Lowlights of the Year

Having looked at the highs, time to descent into the darkened valley of low points to see what went wrong and more.

The UCI went hard on the Astana team. It was as much a PR mistake, going public that the team’s existence was in doubt only to end with an audit. If it had been presented differently, think “UCI conducts extra audits on Astana for assurance” it’d have been better. Not that this was a presentational matter, there was a substantial issue to address. However it came on the back of bad news about the team in 2014 from the Iglinskiy brothers testing positive for EPO and the U23 riders being busted for steroids which many had lumped together under the shady umbrella of Sacha Vinokourov. Then came the February press release from the UCI saying it had found something so serious that the team’s licence was in jeopardy. Astana may always be a hard team to root for unless you’re a Kazakh patriot but the UCI managed to make it worse.

The CIRC report was never going to be fun but its interpretation wasn’t any good. Reading it there were some unattributed quotes about the prevalence of doping which sounded spurious at best, the kind of comment to be taken with a shovel of road salt because there’s nothing to back it up. So what did the mainstream media do? Run with the most salacious quote. It makes you think about the sensational treatment given to area areas whether science, politics and so on where headlines obviously compete for attention while masking more nuanced or profound stories underneath. So it was with the CIRC – cost 2.25 million Swiss francs – and a report which told much of what we already knew but final in black and white with a UCI logo on it. The recommendations are slowly being implemented so good is coming out of it but will the benefits ever outweigh the costs?

The GP Frankfurt was cancelled for the year because of a terrorist threat. At least cancellation meant no atrocity but it’s sad to see an event stopped and a concern if the gathering of people for a bike race becomes a target for cowards and nutters. Other events don’t need public order concerns and again more races drop off the calendar. Evolution as some dud races go? Perhaps but we lose good events too and new events, like Abu Dhabi, don’t inspire.

The Tour de France had a several negative points or rather they did if you switched on Twitter. Polemics about hotels, race boycotts, watts, hacked power files, spitting and more never ruined the race but they did bring a lot of negativity at times and generated loud arguments that could drown out the racing. None of it is new, in 1903 an angry mob surrounded a rider shouting “Kill him! Kill him!” and many riders have been spat on in the maillot jaune, but social media seems to elevate these scandals above the race itself. To some extent this held true in the Giro too where Richie Porte’s motorhome and Richie Porte’s wheel change seemed to make more headlines than Richie Porte and his racing. The big mess came in the Tour de France, accusations flew, Sky were bounced into releasing some data and a French TV report that used different numbers and a mini-war over the data erupted. Only each number quoted was a different ratio, it was not much more useful than comparing two sets of numbers, one in kilometres per hour to another in miles per hour. Are we really ready for live wattage telemetry?

Level Crossing Roubaix

Vincenzo Nibali’s car ride during the Vuelta was bad, it happens but when caught so obviously better to admit it rather than seek sympathy, especially when the video has gone viral. Another “what were they thinking moment” was the level crossing incident in Paris-Roubaix. It looked bad on a superficial basis and another clip that travelled the world with the subtext that racing cyclists will do anything if it helps them. It was made worse because the UCI promised a review from which little has emerged and it means the next time the bells ring and lights flash many a rider will sprint rather than brake. Moves in France are afoot to post police or marshals by the crossings for next year but as we saw in April even a moto gendarme couldn’t stop some. This brings us to general rider safety and some bad crashes, think of Greg Van Avermaet and Peter Sagan being hit by race motos or those steel bollards in the finish line for a stage of the Tour of the Basque Country. There’s understandably a strong reaction after from fans with many emails, tweets and more along the lines of “Brian Cookson must act” but the truth is that if President Cookson can do a lot, his job doesn’t make him an omnipotent Mr Big and it only highlights how responsibility can fall through the gaps. Finally if we’ve mentioned safety and course design there was the Vuelta’s opening stage, the team time trial that wasn’t after the playa haters forced a late change. Good for the riders for standing up but these things need to be planned by the race before.

All is not well behind the scenes with ongoing talk of a feud between the Velon teams and ASO. The UCI got involved over proposed reforms. There’s long been tension because of the atomistic structure of the sport, in simple terms the teams supply the riders, the race supplies the route and the UCI supplies the rules. Only it’s not this simple as there’s overlap. Arguing over money is legitimate, it’s the amateurism that grates. David Lappartient seems to have more irons in the fire than a burning golf shop. Oleg Tinkov is reduced to calling on Velon teams to boycott the Tour de France, about as likely as flying pig made out of crystal. Tinkov himself calls for stability in the sport but irks sponsors, muses in interviews that he could stop his team and changes employees at a high rate too.

Valverde Liege

Having looked at the good races, some were flat to watch. The Ardennes week of racing isn’t a disaster but it is a bit dull, a series of races that have all the ingredients: terrain, prestige, crowds, status. Races like Liège-Bastongne-Liège and the Amstel are huge physical challenges with plenty of climbing yet they’re becoming demonstrations of efficiency and exercises in economy. Riders sit tight and throw team mates up the road to force others into taking up the chase before a sprint from a select group determines the winner. The Brabantse Pijl, the lesser of the three “Ardennes” races probably had the best racing.

Déjà vu: a lot of this year’s negatives are similar to last year with safety concerns, the Astana team, political feuds, Twitter polemics trumping sport and so on. Which means they’ll be back in 2016.

43 thoughts on “Lowlights of the Year”

  1. Kazakhstan’s human rights record would make it very hard to support Astana even without the shady goings-on – and you can’t really blame people for linking their senior riders’ doping with their U23 rider’s doping.
    Human rights nothing to do with sport? Well, some issues are too important to ignore – same reason I dislike Sky: despise the hatred and bigotry that Newscorp peddle.
    However, my own personal feelings don’t change the facts (and are not based in any way on cycling) – and the facts have not been presented to justify the many sweeping statements made about Astana and Sky.
    The UCI made a hash of CIRC as well as Astana – the 90% quote could have come direct from Di Luca’s mouth. (Far more garbage is spouted about politics and science in the mainstream media – but that’s people’s fault for believing it.)
    ‘Are we really ready for live wattage telemetry?’ – no, that’ll only encourage the amateur ‘scientists’.
    I thought the train thing was overblown (there was a far closer miss in a much lower race around about the same time) – riders faced far more dangerous things during the season, many kindly supplied by race organisers.
    ‘David Lappartient seems to have more irons in the fire than a burning golf shop.’ – top stuff.
    The Brabantse Pijl doesn’t finish up a hill – that’s what LBL needs to change (and so many people have said this).
    On the plus side, great to hear that Valverde is doing Flanders and the Giro – about time he had a realistic go at winning a grand tour again, and great to see riders attempting classics that are not their bread and butter.

    • I feel sorry for a man who is so upset by what Rupert Murdoch does that he judges anything else financed by his money, however unrelated (and Team Sky really is zero to do with Newscorp outside of finance) on that basis. Life must be a nightmare for you and your ethical oversensitivity.

      • Thanks for the sympathy.
        I wish I had your callousness, not to mention your objectivity, Sir Dave.
        As for your cold, hard logic: ‘Team Sky really is zero to do with Newscorp outside of finance’ – yes, those tens of millions of pounds mean nothing.

      • I’m really confused now – when I put SKY in my “rich chamois-sniffer” category of race sponsorship due to James Murdoch’s interest in cycling I was quickly “corrected” with claptrap about how it’s an important part of their business strategy, but now “SirDaveBrailsford” says otherwise?
        Same as with SKY, I couldn’t be a fan of a team sponsored by Fox News, Wal-Mart, petro-dollars, corrupt governments, etc.
        Finally, I really have to take issue with your “ethical oversensitivity” term – where do you draw the line on ethics? “Seriously unethical” is bad…but “ethically questionable” or “kind of unethical” is OK? Is it like “seriously doped”, “kind of doped”, “I used to dope but I’m clean now” or “I just thought about cheating even though you found my blood in the bags”? 🙂

      • Geeez, here we go again…..it’s not so much the SKY team that merits disliking, as it’s frankly full of likeable riders.
        It’s the fans that just can’t abide that someone doesn’t fancy their chosen team.

        Same reason I can’t stand the NY Yankees, actually……their fans are the worst.

  2. I honestly don’t understand your beef with the Ardennes Classics inrng! This statement ‘Riders sit tight and throw team mates up the road to force others into taking up the chase before a sprint from a select group determines the winner’ could describe one day racing in general. I think Amstel Gold has one of the most entertaining finishes of the season. Sure Fleche Wallone is a little predictable and it is slow, but that’s what happens on a steep hill! I like Liege-Bastogne-Liege, I like that a few different types of riders can potentially win it – GC men like Andy Schleck, punchuers like Gilbert and Gerrans or the halfway house option of Valverde – and I like that it is on the type of roads that I ride on. Maybe the fact that the finish is on an uphill drag after 260km makes it a little slow and unspectacular but that could easily be changed.

    • I agree with you Richard. Ardennes Week didn’t seem any better or worse racing than the rest of the year to me. We had a sprint finish in the Amstel Gold and LBL is always about which 2 or 3 guys get away to contest the drag up the hill. Fleche is always about who climbs the Mur de Huy the best – and I don’t see anything wrong with that.

      If anything, the let down race of the year was the Tour of Flanders once Terpstra and Kristoff were alone because there was only going to be one winner.

      • LBL didn’t used to be about that – when it didn’t end up a hill.
        If a one day race ends up a hill, riders tend to wait for that hill. If it doesn’t end up a hill, strong riders will tend to attack earlier – many think that this makes for a more interesting race.
        AG, FW and LBL all end up a hill – and they all tend to lack action before the last few km these days.

        • I pretty much agree, I just think the Amstel Gold finish is good because it isn’t that steep a hill and it is approached, and therefore tackled, at high speed making it more entertaining than the others. Fleche Wallone is predictable and relatively dull but if it was a one off rather than one of three might not look so bad. I agree that L-B-L would be better if it had a flat finish. It would allow a greater variety of rider to win maybe even including the likes of Matthews and Sagan depending on the distance from the last hill to the finish and would provoke more attacks. In the finale we’d hopefully get a small group of punchuers chasing one or two climbers who’d popped off on the last climb or two.

        • The other problem of the finish of LBL is that it takes place in an absolutely ugly neighbourhood. I am sure it is possible to pack a hill after the roche aux faucons before going down to Liège.

  3. Any chance we could avoid spending god knows how many posts arguing the toss over Murdoch and Newscorp pls, and leading off into back and forth about individual posters ethics. I’m not exactly wild about the environmental disasters at Orica’s door, but I’d prefer to leave that to a thread dedicated to cycling’s sponsors, as INRNG publishes every now and again

    • Well, as is the norm, I wrote many other things, but some always choose to leap on one small bit and then make personal comments – I simply respond in kind. Maybe I shouldn’t, but I find it hard to leave it without having my own say (like here).

        • True enough. Mind you, it is a short and not very steep hill (~700m at ~5.5%?) and isn’t preceded by many or very challenging hills: this makes an attack more likely to succeed (as does it being a smaller race, probably). But yes, it was a bad example for what I was suggesting LBL should be like.

  4. How can you say Nibali’s tow was a lowlight, it was hilarious!!!

    The lowlight of the year to me was Team Sky’s treatment at The Tour by quite a distance. I’m no Sky fanboy, I watch racing without any particular favourites (apart from those in my fantasy teams of course). But the bile was hard to stomach. Revolting.

  5. The CIRC was a damp squib and poor value. The anonymous “90%” quote matches Di Lucas from 2014 as previously referenced, and the current IAAF/Russia controversy shows how effective an independent report can be.

  6. For me Amstel was a pretty good race, if only in the last few km or so, but FW and LBL especially was a damp squib, the latter possibly due to past champs Martin and Gerrans crashing out depriving the finale of any real competition.

  7. I can’t argue with any of Inrng’s choices here.
    But, all in all, I think that this season’s positives far outweigh the negatives (and I’m not talking about samples, thankfully).
    The main negative is that the year has passed so quickly!
    A good season.
    Bordering on great, seasoned veterans?

  8. There is little to be gained by complaining about some of the sports classic and semi classic events. When these events were founded most road conditions would be unrecognizable by todays standards, as would the bikes used in the competition.

    The only practical solution is for some new (L’Eroica anyone) events to be introduced alongside the historical races, which better reflect the evolution of both bikes and environment, and are designed with making exciting competition the principal objective.

    I guess races will only ever be as exciting as the riders or race radio directors decide to make them.

  9. “Playa haters” made me smile.

    One for next year’s lowlights reel may well be the spectacle of a new range of sports experiencing paroxysms over doping, some even with geopolitical repercussions. About time perhaps but it’s all rather depressing.

    (And probably futile in the long term. I wonder if the first genetically modified athlete has already been born? But that’s getting off topic.)

  10. I agree with inrng about the Ardennes being a bit boring this year. And there’s sort of a trend, too, but not as much as many commenters appear to believe, at least IMHO.

    It’s not like “they’re like this, sort of an uphill sprint, deal with it”, with someone liking it since it’s uncertain to the last meter (don’t we have Milano-Sanremo for that?) and someone else disliking the lack of substantial action throughout the previous 200+ kms.
    I believe it’s more about appreciating a course which *can* (but not authomatically *does*) provide a wide variety of options: the best result is when several of them remain open as long as possible during a same edition of a race.

    To say the truth, the Flèche is indeed a story on its own, a very scripted race – and that’s totally in its nature. We may talk of changing, but it has established itself as such for enough years to create a specific identity. I won’t enter into this.

    But L-B-L? Hey, between 2005 and 2015 we had *five* out of 11 eleven editions where the final podium was decided by long-range attacks, including two solo attacks one of which succeded and the other not. That’s quite fine for me. If it was always lonely wolves getting to the line, it would lose the fascination of such a balanced race.
    Probably the fact that the majority of brave racing was to be seen between 2009 and 2012 had us accustomed to a standard which has gone progressively more and more missing in the last years.
    The last two editions were rather disappointing in terms of sheer action and deployment of full technical potential, but, IMHO, 2013 was at least fine. 2007 and even more so 2008 were better and, in fact, quite great, but 2013 wasn’t to be disliked.
    All in all, I’d say we should wait one year or two (maybe not much more) before crying out for radical changes.

    The Amstel might need a slightly different approach, since in the last 6 years we only had one successful attack being prompted before the last Cauberg. The change applied to the finale was really welcome, since, at least, it granted us a couple of editions whose closing kms were indeed quite exciting – however, nothing was *really* happening before.
    That said, it’s not like it’s because of the course, as a consequence of historical evolution and lack of gravel road: if we just look to the previous five years, that is 2005-2009, there were a lot of moves well before the finale, and 3 out of 5 editions saw a reduced group of 1-3 men arriving to the last 10 kms with a decent advantage. 2006 was a great race (F. Schleck).
    Anyway, that starts to be far in the past and the risk of creating a slight variation on the Flèche’s theme is palpable.

    • L-B-L was solid this year. Pretty exciting finale.

      Amstel: It’ll be hard to see a finish like 2006 anytime soon. I can’t see how a long-range attack would survive these days. The sustainability of that attack is hard to match in the bio-passport era!

      • Do people never get bored with saying that everything is down to drugs?
        Why was it that when people were on drugs – I’m going with your version of then and now here – riders were strong enough to survive a long-range attack, but the other riders – who we assume were also on drugs – were not strong enough to chase them down? Or did only doped riders attack from long distances?

        • Everything isn’t down to drugs, but it made a difference. How can a fan say that it didn’t make a huge difference? Isn’t that why drugs are bad? They made a huge difference.

          People were clean in 2006, and some people used more amounts of doping than others. Those who did had a huge unfair advantage. If you did dope, it was easier to break away.

          Therefore, everything isn’t down to drugs, but a lot was down to drugs.

          • You’ve no idea why people rode how they did then, you assume that things are now clean, but you’ve no idea, and you also assume that all results back then happened because of drugs. None of this involves logic. And you still fail to explain why the dopers could break away, but apparently couldn’t chase those who had broken away.

          • People were able to make a solo break before ‘scientific’ doping was even introduced (as in stimulants vs. hormones/transfusions). And it was already *modern* cycling.

            Besides, whom F. Schleck rode away from in that race? Wesemann, Boogerd, Sinkewitz, Rebellin, Perdiguero… and so on. The first rider who’s never been involved in *proven* doping case was Bettini. All of the above were on team programmes. Then, on with Schumacher, Ivanov, Ballan, who made the rest of the top ten.
            Among the first 25 riders, only five *haven’t been caught* in doping cases (careful with the strict definition, not saying they were clean). Six if you include Horner ^__^
            Besides Bettini, you’ve got Samu Sánchez and Freire from Spain, Moos from Switzerland (however, a member of that 2006-Phonak dream team – on the TdF team, too) and Grivko, one of the few trusted gregari of Nibali at Astana.

            “People were clean in 2006”? O__o

            “Someone might have been clean, perhaps, even in 2006” is a better way to say that.
            80% *at least* of the guys who were up there weren’t usually clean riders, and also were in now well-known top-level team-organised programmes (not as top as Lance, maybe, but around there).
            Try better.

  11. Gabriele – you’re completely right. I meant that “some could be not doping in 2006, but that is very unlikely”. I agree totally with your opinion that pretty much everyone at the top of that race were doping.

    • It’s clear – to everyone else – that Gabriele is disagreeing with you.

      Massive generalisations like ‘If you did dope, it was easier to break away.’ – you’ve yet to explain why is was easier for dopers to break away from other dopers: Gabriele gave an example of a year when this was not the case.

      Saying ‘dopers are bad’ and then adding over-simplified, un-thought through and just plain wrong information after that isn’t really adding anything.

  12. I’d say the lowlight was how the comments here kept degenerating into slanging matches.

    People, please, let’s be nice. The internets take away the nuances of commentary even before some posters are using a second language. Hell, I’m not even very good at making myself completely understood in my only language.

    • The posters making unfounded and ill thought-out generalisations, which they cannot back up with any coherent argument, are generally not using a second language. Similarly, neither are most of the people who waste their time debating with people who really are ‘just talking’.

  13. Two points. A it too hard for people to put a name in when they are posting?! Following a discussion between two people called Anonymous is rather confusing! Secondly, this is an Internet discussion board/forum. People come here to chat and share opinions on the subjects Inrng raises. Nobody here is on the inside of the sport, so their opinions will be unfounded and include generalisations. To expect anything else would be silly.

    • It’s a question of how one responds to people whose posts consist of ‘This team are doping’, ‘This happened entirely because of doping’, ‘Everyone’s doping’, etc.
      If you reply, you get nowhere, because they’re stuck with their dogma: they ignore any discussion points.
      You keep plugging away and the conversation swiftly turns to the sort of futile and tedious bickering that blights other sites – and which you were hoping to prevent in the first place by pointing out the fallacies in such generalisations. No-one is more guilty of this than me. And I can see that in future I will be far better off ignoring that sort of comment. Clearly, everyone else would benefit from this too.
      (We all generalise, of course – and get things wrong – but I’d ask these people to at least learn something about the subject before stating these ‘facts’.)
      I apologise for lowering the tone of the site and from now on will try to keep my rants to myself – well, I’ll be screaming at my computer screen, so my girlfriend will now suffer, but she’s made her choice.

    • To help you with the confusion:

      Anonymous Nov 14, 2015 at 11:11 am

      Sky sucks; Froome’s a whinging wanker, the RV was just to facilitate the transfusion of Young blood and genetic manipulation!!

      Anonymous Nov 14, 2015 11:22 am

      +100 Anonymous, you are a genius! that was the most brilliant post I’ve ever read! And, I’ve spent my whole adult life reading and posting on blogs!..

      Anonymous Nov 14, 2015 11:31 am

      Anon, YOU are the wanker. Team Sky is simply the most brilliant sports team on the planet. Froomey is a genetically modified deity; Brailsford is 100% responsible because of the genius of his marginal gains program that no one else can pull off. Murdoch’s money is magnificent. Rebekah Brooks is so hot, I want to be her dog. I don’t even care if they are cheating and have Cookson in their pocket. They deserve to win. Everything.

      (Notice how the third anonymous poster realized that the first two anonymous posters were the same person? It take some concentration, but he realized that both posts had used exclamation points in common. Plus, the first poster is a numerologist.)

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