i’ve had a bit of a soft spot for Cad Bloody El! Evans ever since he made Vinokourov cry over the white mud of the Strade Bianche on Stage 7 of the 2010 Giro.
go to about 1’04 on this video here to see Evans resplendent and filthy in the Rainbow, reminding people just what the f**k it stands for HOO HA.
and if you haven’t seen this stage before you can thank me later…
a genius ride by the Aussie.
he was recently interviewed by the excellent Small Talk of the Guardian newspaper (crankpunk’s first true love in the journalism world, as it happens).
he chats about pregnancy tests, his dislike of green cycling kits (sorry to Belkin then, but thanks for the misleading title of this post) and, when asked whether he’ll spend his retirement riding around his home town snaffling everyone Strava KOMs, he says:
“I’d rather spend my time riding my bike than talking about riding my bike.”
much unlike the vast majority of ‘cyclists’, then [cough].
click the image below to head to the article
Will Routley, cracking fella, was fortunate enough to entice him over to Taiwan for the KOM Challenge just recently.
Will has been a pro since 2008 and just enjoyed his best year with Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies with a win on Stage 4 and the overall KOM in the 2014 Tour of Califiornia.
I caught up with him for a chat.
crankpunk: You’ve been in Asia before, racing, how does Taiwan compare to other areas you’ve been?
Will Routley: I’ve race in Malaysia, Thailand, Korea and also China. Taiwan seems to be more affluent, it’s clean, there’s no glass or junk on the road, I feel at ease and comfortable here. Even in Taipei, I don’t fee the hustle and bustle of other places I’ve been in Asia. The overwhelming chaos is missing!
Nicole Cooke says ‘no more heroes’ but, truth be told, she is one of mine. And to top all that off, she is so damn nice too. I met Nicole through her dad Tony, who responded to an article of mine which was on about how the bad guys get Gran Fraudos but the clean folk get nothing, like Obree and Nicole, and how much that sucks.
He sent me an email next day which said:
“If you’re interested in talking to Nicole perhaps I could set that up, I know her quite well.
Tony (Nicole’s dad)”
American former professional rider (he has just retired at 35) Matt Cooke came on the radar screens at crankpunk HQ when he commented on an article i wrote about dopers having those wonderful gran fraudos, as they do. we then chatted a little about doing an interview but never got round to it.
then i saw a comment from Matt on a photo of Zabriskie, attending some awards dinner or something recently, where Matt basically said ‘dude you robbed me’, and i knew we had to get that interview done.
so here it is, unedited, unabridged. one thing i am sure of is that he means every word.
crankpunk: Why aren’t you a doper?! Scared of needles?
Matt Cooke: I’m not a doper because I have never done drugs. Beyond that I think it takes away from what is great about sport. Or at least what we are all taught is great about sport ie. that it is a fair competition.
cp: Why should we believe you?
MC: That’s a tricky question because it’s hard to prove of course. But the real reason you can believe me is because if I took PEDs I would have progressed beyond continental racing in the US a long time ago. I am natural climber and I am actually pretty talented in that respect but if you gave me PEDs man I would go REALLY fast.
cp: How and why did you decide not to dope? Family environment? Experience of other riders? Or…?
MC: I like to think most people are pretty bright but the older I get I am finding out that is not so true. The choice not to do drugs is pretty easy. I want to do this sport fair. If I get beat I want to be able to actually congratulate the guy. I also don’t want to have to lie to everyone I know. It would kill me inside too. The truth is I am just too damn honest and I’m too sympathetic and I would feel for the guy I cheated.
But I did have a good family with very good values. There was never any pressure to perform at bikes. Maybe that helped. I was an Eagle Scout. All my friends had good families too. My friends were honest. As kids if we did the smallest thing wrong we felt bad about it. We had good values growing up.
cp: You’re pretty vocal about doping and about others who have been caught and continue to be lauded, so what are your thoughts on Zabriskie, Levi et al?
MC: I wish other riders would speak up because we could make a change. But some are still racing and they are afraid of losing their jobs, and they actually should be afraid. Hincapie runs a team so those guys can’t say anything. It would make the work environment pretty uncomfortable at Garmin if riders there spoke up. But when people like me speak out, we are actually saying the truth. How can the truth be wrong?
Fans do not like to have the curtain pulled back. They want to keep cheering for their favorite rider and not really think about what he did. They think “Oh he did a little cheating. But everyone was doing it. And he did his time.” ALL FALSE. One, they all blood doped, remember that is taking your blood out and putting it back in later! That’s just insane. Two, not all of them took PEDs, I never did and look where I am, I quit the sport because of how diseased it is (more on that later), and three, they did not do their time – most of them did six months in the off season and Ryder [Hesjedal] did no time at all.
And after those six months are done they go back to getting paid six figures. And remember they got to that pro tour level and they got on that clean team because they were once massive performance enhancing drug users – i.e. career criminals.
Without the drugs they wouldn’t have been there.
Let’s take them at their word for argument sake that they all did stop doping in 2006, independently and at the same time – well, they did drugs for many years prior to that. They got to do many grand tours, they did countless long classic races, they had access to the best training methods, coaches, doctors and places to train.
They were given access to all those things because they got great results because of their drug use. Without the drugs they would never have gotten to that point and that is what many people forget. Those people are so-called fans, fan-boy journalists, former and current racers and now I see it includes race announcers here in the US also.
This is the take away – you would never know their names if they had never taken drugs.
Something else that is painfully obvious but everyone seems to ignore or maybe they are just too dumb to see, is that we would never even know their names if they hadn’t have taken drugs.
Where would Tom Danielson be if he had never taken the drugs? Where would Levi be? No where. They got their fame through cheating and that included stepping on many clean riders like myself and many, many others. Even if they really did stop, they did all those grand tours and training for the grand tours, which is an advantage I and others like me never had.
If you’ve ever raced at a high level you know that the riders who have done grand tours have an advantage over the riders who haven’t.
Those guys I just mentioned, Horner too, came over to the US to do “training races” and they beat all our butts. And the fans cheered for them. They clamored to get their autograph. What a bunch of horseshit. They took prize money and podiums from us.
I just read a piece I wrote for a magazine in 2007 about my neo-pro season with Navigators (I could say a lot about that team too) and I was writing about the Cascade Classic that year. I was on the final climb and Levi attacked. There was a hesitation from the field and I said to myself “the hell with this” and I rode across to him.
I think I was there for ten seconds or so before I blew sky high and finished way down that day. That race and other instances just like that changed me, it changed how good I thought I could be. I thought “Oh I guess I am not as good as I thought I was. I need to reevaluate how high I can make it in this sport.”
Can you see how that changed what I thought I could do in this sport? Levi and all the others that are too numerous to name almost, not only stole money by way of placing’s but they stole the imagination of clean riders to reach the highest points of the sport.
And its also not just prize money, people forget about the opportunities us clean riders missed, spots on big teams, higher salaries. I have finished second in important races to riders who I knew were geared up. Imagine if I had won those races. I would have looked a lot more attractive to bigger budget teams.
Would you like examples? Several of the US Pro Championship races George and Levi won back to back. Then Cascade, Gila, Tour of California, Tour of Utah and the Pro Challenge. At all those races, guys who were totally lubed up stole major placings from clean riders.
cp: You recently sent a post to a FB post about some riders (it was Zab right? And…?) being patted on the back for some ride or other – can you tell us about that and, any blowback from that from the apologists?
MC: I think a lot of people have backed off because I was vocal. I feel fine with it because I am actually right. I’ve called out current pros from sucking up to Levi and they backed off from me. I don’t mind it but that is my business. I don’t understand why any clean rider would ever back off a guy who is fighting for his and her cause. I’m on their side yet sometimes they want to be closer to the guy who cheated them for years. I say, that’s their problem not mine.
And to be honest I have spoken out a lot but it is actually only a small percentage of what I want to say. There are some things I am afraid to say because there are powerful people in the sport that would give me a hard time. Not physically but we have mutual friends and I don’t want there to be tension.
cp: Do you get any feedback from others in the peloton/out on the road?
MC: Yes several riders came up to me and said ‘thanks for saying what you are saying’. ‘You are right Matt.’ Things like that. They are in a hard spot because if they speak out they won’t get jobs, and I understand that. I was leaving so I said “the hell with it, I am saying how I feel.”
cp: Might you possibly be risking an advancement of your own career here – being branded a ‘troublemaker’?
MC: Well I am not racing any more so I’m not too worried about that. It’s a shame because this could be a great sport but it really is so corrupted that it is hard to turn your head at the race buffet and not see a major cheater or hypocrite or enabler somewhere in your glance.
And really how could I be called a trouble maker? I believe it has been proven that Chris Carmichael actually did dope juniors, also I believe it has been proven Levi did test positive in 1996 and Will Frischkorn and another Saturn rider said a rider who is still racing in the pro peloton taught them how to use EPO. And I am sure you figure out who that is on your own. But I am just repeating these things. I didn’t do the drugs and steal the money, they did.
cp: Is cycling really getting cleaner?
MC: I do think it is getting cleaner. You can win races clean. At least here in the US and I’m sure you can in Europe too. Maybe not consistently over there but I believe you can. But that is just a small part of it. Look at the people still involved in the sport. Many of them were heavy PEDs users and they are the ones in charge. And then you tell yourself “Well once all the cheater riders retire it will be a better environment.” But that’s not true either because all those guys will be the next directors and team owners and coaches.
So my feeling is that this sport has no hope until after I am dead because I am about the same age as all those pathological liars.
Also consider how these guys like Levi are treated by current riders. So many of them love him. They go to his grand fondo, they have podcasts with him. It’s unbelievable. This guy actually stole from them and here they are having tea with him.
Did you see Chris Carmichael just got a podcast? Remember the law suit regarding the juniors? They were kids for christ’s sake. And he built an empire off of his lies. The bio on his website has no mention of Lance, yet he wouldn’t exist if not for Lance. They did books together for christ’s sake, how do people forget this stuff.
cp: Any thoughts on why American supporters of American dopers are so particularly gung-ho about still loving these guys?
MC: As you can tell what I’ve written I see no reason to love them. I do see how you could sympathize with them. You could imagine yourself in their shoes and start to rationalize the choices they made, but that doesn’t mean they were the right choices.
The reason the American supporters love them so much is they just want to be around famous people. That is where most of these “journalists” fit in. They are just terrible, none of them actually lived the sport. They are just fan boys. They can argue with me till the cows come home but the truth is they have never stood in my shoes and have not seen the things I have seen and so it is not possible for them to even come close to reporting the truth.
Why does Velo do an interview with Levi and not once ask him about his positive test from 1996? They’ve interviewed him multiple times over the past year but every time they asked softball questions and with no push back or follow up.
Now I’m sure they could and will come back and say “hey Matt we did ask 1 little itty bitty follow up.” But the point is the interview was just an opportunity to give him more sympathy and show how great of a guy he is. The fact is, he’s a career thief.
Is there any other way to look it him? No, there isn’t.
cp: Feelings on former dopers being involved in pro teams or coaching?
MC: They should not be involved, period. George is sponsoring some young guys which is commendable. I don’t think he is coaching them. I believe that situation of a team needs a very clean delineation of who is involved with what.
cp: What are your thoughts on the current two year ban?
MC: It’s too short. Four years and they need to be tested during their ban at their expense.
cp: How did it feel – and when did it dawn on you – when you realized that there were these two separate tiers on the peloton – and that, as the evidence has shown was actually true – you and others like you might be being robbed of wins?
MC: It dawned on me a few years in. It was more recently for sure. I knew I was getting beaten by cheaters but I never knew the extent of what they did and how big the advantages they gained were. I was teammates with guys who heavily used EPO for years but I didn’t find out until years after the fact.
Over time I realized that my early years in the sport were partly shaped by guys who cheated and that is a big reason I am so angry. I am not blaming them for the entirety of my career, but there were important things that were changed by them.
Of course I’ve never taken PED’s but I was told a few years after leaving Navigators by someone who was a teammate at the time “Oh you didn’t know? We were all using.”
He was exaggerating, not everyone on that team was using PEDs but many were and it blew my mind when he told me. So then I think back and remember instances in specific races where guys would make a big move in a race and I was cross eyed from trying to go with them. Or two guys I later found were juiced up racing each other for seconds in a TT and other blowing the field away. Stuff like that gets you mad because you know you could have done super well in a certain race had you not been going up against a guy who was geared up.
After Nav’s broke up at the end of 2007 guys went everywhere and the ones who were the big users kept using and kept at it on their new teams for several years after that. Those names I can’t not say right now because I don’t have photos or taped conversations but I do know it happened and authorities are being notified.
But if you put your thinking cap on it is not too hard to find out. I wish USADA and the magazines would put those thinking caps on because they could do a great deal of good.
cp: Any advice to young kids looking to go pro, and/or to their parents?
MC: If you like cycling go for it. Clean guys can win races these days. At least here in America they can, probably Europe too.
cp: What are you hoping for your own future?
MC: I hope to be as happy and as fun loving as I have always been. I have a great life. I have a wonderful wife and dog and I am doing a job search now that is a little scary but I believe it will be rewarding. Ultimately this is a big diverse world we live in and I want to see as much of it and do as much as I can before I die.
cp: Thanks Matt.
after helping to get the word out about the new film about Graeme Obree’s attempt at the world land speed record that is currently in post-production – The Outsider: Graeme Obree’s Story – i decided to chance my arm at wrangling an interview with the legend himself in the hope of further pimping the film.
well, i say that, but the ulterior motive was, if i’m honest, simply to be able to chat to a man i have admired and respected from afar through the years, since i first became aware of him and his cycling around 1990.
i usually prefer to take excerpts from interviews and to mould them into an article, but such was the enthusiasm barreling down the phone line from Graeme – and indeed, such was the fun i was having – that i’ve decided to simply transcribe the entire interview.
it’s long. but you know what, i do believe that you have the attention span to get through this! inspired by Mr. Obree, it’s ‘go large or go home’ day here on cp & company…
and so, here you have it: Mr. Graeme Obree, in his own inimitable words…
cp: Hello! It’s Lee Rodgers, I’m calling for the interview.
GO: Ah yes hello! Listen, this line isn’t so good, would you mind calling my land line?
cp: I tried that but it didn’t work.
GO: What number did you try?
GO: That’s not right. Try this one. +44XXX-XX-XXXX.
cp: OK will do.
GO: Ok then cheerio.
you will no doubt be aware of the recent rumblings concerning the nomination of the UCI head honcho Mr. Pat McQuaid, who in his quest to grab another term as president of the beloved world governing body of cycling is causing divisions within the sport. and when i say ‘body’ it is very nearly in a literal sense, so close is the thing to a corpse.
McQuaid seemed on course to clinch the presidency again when Cycling Ireland’s board voted to back his bid for a third term in office. however, one member of that board, then vice-president Anthony Moran, voted in opposition and later resigned from Cycling Ireland in protest. Moran was part of a group of Irish cyclists and UCI members who then persuaded the board of Cycling Ireland to put the nomination of McQuaid to a vote by the members of Cycling Ireland at an Extraordinary General Meeting, which will take place this Saturday, the 15th of June.
by that time of course, McQuaid was already off to Switzerland to garner their cycling federation’s nomination for the presidency, a nomination that may or may not be unlawful according to the UCI’s own rules. McQuaid recently sent an open letter (all the rage it seems these days) to the member clubs of Cycling Ireland to address the EGM and give his own opinion on his nomination by the Swiss Federation.
“Whatever happens at the Cycling Ireland EGM this week,” wrote McQuaid, “my nomination by Swiss Cycling will stand. Cycling Ireland is not permitted to cancel the EGM that it has called and a small group of activists who have been manipulated by commercial interests have sought to mislead and convince anyone who will listen that this is a defining moment in my election campaign. It is not.
“Any suggestion that my nomination does not comply fully with the UCI rules is untrue, deliberately misleading and disingenuous. The rules have been followed to the letter. The latest challenge to my Swiss nomination is completely baseless – it is just one more shameless and confected PR stunt by a company and individual who have sought to hijack the UCI Presidential election to turn it into a global PR and marketing campaign for himself and his company.”
well, if anyone understands the meaning of “misleading” and “disingenuous” it is certainly McQuaid, the ex-rider who rode under a false name in South Africa in the Apartheid era, and who later claimed this in regard to LA and the allegations of doping: “my experiences as a cyclist convinced me he was real.”
definitely real, but definitely not clean. and any rider I know that is worth their salt knew LA was juiced from the get-go.
that sentence alone has disingenuous written all over it.
not to mention this one: “[a] shameless and confected PR stunt by a company and individual who have sought to hijack the UCI Presidential election to turn it into a global PR and marketing campaign for himself and his company.” well, takes one to know one, as they say…
Moran is also one of 5 authors of a recently published document, The Pat McQuaid File, along with Dr. Conor McGrane, Paul Atkinson, Mark Gill, Dr. Cillian Kelly and Kieran Kean. The Pat McQuaid File sets out the group’s opposition to McQuaid and is essential reading for anyone interested in this case. earlier this week I chatted with Conor McGrane to get his take on the whole case and to delve into a few of the issues brought about by the document.
one of the central points of the file points out the ‘conflict of interests’ inherent in having a world governing body that was seeking to promote the sport as a financial venture that was also in control of the anti-doping initiatives. why, you have to wonder, had no one ever really highlighted that conflict before?
“There’s obviously been a turf war between the UCI and WADA in terms of being in control of the anti-doping,” says McGrane. “We have concerns about the UCI being in control of it because they effectively run a lot of races and are trying to globalize the sport, and are in control of many of the doping controls. The media – well it is hard to know why these questions weren’t being asked by more people, earlier. The mainstream media just didn’t publish these questions and in a sense they hid their heads in the sand.”
but what about the initiatives that the UCI brought in, such as the Biological Passport, surely the UCI’s crowning glory?
McQuaid was quick to highlight this in his letter to the Cycling Ireland members. “During these eight years [as president of the UCI], I have introduced a whole host of initiatives in the UCI to create an environment where today’s riders can now compete and win clean.”
but Moran’s take on this is a little different and he is critical of the reach, scope and implementation of the Passport, and of the general lack or accountability in the UCI.
“It’s an organization that needs deep rooted reform. It needs to be more accessible and more open to members and federations, to allow them to express their concerns. Their reaction to all the doping scandals, they’d reacted after but never initiated a response. The Bio Passport hasn’t been run in a way that would allow it to achieve what it is capable of.
“Whenever you criticize the doping in the sport the UCI bring up the Biological Passport, but it’s only there at the highest level of the sport and even then its results have been patchy at best.”
there is no doubt that, apart from McQuaid and his predecessor Hein Verbruggen, who is Honorary President of the UCI, the organisation is largely a faceless structure and that it is very difficult to work out just who is in charge of what, which leads, McGrane feels, to a lack of democracy and responsibility. though the file is very much focused on the role of McQuaid within the UCI, I was interested to take in McGrane’s views on Verbruggen, the man who revamped the organisation in the 90s and who groomed the Irishman as his successor.
“Verbruggen really has no place in cycling and no place in sport,” began McGrane. “What he did in his presidency was literally appalling. The thing that stands out was his bringing in of the 50% rule for heamatocrit. That effectively legalized EPO use.
“A normal level is between 38 and 44%, occasionally 46. Then all of a sudden, that rule comes in and riders are hitting the high 49s. I’m 19 years as a doctor and I have been in cycling for 9 years now and I’ve seen only one natural level above 48%. Then I see the numbers from the late 90s and they are 48.7 and 48.9. These go against all evidence which says that these levels should in fact drop in the course of a stage race. That rule alone took away any chance of drug-free competition for at least ten years.”
but are we being naive to believe that traditional sporting values and big money can co-exist? should we not, as some suggest, just let them dope and get on with it? and what exactly are the 5 authors of The Pat McQuaid File getting out of this? are they, as they have been referred to, in fact nothing more than “a minority of political activists”?
“There always will be cheating. But we have to aim for a completely drug-free sport and it is largely achievable,” replied McGrane. “You bring up questions and they try to change the subject and make you out to be a little bit of a crank and being anti-cycling, which the 5 of who wrote this certainly aren’t. We are heavily involved in the sport and largely on a volunteer basis. We have no financial interest in this. We do it basically because we love it.”
I do wonder though, from time to time, where the riders are in all this. yes, some sent out tweets last week when Santambrogio tested positive and Acquarone criticised both the younger man and Danilo Di Luca for doping, but where are the voices from the peloton and from the teams’ management, commenting on the general situation and the UCI’s lack of initiative? do they not have to also take some greater responsibility?
“I think it really is up to the authorities,” was McGrane’s reply. “Teams are essentially there to allow riders to win races and to work for their sponsors, and if you leave anti-doping up to them then it is just not going to work. It’s great to have teams that are ethical but it is the leadership of the sport that has to take control.”
and the riders?
“Well, every whistleblower to date that had come out has been ridiculed and even called a “scumbag.” Verbruggen suggested Landis go to a psychologist just for saying things that turned out to be true. And these are the high profile guys, so what chance do the other guys who are struggling to make a living have? It’s not fair to expect these guys to take on the obligation of enforcing the rules of the sport when the UCI has such a record with previous whistleblowers.”
this Saturday, the Cycling Ireland members will vote at this truly extraordinary Extraordinary General Meeting on whether or not to nominate McQuaid in his bid to become the President of the UCI for a third term. it is a crucial moment, not only in terms of McQuaid’s actual bid – he may well gain Swiss cycling’s vote – but in terms of what it represents. if the vote is not in favor of the bid it will be a landmark in the history of the sport, and indeed in any sport, a moment in time when the rank and file, the every day cyclist and club member, stands up and makes themselves heard. and, whatever happens in Switzerland, it will be a massive blow to whatever integrity Pat McQuaid has left.
how confident is McGrane of getting the support they desire?
‘So far the clubs that have been in contact with us have been supporting us and several clubs have had internal votes and the numbers are suggesting 70, 80 and even 90% against him. We will have to see on the day but the feedback from the members is suggesting that McQuaid is not seen as being good for the sport and not the right man for the sport.”
I have been one of the commentators calling for a brand new organisation to take over the running of the sport, but McGrane points out the potential folly in that, stating that in most other sports where a rival organisation has been set up, things have rarely, if ever, gone smoothly. and you can be certain that if Pat McQuaid is in power and a new organisation does emerge, the resulting battles will not be pretty.
so, do we need the UCI?
McGrane paused a moment before he finally spoke, considering his answer carefully.
“The UCI does have a place in the sport,” he says. “But It needs complete reform and re-organisation. In its present form though it is not fit for purpose.”
we shall see very soon what the members of Cycling Ireland have to say on that one, and on their countryman who sits, for now at least, at the head of world cycling.
it’s not the most comfortable of situations these days for Campagnolo. once the foremost supplier of groupsets and wheels to the very best cycling teams in the world, Campagnolo saw its market share guzzled away first by the arrival of Shimano’s top-end groupsets in the 70s and then by the blitzkrieg unleashed by the new kids on the block, Sram.
crankpunk had the pleasure of catching up with fellow racer and former 7-11 and Motorola rider Nathan Dahlberg of New Zealand. Nathan’s extraordinary career as a pro began in 1988, which saw him ride the Tour de France, not to mention participating in classics such as the Tour of Flanders. currently Directeur Sportif with the Plan B Continental racing team, Nathan, now 47, continues to race and to love riding. i wanted to ask him about his career and about how he managed to survive the Euro peloton.
crankpunk: how did you end up in Europe in the first place?
Nathan Dahlberg: i was looking to go as a junior in 1983, and i’d ridden the Junior World’s in New Zealhand and i met the French federation president on the plane back to Auckland. i got an address from him and got an address from a club in France and they asked me to go race and that was that, i went and started racing. i was 19 then, 1984.
crankpunk remembers opening ProCycling one day a couple of years or so ago and doing a double take. staring back at me was this fearsome looking machine that cost more than every crankpunkcar i’d had – combined – and with design features that looked like they’d come from another dimension, which, considering that the Factor bike was built by specialist engineers steeped with knowledge of creating stuff for F1, it had.
Factor is the offshoot of bf1systems and one quick look at their original 001 bike told you that its creators had thrown out much of the traditional thinking when they designed this package. the bike caught the eye of Aston Martin, who incorporated a special run of 77 bikes from Factor to stand beside their One-77 supercar. that model became the Aston Martin One-77 by Factor, and was even more expensive – $39,000 US would buy you just one of the limited edition of 77 bikes. that’s quite a dent in the pocket.
in January 2013 the first production model by Factor will be launched in the UK at the London Bike Show, and it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that the launch is eagerly anticipated by both industry insiders and consumers alike. but how do you go from a $39,000 uberbike to an affordable production version whilst staying true to the philosophy of the original?
crankpunk managed to wangle an interview with Factor’s head designer Steve Domahidy, the man responsible for making it all happen.
crankpunk: can you tell me a little about your background?
Steve Domahidy: sure, I was the co-founder of Niner Bikes and I did all the design and R&D for every Niner bike that is in their current line up, including the RIP 9 RDO which is the last bike I worked on before I left last year.
cp: so is your background mainly with MTB?
SD: i’ve done some road bike design and product development and i’ve been in the bike industry for 25 years. i worked for SRAM for a year, i did product design and management for an in-house brand prior to starting Niner, which was in 2004. i knew that the 29 inch wheel was going to be huge, that it was the next evolutionary step in MTB and i wanted to be on the cutting edge of that.
i got to the point though where i wanted to spread my wings a little further and it was the right time to try something new.
cp: how did you make the transition from Niner to working with Factor?
SD: it’s funny, when Factor first sent out the press releases for the Factor 001 bike, i remember looking at it – this is almost 4 years ago now – i remember seeing it and being pretty blown away by what they were doing, and i guess i lodged it in my brain and didn’t know exactly what to do with it. i knew that they had something completely unique and out of the box though.
so, as i was leaving Niner i kind of threw some stuff against the wall and wasn’t exactly sure what my next step would be, and then i just thought ‘i wonder what happened with that bike, the Factor 001?’ i looked them up and it was still the same stuff, not much had changed, and i called them and asked if they were willing to do a production version of the 001.
what was evident from the original 001 was that these guys were out of the box thinkers and had amazing resources to do some amazing things, and that they knew absolutely nothing about the bike industry. you could tell by looking at the bike. the way it was put together was coming from no understanding of bikes or the industry. and that was absolutely their point, they were coming at it from an engineering perspective and not one rooted in the normal traditions of road bike design. but if they wanted to do a production version they would need my kind of expertise.
cp: what specifically was it about the 001 that led you to those conclusions?
SD: the way the hubs connected to the frame made it almost impossible for quick wheel removal, having the disk brake on the front on the right side, which doesn’t actually matter but it just looked odd having them on different sides, the cranks, the BB system and the way they’d laid out the BB and seat tube, it was wider than it should be on a road bike. unless you’d ridden a lot and spent time in the bike industry you wouldn’t consider those things. also the handlebars and stem and computer system are all one piece of carbon fiber on the 001, which is totally cool from an aesthetic standpoint but not from a practical standpoint. people need different width bars and like different angles, and you wouldn’t be able to facilitate that on the 001.
having said that, they were two years ahead of the curve on hydraulic disc brakes on a road bike.
cp: the 001 became the Aston Martin version of the bike, and that was $39,000US, quite a lot of money.
SD: yes. there were some modifications made to the original 001 when it was licensed to Aston Martin, to link in with their 1-77 series. That’s their $2 million supercar, they made 77 of them, and they had a set of licensed 1-77 products of which the bike was one of them. so the Factor 001 morphed into the Aston Martin 1-77 bike by Factor, and there were only 77 of them built also.
cp: what’s the name of the new bike?
SD: that press release will be out next week so i’ll let you know.
cp: and is the price going to be different to the 1-77?
SD: yeah very, this is a production bike. one of the things that was extraordinary about the original 001 was that it was completely integrated from top to bottom. computer and electronics were integrated within the frame, there’s just one battery that controls the Di2 and the on-board computer. the bike offers an incredible amount of data to the rider, over 100 different measurements being taken by the computer at any given time.
the new bike, the objective was to continue on the path of the 001. it’s a bike that comes complete, out of the box, ready to ride. the challenge for me with the new bike was to incorporate the integration of the original bike but to make it firstly cost effective, and secondly palatable for the rider, and to make it a race bike. i wanted something you take from the box, put the wheels on and can go race.
when we began the project i wanted to honor the original things they were doing on the original bike because what they did on the 001 wasn’t merely for looks, but had actual scientific reasoning behind it. i also wanted to make it a bike that people could ride – have a seatpost that you can move up and down, have bars you can shift angles on and a stem unit that allowed you to change the bar width. so the new bike is every bit as radical as the original but more down to earth.
cp: as an engineer what were the most challenging aspects of designing this new Factor bike?
SD: i think that my expertise is to bring both functionality and, if i can say, a beauty into a single entity. it’s very difficult to combine those two aspects. on the Niners the aesthetics are every bit as important as the functionality. you want people to desire the bike, so you have to combine the industrial design with aesthetics. the bike has to do its job and look good too.
the challenge with the new Factor was to keep the innovative design elements but also keep the end price down to one that consumers could agree with. when you see the new bike at the launch in January you’ll see that a lot of what we are doing is unique. it’s hard to describe as i can’t really talk about it, but i had to increase the torsional rigidity of the frame, maintain the ride quality and to make it work.
cp: i’m a roadie now almost exclusively but when i was a kid i also raced MTB. yet these days when i look at some of the MTBs i don’t actually know what i’m looking at, there’s so much stuff there. the bike i had 20 years ago looks so outdated now. yet with road bikes there is really not a great deal of innovation with the UCI sanctioned bikes, apart from the materials being used. do you think that there will be a point where the road bikes that amateurs are riding and racing in non-UCI sanctioned events are going to be better than the ones the pros are using? and can the UCI adapt to that?
SD: that’s already happening, i mean the TT bikes, there are two entirely different disciplines, the triathlon bikes that are used in Ironman events and so on. those events aren’t governed by the UCI and the bikes are getting more and more radical, and companies are willing to invest money in those bikes, such as Specialized.
the UCI rules are so specific that there is only so much a designer can do. companies are less willing to develop radical road bikes as the UCI controls so many events and i understand the need for rules because they want to make it about the rider and not the bike, I get that, and there are similarities in F1. but i think the UCI has taken it a little too far and i think they are too regulatory. carbon fiber has changed what is happening with bikes and the UCI has not adapted to that change.
cp: that’s the story of the UCI in a nutshell… tell me Steve, do you ride?
SD: oh yeah! the reason i am in this industry is that i love bikes, trust me, i’m not doing it for the money. i love bikes, and i think that one reason Niner was so successful was that i made bikes that i wanted to ride and that i thought looked good, and if other people felt that too well, that was the icing on the cake. when i was with Niner one of the coolest things i could hear was that a Niner bike inspired someone to get out of the hospital or to lose weight, just to be able to ride their bike. that was inspiring, and so cool that i could affect people in that way.
yeah i am a massive avid cyclist and i do spend more time on the mountain but i’ve always had a roadbike quiver. i had a BH G5 and a Look 595 that were both very good. these days i’m testing the Factor so i’m on the road more and more. in fact i also tested other bikes as i was designing the new Factor and got hit by a car from behind but thanks to being relatively fit – and thanks to my ability to bounce – i was up and riding within a month.
cp: awesome. thank you Steve.
SD: thanks crankpunk.
crankpunk caught up with Shane Stokes of the cycling website VeloNation.com. Shane is a veteran commentator of the sport who, throughout his career, has sought to publish news and reports as and when they arose that pertained to the fallacy that Lance Armstrong was riding without the aid of performance enhancing drugs.
as a fellow journalist journalist and also as a fellow fan, i was interested in hearing what Shane had to say on not only the case at hand but also about the future of the sport.
the following is a transcript of a conversation that took place on Monday the 22nd of October.
crankpunk: Shane you’ve been very busy recently on the TV and the radio in Ireland.
Shane Stokes: yeah in the last week and a half there’s been three radio slots and two TV slots, and then my normal column in the Irish Times as well, obviously all to do with the Armstrong case. around the world this crucial case has really commandeered a huge coverage.
cp: interesting how the Tour of Beijing just completely disappeared under the fog of the LA case. can you tell me why this has garnered so much interest in Ireland in particular?
SS: I think because, well the pro scene here is quite small, it’s not a massive sport here but it’s quite prominent and has the potential to grow again, but essentially I think it’s because it’s such a tale of skullduggery, and because his name is so well-known and that he was so revered for so long. and here is this picture emerging that is so different to the public view.
cp: and of course he was really the first English-speaking rider to break out of cycling and into the collective consciousness.
SS: there was Greg Lemond before him but yes, I think with LA it was this sustained run of success and also because of the cancer angle. i think the media focused on that and that LA packaged himself in such a way for the appeal but also to ensure that any awkward questions sort of went away. any time awkward questions came up the charity came up as well.
cp: as a fan yourself, what would you say to those people who were saying for many years – and are still saying, in some cases – that we should just forget about his doping or the allegations of doping and move on? why does it matter, they ask…
SS: i disagree with that entirely, couldn’t disagree more strongly. the sport has had enough missed opportunities with Landis, Festina, Puerto and Rasmussen, people thought this was a pivotal point at each point yet the UCI has missed that chance each time. i thought that until four years ago the UCI was in fact doing good work with the introduction of the biological passport and with Anne Gripper in charge of the anti-doping drive, but the return of LA coincided with the return of the Omerta [an Italian word that essentially refers to a ‘code of silence – in cycling terms it meant that the riders were discouraged from speaking about doping in the peloton to outsiders]. as a result doping went away again as a topic of discussion.
so if this, the single biggest scandal in cycling, is allowed to happen without consequences and repercussions then the sport really is doomed. it might be like wrestling for example [laughter] with a following but it will never be a genuine sport again. it’s damaging for the sport but i think we all hope that it is profound enough, in the short term, to force the changes that are needed and never happened before.
that has to start with the UCI, with at least the removal of Verbruggen if not his successor [Pat McQuaid] as well.
cp: interesting that you mention Gripper who, along with Michael Ashenden when he was working with the UCI, felt that she was being censored by the her employer. and there’s Ashenden who realized the only was he could help cycling was to get out of the UCI.
SS: yeah and with Gripper, when she first started to work on the UCI anti-doping stuff, i could call her anytime for clarification on certain points or for her comments, and that ensured media confidence which translates to fan confidence. then Armstrong came back, and Gripper expressed her concerns that the UCI had waived its 6 month rule [that required any and every rider to be in the anti-doping programme for half a year before they could race] by 2 weeks so that LA could do the Tour Down Under in his comeback year.
she was quite upset by that and spoke about it to Cycling Weekly and as a result she was censored. i know that from that time on if i requested amn interview from her she told me that she had to get permission from Pat McQuaid or the management committee to speak, and more often than not she couldn’t speak. so that changed things a lot and was a sign to me that LA’s return was really bad for the sport.
cp: interesting that a lot of people don’t seem to realize that LA’s effect on the sport, from when he started to win the Tour back in 1999, didn’t just mean that cycling became more popular in certain countries but that also, a lot of people started to make a lot of money as a result of being ‘in’ with him. in regards to that, how much responsibility do you think that the brands that sponsored LA have in all of this? any? none? some?
SS: absolutely i do. they’re washing their hands of him now but it looks like the rats leaving the sinking ship, but these rats have waited until they are absolutely sure the ship is sinking before they leave.
cp: some of them have scuba gear on and are just now surfacing…
SS: [laughter] yeah, they drained every last drop that they could before they suddenly develop morals over behavior that for so long they just turned a blind eye to. Trek and the Lemond case is a perfect example of that, he expressed concerns – and has been completely vindicated – but he was pressured from Trek to shut up, and when he wouldn’t do that Trek dropped him.
Oakley would have had to have had iridium on the insides of their glasses not to have seen what was going on in the sport.
cp; [more laughter] and then there’s the journos…
SS: and then there’s the journalists right, with their ‘willful ignorance’. anyone with any degree of logic at least would have had suspicions. there’s journalists i know that publicly praised LA and wrote soft pieces but in private they told me ‘for all i know he’s doping’. in the end i feel that you have to be true to your profession and true to yourself and to write what you believe to be the truth and not just what you want to package as the truth. so yes, sponsors, certain members of the media, the UCI, they are guilty here.
and then the UCI welcomed LA back on his return, having said that the old generation was the problem and that the new generation was the hope, and then suddenly, within about 2 months, the guy who most represented that older generation was back.
cp: you mentioned that this was the biggest fraud in cycling, can you think of any others that have been bigger in all sport? i have racked my brain but nothing as yet.
SS: ah…. Balco maybe?
cp: yet Balco wasn’t so endemic, wasn’t so institutionalized.
SS: yeah and i don’t think there was that willful ignorance by the authorities in the Balco case as to what was going on.
cp: interesting also what you said about the journalists. i remember watching the races on TV back then and hearing the praise for these incredible things that the riders were doing, yet as a cyclist myself i had my own suspicions. i think even if you were a general sports fan and just followed the sport loosely, you knew that evidence was growing in relation to widespread and endemic doping – and yet those so closely involved, press, management and even riders themselves claim ‘i never knew’.
we had the phenomenon that this intrigue actually turned a few of the cycling writers into investigative journalists. it must have all looked so rosy when they first entered the sport, you get to go to France, Spain, Italy, have the aura of the pros rub off a little on you, and then they realize that, actually, it’s a pretty rotten dream.
SS: yeah, there’s a guy i used to work with who in the mid 2000’s made a lot of money writing about LA. he really had a lot of access to LA and put the right message out for him, yet i know for a fact that he had a lot of his own suspicions yet he just switched them off in order to write the stories that made him money and gained him access to Armstong. there was that decision for journalists. tow the line and write the schpiel? or keep my distance and write what i feel is actually going on.
i could have made a lot more money if i’d done the former but i chose the latter. but certain elements within the media were complicit and that allowed things to continue. a good example is [TV commentator] Paul Sherwin. he raced as a pro, worked as a PR man for Lance’s team, and really has never let go of that PR role. then you have Phil Ligget, who couldn’t have been more pro-Armstrong. and now he’s said he is convinced LA doped. in the Independent newspaper he said he feels very let down.
but the proof has been building for a long time, yet he waited until the proof was incontestable before this u-turn. just 2 weeks ago he was defending and praising LA. it’s illogical.
cp: we have Bjarne Riss and several others still working in cycling, Andersen and Vaughters, etc.
SS: yeah Riis doesn’t inspire confidence. i believe 100% Tyler Hamilton’s claim that Riis sent riders to Fuentes [a doping doctor, central to the Operacion Ouerto doping ring]. Basso went, Hamilton was going when he was with CSC, and there were rumors of others going who rode for CSC. Riis doped as a rider, and i just think he’s a leopard who changes his spots. Nicholas Roche is going to his team next year and i am not sure that’s a good idea at all.
Vaughters, he’s seen by many as being the transparent guy, but i am not fully satisfied with it all. i think the aims of Garmin are admirable but, i have found Jonathan on the past to be less than 100% clear on some issues, when i’ve asked him questions. they are proud of their internal testing programme, but i’ve asked for example how many tests are done each year and didn’t get an answer. we need to see the results, to know who’s running the tests and how often the tests are being done. if you bill yourself as transparent then we need to see this. in no way am i saying that there is a doping problem in the team but i do think they could do more to lead the way and to set an example.
also the UCI doesn’t publish its biological findings and figures. the teams pay money in, yet we don’t get the chance to see if the money is being spent as it should be or if there is targeted testing being done, and so on. there’s no doubt that since LA came back in 2008 the transparency has slid.
cp: should former dopers be allowed back into the sport, in management?
SS: it depends, you have good guys and bad guys. Vaughters i think can contribute to the sport whereas Bruyneel should be as far away from the sport as is humanly possible. if you’re going to have the Bruyneel types around then they need someone like Ashenden to be there to screen all the test results.
cp: do you think the UCI can regain the credibility that will allow it to survive?
SS: McQuaid talked a good fight at the beginning, but he’s been almost completely unavailable to to the press for 2 or 3 years, has been increasingly linked to Verbruggen, and he hasn’t helped himself by not speaking to the press. and whilst the old guard is in there it looks increasingly difficult for the UCI to inspire confidence. they need new faces there. amongst fans the UCI has just about no credibility. look at twitter and you can see that.
cp: well also amongst up pro riders, the guys i race with, we respect the commissaires, we are very grateful to the organizers and love the fact that we can race, but as far as the UCI goes we have no real sense of affiliation with or belonging to this organization. i think we need to see the ProTour riders standing up and making their voices heard here. we need this leadership. there is potential here, it needn’t all be doom and gloom, i think there is some potential for something to actually happen.
SS: cycling is in a precarious position right now, and i think there have been too many false starts. i think the biggest tragedy is if this isn’t a pivotal moment. i think anti-doping needs to be brought outside of the national federations, and for the UCI to undergo a structural change and ideally to see the faces change, and an independent body maybe set up by WADA to take on all the testing, with a guy like Ashenden to oversee things. the importance of this will be to show that cycling has the ability to turn itself around and to set an example. this is not a cycling matter at all it’s a sporting matter, and even beyond.
cp: i think it’s cultural.
SS: yeah it will show that wherever there is corruption it can be overcome.