Category: dopepunk

Horner, Chris Lewis and why Lampre should never have signed the Vuelta winner in the first place

this article originally appeared on The Roar in February, but in light of Horner being pulled from the Vuelta by Lampre (for reasons explained by Gregor Brown here), I think it’s timely to re-post.

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This isn’t a new story. It’s been kicking around now since the end of January.

Yet there’s been very little commentary written on the deal that will see last year’s surprise Vuelta a Espana winner of 2013, Chris Horner, twinkling his little magic toes all over the World Tour again this year.

I haven’t written more than a dozen words on Horner, ever, and I wasn’t going to write anything this time. You may be of the camp that thinks ‘Good on him’ – after all there aren’t many 41-year-olds who’ve won a Grand Tour for the first time in their life.

Well, there has never been another, in fact.

The magnitude of Horner’s feat did not go unnoticed, though the reaction to it was a little less in awe than I’m sure he would have wished.

The cycling forums went mad with all kinds of allegations and suspicions that were largely to be expected.

Horner’s win though came at a point in the history of this sport when older riders were suddenly finding themselves without contracts in greater numbers than ever before.

If you were older and had any kind of suspicion of doping infringements lingering around you, like Luis Leon Sanchez, then boom, you were cut loose and cast into the wilderness.

Horner was rumoured to be going to Christina Watches for some time until the news that he was being welcomed on to Lampre-Merida, a move that some in the UCI would have been less than thrilled by.

See, there is something about Horner that just doesn’t smell right. I’m not saying anything new there, but it’s still worth looking over the reasons why for a moment.

First of all, a little known rider (outside of the USA) named Matt DiCanio went on record as far back as 2005 to say that another rider, Phil Zajicek, was offered help to purchase EPO and HGH when both rode for the American professional team Saturn.

DiCanio has also gone on record to say that Horner once said many years ago “It isn’t cheating if everyone is doing it.”

Secondly, Horner’s blood values from the 2013 Vuelta “fit with the patterns that anti-doping authorities look for as a sign of cheating.” Not my words, those of Michael Puchowicz in Outside Magazine.

The article states that Hornet’s hemoglobin concentration is simply too high to be natural. The other marker is the lowered reticulocyte count which is another sign of the use of EPO.

Puchowicz’s observations were seen by Shane Stokes of VeloNation, who passed them on to anti-doping authority Robin Parisotto, who works with the Athlete Passport Management Unit in Lausanne, France.

“It is not 100 percent clear that there is anything untoward happening,” Parisotto told Velonation, “[but] there’s certainly unusual patterns.”

He compares Horner’s bio passport to other profiles he has seen working as an anti-doping authority and concludes that “…most of those that come across to us are suspicious. Most are there for a reason. What I have seen with this particular profile is similar to those other profiles.”

Why didn’t the UCI investigate this? No idea.

Is any of this enough reason to suspend Horner? My gut says no, but if an anti-doping authority is stating that Horner’s values are suspicious why isn’t the UCI investigating?

One person who is probably asking himself these very questions and who has far more of a divested interest in all this than just about anyone else is another American rider – or should I say ex-rider – Craig Lewis.

Some of you may remember the now 29-year-old rider, who has just announced his retirement.

At 19, riding in the Tour de Georgia, Lewis was hit by a car and suffered two punctured lungs, internal bleeding and several fractures all over his body, almost passing away as a result.

Months of recovery followed before he returned to the pro ranks with Slipstream before moving on to HTC, where he won the team time trial at the 2011 Giro d’Italia. Days before the end of that race he broke a femur, forcing him out and eventually on to the Pro Continental Champion Systems team, which folded just last year.

Then he got a berth on the Lampre-Merida team. Well, he would have had a place there, had the management not decided to go and sign a 41-year-old American called Chris Horner.

The same guy who says he saw no doping on Bruyneel’s teams, the same guy who defended Armstrong until it became impossible even for his greatest apologists to do so, the same guy about whom all those rumours have been flying around.

“I thought we had already hit rock bottom, but it keeps going down,” Lewis said in an interview recently with Cyclingnews. “The sport just doesn’t market itself, and it needs some big changes – a lot has to happen for the sport to be appealing for companies to sponsor. It’s not sustainable the way it is.”

With riders like Horner still finding places to ply their trade, you’d have to agree with Lewis.

Jonathan Tiernan-Locke & The Art of Cynicism

“Being cynical is the only thing that is still fun about cycling,” wrote Willard Ford, and I love that line so much that I might put it on a t-shirt. But here’s an interesting thought – which came first, the doping, or the cynicism?

There are several different kinds of cycling fan, of course, but for the sake of argumentative journalism, please allow me to generalize. We’ll say there are three broad types.

Type One never believed a word of it from the get-go and knew these guys were popping something akin to rocket juice straight into their butt cheeks from the early 90s. Hardcore riders and/or racers themselves, they knew that what they were seeing was not physiologically possible. They understood the history of the sport and knew that from way back in the late 1800s all the way up to Mr. Merckx himself and beyond, cyclists had been cheating.

Why did they cheat? Because they were human, plain and simple.

They spent years in the shadows, these Type Ones, whispering under their breath and looking over their shoulder lest they accidentally let it slip that they believed that 99% of the peloton was more chemically enhanced than Timothy Leary on a three day bender.

Few spoke out because if they did they would be vilified, labeled as envious and bitter. Some were writers and broadcasters but they still kept schtum, lest they find themselves out of work. They were, however, vindicated in the end, even if it never made anyone really feel too good.

Type Two believed in The Lie for a long time then realized, finally (despite Festina, Puerto, the Italian with the big ears and all the rumors about needles, vials and exercise bikes being brought into Grand Tour hotel rooms to help riders keep their blood thin at night), that yes, their heroes doped. For this, we can thank Lance Armstrong.

It took the fall of the good ol’ boy from Texas to finally convince Type Two that even English speakers dope too. Heaven forbid. So, David Millar was not an isolated case. Turns out, in fact, that it had been these American guys that were at the head of the most sophisticated doping fraud in the history of the sport.

Was nothing sacred? Could we please just go back to blaming the Spanish and the Italians? Wouldn’t that be easier for everyone?

Then we have Type Three. Denied sufficient oxygen at birth, Type Three sees nothing wrong in doping and wishes everyone would just shut up and allow the dopers to get on with it. Who cares? Type Three certainly doesn’t. Happily unburdened by the weight of intellect they will tell you that they just don’t give a ****, which, as we all know, is one hell of a powerful argument.

Personally, I’m either an optimistic cynicist or a cynical optimist, so in my case I’d say I was definitely ready for the dawn of the EPO era, because I was already pissed off. When a bunch of Dutch kids died in the early 90s because they didn’t know how to use blood thinning agents to counteract the thickening of the blood that EPO causes, I got pissed off even more.

Later when these man-hulks were racing up mountains so fast that even the Colombians were shocked, I delved even further into my natural store of cynicism. It was a match made in heaven, professional cycling and me, because I have always loved having something to complain about. And here it was. A beautiful thing being destroyed by chancers and pimps, enablers and drug addicts. The cheats rose to the top and the good guys got zilch. Less than zilch, in fact, because they even got a kick in the teeth as they were being thrown out.

All of which brings me to Jonathan Tiernan-Locke.

When he rocked up in 2012 and started winning stuff and putting riders who had for a long time, on paper at least, been better than him to shame I thought ‘hmmmm’. You probably thought that too. My Gran even put a bet on him eventually getting busted, he looked that dodgy.

‘Give him the benefit of the doubt,’ some said.

‘Hey, innocent til proven guilty!’ clamoured others.

Why? Because so often when a rider has come along and shown form that he had never previously exhibited they don’t later on get busted for doping, or ‘admit’ it when the gun’s to their head? Like, Bjarne Riis. Or Levi Leipheimer. Or David Millar?

I wished JTL was clean. I am that stupid that I wanted to believe it. I wanted to believe because I love those stories, I’m sure many of us do, of the underdog who rises to the challenge, who comes to the stadium to watch then gets asked to play and hits the skin off the ball to bring home the win.

I wanted to believe because I’m human. But something said ‘hmmm’ in my head because I had reached the point where I just could not take it anymore. The data shows that a vast majority of cyclists throughout history have doped. Recent years show that for every step forward we take 5 back. It all shows, indeed, that if you think anyone is really, really clean, then you’re conning yourself.

This doesn’t mean no one is clean. It just means that you really, seriously should not believe any of them.

Yes, a brilliantly ridiculous conclusion, but you go check the numbers. Let’s hear your summation.

JTL’s rather Boonesque excuse for his results was that he had necked 17 pints just before the test, but that he couldn’t be bothered to challenge the results cos he has no cash and he figured he’d been stitched up enough.

it's Happy Hour every hour for JTL apparently...

it’s Happy Hour every hour for JTL apparently…

You know what that ’17 pints’ excuse really is? It’s like when you’ve done something really quite wrong at work or at a party or indeed anywhere where there are people you have to face later, and you’re not brave enough to admit the truth. So you spin a yarn that is outlandish and frankly pathetic, but because everyone is nice they go along with it. For those who weren’t there at the time of the misdeed or who aren’t so close, your little lie does just enough to sow a miniscule grain of doubt in the mind.

‘Oh of course he did it,’ they think… ‘But he did say that he…’

And that is what JTL’s excuse essentially is. He will go back to his pals and his family and they’ll be able to pretend to believe that he is innocent. The veneer will survive, just. It’s the coward’s way out though, make no mistake, but, amazingly, it works.

A study in the USA found that sports fans prefer their idols to lie about doping, despite the evidence of a positive test. Denying works. Your ratings might take a dent but hey, he said the reason was this, or she said that. Admit it though, and your popularity will really fall.

So yes, people would rather be lied to than hear the truth, in a great many circumstances.

For me though? Sheesh, gimme a break, the kid is as guilty as OJ. But then, he did have 17 pints.

Come on cynicism, don’t desert me now…

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.

The Froome TUE Palava: Every side letting the fans down

this article originally appeared on The Roar

 

Many would have never heard of a TUE until last week, other than the one that brings you closer to FRI, but in the past seven days or so ‘Therapeutic Use Exemption’ has entered the lexicon of cycling fans the world over.

Reaction to the news that Sky applied for and received an exemption for glucorticosteroids on Chris Froome’s behalf just before the Tour du Romandie back in late April has been mixed on cycling websites and forums.

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Rogers’ Giro stage victory leaves me underwhelmed

This article originally appeared in PezCycling News.

giro_ditalia 2.3

Let’s cut to the chase. Tinkoff-Saxo’s Michael Rogers is a divisive figure and many would have watched the finale of yesterday’s Stage 11 of the 2014 Giro d’Italia in a slightly perplexed state, unsure whether or not to cheer on the Australian’s undoubtedly impressive solo break that culminated in a handsome victory.

Much of the blame for that uncertainty lies in large measure with the UCI, given that of the three incidents involving Rogers that have led people, rightly or wrongly, to suspect that the rider in question may have knowingly doped in the past, the world’s governing body has been directly at fault in two.

The first of these ‘incidents’ came in May 2013, when the French sports newspaper L’Equipe published a list that had been leaked from the UCI that was laughingly labeled ‘secret’, which contained the name of 40 riders, ranking them according to the level of suspicion with regards to doping.

Rogers warranted a ‘7’ on the scale, which was defined him as having supplied values that provided “overwhelming evidence of some kind of doping, due to recurring anomalies, enormous variations in parameters, and even the identification of doping products or methods”.

Was there any action taken as a result of this list? None. Not by the UCI, nor the World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA), nor by any team or rider in the form of litigation against the UCI or L’Equipe.

Everyone kept mum, and it was business as usual the very next day. Had the list been leaked to try to ensure a clean Tour de France that year? Was it an attempt to name and shame riders into cleanliness? Why were no blood values ever released to support the claims made? Why did not one single rider ever speak about the list?

Too many questions, and absolutely zero answers. It was a screw up by the UCI of rather mammoth proportions, and it left the cycling public more confused than ever as to the state of their beloved sport whilst simultaneously guaranteeing a smudged question mark over any remarkable performance by any of the riders high up on the list.

As in yesterday, as with Rogers.

Next cock-up for the UCI where Rogers was concerned came when he tested positive for Clenbuterol on the 20th of October, 2013 at the Japan Cup, after having been in China previously. We all know about this little cherry-bomb of a drug and China and there’s little need to go over that too much.

However, it’s worth noting the UCI’s inconsistency in dealing with Clenbuterol cases. Alberto Contador and WADA dragged the sport through the mud for months before he was finally banned then cleared then banned then stripped of his titles won during the period when he was riding but shouldn’t have been and yes, it is all very confusing.

Rogers and other riders who returned positives after racing in China have been cleared whereas Chinese rider Fuy Li, formerly of Radioshack, was suspended for 2 years for a positive test for Clenbuterol.

In the case of Rogers, it seemed that there would be little to gain from taking minute amounts of the drug and most felt that he had indeed ingested contaminated meat. However, having said that, the UCI must decide what level of Clenbuterol deserves a positive ranking, and thereby apply the full sanctions to anyone over that limit.

The riders too must take full responsibility for the food they eat, and any rider with any trace of Clenbuterol below any limit set by the UCI should automatically be banded from racing for one year. This will send out a clear message that the ‘I didn’t know what I was taking’ defence is unsupportable in the current climate.

The fans deserve more. They deserve to know exactly what is going on and the UCI must establish a rule of consistency to bring back the trust of the public with regards to doping in our sport.

This needs to be done because I am sure that many of you out there were in a similar boat to myself, watching something on the road into Savona that left you uneasy and unsure of how to react. I also apologise for taking up perfectly good column space with 700 words on doping, but having read several articles on the stage this morning it was obvious that there was yet again a glossing over of what is the most pressing issue that our sport faces.

All this was brought about by a victory by a man on a bike – something that should be so uniting and beautiful, and yet, thanks to the incompetency that has gripped the UCI for far too long, was not much short of utterly confusing. Rogers though also shares some blame for the doubts, as he is yet another rider who worked with the infamous Dr. Ferrari in his career, between 2005 and 2006.

“It was a mistake,” he said at the time, hand-winding the gramophone upon which that old record was playing.

What else happened? Ah yes, Cadel Evans was again so comfortable that he may as well be racing in his slippers and wearing a smoking jacket. He will win this Giro, if his luck holds out, and if you can find a more deserving winner of a Grand Tour in the past few years, I’d like to know his name.

Evans is all gumption and very little style, but his aggressive tenacity is hugely impressive. All those years I thought he was the most boring man in the room, he was probably just the cleanest…

Rogers may well owe Evans and BMC a pint too for his win. Evans is not a sentimental man but it looked for all the world like he sent his teammate to the head of the race in those final 3km to slow down the chasers that fancied their chances of reeling Rogers in.

In the end though, the Australian veteran won, and, in the end, I’m still not sure what to make of it all.

 

 

 

Will Routley: a rider worthy of praise

Will Routley

Will Routley

As news broke of Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies rider Will Routley’s victory on Stage 4 of the 2014 Tour of California, the majority of cycling fans could be forgiven for being unable to name any of his previous victories or his team’s name. Indeed, for many it would have been the fist time they’d have heard of him.

But make no mistake about, Routley is a rider who combines a sackload of talent with great courage and, last but not least, one commodity that many a pro cyclist has been shown to be sorely lacking in recent years: honesty.

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why bother with pro cycling?

Seriously, why bother? We love a sport that hurts. It hurts if you participate and it hurts if you’re a fan of the professional side of it too.

As a rider you spend a great deal of time suffering, head bent over stem, muscles screaming, tendons taut, sweat pouring out of every pore and a string of saliva hanging from your gob.

Better halves and non-riding friends often just don’t understand why you’d want to do this as a ‘hobby’.

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the curious case of George Hincapie

I do not know where to start when it comes to George Hincapie. Ex-Lance Armstrong teammate, ongoing Lance apologist, ex-doper, supergrass, writer, hotelier, clothing entrepreneur, and team sponsor.

George wears so many hats that we really shouldn’t be surprised that even he gets confused from time to time as to which one he’s wearing.

Let’s start then with the facts. George was a pro rider from 1994 to 2012. He rode for Motorola, US Postal, Team High Road and BMC Racing.

His didn’t win a great deal apart from Gent-Wevelgem and came close in a big Classic or two, though he was national road race champion of the USA three times over his 18 year career. He also finished 17 Tours de France.

He is most famous as being, for much of his career, Lance Armstrong’s faithful domestique and for being a fully committed doper for (according to him) at least a decent chunk of his career.

He was doped good too, by the best. The very best.

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SKY: doing people’s heads in since 2009

What is it about Team Sky that rankles so? Why do the come across as mirthless, joyless automatons? Can it be because they actually are? Or is there more to it than that?

Unlike football teams, cycling teams generally lack a definable character and so generally it’s hard to truly love or dislike a team. With that in mind, Sky have really outdone themselves to draw such opprobrium from cycling fans.

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ethics & cycling: mutually exclusive terms, or an attainable goal?

very interesting article here on The Outer Line, by Joe Harris and Steve Maxwell, head over to their site to check it out.

here’s a snippet:

“I had to do it just to survive” –Closely related to “everyone does it,” is this mantra – which perhaps comes the closest to being understandable or admissible.  This person feels like he has to dope just to keep his place in the peloton, essentially bolstering his “skill set” so that he can remain employed in the industry.  This person is the most trapped or caught up in the corruption – able to work but probably unable to do so without cheating.  However, this group doesn’t see the irony in the fact that they are cheating others out of contracts by participating in the doping to begin with.   There are hundreds of untold stories of talented up-and-comers who were denied the possibility of joining a professional team because of the actions of these types of riders, who did whatever they could to hold onto their spots on the roster.

'you wanna smoke a doobie later?'

just survivin’