April 14, 2015 § 18 Comments
Ah yes, the old pray-for-a-miracle or form-changing-in-the-middle-of-a-five-day-stage-race race plan: “If I got lucky and the form changed or something then maybe I’d win it.” Chris Horner on his strategy for winning the Redlands Classic. CyclingNews, April 13, 2015.
It’s true, there weren’t a lot of fans jumping up and down saying “18th! He did it!”: “Some detractors may say him finishing 18th is a little underwhelming.” David Brailsford, trying to make the best of Brad Wiggins’s disappointing, final road race at Paris-Roubaix. CyclingNews, April 14, 2015.
The question tormenting your team is “Why didn’t you win?”: “A question has been tormenting me since yesterday!!!” Luca Paolini, complaining about why riders were allowed to slip through the closed railway crossing during Paris-Roubaix. CyclingNews, April 14, 2015.
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April 10, 2015 § 26 Comments
Phenom Tiesj Benoot, the 21-year-old speedster with Lotto-Soudal who pulled off an amazing fifth place in the Ronde van Vlaanderen was allowed to speak with the press yesterday about his expectations for Paris-Roubaix. Benoot, who is clearly on form after a string of strong early-season performances, sat down with CitSB to discuss the big day on Sunday.
CitSB: So you’re unsure of what to expect in your first professional Paris-Roubaix?
TB: Yes. I’ve ridden it as an amateur, but as a professional it will be completely different. I really don’t know what to expect.
CitSB: You don’t?
CitSB: Can I help you out with that?
TB: Well, sure.
CitSB: It’s going to be really fucking hard.
TB: Yes, but …
CitSB: There is no “but.” You’re going to get your ass handed to you on a plate.
TB: The Belgian press believes I may be Tommeke’s successor, of course that’s ridiculous, but still …
CitSB: The Belgian press believed that the Kaiser was going to invade France through Nigeria. You are gonna get stomped.
TB: Since it’s my first professional P-R, I’m unsure how it will play out. My director sportif says …
CitSB: Your director sportif will be sitting in a leather chair behind the wheel of a Mercedes sipping espresso from a spill-proof cup while The Wiggster has your nuts in a vise and holds them out for the rest of the peloton to jump on. You will get your fucking head staved in.
TB: That’s kind of negative.
CitSB: And what the nut-crushing doesn’t accomplish, the jagged paving stones will. Expect a complete beatdown.
TB: If you say so.
CitSB: I do.
*Note: After this interview, CitSB reached out to several past winners of P-R to ask them what they thought Tiesj should expect. Here is a sampling of their responses.
Eddy Merckx: It will be very difficult and hard. And long.
Roger De Vlaeminck: De Paris-Roubaix, it has a hard day. Very hard. Difficulty and hardness.
Tom Boonen: What can he expect? A hard day in the saddle, much pain, difficulty, struggle, unpleasantness, misery, dust, perhaps rain and mud, bone-jarring exhausting. Perhaps a few crashes. Hard day, for sure.
Fabian Cancellara: He can expect the hard.
Francesco Moser: Itsa hard carrera. He will have the hard day.
Frederic Guesdon: Tres dur. Dur, et difficile, sans doute.
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April 7, 2015 § 44 Comments
What do Peter Stetina, Sergio Pardilla, Nicolas Edet, Adam Yates, Pierre-He Lecuisiner, Tom Boonen, Fabian Cancellara, Jesse Sergent, Angel Vicioso, Joaquim Rodriguez, Giampaolo Caruso, Gert Steegmans, Matti Breschel, Edvald Boasson-Hagen, Martin Velits, Chris Froome, Alberto Contador, Marcel Kittel, and Lukasz Wisniowski have in common?
They are just a tiny handful of the world’s top riders who have broken bones or suffered injuries serious enough to take them out of major races in the last year. It doesn’t begin to include riders like Sylvain Chavanel (run over by a service vehicle) or those who “simply” crashed out of the race and lined up again the following week.
The absence of the big hitters has completely changed the outcome and dynamics of the biggest races in the season, including the Tour and the spring classics. But let’s forget the racing. The toll this takes on the actual human beings racing the bikes is enormous in financial, physical, and emotional terms.
European bike racing didn’t used to be this dangerous. What happened? How did the supposed champions that the fans supposedly love become disposable pieces of meat?
It’s pretty simple, actually.
- Speeds are higher.
- Pelotons are bigger.
- More riders are in contention for the win.
- Riders don’t wear safety equipment.
- There are no standards for cancelling races due to hazardous weather.
- The courses aren’t required to meet safety standards.
- Organizers are “old school” and believe that lots of crashes and injures, and maybe even a fatality or two add to the “beauty” of the sport.
Of course the fans are part of this crippled dance and many are conditioned to believe that mayhem is part of what makes cycling such an exciting sport. Why not just hang out at the ER and enjoy the “beauty” of people coming in off the meat wagon?
Those spectators are wrong. Motor sports used to think that the excitement was in danger and death until they began implementing safety standards and equipment. They learned that the danger is still there — you can’t make a car “safe” at 180 miles per hour — but by making the race as safe as possible fans still love the sport.
Normal people don’t want to see their heroes get hurt, and with regard to the sickos who do, the sport will be better off without, including the old school organizers. Bernard Hinault was one of the first superstars to openly criticize the punishment that riders were subjected to when he famously called Paris-Roubaix a shit show; Hinault suffers lifelong disability in one of his hands from the “epic” day in Liege-Bastogne-Liege when he got frostbite in his hands.
The technology exists to make safer riding equipment. Fabrics that don’t shred, reinforcements in the shoulders, back, hips, and elbows should be required. There is also no reason to run races over incredibly narrow and dangerous courses in horrible weather conditions. You think that canceling Gent-Wevelgem due to high winds makes the riders pansies? Then YOU go out and ride the wet cobbles in a packed peloton at 30 mph in a 40 mph crosswind. See you in intensive care, you tough guy, you.
As anyone who’s done a Cat 5 crit knows, the single biggest accident factor is the size of the field. Ten idiots on a tight course are safer than a hundred. The pro peloton used to be 50-60 riders smaller and there was order in the court imposed by the patron. Now there may be 190 riders crammed into the same narrow roads going much, much faster, and drugs, training, equipment, and radios mean that a huge swath of that peloton has the capability of winning. More people going faster, less space, higher average speeds and faster sprints, and you’re going to have more crashes, and the ones you have will be worse.
It’s an easy fix — reduce the fields, require safety gear, impose weather and route standards, and fewer people will get hurt. But it’s a hard fix because so many in cycling think that “spectacle” means permanent injury or that the “beauty” of the sport requires extreme danger or that safety is for wimps, which is yet another set of reasons that it will never be a mainstream sport, or even a legitimate one.
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March 24, 2015 § 35 Comments
The cycling world collectively shook in fear when retired NFL tight end Kellen Winslow, Jr., 32, announced that he was going to begin competing as a professional cyclist. Cycling in the South Bay met up with Winslow after his Tuesday meeting at Mast-Anon.
CitSB: So how’s your training going? I understand that you’re up to a whole 50-60 miles per day?
KWJ: Whatever it takes. 50, 60, even 70 miles at a pop, don’t mean nothin’ to me.
CitSB: And it sounds like you’re already seeing some good results?
KWJ: Good results? I’m killin’ this shit. A first and two seconds in my first three Cat 5 races, and a sixth in my first Cat 4.
CitSB: That’s impressive.
KWJ: Damn straight.
CitSB: How long are you giving yourself to go from Cat 4 to the pro ranks?
KWJ: I plan on doing it real methodical-like, I ain’t in no hurry. You gotta take time to make time. So I’m giving it six months to make sure my body fully adapts.
CitSB: What kind of adaptations are required to go from being a 10-year NFL veteran to a pro bike racer?
KWJ: The biggest thing is changing your body. My playing weight in the NFL was 245, that’s big for a pro cyclist. So I’ve had to lean up, drop a lot of upper body weight. I’m down to 215, which is really small, you know? Once I get down to 200, 205, I will sign up for the Tour de France.
CitSB: Sign up?
KWJ: Yeah. That’s how I entered all my races so far, with the online sign up thing. Pre-registration saves you, like ten bucks. Why I’m gonna give ten bucks to the promoter? This is all part of being a professional in any sport, planning ahead. You plan the work and you work the plan.
CitSB: So you have a bit of a history with doping bans and the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs. Do you think that will be a problem for you in cycling?
KWJ: Me? Naw. That was a set-up. I don’t know anything about that. It could have been anything, something spiked in my food or something. I use a lot of supplements to get fast, everyone does. And sometimes the manufacturer puts things in your supplement and you test positive, see? And if that happens to me racing bikes, well, it’s not the end of the world. What’s four races?
KWJ: Yeah, what’s four races, especially since they have several races in a week, or some races you can like do two races in one day.
CitSB: I don’t follow you.
KWJ: Dude, I got some bogus positive test in the NFL and they suspended me for four games. That’s a big deal in the NFL when you’re getting paid $50k per game. So I get some bogus positive test racing my bike and get suspended for four races, that’s not the end of the world, like I said.
CitSB: Gotcha. The old “four race suspension.” Now what about this public masturbation thing?
KWJ: Aw, man, that is old stuff. Why are you bringing that shit up?
CitSB: Well, according to the police report …
KWJ: Fuck the police report. What do you think I am, a pervert?
CitSB: It said you were whacking off in a Target parking lot with two open containers of Vaseline on the console.
KWJ: That’s just bull. I’m a K-Y man, anyhow.
CitSB: Okay, well, is there anything else you’d like to add?
KWJ: Yeah. How do you fill up these backpack water jugs in the Tour de France?
CitSB: Your team director will probably handle that for you.
KWJ: Okay, cool.
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March 21, 2015 § 13 Comments
Thomas Dekker retired from the pro peloton yesterday, bringing to a close one of the most illustrious potential careers in professional cycling. Cycling in the South Bay sat down with him on the park bench next to the one he normally sleeps on to talk about what’s next.
CitSB: So you’ve decided to retire?
TD: Yes. It was a really hard decision and I agonized over it for a long time. It was so tough to make up my mind but eventually I knew it was the right thing. Sometimes when you’re turning something over in your mind for a long time, seems like there’s no good answer, then bang–the answer presents itself.
CitSB: Couldn’t find a team, huh?
TD: Oh yes, that was huge. You can’t imagine how tough it is to ride as a professional today without a team.
CitSB: Pretty expensive?
TD: Super expensive. Then there’s the whole thing about getting your own bottles, driving your own car as the DS, giving yourself massages, and of course being your own domestique and lead-out train. It’s very hard to do.
CitSB: You’re still not that old compared to, you know, real bike racers like Jens Voigt. Why do you think your career ended so soon?
TD: I’m older than Andy, remember. He quit at age 29.
CitSB: True, but he has a bike shop he’s going to open. So that was probably extra motivation for a former Tour de France champion to go ahead and retire. You’re not opening a bike shop, are you?
TD: No, but I think the main difference is that guys like Andy and I were from a different generation.
CitSB: How so?
TD: We grew up using massive amounts of drugs from an early age. Devoid of natural talent, work ethic, or drive, we were picked early by our federations’ sports-industrial complex and earmarked for success. Sheltered, pampered, overpaid, and feted, we grew up thinking that bike racing meant cranking out good numbers in a lab and winter training meant withdrawing oxygenated blood in December for later use in July.
CitSB: And you mean that there was more to bike racing than that?
TD: Not initially. Come on, we crushed it before they started cracking down on Lance.
CitSB: What was that thing with the hour record?
TD: I was hoping that someone would see how fast I was and offer me a contract. Simple. Kind of like Horner signing on with that junior high development squad and only doing the local CBR crits. I like that guerilla marketing stuff. “Grand Tour champion sprints for water bottle prime.” Freaking cool. Some big team is gonna snap that guy up soon.
CitSB: Surely some teams showed interest?
CitSB: What do you chalk that up to?
TD: As Jonathan Vaughters said a couple of years ago, I’m sort of an immature asshole.
CitSB: I think his words were “arrogant prick” and “hugely insecure guy.”
TD: I think that’s pretty close to “immature asshole.”
CitSB: Fair enough.
TD: So yes, that probably had something to do with me not getting another ride.
CitSB: What are your plans for the future?
TD: (Waves hands at park bench) This is the future, mate.
CitSB: Wow. These steel armrests must be pretty uncomfortable to rest your head on at night.
TD: Yes, but you know what? My whole life up to now was dominated by cycling, but I do not want to depend on my form, my equipment, my team, anyone or anything any longer. My cycling career was beautiful, ugly, intense, and edifying. I’m ready for a new step. Without my bike.
CitSB: That’s pretty noble, but as my dad used to say, how are you gonna eat?
TD: Could you lend me five bucks?
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March 10, 2015 § 20 Comments
The Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) released the results of its year-long investigation into doping, and CitSB sat down with the lead investigator, Jean-Claude Peut-être, to discuss the significance of the commission’s findings even as shock waves continue to roil the cycling community.
CitSB: After a full year of intensive research and investigation, the retention of a former war crimes prosecutor to head the effort, and a budget of €12 million, what is the commission’s most significant finding?
JP: There are actually three. First, Lance doped. Second, so did many others. Third, Betsy is still very angry.
CitSB: Wow. How confident are you regarding that first finding?
JP: I would say that we are probably 95% certain. When you add up the back-tested results, the statements of his former teammates, USADA’s Reasoned Decision, the finding of the arbitrator in his insurance case, his settlement with the Times of London, and his 12-hour confessional special on national TV, we think it’s highly likely that he doped. But of course nothing is 100% certain.
CitSB: This is going to destroy a lot of childhood dreams, isn’t it?
JP: Oh, yes. There are a lot of masters racers out there who will be taking off their yellow bracelets.
CitSB: And you are equally certain with regard to your second finding, that many others doped as well?
JP: Unfortunately, yes. We dug deeply into the history of the sport and learned some fairly shocking things which we frankly haven’t shied away from including in our report.
CitSB: Like what?
JP: Well, the biggest one is that doping has been around for a long time.
CitSB: Really? You mean that Wikipedia doping cheat web page is true?
JP: It appears to be.
CitSB: And it took you a year’s investigation and a €12 million budget to Google “doping in cycling” and click on the first link that came up?
JP: We had to be thorough.
CitSB: How is your report going to change cycling at the professional level?
JP: Fundamentally it will let cyclists at all levels know that the UCI and the organizations responsible for clean sport are now on the alert that doping used to exist, and that in all likelihood it still does.
CitSB: You’re suggesting that actual professional riders are still cheating?
JP: It’s possible.
CitSB: So when Chris Froome puts out 6.84 w/kg this past week on a mountaintop finish, you think that’s fishy?
JP: I wouldn’t say “fishy.” But It suggests that perhaps he may have an unfair performance advantage over other riders.
CitSB: Such as?
JP: Wheaties, perhaps.
CitSB: And what about corruption at the UCI? What were your findings in that regard?
JP: There was no corruption.
CitSB: Wow. What about that whole Verbruggen/McQuaid/Armstrong kerfuffle? You know, backdated TUE’s, giving Brochard a pass, letting Armstrong’s lawyer write up the results of the independent investigation, that stuff?
JP: It wasn’t corruption. There simply was no corruption.
CitSB: The preferential treatment of Armstrong to the detriment of other riders, bending the rules about Contador’s tainted meat? Accepting massive donations from a rider they were supposed to be monitoring? That wasn’t corruption? What was it?
JP: It wasn’t corruption. More like being bad boys. They were sort of bad boys, naughty, you know? Mischievous, even. But not corrupt.
CitSB: And what did the commission find regarding the current UCI and its president, Brian Cookson, who funded this completely independent report?
JP: We think he’s a wonderful chap, really, and look forward to working with him in the future.
CitSB: I’m sure you do.
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March 2, 2015 § 61 Comments
I could only pedal slowly, my jaw scraping the tarmac as I rolled along, listening to the story. In brief, an up-and-coming youngster had chosen the wrong wheel with half a lap to go. The guy he was counting on to drag him to victory sat up, which made sense because he’d been out in a two-man breakaway for the last two laps, had been caught by a field averaging 30 mph for the entire race, and didn’t have the legs to sprint.
Junior, stuck on the wrong wheel, tried to come around when Mr. Deliverance stopped pedaling, but the train had already left the station.
To demonstrate his unhappiness with the actions of the lead-out man who wasn’t even on his team, Junior stormed off, threw himself into his dad’s car, locked the doors, and pouted. Fumble-futz dad sheepishly collected the gear, then went over to Junior’s teammates and began making excuses for Junior’s bad performance–not Junior’s dramatic performance of “Hamlet, Prince of Pout,” but his dramatic failure to seal the win.
There were so many things wrong with this story. First, why was a 19-year-old at a P/1/2 bike race in February? Didn’t he have coursework at college he was supposed to study over the weekend, and weren’t midterms around the corner? Second, why was the father of a grown man even at the bike race? Aren’t normal parents embarrassed by adult children who race bikes? Third, why was his father making excuses to the team? And fourth, why hadn’t the dad jerked Junior out of the car by the scruff of his neck and said something along the lines of “If you ever lock me out again I’ll kick your snotty little fucking ass and make you walk home, after I sell your stupid fucking bike for a tank of gas.”
The answer to all these questions is complex, but it boils down to “Mommas, don’t let your babies grow up to be bike racers.” Because if you do, chances are good that they’ll always be babies.
Junior’s story isn’t the first one I’ve heard from this trove of tales from the failed parenting vault. Somewhere along the way someone forgot to tell their son that bike racing, unless pursued as a hobby, is a dead end. Over the years, excepting Lance Armstrong and Marco Vermeij, I’ve never seen a kid being “groomed for the pros” who actually made it as a Pro Tour rider or even anything close. What I’ve seen are rabid parents throwing money and pressure on kids, teaching them to spend their time cycling instead of getting good grades, and winding up with almost-good-enough-but-not-quite long term deadbeats. I’ve seen a lot of that.
Unlike other pro sports, where the chance of success is also infinitesimal but the rewards are at least astronomical if you hit the jackpot, the biggest winners in pro cycling are still chumps compared to the biggest earners in soccer, basketball, and baseball. The reason is that sponsors won’t go near cycling at the pro level, and their avoidance of the sport is only partially related to the structure of teams and the UCI.
Despite the fact that the “industry” is worth billions–when’s the last time you saw a Local Basketball Shop–the money in cycling is at the retail level, not the pro level. And one reason the pro level is devoid of meaningful money is because it cannot extricate itself from its association with doping. After an entire history of pretending that drugs weren’t a problem and cheerleading the Lance & Floyd + Trek & Oakley show, VeloNews has now taken the opposite tack: Ensuring that no one will ever forget the sport’s sordid past and, what’s worse, its sordid present.
Last night Neal Rogers, the VeloNews editor, posted a link on his Twitter account to an article written by Michele Ferrari. The article estimates Chris Froome’s VAM and “stratospheric” w/kg in a recent race, and insinuates the obvious: Froome is doped to the gills. Rogers’s posting adds a level of insinuation onto Ferrari’s insinuation: If anyone should know about stratospheric levels of cheating, it’s Michele.
Apparently Rogers, with over 15,000 Twitter followers and a venerable position in one of the most globally influential cycling rags, sees nothing wrong with linking to a web site that offers coaching services by an unrepentant cheater who’s been banned from cycling for life and who was the mastermind behind Armstrong’s drug-enhanced Tour victories. When questioned about promoting Ferrari on Twitter, Rogers shrugged it off and aggressively defended a guy who is more than a cancer: The advocacy and use of EPO in its early stages led to the death of numerous young riders.
Instead, Rogers doubled down, saying that Ferrari is “highly intelligent and scientifically minded” and his status “doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen to him, though. End of the day, he’s a number cruncher.”
And there you have it. Rogers couldn’t care less about Ferrari’s role in the exploitation of young athletes, his lifetime sanction for cheating, or the fact that one of the worst faces in cycling is now selling his services on the Internet to any and all comers. At the end of the day he’s a number cruncher, a harmless old fellow with wire-rimmed spectacles doing complex math for the benefit of all the innumerates out there.
No, Neal, you have it exactly wrong. At the end of the day Ferrari is a liar, a cheat, and an evil person who is so bad for the sport you supposedly promote that he had been banned from it for life. It’s like saying that at the end of the day “Dr. Mengele was just a scientist.” In fact, the Nazi researchers — like Dr. Ferrari — weren’t simply “highly intelligent and scientifically minded” people. They were highly intelligent and scientifically minded people who used their high intelligence and science to harm people, break laws, and blithely pretend that it was okay.
As a result, you, Neal, should be really careful about not simply shrugging off Ferrari’s misdeeds as you actively promote him on your Twitter feed. Ferrari is a bad dude and you’ve given him your stamp of authority, even though you temper it with feeble protests about his “questionable ethics.”
Can you imagine the NFL promoting Lyle Alzado’s dealer, or MLB doing a promo link to the website of Balco and Victor Conte? Of course not, because the sponsors would raise holy hell.
And therein lies one of the intractable problems faced by kids who enter the sport, a problem not limited to pouting brats and their fumbling, apologetic, pathetic parents: The worst examples still abound at the very highest levels of cycling journalism which, after all these years, is still fanboy writing in its most supplicating form.
On the bright side, discerning parents will see positions like those taken by Rogers and realize what a joke the sport is at the Pro Tour level, and will encourage their kids to take another AP calculus class rather than sign up for another four-corner crit in Hooterville. And that is progress.
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