Leading by bad example, or, “A Prayer for Neal Rogers”

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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Astana forms new cycling league after being booted from Pro Tour

February 27, 2015 § 16 Comments

UCI President Brian Cookson announced today that team Astana would be asked to leave the Pro Tour due to irregularities in their application. “I told them they were drinking at the Last Chance Saloon,” said Cookson. “But they went ahead and ordered the drink with the pink umbrella. Oh, well.”

When asked about the procedure, Cookson’s assistant, Marc-Yves Surle Table explained: “We sent them a letter asking them to please not come to our races. It’s a very polite letter, firm but polite. Of course in the letter we vousvoyer.”

“If that doesn’t work,” said Cookson, “we get tough. We send a second letter, full-on tutoyer. We really ask them with incredible firmness, resolve, and indiscriminate use of the informal third person pronoun and its associated verb conjugations. They will see we mean business.”

Hans Castorp, the UCI’s third undersecretary for protocol and official correspondence, explained the next steps. “Sometimes even a letter filled with ‘tu’ doesn’t do the trick. So we start all over again, this time with sietzen followed by dutzen. They pretty much get the message then.”

Alexandre Vinokourov, doper-in-chief of Team Astana, was dismissive. “They can du or tu us all they want. We’re staying in the Last Chance Saloon and we’re gonna drink the fuggin’ place dry. Then we’ll beat up the barkeep, stuff potatoes down the toilet drains, and burn the fuggin’ joint to the ground.”

Vinokourov announced that he also has a “Plan B” in the event that an all-night drunkfest followed by arson at the Last Chance Saloon doesn’t pan out. According to the team’s publicist, Mohammed Emwazi, Team Astana has already formed a breakaway cycling league led by Johan Bruyneel with tanks, troops, armored personnel carriers, and artillery support from the Russian Federation. According to Emwazi, the new league will be based in the Donetsk People’s Republic, in Eastern Ukraine.

“We already have a full roster of teams,” Emwazi said. “The Donetsk Destroyers, the Luhansk Liberators, the Debaltseve Demons, the Mariupol Marauders, and the Crimea Killers.” When it was pointed out that Mariupol was still part of Ukraine, Emwazi said, “Not for long.”

The league’s first major event will be the Breaking Away Tour, which will pass through the most scenic and challenging areas of the fledgling separatist republic. “The Donetsk Airport, for example,” said Emwazi, “is a place rife with memories of sacrifice and heroism. We will probably do a crit around the rubble and then finish it off with a volley of long-range missiles towards Kiev.”

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You can’t say that, No. 5

January 29, 2015 § 24 Comments

Are you sure you’re the guy asking to be allowed to have your ban lifted so you can compete?

“I would probably do it again.” Lance Armstrong, affirming that if given the choice to do it over, he would take drugs and cheat. BBC Sport, Jan. 26, 2015.

How much is a dozen, again?

“I was an asshole to a dozen people.” Lance Armstrong, reflecting on his bad behavior while apparently forgetting that he had duped millions of cancer survivors and millions of cycling fans. BBC Sport, Jan. 26, 2015.

Which is frankly better than the Crazy Bitch from Hell spigot.

“When the going gets tough, he turns on the charm.” Betsy Andreu, on her contempt for Lance’s attempts rehabilitate himself. BBC Sport, Jan. 27, 2015.

That’s why we’ve created http://www.getlanceanewjacketandpairofshoes.com; PayPal accepted.

“But when I saw him last year, he was alone, he was badly dressed, he avoided eye contact, he didn’t seem happy.” Christophe Bassons, former Lance victim, reflecting on the fallen hero’s demeanor and embarrassing couture. BBC Sport, Jan. 27, 2015.

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On the rivet: Interview with “Hollywood” Daniel Holloway

January 23, 2015 § 25 Comments

I never do interviews for a simple reason: They require you to stick to the facts. Facts are fun, of course, but only as a stepping stone to the world of fake-believe. On the other hand, there are cyclists in our midst who deserve to have their exploits reviewed in a respected cycling publication, but since that’s hard to come by they will sometimes settle for this blog.

Daniel Holloway is the reigning U.S. elite men’s crit champion. In 2014 he won his fourth title, so it’s hard to blame it all on luck or good looks. Easily the most dominant crit racer in the U.S., Holloway’s 2014 season was a tour de force that saw him win 21 times, a massive victory haul by any standard. Tactically savvy and possessing a lethal finishing kick, Holloway is also feared for his ability to ride — and win out of — the break. He’s also a veteran rider of the European six-day circuit, and this week he lines up with some of the best madison racers in the world to contest the 104th Berlin Six-Day. Here’s the interview his mom has been waiting for.

CitSB: When is the race?

Hollywood: Thursday, January 22 through Tuesday, January 27.

CitSB: How’s your form?

Hollywood: Form is good. The race last Saturday at Rosena Ranch was a good test. I’m still not super sharp yet, though, don’t have those super supple track legs. [Note: Holloway attacked on the first lap of a windy, hilly course and rode a three-man break for 19 laps before dropping his companions on the last lap for the win.]

CitSB: What will be a good result for you in Berlin?

Hollywood: Obviously, to break into the higher results. A top six would be great. It’s my partner’s first Euro six-day [Jake Duehring of Tallahassee], so getting in the upper half of the group would be super.

CitSB: Who are your biggest threats?

Hollywood: The 2014 madison world champion David Muntaner, obviously. Bobby Lea and Christian Grasmann; Bobby’s got super form now.

CitSB: What’s the hardest thing about madison racing?

Hollywood: Staying alert and not making mistakes; one mistake affects your partner so you have to minimize them. Every night is a new night and there’s no course profile! A lot depends on what the top teams are doing. It can be the hardest night of racing you’ve ever done if the top teams are slugging it out.

CitSB: What are the key mistakes to avoid?

Hollywood: The big one is missing exchanges [note: missing an exchange occurs when the tired rider is supposed to exchange places with the fresh rider who has been resting at the top of the track, and they fail to exchange, forcing the tired rider to continue racing]. When you miss the exchange one of us has to do a double turn and when they’re going hard you can’t recover and you can quickly lose a lap which hurts your overall standing.

CitSB: What’s the difference between racing madison in Germany and the USA?

Hollywood: Six-day racing in Berlin will bring in ten, fifteen thousand spectators in one night. Trexlertown doesn’t get that in five races. People in Germany are passionate and the level of riders is two steps above anything the US could put together on its best day.

CitSB: Are you known in Berlin?

Hollywood: No. It’s only my second time here.

CitSB: As an unknown American, what are the promoter’s expectations?

Hollywood: Can we race? Be at the front? Be a part of the event?

CitSB: Why did the promoter invite you?

Hollywood: His name’s Dieter Stein, he’s seen I’m capable from my previous six-day races. I’m a little bit of a perosnality, something of a character, maybe? Anything could happen, right?

CitSB: How important is showmanship at a six-day?

Hollywood: It’s a little more difficult to put on a show and get away with it than it used to be. Things are a bit more serious now, it seems.

CitSB: What technical skills are most important for madison racing?

Hollywood: Situational awareness. Your teammate, you, other teams, order of riders on the track and off the track. That awareness is key so you can save energy, not cause a crash, set up an attack at 170 bpm for an hour! There’s a lot of decisionmaking and you’re doing it on the rivet in heavy traffic.

CitSB: What are the difficulties of racing in Germany?

Hollywood: There aren’t many. Racing is our common language and lots of people speak English. They’re very accepting and have taught me and helped me. Dieter knows we’re traveling and works hard to make sure we’re comfortable so we can do well at the event.

CitSB: What are the biggest difference between six-day and crit racing?

Hollywood: The constant hard accelerations and decelerations. Also, it’s extremely technical racing. The velodrome is very tight, only 200 meters and 12-15 feet wide. In a crit by comparison it’s like slow motion, wide open, easy to read, and six-day racing helps you get super sharp so that you feel like you’re almost over-prepared for crit racing when you come back to the States.

CitSB: How many hours per day do you race?

Hollywood: Berlin and Copenhagen six-days are two hours on the track per night at 47-52 kph while you’re on the boards.

CitSB: Does six-day racing have any potential here in the USA?

Hollywood: Yes. USA fans are ready for a good six-day promoter, but it has to be more than just a bike race. You need a diverse crowd, not just bike racers; you’re not only selling bikes, you need good music, good food, and an atmosphere. Put that together and it will sell itself. The Internet would explode with the live feeds.

CitSB: Do you project your data to the crowd while you race?

Hollywood: I’ve had it done in the past. The event provides the connection so that you can connect your powermeter to a huge screen and project it live.

CitSB: How does six-day racing affect your fitness?

Hollywood: It will sharpen me for the road season back home. No matter how good I feel when I get back, after twelve days of racing in thirteen days I need time to recover. Fitness doesn’t go away overnight; I have to listen to myself and follow the plan that I know works.

CitSB: Are you pretty regimented in your training?

Hollywood: Well, I know what works for me, and I don’t really have a daily plan. I listen to my body and if I feel good but it’s a rest day, I’ll use those good sensations to put in quality work. If it’s a five-hour ride on the schedule and I feel tired then I know I won’t be putting in a good effort to produce a beneficial training effect, so on a day like that I will curtail my training accordingly.

CitSB: Do you have problems with making food adaptations while on the road?

Hollywood: Not so much. Even when I’m at home I don’t cook from scratch every day, and when I travel stateside I have to be ready to occasionally eat Taco Bell and Subway and not let that bring me down. The races here provide really good food before and after racing and we have a really solid hotel breakfast.

CitSB: Do you do any road riding while you’re in Europe?

Hollywood: No, it’s too cold. There’ll be snow on the ground and the extra equipment is a huge hassle. We have access to the velodrome and get in a good 45-minute to one-hour ride every day on the track.

CitSB: Anything else?

Hollywood: Wanky is my hero.

CitSB: I’m sorry to hear that.

[Editor’s note: Update on Daniel’s first night of racing — “Night 1 here at the Berlin Six was a solid start. Jake and I made minimal mistakes and put our faces in the wind. The night started off with a series of five sprints straight into a team elimination. We were the eighth team out, which put us in the middle of the field while the top teams were fighting it out. The first chase of 30 minutes was solid. We finished two laps down tied for tenth with four other teams, five points from seventh place. In the last chase, 45 minutes of fun and circles, we wanted to move up a couple of spots. We took our first lap early with two other teams, our second lap solo (that was a long one), and a third one with a couple of teams. Again finishing in the middle of the group, we had a solid start considering that this was only the fifth time my partner and I had raced together, including the Four Days of Burnaby.”]

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You can’t say that, No. 5

January 21, 2015 § 14 Comments

So does the World Anti-Doping Agency.

“At the end of the day I know what I did and didn’t do.” Sad-faced Stuart O’Grady, explaining why he’s not bothered by accusations that he doped throughout his career rather than the “just a few times” to which he confessed. Cycling News, January 18, 2015.

He thought that the only cheating douchebag in the pro peloton was, you know, him.

“I had no idea. I didn’t want to think that the men I was racing against were cheating.” Disappointed with broken childhood dreams doper Stuart O’Grady explaining that throughout the “dark era of cycling” he thought that he was the only rider who had ever used drugs. Cycling News, February 26, 2014.

Except that an isosceles triangle has two equal sides. But that’s it.

“I didn’t know anything at all.” Doped up doper Stuart O’Grady’s former team boss Roger Legeay, who managed him for eight years, who was himself busted for doping in 1974, and who oversaw Jonathan Vaughters at Credit Agricole — the ambassador for clean cycling who admitted to systematically doping while on the team. Cycling News, July 26, 2013.

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You can’t say that, No. 4

December 26, 2014 § 6 Comments

It’s the new he’s-innocent-because-he-took-too-much defense.

“The way the doctors have explained it to me, the amount they’ve found is an amount that’s almost impossible to have in your urine so we’re definitely behind the rider and we believe the rider 100 percent.” Lampre-Merida coach Brent Copeland on why rider Diego Ulissi couldn’t possibly have been doping using a salbutamol inhalant during his two Giro stage wins because he was apparently over-doped. Cycling News, June 25, 2014.

**************

Six puffs, on the other hand …

“It is important to know that salbutamol does not make you stronger … Cyclists know that you do not go faster if you take five puffs. You must understand that this is not doping.” Italian national team coach Davide Casani, explaining that Diego Ulissi’s positive result for the banned substance salbutamol, which improves breathing and oxygen uptake in aerobic sports, isn’t really doping. Wieler Fits, June 26, 2014.

**************

Well, perhaps not “absolutely.”

“Absolutely inexplicable.” Lampre team doctor Carlo Guardascione, at a loss to explain how Diego Ulissi’s salbutamol levels were almost double the allowed limit. Cycling News, September 12, 2014.

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You can’t say that, No. 3

December 20, 2014 § 15 Comments

Ok, jealousy plus erythropoietin.

“It’s only jealousy.” Mauro Sangambrogio before testing positive for EPO, explaining to his DS Luca Scinto why everyone suspected him of doping. Cycling News, June 3, 2013.

***************

And while you’re at it, could you make “as soon as possible” sometime in 2020?

“I can only say that I am in disbelief about what has happened and will request the counter analysis as soon as possible.” Mauro Santambrogio, the day after testing positive for EPO, which was a few days after assuring team boss Luca Scinto that he was clean as a whistle. Ansa.IT, June 3, 2013.

***************

Sort of like Cupid with a needle in his ass.

“I’m not a criminal … but within my environment, I felt like a little god.” Mauro Santambrogio after receiving a 2-year ban for doping, explaining why he had felt the need to cheat. La Gazzetta dello Sport, October 12, 2013.

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Now, however, I have a different set of problems.

“My testosterone levels were low and I had erection problems, plus I had fertility problems. That’s why I was prescribed Andriol.” Mauro Santambrogio, facing a lifetime ban after testing positive for testosterone a few days before the expiration of his ban for testing positive for EPO, which was in turn was a couple of months before he was to resume his pro racing career. Cycling News, December 18, 2014.

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