UCI & ASO need to ban Riis and Vino (& the rest) from Le Tour

this article originally appeared on The Roar

 

Eurosport’s coverage of the 2014 Tour de France had a section at the end of each stage that was entitled ‘LeMond on Tour’.

This featured the combustible-looking, three-time Tour winner Greg LeMond chatting to a host of the Tour’s personalities.

One day his French co-host ushered onto the makeshift set none other than Alexandre Vinokourov. Vinokourov is the one-time crowd favourite Kazakh army colonel who is now Vincenzo Nibali’s Astana team boss.

El Vino is also infamous for being kicked out of the 2007 Tour de France after he was caught for blood doping, which triggered the removal of all his Astana teammates and their entourage.

His reaction to getting nabbed – to basically skirt around the issue for years and to never fully own up to his breaking of the rules – lost him many friends, leaving the majority of cycling fans decidedly nonplussed when he won the 2012 Olympic road race in his final year of racing.

Whoever decided that it would not be decidedly uncomfortable for LeMond, an avowed anti-doper and long-time Lance Armstrong foe, to exchange pleasantries with a man whose arrogance and nefariousness are the polar opposite of everything the only American winner of Le Tour stands for, must soon have realised their mistake as soon as the Kazakh hero stepped into view.

LeMond’s body stiffened visibly and he had trouble even forcing a smile. Vino was and remains a poster boy for the good old (recent) days, when riders thought nothing of doping up to get ahead.

That he is managing a top-level team is bad enough in my opinion, and the fact that his rider won the Tour is the only blemish on Nibali’s otherwise sterling and hugely impressive win.

Such is Vinokourov’s esteem (and political contacts) in his homeland that some reports say that news of his positive test were never fully reported in Kazakhstan.

That Kairat Kelimbetov, the president of Kazakh Cycling, is now pushing for a Grand Depart in the eastern European nation reflects the growing popularity of the sport there. However it must be noted that the awarding of such a prestigious gift by ASO will be seen as a victory for Vinokourov, something which I hope Christopher Prudhomme, head of Le Tour, will take into account.

Christian Prudhomme reacted recently to the report that several former Tour winners believe that Armstrong’s seven Tour ‘victories’ should be reinstated in the record books with a Gallic shrug of the shoulders and a definitive shake of the head.

“And the same goes for the public,” he said. “You ask the people along the route. It’s clear, his name will not be on the list again. Period.”

All very well and good, but where does he stand on Vinokourov heading a ProTour team at a race he once disgraced?

In the argument for the special and singular treatment of Armstrong, his sociopathic nature is often trotted out, but it is not up to the rules to define who was the worst cheat.

A cheat is a cheat is a cheat, and, if anyone is asking me, they should all be removed from the books and all be banned from further involvement in professional racing, or, at the very least, in the races they were caught cheating at or during.

Bjarne Riis is another case in point. The career domestique won the Tour in 1996 then in retirement admitted that he had doped during that victory. ASO removed his name then reinstated him, placing an asterisk next to his name to indicate doping offences.

He skulked off for a spell after a successful career as a team boss. He then sold his share to the Russian Oleg Tinkoff, admitted depression as a result of all his troubles, disappeared for a spell then turned up again driving the Tinkoff-Saxo team car in races this year, most noticeably at the Tour.

I’m not the only one who has noticed all this, and indeed the UCI president Brian Cookson touched on the subject in an interview a few days ago in The Guardian, reacting to, I can only guess, the public mood regarding the sight of Vino and Riis at the Tour.

“I would like both of them to come to the [Cycling Independent Reform] commission,” Cookson said. “The commission doesn’t have powers of subpoena, but there is a court of public opinion here which is really important; those two people and others as well need to bear that in mind if they want to continue to operate in our world, opinion in the world of cycling would be much more favourable towards them if they came forward.”

That’s all well and good, but is it enough? The commission was designed to look into cycling’s doping past, but there is a groundswell of opinion that believes that there is no place in cycling management and in the bureaucracy for former dopers.

“We’ve got a rule that says if you’ve got a major anti-doping violation you can’t be involved with a team,” continued Cookson, “but our advice is that it’s difficult to employ that retroactively.”

How so? How about we get rid of the lot of them? To name only Riis and Vino is another example of that old attitude that the apple cart is generally healthy and that there’s just a couple of bad apples in there, but in truth, in the era of Vino and Riis, it was very much the other way around.

This is one reason that any truth and reconciliation hearing would turn up very little truth and absolutely no reconciliation, because so few former pros would have anything to gain from admitting to using drugs. In fact, they would have everything to lose.

Cookson started off well enough and made all the right noises. There is no doubt that the support of women’s cycling has improved noticeably. However, until the UCI decides once and for all to ban all the cheats from management we will continue as a sport to make one step forward and three back.

All the while, Armstrong’s repeated cry that he is being singled out unfairly will gather more support.

We just had a very good Tour with a winner that has no doping suspicion hanging over him and saw several new and young faces emerge, so why are we still seeing the smug Vino center stage?

A shambles. Nothing less.

 

Bjarne Riis reads from the usual doper script and tells us how ‘difficult’ the decision to first dope was.

crankpunk is on holiday

yes,  a real holiday, racing the Craft TransAlp. 7 days of hell. 586km and 19,200m of climbing.

5th day in and i am a mess of cuts, bruises, and a taint that ’tain’t no more.

hot damn, these hills are vicious. and beautiful.

full report to come soon. man, am i getting an education from these Euros…

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Why the 2014 Tour de France has been so far, so good

this article originally appeared on The Roar

 

We are only 11 stages into the 2014 Tour de France and yet we have already been gifted a race for the ages.

It’s had thrills, spills, bellyaches and tears, Herculean efforts of leg-busting chutzpah, and buckets of va-va voom even without the presence of Va-Va Froome.

Some of it has been caused by accident – quite literally – but a good chunk of the intrigue and interest has come about due to very clever design.

The revival of the French riders, and one French team in particular, has kept the locals on the edge of their seats and ensured enthused crowds roadside daily. Lotto Belisol’s Tony Gallopin has been pivotal to all this, with one day in the yellow jersey and that irrepressible victory on Stage 11.

He must have read ‘How to become France’s new hero’ before the race. The recipe is simple. Get into yellow and win a stage in the Tour. The French have been so hungry for a ‘new Bernard Hinault’ that they’ve eaten just about all the pretenders who’ve come and gone since the Badger’s heyday.

Not that Gallopin is an Hinault. Only Hinault is Hinault, we all know that. However the way he won that stage sparked a national reminiscence of the golden days of French cycling – days, it has to be said, long since gone.

The effort he put in to try to stay in yellow on Bastille Day was beautifully captured by a shot from a moto that pulled alongside him as he struggled up the final climb. A string of saliva dangled from his gaping mouth, sweat slalomed down his face, and in that single moment, you could feel everything the Maillot Jaune means to these guys – especially the French.

It was beautiful. No other word for it.

Gallopin’s win followed Blel Kadri’s gallant solo effort to win Stage 8. The Ag2r rider also pulled on the king of the mountains jersey after his win, and though he lost it soon after, it provided another breath of fresh air for French cycling.

His team also captured the lead of the team competition, a rarity for a French squad. They are riding very well collectively, and though it’s early days yet they may have a shot of holding the lead if they ride well in the big hills.

The star team of the Tour have been Astana, but coming up close behind are Thomas Voeckler’s Europcar. The boys in forest green have been the surprise package of this Tour and are riding on the front every day. Exactly why they’ve been going so very hard hasn’t always been clear but, again, it’s making the French happy.

One reason so many teams have been up at the front when the race heats up – at times there have been four lines of teams lined out, all within a metre of each other – is that there is no patron (or boss) in the peloton these days.

In fact, there hasn’t really been a patron since a certain Texan ‘retired’, but the fact that both Chris Froome and Alberto Contador have left the race means that every man and his dog fancies a dig at the front.

The majority on the peloton felt sorry for both Froome and Contador after they exited the race, and no sensible human being would take pleasure in someone breaking bones, but as a result we, the viewing public, are getting the race we’ve been dreaming of.

Froome’s mastery last year meant the 2013 race was little more than a procession. This year the script promised a battle between Froome and Contador, a narrative that didn’t exactly set the pulse racing for a lot of cycling fans.

“The race will be the poorer for the absence of the two pre-race favourites,” said one commentator on Eurosport, but something close to the opposite has happened.

In any case, would Froome have held on to Nibali over those cobbles? The Italian had never raced them before but he showed something a lot of people had forgotten, that he is one of the world’s best handlers of a road bike.

I think Froome would have lost more time than Contador. Also, Nibali looks fantastic in the hills. He could well be coming of age here.

One other factor that may be contributing to the wow factor of this year’s Tour is that it looks as though there is less doping going on.

This is contentious, I realise. It’s an issue I refer to often and I remain unconvinced that is has disappeared, but the closeness of results and the unpredictability of the racing suggests this is the case.

I have zero proof, nothing but observations to go on and some comments from friends connected to top-level cycling, but a half-educated guess says this is what is happening.

Finally, there is the route the organisers have chosen. ASO boss Christian Prudhomme deserves huge credit for eschewing the standard Tour opening by throwing in daily stage routes with narrow curving lanes, hard little climbs, and a sever lack of straight, flat finishes.

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We’ve had rollers in Yorkshire, large stones in northern France and enough nasty hillocks in the Vosges to rock everyone’s legs – and to throw up all sorts of surprises.

It’s been a vintage Tour so far, let’s hope it continues.

Cancellara, Specialized and Menchov: The Tour de Devious

Love-Le-Tour

a version of this article originally appeared on The Roar

 

Intrigue and drama are never far from any Tour de France, but this one has been a doozy from Stage 1.

It started with the controversial sprint and subsequent exit of Mark Cavendish, followed by that massive day on the cobbles that saw Chris Froome leave the Tour with a fractured wrist and an incredible ride by Vincenzo Nibali.

It was then on to the rather lonely farewell of Alberto Contador as he patted Mick Rogers on the back and climbed into his team car, surrounded by low hanging clouds that seemed to have been summoned by a scriptwriter with a penchant for cliché.

But this has all been anything but cliché. It has, in fact, been one of the most fascinating starts to a Tour in many a year.

The abandonments of the three riders mentioned were not planned nor welcomed by anybody but perhaps their fiercest detractors and closest rivals, yet the reason that Fabian Cancellara has left the race is another kettle of fish altogether.

“I will travel home now and take a little break,” Cancellara told reporters as the rest day began. “The season has been long for me, starting back in Dubai.

“I have done 59 days of competition this season so far and I have another big goal at the end of this season: the World Championships.

“It’s not a secret that I’d like to be in my best shape there, so it’s important that I take some rest.”

Which all left me scratching my head and wondering a few things.

Had his team known that they’d be deprived of their best rider after ten stages? Did Cancellara plan this in advance, or was it a spur of the moment thing? Finally, is this not immensely disrespectful to the Tour de France?

Riders often ditch their spots in the Vuelta a Espana before its conclusion to prepare for the World’s but this might just be the first time that a rider has done the same thing at the Tour.

Perhaps others have used false injuries as excuses but none have come out to state the fact so bluntly as Cancellara.

Also, the Worlds comes soon after the Vuelta, this year towards the end of September, which is over two and a half months away.

That we’ve lost three of the sport’s stars was bad enough, but to have another name just decide to drop out, abandoning his teammates, his fans and the race itself, does not sit right.

That kettle of fish is a tad stinky.

Onto Contador and that bike. That bike that was reported as being broken and the reason for his crash even before he abandoned.

Bjarne Riis said soon after that he thought the crash had been caused because Contador had been eating and lost control of the bars and went down.

What was he eating? 86 kilograms of marzipan? Fried hippo on a stick? A Spanish cow perhaps?

That tosh was soon followed – and I mean immediately – by a statement from Specialized that denied the bike had been broken at all, despite NBC Sports’ Steve Porino, reporting that his bike had indeed been “in pieces.”

“His frame snapped in half. They threw it in a heap in the back of the car,” Porino said.

Then Specialized said Conty’s spare bike had fallen from the roof of the car, then they said that it was it was in fact Nicolas Roche’s bike that had been run over earlier despite the fact that it had a ‘31′ – Contador’s number – attached to the bike.

And then – yes, I am not joking – they claimed that Contador’s spare bike had been on the roof and that it had somehow collided with a Belkin spare that was on their roof. Quite how two bikes on separate roofs can collide without the two cars carrying them getting majorly dented was not explained.

Hmm, the intrigue builds.

“Yes, we can confirm that a delinquent child swapped Nicolas Roche’s number for a quickly and expertly constructed papier mache likeness of Contador’s number,” Specialized’s spokesperson should have said but didn’t.

“The wayward waif jumped on the car roof after the first descent with a bucket of paste and chicken wire and he’s shown us right up, the little card,” Specialized definitely did not say. “That’s all there is to it. Now then, move along.”

Then a photo of ‘Contador’s bike’ was posted that showed a Specialized that looked fine and was very unbroken in half and we were told that this was in fact ‘the bike’.

Might have been better, Specialized marketing folks, had you sent out a message offering condolences and a quick recovery to your sponsored rider and declining to comment on the bike until a later date.

The Monty Python Dead Parrot sketch might not be the best model on which to model your recent public statements.

Insert ‘Specialized bike’ every time Alberto – sorry John Cleese – says ‘parrot’ and you have a very keen replica of this current situation. The parrot even matches the colour of Contador’s Norwegian Blue bike. It’s too perfect.]

s-works

One last thing – check out the picture above. Is that not Contador’s bike, a broken one, with the doctor in white shirt and kahki trousers behind that attended him? Why would the team guy be carrying Contador’s broken bike, if it happened earlier with the alleged clash with Belkin, here? Confusing, indeed.

Finally, and this may not seem connected to the Tour de France 2014 but trust me, it is pertinent, comes the news of Denis Menchov’s ban for doping.

Menchov, busted for doping offences in 2009, 2010 and 2012, is the biggest name since Contador to be busted and yet for some reason the UCI tried to bury this news in a pdf on their website.

Now, why would the UCI, who under Cookson have been promising greater transparency, not announce the news that their biological passport had caught a big fish with a press release? Cookson has tried to explain the reasoning but he ended up admitting that the UCI might have handled it better.

Might have?

Menchov announced his retirement with a year left on his contract and said that it was the result of a knee injury, which seemed odd to say the least. If I didn’t know better I’d think that Menchov knew something was coming and decided to take the quiet road out.

Just last month Roman Kreuziger and Tinkoff-Saxo announced that the team management and rider had decided not to ride the race as the Kreuziger was under suspicion as a result of his blood values.

The news came from his team, not from the UCI. Why would the UCI, in these two cases, not release the news themselves to the media, instead leaving fans on forums to fill the vacuum? Do they not understand the need for full accountability?

More confusion comes from the actions, or inactions, of the authorities. We, the paid up members who pay our fees to race and who pay the salaries of the UCI, and others who watch the races on their tv sets, contributing to the huge TV deals, are not deemed to be important enough to be given explanations for these events.

Transparent? About as clear as the fog into which Alberto Contador disappeared.

Intriguing indeed,

Crank Punk Coaching Systems: racing the Salzkammergut Trophy!

yes, European Adventure #3 is mid-way through, and after a 2 week training session in Tuscany, based in Florence, tomorrow i race in the Salzkammergut Trophy in Austria. i’ll be doing the 119km route with 3,800m of climbing to come.

i wussed out a bit, as i could have done the 211km course with over 7,000m of uphill. but i do have an excuse – from the 20th to the 26th i’ll be racing in the Craft TransAlp with my teammate Jonathan Schottler, who is also racing tomorrow. so, best to keep the legs kinda fresh for that one.

legs don’t feel great and i’m still not feeling 100% after the auto-immune infection from 6 weeks ago (yup getting the excuses in early) but we shall see. we shall, in fact, crank on.

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some images from last year, all courtesy of the Salzkammergut Trophy.

more to come soon from Tuscany and the rest of the trip.

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huge thanks to all my sponsors and all the people behind these names for making this happen: Lezyne, CCN, BLKTEC, 720Armour, XEndurance and Lapierre.

 

Tour de Cobbles: cp analysis on PEZ

As I was watching the Tour last night my waters broke.

And I didn’t even know I was pregnant.

I’m gonna call the baby ‘Stage 5′.

Read all about it on PezCycling News, just click on the image below.

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Cavendish the architect of his own downfall

this article originally appeared on The Roar

 

The English start to the 2014 Tour de France surpassed even the wildest dreams of the people of Yorkshire and London who made it happen, with the crowds by the roadside estimated at some 2.5 million per day.

Race Director Christian Prudhomme was fulsome in his praise of the start up in the north of the country.

“When you said you would deliver the grandest Grand Départ of the Tour it was the truth. You have raised the bar for all future hosts of the Tour de France,” said Prudhomme.

“I work for the Tour, but I also love the Tour, and I have seen that the people of Yorkshire love the Tour too. I can see the Tour in their hearts, and in their eyes. For that, I say thank you.

“Bernard Hinault said to me that it is the first time in 40 years on a bike that he has seen crowds like we saw this weekend.”

There was an estimated 60,000 people lining the climb of Holme Moss alone, an astonishing number to anyone who, like myself, has ridden up that lonely, bleak and windswept moor on their own. More astonishing still was the appearance put in by the sun. Perhaps he got a fee for turning up too.

It was all very English in an un-English sort of way, what with it being the Tour de France and all, and yet the English – or British, if you like – have had something of a stranglehold on the race in the past two years. With the current champion and the winner before him, as well as the greatest sprinter the Tour has ever seen all standing under the Union Jack, you’d think the Brits would be over the moon at the moment.

However, one of the three lions didn’t even get a place on the start line and another got himself so giddy at the thought of wearing Yellow on his native soil that he went and rode like a fool and crashed himself out of the whole thing.

That Wiggo isn’t racing has received enough attention, but it’s worth taking a moment to consider just how irresponsible and reckless was the ride Cavendish put in on Stage One.

There’s something to be said about being a great athlete and a man that commands respect, and there’s even more to say about a great athlete that’s rash and irresponsible.

Compare, if you will, Pele and Maradonna, or Ali and Tyson.

Maradonna was arguably the better footballer, but if you were to choose from the two a role model for youngsters it would be the Brazilian who would win out every time.

Tyson may have been the most ferocious and intimidating heavyweight of all time and was a brilliant technical boxer too, but Ali’s legend is built on far more than what he achieved in the ring. He is a great man. Tyson is a thug.

Cavendish is established and the greatest sprinter of all time. In his first season, 2007, he equaled Alessandro Petacchi’s record of 11 professional wins in a debut season.

In 2009 he became the first Briton since Tommy Simpson to win a Monument, Milan-San Remo. In 2010 he became the first Brit since Robert Millar to win a stage in every Grand Tour, and in 2011 became the first Briton since Simpson to win the World Championships.

In 2012 he became the first man to win on the Champs-Elysees four times in a row, and in the same year he became the most successful sprinter in Tour history with 23 stage wins, giving him more mass start wins than any other rider in the Tour de France, ever.

Some say he’s pretty good. I begrudgingly concur.

Cavendish’s record blows Kittel’s out of the water – it blows everybody’s palmares out of the water, in fact – but Kittel is coming along very nicely indeed. He won yesterday, has now won in every Grand Tour, and he has that air of invincibility about him that is reminiscent of another sprinter at times – namely, Cavendish.

But which would you rather have a beer with? One is affable, approachable and genuinely popular in the bunch, the other is none of those things. Whilst it is true that Cavendish’s nature is an essential component of his success it is also true that he has been openly disrespectful to other riders (ask Thor Hushovd about that), and that he causes crashes.

Never was this more true than on Stage One. Cavendish’s actions caused the crash, and though he apologised to Gerrans by telephone later, it’s an indication of how dangerous his sprinting was that the OGE team were angered that the UCI had declined to punish the Manx rider for reckless riding.

The reasons for Cavendish’s crash were twofold.

First off, he was desperate to win because he wanted Yellow on home soil. As a result he was eager as a lamb at its mother’s teet for the last 300 all day. Secondly, he does not respect his peers enough. Had it been Gerrans or another rider that had been forced to abandon the ride rather than the culprit himself, the organisers would have been justified in throwing him out of the Tour altogether.

Indeed, had that happened, the injured party might even consider whether he had a legal case against Cavendish.

Milan-San Remo winner Alexander Kristoff of Katusha even went so far as to compare Cavendish to Luis Suarez, the Uruguyan thrown out of the World Cup for biting an opponent.

“Suarez was banned for biting people in soccer and to me it looked like he crashed on purpose,” Kristoff said.

“At 60 kilometres an hour it’s really dangerous and you can injure people, so it’s not nice of him. In an uphill sprint you loose a bit of control sometimes. It’s not the first time he’s done this. I hope he calms down a little bit in the future. He’s a brilliant sprinter but it looks like he lost his head a little bit.”

Lost his head and lost his chance to prove that he still has the beating of an improved Kittel. Lost too even more respect from his peers, as well as wasted all the hard work his team would have put in in training to get ready for this race.

Kristoff will not be alone in his criticism of Cavendish and there won’t be much sympathy for him in the peloton either.

Finally, it wasn’t just himself he let down out there, not Simon Gerrans or anyone else behind him, but the British public who came out to cheer him on.

crankpunk on PEZ on le Tour

this article appeared earlier today before Stage 4 of the Tour de Kittel, so it bears no mention of the German’s 3rd win. however it does have a crack at Mark Cavendish.

read all about it by clicking the image below.

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