Thursday Shorts

The Glasgow super world championships start today with all disciplines united together, all at the same time and with this a reunited UCI shorts piece. Ahead of the racing the big news is that the UCI is adding a second tier of teams for women’s cycling…

The men have had three tiers of international-level cycling teams: WorldTeams, ProTeams and Conti teams while women’s cycling currently has WorldTeams and Conti, with no middle tier. This is a big deal because WorldTeams come with all sorts of regulatory protections and UCI oversight while Conti teams have little of this, for example there’s no requirement to even pay riders. ProTeams sit in the middle, salaries and a minimum wage but not quite as high, a minimum team size but not as big, a wage guarantee posted with the UCI, budget checks for the licence by UCI auditors and more: it’s the World Tour but without the automatic right to start the big races. For the women it should mean relegated teams from the World Tour don’t fall off a cliff edge in terms of oversight and regulation. But exactly how much the women’s ProTeams will copy from the men’s remains to be seen, we’ve got the press release, not the detailed rulebook changes but it shows the rapid professionalisation of the sport.

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Staying with UCI press releases, Ag2r Citroën’s Alex Baudin has a positive tramadol test from the Giro d’Italia. Remember this is a medical case and not an anti-doping matter as the UCI has got ahead of WADA here to introduce its own test under UCI rules. There are similarities and differences with Nairo Quintana’s case, the differences being that Quintana had two separate positive tests several days apart (the halflife of the molecule is such that it wasn’t one dose that lingered) and that it happened in the Tour de France when he was riding high on GC, and then just when he was close to signing a big contract so all in all it was a big deal; when many a reader might be forgiven for not knowing much about Baudin, for what it’s worth he’s Ag2r’s local lad, he grew up a tricycle ride away from the team HQ but alas now his name rhymes with tramadol. The similarity is that Baudin will appeal the case… and unless he can show the test was at fault or knows of some other flaw then the verdict stands and he loses his results from the Giro. That’s it. But from 1 January 2024 it’s on WADA’s prohibited list and in competition use risks a long ban.

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No UCI press release, just a line added to a PDF file on the UCI’s website but an actual doping case, albeit the opening of an investigation and far from a verdict. Robert Stannard has been provisionally suspended for “Use of Prohibited Methods and/or Prohibited Substances” with his Alpecin-Deceuninck team stating this happened in 2018-19 as in not with them. Stannard was with the Australian Under-23 programme. His agent published a statement with an attributed quote of “I have never intentionally or knowingly used a prohibited substance” which deny a prohibited method but it’s probably just badly drafted rather than anything more sneaky. Now given Alpecin say this took place over two years so it’s not a leap to imagine this is about alarm bells in the athlete passport and blood values rather than one positive toxicology test for a banned substance but that’s a “best guess” rather than certainty.

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Onto more certain justice and Filip Maciejuk got a 30 day ban for his dangerous riding in the Tour of Flanders. Social media had lots of “why so slow?” comments but presumably it takes time to get information from all sides, to hold hearings and then make sure a verdict stands as you can slap a cash fine on a rider quickly but denying them 30 days of work is a more serious issue that can’t be rushed. Perhaps the more complicated issue is why 30 days compared to 20 or 40 and why Maciejuk, it’s one of those incidents and accidents that look dumb but similar moves can go unpunished. It’s a point to return to as there’s no statement of doctrine from the UCI: they publish rules but won’t say how they are implemented in practice. Instead we’re left guessing and “punishment by consequences” is the implicit message. Pull a bad move and get away with it and you might be ok, take down lots of people in front of the TV cameras and you’re much more likely to get a penalty.

The Glasgow “super worlds” sees all disciplines together in one venue. Whether it’s a success depends on what you are holding out for. One measurable thing is that the road worlds has been the UCI’s big income earner. Hosting fees account for 30% of the UCI’s annual income and the road worlds fee is the single biggest item it banks each year. It’s got a queue of bidders and has banked partial cash fees from hosts yet to stage the worlds who have paid up already. A shared venue might mean shared costs but this cuts both ways, it also means having to book a lot more facilities so expenses can rise too. But just getting everything together sounds one every four years sounds like a good idea, we’ll see how it goes and there’s a political tone to it, we might enjoy watching a festival of cycling but an added motivation is to get all the UCI staff and interests together.

Finally on the UCI the annual report was published (PDF) on the eve of the Tour de France and you can see stable revenues of about 40 million Swiss Francs (CHF) for 2022 from the screengrab above. For the anecdote note this means some pro teams have bigger budgets but that’s to be expected, an energy regulator for example turns over less than the oil producers or electricity generators it oversees. It’s a line often repeated here that the governing body is based in offices next to a velodrome round the back of a Swiss retail park, as in it’s not a big organisation nor at the heart of power in a capital city. Now it almost looks like a hedge fund that has a sideline in sports governance, as the governing body made a loss for 2022 of four million Swiss francs (CHF). A big part of this was “the decrease in investment portfolio. On average, funds under management dropped by 11.63% at 31 December 2022. This strongly impacted the financial result with the recognition of an unrealised loss of CHF 4.7 million”.

Markets rise and fall but the governing body seems rather exposed to all this volatility as the red line from the screengrab of the report shows, you’d think it would be safer to avoid this kind of speculation. The good news is that the Tokyo games provided a buffer of CHF 22 million so a one-off hit of CHF 4.7 million is manageable… as long as it’s one-off.

With all this out of the way… a preview of the road race up soon

65 thoughts on “Thursday Shorts”

  1. Not quite sure whether “riding high on GC” is standard Inrng word play?

    On the subject of the Worlds, it’s very disappointing that the hosts wouldn’t allow all of the competing riders to enter the country. This should definitely count against the UK’s chances of hosting other major competitions.

    • It’s hard to know what the visa situation is, is it deliberate policy towards Eritreans, or paperwork mistakes/delays by UK authorities, or by the riders. It seems more case-by-case from the outside.

      • Eritreans have raced in the worlds in England in 2019, and AFAIK nothing special changed since then, so I don’t really understand what the problem is for the UK authorities…

        IMO the UCI should demand guarantees from organizing countries that all riders can attend (like the IOC & FIFA do). And certainly for all professional riders, because otherwise you are falsifying the results, and taking career chances away from them (e.g. Girmay can’t ride after his crash in San Sebastian, but otherwise he could maybe have been an outsider for the win).

        • “Eritreans have raced in the worlds in England in 2019, and AFAIK nothing special changed since then…”
          You ever heard the term “Brexit” in the last like 6-8 years?

    • Inrng gives me the chance to attempt to defend the position of the Home Office. I’m not an expert but have tried, with varying success, to obtain UK visas in the past. The UK has to deal with thousands of Visa applications. The paperwork is fairly simple but, as a result, it misses some of the nuances. They receive an application from a cyclist, a native of one of the most corrupt countries in the wold who has temporary residence in a non EU state in Europe. There will be lots of questions which take time to ask and to answer. This is probably made even more difficult by the visa application process being handled by the Eritrean cycling union, who probably don’t have a lot of experience in this activity, unlike the logistics manager of a WT team. The last, failed application I made, with a lot less complexity took 6 months to finalise. It’s the way it works.

  2. “The similarity is that Baudin will appeal the case… and unless he can show the test was at fault or knows of some other flaw then the verdict stands and he loses his results from the Giro. That’s it.”

    “That’s it”. As far as the UCI is concerned, yes, but surely the team must have a say too and as a MPCC outfit there will almost certainly be something in the rider’s contract with AG2R. If it really is an error, how unfortunate for a promising young rider.

    • I must say I was even more surprised by Baudin´s declared intention of appealing than I was by his positive result – which in itself was quite surprising , happening after the Quintana case.

      I would´ve thought that the lesson was learned that the risk of getting caught is quite real and that the chances of a succesful appeal are practically nil.

      Besides, it´s not all that easy to see the motivation even if we assume that the alternative to taking the risk was a DNF due to some kind of intolerable pain. It would´ve been a huge disappointment for the rider, but I don´t think it would have hurt his future or position within the team.

  3. Even for an ABP problem the delay from 2018/19 to 2023 seems surprising. I was wondering if it could be a repeat test of an old sample where the analysis was improved with respect to sensitivity or was more comprehensive.

    • Put aside this case mentioned above and two things, first they’ve gone back and cleared up some cases in Portugal of late that go back a while and it can take a while to open a case. Second, one of the things in manipulating blood values for doping is the need to keep them manipulated if not all the time, then at least often enough to keep data points on the passport looking the same. One big name rider who was caught by the passport stopped blood doping… and got caught because of this. It’s because his normal, natural levels established a pattern such that the old numbers when he was performing in grand tours became suspicious, a case was opened and that was him done. But that’s just the sort of thing you’d expect for a big rider a decade ago, not for an U23 rider.

      • Which big name rider was this?
        In terms of gaming the system you shouldn’t put it past anyone to attempt new and elaborate ways of doping. I mean the fake phallus with wee in it kind of shows the nadirs people will go to. In terms of base lines there will be those that seek get their charges doped at a young age to set a new baseline. Makes you wonder about the raft of ‘young, talented riders’ coming through. In some senses it creates a divide between riders under the old (doping) system and riders under the new blood passport, with a bunch of intergenerational riders unable to access the ability to start with high numbers because they need to manage and upward curve to their numbers.
        It’s a flawed system. But the authorities are trying. The level of testing that goes on is well below that required to be effective. Being caught is usually bad luck or incompetence.

      • IR is right, with some care (stable and reasonable results) cheating probably won’t be picked up by the ABP. Secondly the test frequency and number of data points appear inadequate for the procedure to be really effective. Maybe better than nothing and the detection of extreme cases is all we can hope for.

  4. Thursday evening (French time) and still finding it impossible to find start lists for any of the events on the UCI site. One would have thought, with this being the UCI’s flagship event, they’d have at the very least posted who was due to ride and where by now.

  5. Baudin’s case is very interesting because of why did UCI test him. He was way down on GC and come in like 90th on the stage and he was riding for a MPCC team who are supposed to be extra stringent about Tramadol. As they only did 64 tests in the entire Giro, it seems strange.
    Stannard’s is equally baffling as it relate’s to two tests in 2018 & 2019 – why now?

    • Can that be true that only 64 tests were done in the Giro? I’m not doubting you, just kind of stunned. That’s not even 1 test for each jersey wearer/stage plus stage winners…

      • “During the 2023 Giro d’Italia, a total of 64 dried blood samples were collected as part of the tramadol programme.”
        That’s what is says on the UCI press release. If they are taking two samples for every rider tested (as was the case with Baudin), then that’s just 32 riders tested.

        • Maybe the UCI think that’s enough to deter, and maybe some riders think that low probability of being tested means it’s a risk worth taking.

          It would be interesting to know how long after taking the drug remains detectable.

          • “Tramadol is typically detectable in the blood for 12-24 hours after usage but may be detectable for longer depending on a number of factors such as a person’s metabolism and the amount taken.”

            PS An 80´s anecdote:
            A Finnish long distance runner tested positive for an anabolic steroid. He naturally denied ever using steroids but he was also genuinely utterly perplexed by the result: he knew that he hadn´t taken a single dose of Primobolan within the critical time window.

            It turned out that a bag of blood had been frozen earlier in the spring , right after the training season, and stored for use before the main competition of that year – and the runner had used steroids in order to sustain the heavy training loads popular at the time.

            They had just erred on the wrong side and miscalculated or underestimated the time it would take…

            PPS In more advanced sporting nations or in countries with a state-approved doping system they would, of course, have tested the blood before storing it 🙂

        • I´d hazard the guess that the A and the B samples count as one – but it´s still an astonishingly small number.
          It´s possible that they take samples only on selected stages and thus there would be more than three riders tested .

          I believe the standard procedure for doping tests is to pick the winner or possibly the top three, a rider or riders about whom they have suspicions (raised by bio passport, tips received or performance level) and then to fill the quota with riders chosen by lottery.

          • 64 is the number of tramadol-specific tests, by my reading, rather than total doping tests…
            That doesn’t seem like a tiny number to me, though equally not a large one either. But expectations may vary of course 🙂
            Presumably the UCI has limited funds for tramadol testing, otherwise they’d do more…

          • It’s not a real doping test (yet), so I wouldn’t be surprised if their testing was entirely random and not based on that day’s performances (except maybe the second test was done because the first was positive…?).

          • I shouldn´t have jumped from tramadol tests to doping tests in the next paragraph. It all got too complicated for reader 🙂

            PS 64 divided by 21 is ~3 and 176 divided by 3 is ~60. I would no doubt fail a basic probability maths test, but I could possibly be tempted if I were the least bit desperate…

    • For Stannard, note the team says it relates to the period of time in 2018-2019, it doesn’t say two tests, which is why we might infer its about the athlete passport. Otherwise it would say “test for X substance on N date” as it typically does for prohibited substances.

  6. Very much looking forward to your preview of the road race.

    (It’s actually quite bizarre to look at the route and comprehend that the world championships will be using such familiar roads! I’ll see you on the Crow…)

    • It’s an amazing course. This could well be an epic WC. 10 and a half-ish laps, maybe 150 km, on a city hilly crit course, with ~5 sharp little bumps to navigate each time, and endless corners, on streets with various bits of old tarmac – the tar worn away, the aggregate sticking out – as well as sections of (basically) large footpaths. Plus, it’s forecast to be showery in the afternoon on Sunday.

      This is going to be a tough tough race. If you hang behind other riders, you will probably suffer more from having to accelerate harder when the rider in front chooses a slower line through a corner than you. If you stay on the front, while you may lose some of the benefits of draughting, you will claw back some energy by being able to choose your own lines through corners – if you have the technically ability to maintain your momentum through the corners, and keep a high mid-corner speed, there could be considerable energy savings.

      The rain, if it comes for the elite men on Sunday, will also sap energy.

      The British and European Championships held before in Glasgow – not identical route, but many of the same features – were really good races, I think this WC could be even better. Epic perhaps.

      I’m also curious to see how the pros compare to my Strava time through the last, technical part of the descent of the Crow into Lennoxtown. 😉

      • And to list them, as the come into the circuit, they’ll start with Great George st in the West End by the University of Glasgow – a bit of a lump. Steady, hard gradient. Down the other side down Gibson st, wind their way through lanes and Park Circus, over the M8 onto Sauchiehall st, to go left upo Scott St – another short, steepish lump – thrown in to get the Mackintosh designed School of Art on the TV I guess, renovated at great expense after a huge fire. Back down to Sauchiehall, then only a very slight rise up to Blythswood Square. Various others twists and turns before a longer stretch down Cathedral st, past the back of the University of Strathclyde campu – bit of time for a bunch to trade turns and recover here perhaps. More twists and turns, another stretch down High St, before twists and turns through Merchant City, to get back to the University of Strathclyde area, and hit the fairly steep but short lump of Montrose St, to get back onto Cathedral st. After that, lots of twists and turns past George Square and the city centre, including a stretch on the flagstones of Buchanan St and Gordon St – could be slippy! Then they hit St Vincent st – another lump. Not as steep as Montrose St or Great George st, but a longer lump perhaps. Then more twists and turns to get back over the M8 and down Sauchiehall st. Past the Kelvingrove Museum, more twists and turns, to take them on University of Avenue and the drag up past the old and new University of Glasgow buildings, before turning around to hit Great George St again.

        It’s a hard hard course. Technical and lumpy. The race is going to split and split.

        • Wout van Aert has said the Glasgow course is ridiculous, and the worst he’s seen. 🙂 That it suits him, but it’s still laughable. 🙂

      • I too think it’s an incredibly interesting course. But the road conditions are appalling, both in Glasgow and the roads that lead to it. I can imagine there being complaints from the riders.
        Commentating on the Donostia Classic, Brain Smith said ‘it couldn’t have been designed by someone in cycling’ and reckoned it would be very dangerous in the rain.

        • The city won’t be /too/ bad. I gather GCC have filled in the worst lumps. But there will be varying street conditions – worn, bumpy old tarmac; flagstones when they go over sections of pedestrianised streets (Buchanan St). And the short section on Rottenrow – the University of Strathclyde back section, as they pass by Barony hall – has cobbles, those will be slippy in the rain.

          It’s obvious that “Sights for the TV” was a major consideration in the course design. 😉

          The most complaints are more about the roads through the Carron Valley, then the descent down the south side of the Crow. Not been down it recently myself, but seems to be in the usual state when I did cycle there. I don’t think the racing will be too intense there though, very early. So hopefully not a bother.

          • Met Office is predicting 60% chance of showers for sections of the afternoon. So might want tae bring yer rain jaecke’ to put on ye in between getting yer tap aff.

            Also, gan doon High St, I reckon’ there’s a gud chance of punctures fae glass fae broken bottles of Buckie roond by the Offie there near the cross wi’ Duke St.

        • Putting mine on Healy.

          Not just cause he was gracious enough to stop when I pestered him after the Irish nationals and get a photo with myself and my kid. 😉

  7. Great blog as ever.

    On the UCI investment losses I suspect it’s not too bad. If you’ve been invested in relatively safe bonds a few years ago you currently have a ‘mark to market’ loss on them, due to interest rate rises. If you had to sell them all today you wouldn’t get back what you paid.

    However, if you don’t need to sell them and can wait to maturity then you will get back your face value (assuming no defaults).

    So as long as they don’t need cash now the ‘loss’ will probably unwind it self and result in small profits to net it out in future years as the bonds mature.

    • Good point, the price may fall but the UCI stands to collect but they may be holding funds rather than the assets. I was just surprised by that red line on their investment performance, it moves up and down a lot when they need to bank on stability over each Olympic cycle (as the IOC pays the UCI a big chunk of money for each Olympics).

  8. the uci has a small budget for an international organisation. 2 things i can think of to compare.
    1. Going back a few years an australian consortium bidded to host the soccer world cup and the money spent just on the bid was 43 mil aust $. Thats not the money to host the world up. Just the money spent on the bid process. Side note great suspicions exist on how legal all this money was spent.
    2. Australian rules football organising company. A sport primarily played only in about half of australia and a bit in the other half of australia and essentially in no other country. 4.5 billion $ aus for 7 years for just the TV rights.

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