for a period of time (wink, wink), as one of the best time trialists! Hilly, flat. It didn’t matter. I don’t recall too much alarm over that phenomenon. I for one found it curious. Still do.

    I hope Quintana is clean. He is exciting. I remember reading an article about Quintana a few years ago before he had jumped from the South American scene to UCI World Tour in Europe. He has a great back story and seems to be the product of hard work and inner motivation. He also generated results in the Americas scene. I was excited when he made the jump and have been following his progress. If you watched the work he did last year for his team, his performance this year in the mountains should in no way be surprising. Hopefully, the recent TT result was a product of hard work and a favorable TT course.

    Its ok to be skeptical but we cannot lose our ability to believe.

  16. Regarding the ‘out of nowhere’:
    We are living in an era where information is abudant and easy to access. I think it’s fair to expect journalists to do some research before making bold statements.

    • Absolutely one of the best comments.

      The comments of Schlanger & Gogulski struck me as being intentionally sensational & inflammatory. It seems to me, the comments stemmed more from a desire to raise their commentary profiles…Poor, shallow research not withstanding.

  17. Haven’t the gains from doping been cut to single digits in percentage terms because only micro-dosing (or transfusing) is possible?

    Part of the problem, I think, is that we have no baseline for what ‘clean’ racing looks like. Fatigue over multi-day events is much more important now because there are limited tonics to keep riders pepped up. I can’t prove it, but my hypothesis is that we need to get more used to ‘unexpected’ results because performances on-the-day are going to be more variable.

  18. I dont have a problem calling into question riders performances.

    Maybe the teams would get their act together and do something to change the doping culture.

    Too many people in the sport see the doping as an integral part of the sport. So nothing has changed in the sport.

    Look at Sky hiring Leinders. A team that prides itself on attention to detail has only one reason to hire Leinders and it is not for saddle sores, despite what Brailsford would have the cycling public believe.

    We are still being lied to all the time and if the balance has swung in the favour of ‘winners must be dopers’ then good, might get changes at UCI, rid of dodgy team docs and the whole doping culture in the sport. Long overdue!

  19. I think that it’s very interesting that most of the commenters above support questioning Quintana’s success, but anyone raising the same questions about certain Team Sky riders is immediately shouted down.

    • His contract is up at the end of the year I think. It would be ironic if he were to join Team Sky. Not that I have any info, just a thought. But he will be expensive for Movistar to keep and they are one of the lowest budget teams in the World Tour.

      • I think he lives with Henao and Uran, doesn’t he? In Pamplona – just down the road from the technical Pais Vasco TT (another reason he and Henao did well)

    • I don’t think that Sky is unquestionable; in fact, I think the fact that Sky is remarkably good at producing results is worth looking into, and someone who can defeat their well-crafted stage race machine is worth examining as well.

      This is not to say that I believe for certain that either party is doping, but I think it is quite possible that “chemical methods” are a part of Sky’s remarkable run of success, and if so someone who is capable of beating them on their own ground is by necessity under suspicion. But who knows? Not me.

  20. I thought this is a really intriguing and oddly hopeful conversation. The original analysis is smart, but I’ll admit I’m even more interested in the thread below. No matter where you’re coming from, things are often not as they appear–the facts and the morality involved are more complicated than we wish they’d be. If you don’t know exactly what to think, then you’re probably headed in the right direction.

  21. I think we have to accept we can’t know everything. But these two guys didn’t know much about Quintana, he’s won TTs before.

    You’ve used space metaphors and “Cosmonaut Serebryakov” is genius. Let me reply with an aerospace one.

    Watching cycling is like taking a plane. It’s amazing to look out of the window from 40,000 feet and when I land I can switch on the phone read up the the theory and physics. Same with a race, I’ll enjoy when it’s live but only after do I check up on things.

  22. I think the point WAS that there is a proper time and place for things and these two numbskulls were wrong on both accounts.There’s a reason Universal Sports used to be buried on an over-the-air broadcast SUBchannel…

  23. Are you people saying that McQuaid spent too much money defending himself and Verbruggen for the UCI to do a proper job of checking for Dopers?
    The only real way to disprove what is being said on Universal Sports is to test … and now may be too late. Does Quintana have the lung capacity of Lemond or is he just ordinary like Armstrong?
    Let them say what they will until disproved. I’m surprised at this uproar of protection for a riders’ virtue. Haven’t we done this before?

    • They have already been disproved. Their starting premise – that Quintana has come from nowhere – was exactly wrong. There is no further reason to disprove anything that flows from that premise.

      I agree that it is fair to raise questions, if there are grounds to do so. But if you do raise questions, you should be prepared to acknowledge when you got it wrong.

  24. Maybe someone can enlighten me, but I don’t understand how some in the comments can defend these two commentators. Quintana already has a pretty established reputation as a young talent and great climber. He absolutely didn’t come out of nowhere, and as others mentioned he’s done well in TTs before.
    This is just terrible reporting from Universal Sports, and imho reflects on their lack of knowledge about riders that aren’t superstars. While Quintana could be doping, there’s plenty of more salient examples of unknown riders winning big in recent times (ahem, sky anyone ?).

  25. It would be insanity not to temper an acknowledgment of Quintana’s brilliant talent with a modicum of caution. INSANITY I TELL YOU!!!!

    I’m a Team Sky mark so I’ll always argue that there are reasonable explanations for the results of their riders. These include, amongst others:

    -Wiggins was an incredibly gifted and talented Olympic Champion who had ridden top 5 in the TDF before joining Sky.
    -Team Sky is very closely related to GB Olympic cycling, and Brailsford achieved amazing results there without doping
    -Sky have spent more money on training and logistics than any other team, ever.
    -Their results and performances have been good but they’re also pretty falliable. Their poster child for ‘unexplained improvement’, Chris Froome, keeps gassing in the clutch.

    Having said all this, I hope there is Colombian or Movistar fans casting a suspicious eye over Team Sky, whilst at the same time giving them their due and respecting their quality and results.

    Am I a fan of Quintana? Yes I am. He’s clearly the most explosive climber out there, probably better than Purito and Contador in the dench Mountains. And I love explosive climbers. Did I have a serious raised eyebrow watching him rip that TT last week? Hell yes.

    Watching cycling over the last few years has taught me one thing – if a guy does a ride or has an improvement in form that’s hard to explain, he’s probably doping. In the long run, he’s doping. Was Quintana’s ride in the category of ‘hard to explain’? Well, as I’ve read the comparison in the comments above, and when I saw Quintana’s ride on Saturday one thought kept flashing in my head – Alberto Contador circa 2009-10. When the dude started owing everyone in the TT. That was, despite Contador’s talent, hard to explain. Only it wasn’t really it was blatantly frigging obvious.

    I appreciate the fallacy of watching sport and condemning anyone who’s any good to being a cheat. I’m not into that. But I’m also not into watching redundant contests, rendered so by some cheating wretch. I’ve watched whole Grand Tours that were, in hindsight, utterly pointless. There is no smoke without fire in cycling. Right now Froome and Quintana have just got an absolute shedload of scorching heat, so it’s all good.

    • Your first three paragraphs had me doing the Roflmao, I was unable to read the rest.

      Pretty hard to start a team from scratch with riders who palmares are fairly sparse and dominate the sport in your first year.

      That does raise eyebrows. Yet, until someone comes forth with evidence as opposed to the usual witch hunt dogma or jealousy at their success, I am forced to shrug and accept their success until facts prove otherwise.

    • Can you do the part where you produce the name of the last track rider that won a GT? Cause that hasn’t been done yet. And pls provide the name of the last out-of-nowhere rider that made a GT top 5 without doping (if you can provide 1, I can provide 10 who doped).

      So Sky’s logistical preparation makes major race winners out of former domestiques?

      And there’s a logical fallacy in assuming that the GB track team was dominating in a doping era………..without doping. We can call it the Lance Armstong fallacy, actually.

        • He can’t, it doesn’t fit in with his laughably simplistic view on life.

          Since when was Bradley Wiggins a ‘former domestique’? Never. Sky’s logistical preparation made a major race winner out of an incredibly talented cyclist who has won the track blue ribband, the 4km pursuit, AND HAD FINISHED 4th IN THE TDF WITH GARMIN. And had won a Prologue. You have no idea what you’re talking about, you’re a very poorly informed troll and I’m dissappointed in myself for throwing you the bone you clearly crave.

          If you believe anyone who achieves success is doping, why bother watching?

          • “Riding the track” is different from being a totally focused track rider, which Wiggins was……for years. Now he’s outclimbing true climbers and TT’ing better than ever. Remind you of anyone else? Must be the “logistical preparation”.

            So, winning a prologue = winning the TdF???? Who’s trolling now?

  26. “Once some thought the moon was made of cheese and others believed Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France on bread and water”

    I’ll laugh at this for days.

  27. When you’re busting your butt and crossing the pain threshold every day on the bike, hoping to make a living for you and your kids, it must be incredibly hard to stay off the dope. And even harder if they’re (indirectly) calling you a cheat on national TV. That hurts in ways that cycling should not hurt.
    On the other hand, the sport is never going to clean up if the fans and media don’t continue to voice that we will no longer tolerate doping.
    It’s a difficult problem, I don’t have an answer.

  28. I scanned thru all of the comments, and maybe I missed it, but I saw nary a mention of Cancellara in this debate. With the exception of those who have already been busted or directly linked to doping like Contador, Basso, and Valverde, there is only one man who truly deserves extra scrutiny; ‘Luigi’ himself.

    And yet, despite winning two of the biggest 1 day races so far this season, and ALWAYS being described as “extraordinary” and “not normal”…oddly enough without either of those terms carrying the doping stigma when used with his name…no one seems willing to “raise an eyebrow” at his results.

    I can’t envision what would have motivated Gogo and Schlanger to go on about Quintana, but it does seem suspicious that Quintana is the guy they target.

    • Cancellara is familiar so there’s no “he came from nowhere” talk. Also some say he’s not Luigi, it’s this uncertainty that means private suspicions have to be private and nobody will do a “Gogo and Schlanger” on him live on air.

  29. This is the real legacy of Verbruggin & McQuaide & their predecessors. The legacy of liars’ cheats & scoundrels means no one is above suspicion, even if honest people work dam hard to chase their dream. The UCI’s consistent failure to make good decisions at critical times have caused a complete reversal of the premise “innocent until proven guilty” Thanks to the UCI, LA et al, now all riders are dopers, and two bit media hacks can sling things around with no consequence. Pendulums never swing back and stop at the middle
    Anglo Saxons do not have clean hands or any rights to cast aspersions given our back yards. We all have an equal obligation to face the mess and get in and fix it. Mudslinging is not the answer.
    That being said the beauty & hope for the future is forums such as this on mediums such as the internet. The responsibility is to ensure that things can be highlighted & discussed rationally, views put objectively, mistakes admitted and then solutions can emerge. There is hope for the future, this too will pass, our sport is too beautiful and there is too much good work being done by good people for it not to.

  30. First of all nice piece. One of the comment mentioned Carlos de Andres pointing Rolland as a possible doper. To my knowledge no such comment have been made regarding Pinot who’s French too, is younger and had similar performances. So what triggered these nasty comments towards Rolland ? Part of it may come because there have been rumours and suspicions about Europcar while there’s not much to say about FDJ.
    It’s more tempting to speculate when the environment is not a great one. And Movistar is a bad environment. They have guys with a history of doping that never confessed, Valverde, Ventoso, Plaza. heavily investigated ones like Karpets, Visconti and others that were caught with “minor” PEDs like Lastras & Costa. But mostly there’s Unzue the guy who put Indurain in the hands of Cocnconi, who was a partner of Fuentes and that sent guys to Ferrari and covered doping practices for many years.
    If Gogo and Schlanger have the major share in damaging Quintana’s reputation, in my opinion Unzue is also liable for that.

  31. This is the most thoughtful and reasonable article on doping in sport that I have read in a long time. The fundamental problem for clean athletes is that there is no way to prove you are clean.

  32. Great piece, totally concur. There is a line to walk between conveniently ignoring facts and publicly doubting anyone who wins or improves. In my opinion there is far too much unsubstantiated mud-slinging in general. It’s one thing to read that (or try to avoid reading it) on internet forums or Twitter but it’s even more depressing to see it extend to a television broadcast where clearly the in depth research hasn’t extended to googling a riders name.

  33. Wow! The number of comments must mean Inrng has struck a nerve. I too “raised an eyebrow” when I heard Quintana snatched the win from the overly scientific Sky train. With my curiosity piqued, and not having followed the race too closely (TV in my country doesn’t know what cycling is..) I decided to investigate. First-off I remembered Quintana was up with the favourites at last year’s Giro or TDF. Then I read the final TT was an uphill affair, with rain thrown in the mix. Then I read he was actually 3rd before the stage started.. So what was sensationalised in the media about his win ended up sounding simply a logical conclusion, at least to my way of looking at things. Sorry Team Sky, you are not the foregone winners of every race. So again its media hype that create a story (“Quintana SNATCHES victory”) to then allow other media to hype it up with questions of doping (“incredible” performance). This is all quite subtle, but the way news is presented has a way of altering perception. And that is what I believe has happened. Throw in the Inrng comments about the rider’s nationality and his company and society’s all too easy acceptance of stereotypes, as well as the media suggestions that something (doping) is happening when in actual fact there is no “extraterrestrial” performance, and you have the beginnings of rumermongoring.

    The media is obviously trying to make up for lost ground, seeking witches today when yesterday they (MOSTLY) stayed quiet or only asked the pre-approved interview questions. By all means the media MUST ask questions, but they need to be pertinent, balanced, and about seeking truth and not just sensationalising things (and therefore selling more news!).

  34. the above piece sounds wrong. I meant to say:

    Throw in Inrng comments about society’s too easy acceptance of sterotypes, in this case involvling the rider’s nationality and his company, as well as the media suggestions that something (doping) is happening when in actual fact there is no “extraterrestrial” performance, and you have the beginnings of rumermongoring.

  35. Yes, it would be naive to think that every single rider is clean but we don’t see this much suspicion at the end of every single race around the world.
    As so many of you have pointed it out before, he certainly didn’t just “come out of nowhere”
    It goes to show how much these two guys “know ” about the sport they are commenting on.
    As we say in Colombia “todo lo del pobre es robado”…something like “a poor man’s achievements are undeserved/stolen” (it makes sense in Spanish :D)

  36. Very interesting piece, and comments. I find Phil and Paul’s uncritical cheerleading a bit grating, but don’t want to accuse every unexpected performance of being chemically fueled. The media needs to be careful. I know that my own cycling and running varies a lot day to day, for no reason that I can discern. Good legs / bad legs – it’s all the luck of the draw.

    But to stop being rational for a moment, and sucumb to emotion and national sterioetypes – if you question Team Sky today you’re essentially questioning GB Cycling and the GB olympic teams over the past decade or more. Theoretically it’s posible that this is the new East Germany, but realistically – no chance. It’s been done clean, it’s just science and hard work. Or vice versa.

    • more likely the science of chemical enhancement.

      Let’s face it, when you build a team from scratch with riders of sparse reults, then you dominate the sport, there are more than just questions, there are suspicions, reasonable doubt, and flat out jealousy.

      Because of cyclings gruesome and checkered past, reactions like those US and others will be a part of the sport

      • But Wheelsucker’s point is that Sky have not been built from scratch – it has evolved out of the BC programme of the last 12(ish) years. And the reason that was successful was that it had a shed load of of money thrown at it ‘cos in the UK Olympic Medals = Government Funding.

        • Team SKY may succeed clean or not , I don’t know about that. The one thing I doubt is the logic behind your reasoning : “Sky has evolved out of BC . BC is clean and successful because it has a lot of Government money and work hard therefore Sky is also successful because it also has a lot of money and work hard and that’s why SKY is clean”. Stop.
          And what if BC is not clean ? What if some of the UK Gvt money was used to develop a top-notch doping programme ?
          In my opinion it’s OK to discuss ideas like that in a forum but journalists are professionals they should have ethics and not publish/talk unless they have some evidence of truth.

    • Wow, so by virtue of what are you assuring us that Team GB riders were clean on the track?
      Brailsford might not have coordinated, but what are the chances that the team was dominating other teams in an era in which doping was absolutely rampant?

      Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Lance Armstrong, anyone?

        • I think the reason most riders who race track in Britain believe that the BC programme is/was clean is that we all know people who’ve been thrown off ‘The Plan’. If they don’t meet the targets set to them in training, they are unceremoniously bumped off the BC track programme, some of whom have been there since relative childhood. There is a fair bit of bitterness from those who didn’t quite make it, especially as there is no backup plan, no alternative employment possibility, some can do nothing else by this point in their lives.
          As far as I know, not one of these potentially bitter riders who have been evacuated from the track programme have ever mentioned to anybody anything about a doping programme. They are no longer funded by BC, some are not even riding bikes anymore, but not one has mentioned anything to anyone. So most active track riders in Britain find it hard to comprehend that these riders would continue keeping a secret that they have no reason to keep. There are quite often some eye opening comments from such riders about some members of BC staff & the manner in which they deal with riders, it seems like a brutal environment to be part of, which is possibly why it works.
          The UK domestic UCI teams are littered with riders who have been evicted from the BC ‘Plan’, so a good number have found an alternative way to earn some money and remain in cycling.

      • So you really think Chris Hoy is on the juice? Have a word with yourself man, you’re talking absolute garbage and displaying hitherto unheard-of levels of ignorance.

        Shall I tell you how LA differs from Wiggins? For a start, Wiggins hasn’t started caning everyone in the high mountains like LA did. Wiggins, like the TT’er he is, can win TT’s and stay with people on the mountains as long as nothing explosive happens. LA could ride away from the best climbers in the peloton whilst also winning the TTs. 2 totally different scenarios, one super-human, one believably falliable. Also, LA wont the TDF 7 times. Wiggins barely won it once.

          • Doubter: every time you liken something that’s said, to Lance did this/Lance said that/LA apologists. Yes, he doped to the gills. He also uttered words, he rode a bike, he trained, he ate, he drank. He doesnt and didnt have the monopoly on those last things. Just because he doped and denied, doesnt mean that everyone else today who denies, is doping and lying.

            Fundamentally if you have a definite picture you’re determined to make up, you can use anything you want to get there. And when any of us come back to present an alternative picture, backed up with some facts, we’re all likened to LA apologists.

            Strikes me that the only thing that will make you happy is for Brailsford and Wiggins to admit the team are running an organised, institutional doping regime, twirl imaginary cloaks and disappear in a puff of evil smoke, cackling “bwahahaha”.

          • As INRNG says, it’s all speculation and theories, but the depth of the involvement with British Cycling and Team GB, the length of time that they have been continuously improving, the number of people involved over the years and, as Spoke Dog says, the number of potential whistleblowers created, all make a systematic doping regime very, very, very unlikely. David Miller’s encounters with Team GB are a good illustration of this. It’s not like LA and USP at all.

  37. great piece, thanks…

    Was I dreaming or did I hear Phil commentating on Roubaix on the ITV4 show? I thought I heard him talk about the “Armstrong business”, and thought he had a bit of a cheek.

    Nit: “and to this day science hasn’t resolved Newton, Einstein and gravitation” – I believe Einstein himself resolved Newton & gravitation in 1915, to everyone’s satisfaction, and things remain resolved today.

    It’s resolving gravitation with quantum physics that’s proving a little tricky…

      • yup 🙂

        Perhaps the best thing that can come out of the Armstrong fiasco is that hopefully it can’t happen again: no more will someone be able to apply the bullying, reputation sullying, etc, that LA could employ.

        Because, thanks to decades of thankless work by Walsh, Kimmage, Andrieu, Emma O, etc, etc, ad nauseam, in future things will be looked at more closely, and also we are now used to questioning the motives of McQuaid et al.

        Doping may still be happening, indeed, but I think/hope we’ll never again see the head-in-the-sand behaviour…

        Against that, un-informed gossip should not be aired on TV…

        • I don’t thinl this piece was gossipy or throwing out allegations at all.

          TS prefaced his question to GoGo with, “in this day and age,” and “with all the attention being focused on doping.”

          And Gogo responded quite practically. “Yes, you do have to question the performance of a rider.” ” I hope not.”

          Obviously they are not that aware of his past results. As much as I dislike their style, they have always seemed to be far more prepared factually than the jokers on vs. Gogo should have pointed out his past palmares to counter his opinion of his perceived recent success. NQ has not enjoyed success at the higher level of races that most pay attention to. He has achieved success at the lower levels and in smaller events. He stood out in the Catalunya and now El Pais, middle of the road races, but certainly not on par with the Daffy or TdS, let alone a GT.

          • I didn’t want to make it about them. Yes there is the video clip but they get two lines in the 1000 words and I try to explain why the media, like a pendulum swinging back, now gets sceptical. The point is not so much what happened in the studio then but the wider idea of how the media, fans and other followers deal with credibility and suspicion.

          • I think I meant to imply that questioning whether a rider is doping, based on relatively uninformed views of their recent performance history, is akin to gossip.

            If they’re going to question it at all, I’d prefer to see it restricted to a quantitative approach, e.g W/kg, VAM, etc, and that also needs to be done by someone with some understand of statistics, and there’s a lot of surprising non-trivial stuff there.

            An example would be the sort of analyses that Ashenden, Vaughters, etc, sometimes do.

            Not this “he hasn’t won much in the last few months, do you think he might be doping?” crap…?

        • I hope you’re right, however history has an uncanny knack of repeating itself.

          Sports Illustrated 1999:

          or what went on before then. New York Times 1998

          or organised blood doping of USAC athletes in the 1980s.
          East Germany.

          Yet as we know, such things are bound to repeat. Cheating will surface in one way or another and when big money, fame and/or political power is at stake, well it becomes “organised cheating”.

      • Maybe not, given the centre of the cycling galaxy seems at times to revolve around an Armstrong black hole, it’s an analogy one could have fun with but I guess the proportion of cycling geeks is limited 🙂

  38. Prepare yourselves. Colombian riders are back and they will take main stage this year and the coming years during the Giro, the Tour and La Vuelta.

    Colombian riders were in the raise in the late 80’s and early 90’s: Luis Herrera won La Vuelta a España in 1987, taking the KOM title as well, KOM title also in 1991. In 1985 he won two stages at the Tour and also the KOM, which again we won in 1987. Fabio Parra, got 3rd place at the Tour in 1988, and 5th place in la Vuelta on the same year. Like Herrera and Parra, many other ‘escarabajos’ played an important roles in European races.

    Sadly, the early 90’s saw the begining of the EPO era and the decline in performance for the Colombian cyclists. Now, 2013, after the renaissance of the sport post Lance-debacle, anti-doping controls and protocols are much tighter and true talent can and will flourish. No matter ill-intentioned comments from American sport “journalists”.

    Watch out for Rigoberto Uran (London Olympics road race silver medalist and TDF Maillot Blanc winner 2011), Sergio Henao (2nd GC Tour of Utah 2011, 2nd GC Vuelta a Burgos 2012, 3rd GC Vuelta Pais Vasco 2013), Nairo Quintana (1st Tour de L’Avenir 2010, KOM title Volta a Catalonia 2011, 1st GC vuelta a murcia 2012, TT winner vuelta a españa 2012, 1st GC vuelta pais vasco 2013), Carlos Betancour (1st overall Giro D’Italia u27 2010, 7th overall Vuelta pais Vasco 2013) and a few others.

    These guys will keep on winning races, clean and in style. Watch this space.

    • And I definitely have no problem with that:) Uran, Quintana and Henao are amongst my favourite riders. Their back stories and backgrounds are eye-opening, and help you appreciate the struggles they’ve had just to make it to Europe. Great riders, exciting riders.

  39. Doubter – I guess you conveniently ignored the part where I typed FINISHED 4TH IN THE TOUR WITH GARMIN. I even typed it in capitals as I knew you’d try and ignore it becasue you probably didn’t know about it and it throws out a lot of your arguments (ie Wiggins was a no name domestique before joining Sky). I’ve typed it again here, try and read it and comprehend it, and factor it into your responsed instead of just choosing to respond to the snippets that fit in with your argument.

    So Wiggins rode track. As did Cav. And Sagan rode MTB. What does any of this have to do with doping? People come from other disciplines of cycling all the time, some excel on the road, some don’t. If you’re not aware of this then again, it’s down to your own ignorance

    And please, Bradley Wiggins is NOT outclimbing pure climbers. That’s the difference between him and LA. LA was the best at cllimbing and at TTs. That was suspicious and unbelievable. Wiggins, however, is not outclimbing the best climbers. Just because you’ve typed it and are desperate to believe it doesn’t make it so. So no, Bradley Wiggins does not remind me or any other cycling fan of LA. The only reason someone would think they’re the same is if they had a very shallow understanding of the situation and did not really have much of a clue about cycling ie you. To anyone who knows cycling, there is a pretty clear difference between the achievements of Wiggins and LA

    Try to reconcile your opinions with actual real-life facts and events rather than some mythical idea planted in your head that bears no relation to anything that’s actually happened. Or just keep drinking that sweet juicy Kool-Aid, you seem to be really enjoying it. LA fans drank the LA Kool Aid, meaning that their opinions were pre-determined emotional responses completely independant of the mountain of evidence against him. This means they’d made up their minds and did not want to listen to anyones opinions or engage in intellignet debate – they had their opinion and nothing was going to change that. Sound familiar? Your opinions of Sky are not based on any evidence, but due to your excessive consumption of Kool-Aid.

  40. It’s almost like this ‘Doubter’ character is adopting an intractable, hard-line cynicism based on speculation as a clever and illustrative way of personifying INRG’s main point in this article – much like Stephen Colbert portrays a satirical characterisation of a stereotype.
    Kudos Doubter – that’s exactly the kind of highlighting of specific riders without reasonable grounds or right of reply that INRG wrote about. You’ve illustrated the point perfectly.

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