Category: other publications

Lee’s Lowdown on PEZ: Cycling through the smog in China

The third installment of my weekly Lowdown column on PezCycling News is a brief (kinda) history of the bicycle in China, from its first appearance to the smog-filled present.

Click on the image below to head over to the article.

Cheers!

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The Aussie conundrum, new UCI anti-doping regulations and their failings, and an African breakthrough

This article originally appeared on The Roar

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Can you feel it? It’s that time of year again, and I don’t mean the Tour Down Under. It’s the buzz of a new season, the sharpening of the knives, the shaving of the legs, the thrum of the media and the froth of the forums!

Bring it on.

One thing that caught my eye last week was a statement from Matt White, sport director at Orica-GreenEdge.

“Porte is the strongest rider in the world right now and he’s my tip for the race,” said White. “He’s the favourite and having seen him on the bike first hand, I can say that he’s absolutely flying.”

We all know that Porte had a season last year that’d stink up an outside toilet for half a decade, flitting between too few high notes and altogether too many lows.

Porte said as much in an interview with The Courier:

“Anyone who follows cycling would know I had a shocker of a season last year,” the 29-year-old said.

“I was pretty good here (at the road nationals) and at the Tour Down Under, but that was about it for me – my season finished up at the end of August.”

Fair play to him for getting his mojo back but I was struck by the thought: who on the World Tour roster apart from the Aussies is ‘flying’ right now?

Seriously, and not to sound denigrating, but it’s not too hard to be ‘the best in the world right now’ when now is January – you just have to be the best Aussie and you take that mantle by default.

Sure, there are always some non-Aussie riders who arrive for the TDU in smoking form but they are few and almost always the usual suspects, and you can be sure, apart from maybe Andre Greipel, that they won’t be going great in the European mid-season.

I’m aware that the Aussie cycling season follows in large part the Aussie weather, but might it not be time for the Australian National Road Race Champs to be held in line with the European national champs?

To require a World Tour rider to be in top shape in January and then to try to hit those heights in May say, for the Giro, or in July for the Tour, well, there are only so many times in a year a rider can be in top top form.

Or maybe the guy who wins the Australian nationals is in pretty good shape but not great shape? Is the competition being devalued somehow, now that so many of the national contenders are based in World Tour teams?

I’m not sure. Maybe you can tell me.

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The new UCI rules regarding doping were announced and were in large part met with a kind of wearied shrug of the shoulders it seemed, by both the press and the fans.

Some of the changes were expected, such as the 4-year ban for ‘serious’ cases of doping (but what is ‘serious’? Clenbuterol and platsicisers in the blood? Cocaine ringing the nostrils on the start line? Or EPO track lines on the arms?) as WADA had already brought them in back at the end of 2014.

Yet there is a proviso in there that states that anyone that admits ‘promptly’ can have the 4 years dropped to 2. Not sure how that will change anything, except leaving us with more calculated ‘admissions’ of guilt that change nothing.

Teams will be charged 5% of their annual budget is a second and third rider get busted for doping, which is surely too little. If three positives result only in a 10% fine then the fans – myself for sure – will feel conned.

One interesting change is the ‘banned associations’ ruling. This states that riders can be banned for associating with any banned individual in any capacity, meaning that Frank Schleck’s excuse that he paid banned doctor Eufemiano Fuentes 7000 euro because he ‘just kinda did’ will be a enough to see him banned.

But again, whilst moving in the right direction, how about taking out all former banned riders who now work in management, and applying the same rules to those now working with riders who were not actually banned but who were heavily ‘associated’ with doping and characters involved in doping other riders?

Maybe because, well, we’d have almost no management left? Probably.

That old line about ‘well they were all doing it’ is still left with the shreds of validity because there has never been an official counter to it. Why? Because the UCI facilitated it, the management encouraged it or even forced it in many cases, dopers bullied those who would not do it and drove so many of them from the sport. It wasn’t a case of ‘they had no choice’ – never. The had a choice. But those who were inclined to cheat, who lived to cheat, were allowed to not only be left alone but to actually thrive.

And those who did refused? Take it or leave it and be mocked as you walked away, that was the rule.

There are too many caveats in the new rules to make this whole thing effective in the way it could be, in the way it should be.

It is better but it is not enough, not by a long shot.

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Finally, some great news: MTN-Qhubeka are going to the Tour de France!

Yes, the African team received one of five wildcard invitations Wednesday from race organizer ASO and they are going to the big boys’ party in July. Amazing! What an achievement that is.

Shame their kit is the worst in the history of cycling but you can’t have it all I suppose. Don’t they know vertical black and white stripes have a slimming effect? What cyclist needs that? Sometimes there is a reason why no one ever tried something before…

Mtnkit2

But it’s not surprising that the team is thrilled (if not with the kit), after being founded with this very dream in mind, back in 2007.

General manager Brian Smith said:

“The team is different and the Qhubeka foundation makes a difference, that’s why I took the job on. When I stood in front of them at the team camp in South Africa, I told them that I’d help them reach their goal.

“The Tour de France invitation … It’s emotional. I shed tears realizing that this team is coming along. I’ve seen how Qhubeka makes a difference in the townships. This will make the world ask, ‘What is Qhubeka?’ And it will give so much brand awareness.”

Yeah, what is Qhubeka? As they say these days, google it.

Well done lads!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cycling in Taiwan: The Hidden Gem of Asia

This article originally appeared in Action Asia, the leading adventure sports magazine in these parts. To download the pdf, please click the link below. The article contains tips on what to bring and when to come and all you need to know on choosing the best roads to ride.

COMING SOON : I’m currently planning a cycle tour here in Taiwan, interested parties are more welcome to get in touch and I will get you on a mailing list that will let you know the latest developments of the new venture.

Click below for the article pdf, downloadable:

Taiwan Feature Action Asia Jan 14 NEW

Thank you to Andrew Kerslake for the contribution to the article. Check out his excellent Taiwan In Cycles site here.

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Money, pump… gun? Is a weapon necessary for a bike ride?

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I read a cycling article last week that rather brilliantly had the word ‘bandits’ in it, not something you see every day.

Darwin Atapuma attacked by bandits in Colombia” read the shocking headline.

While out on a training ride the BMC rider was accosted by two men who tried take his bike from under him. The attack resulted in cuts and bruises to Atapuma’s arm, and though the report states that the men were arrested by police it does not say whether they actually made off with his bike before that.

Personally, I’d have targeted Nairo Quintana for his Canyon Ultimate CF SLX, a far superior bike to the BMC time machine SLR01, but I suppose bandits can’t be choosers.

In all seriousness though this attack does highlight some interesting points, the first of which is, why doesn’t this happen more often?

Think about it – we are off in the middle of nowhere quite often, rolling along alone a lot too, on machines that are worth thousands of dollars, more than some of the cars that whizz by us.

We’re skinny, lack upper body strength and wear shoes we can’t run more than 10 feet in. We may as well be wearing bright multi-coloured kit to announce our presence…

This brings up the second point: should we carry guns?

I laughed as I wrote that because it does sound ridiculous, but the truly astounding thing is that there are cyclists out there who do indeed pack heat on their daily jaunts.

There is a thread on http://www.cyclingforums.com that is entitled “How many of you carry a gun as part of your cycling equipment?

Joe West, the author of the thread, opens by saying he prefers a .45 when out touring.

Here in Arizona we can legally carry open and concealed (concealed with permit).

For long distance touring and bicycle camping… I think I’d feel safer carrying my .45 semi-auto pistol (concealed so it doesn’t freak people out).

Anyone else carry while biking?

JW

Weisse Luft then chimes in with his preference.

My current choice is a Kel-Tec P3-AT. 10 ounces loaded, locked breech, recoil operated semi-auto with a six round magazine. Its good enough in my hands for “velo-dog” use (small revolvers traditionally carried by cyclists in the early 1900’s) but being .380, adequate for self-defence when loaded with +P Cor Bons. A spare magazine is only an additional 3 ounces. For the weight of a small water bottle, I have adequate defence. I have yet to use it and my cycling partners don’t know I carry.

Three ounces huh? Wonder if there’s a gun thread on WeightWeenies too? (I checked, there isn’t, unless a ‘grease gun’ is a weapon?)

To balance the gun-carriers, Routier wades in with a slightly hysterical comment but one which I am sure most of us have some sympathy with.

Are you sick? What attitude is that? You also wear a gun while going to the theatre with your girl?

         Well I guess it’s just typical American behaviour. I saw that movie Bowling for Columbine. You should watch that, it                 gives you a whole other look on the carrying of weapons.

         Answer to you question: No I don’t carry a weapon on training! But many do, most of whom, it seems, are Americans.

Here’s a fellow on YouTube showing off his pistol pack

It seems mad to me, an Englishman living in the relatively calm, relatively gun-free Taiwan, that people would ever think of carrying a gun anywhere. And yet should we as rational people consider actually riding armed and ready for an attack? Would Atapuma have been better off with a Magnum in his back pocket? Or would he be awaiting sentencing for manslaughter?

I was involved personally in an attack by a motorist when I was 16, out riding with my 18-year-old teammate in the north of England on a remote hillside.

A large BMW came speeding by, bringing an involuntary middle finger from my companion. The car stopped, drove back, and out stepped two massive blokes. My friend got a smack in the mush that wrecked his front teeth and we had our bikes thrown about too. It was terrifying.

Do I wish I had had a gun? That is a question I want to say ‘No’ to, but, thinking on it, I just don’t know.

And then there is the issue of female cyclists and safety. If my soon-to-be-born daughter decided to take up the sport and was off on five hour rides alone in the hills, would I insist on her carrying a whistle and mace? Would it be enough even if she had them and was attacked?

What next? A knife? A telescopic striking stick? Or a snub-nosed automatic? Maybe Garmin could make one with a bike computer on it, might do well.

Many will say ‘Well that is America, more people have guns there’ but this misses a point – just about anyone who rides more than to the corner shop has encountered an angry motorist. Scary encounters can happen anywhere, you needn’t be in Texas or Wyoming.

South Africa is also known as a relatively violent place, as this video here attests to:

And it’s not just in America that cyclists are carrying weapons. Road.cc ran a story back in March 2014 that told of David Best, 64, who had been hit by a car and was subsequently discovered to be carrying an airgun, a knife and – best of all – nunchucks!

Nutter!

Seriously though, I hope I never live in an environment where I really have to confront my indecision over carrying a weapon of any kind.

Finally, for those of you considering going all Dirty Harry (the shaved leg version), here’s a bit of advice on making that first gun purchase.

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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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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Tales from the Tour #2

This article originally appeared on The Roar

Love-Le-Tour

First Roman Kreuziger, then Daryl Impey. Who next? Which of the best men from their generation will join these two fallen warriors, needle in arm/sicknote from Mum in hand/shocked expression on their chops (delete as approptiate) on the naughty step?

I’m with Sean Lee on this one, I have indeed heard it all before, and now Impey joins the long list of ‘It wasn’t me, honest’ chaps who invariably get slapped with a suspension.

Don’t fret though Daryl, Frank Schleck will be on the blower soon enough with some consoling words too, because he also never cheated but still got whacked with a ban.

The timing of the Kreuziger and Impey news is interesting, and does follow a pattern of sorts. Is ASO sending out a message to would-be dopers ahead of the Tour to let them know that they won’t be happy if they find any unsightly track marks and unauthorised inhalers?

Who can blame them? We’re a good few months into Brian Cookson’s new reign at the UCI and if I’m not mistaken, cycling fans who want a cleaner sport are still wondering just what plans are afoot to tackle the problem of chemically-enhanced performances.

There seems to be a whole lot of bluster and no little bluff, but just where the new policies and initiatives are is anyone’s guess.

Next up for a grilling are the Trek Factory boys. Samsung has just announced that they will be sponsoring the team which is good, though Fabian Cancellara’s interview recently when he spoke about the electronics giant coming on board was not quite as good.

“To say cycling has a bad past is bad,” he said, which makes me wonder what question could have prompted him to start talking about Lance Armstrong’s favourite subject when he was talking about his team’s newest sponsor.

“Cycling has lots of potential for sponsors. We should not look in the past, we have to look to the future. When we talk about the problems in sport, we should remember it’s a global sports problem, not only cycling had problems, the whole of sport had problems. These partners showed there’s a future.”

Agreed, global sports is also screwed, when you look closely enough, but the whole ‘forget the past thing’ is utter tripe. These guys may ride bikes very well but that doesn’t mean they have to be listened to when it comes to matters related to doping, thank goodness.

Back from the dead to a sort of waking coma stage are the aforementioned Frank and his brother Andy, who are both on the Trek roster for the Tour. The younger of the two once won one of those Yellow Maillot things once, remember?

Back in 2010? When he came second? But then Alberto Contador got busted for his love of Spanish beef? No, I can see I’ve lost you. Check Wikipedia. It happened, trust me.

Anyway, Andy is now pants, he even admits as much too.

“I’ve still got a name, good capacity and good legs even if I’m going into the Tour with low ambitions,” he trumpeted into the paper bag he’d just about managed to fight his way out of.

“There’s no need to go back over the past,” he continued, as he perched on Cancellara’s shoulder. “There’s a good interview on Cyclingnews that explains the last two years. This is not the place to go into details.”

So, where is the place Andy? Rumours are a-flying, you don’t need me to tell you that. A curious case indeed. Top 10 for the former Tour winner? I’d be surprised by a top 25.

Interestingly, Chris Froome out in his tuppence regarding Impey, a good friend of his, when he said it was “shocking” to hear of the South African’s positive test result.

However he did set himself apart from Cancellara and Andy when he started talking about the past, making it clear that he believes cycling has to sort the past out before it can move on.

“I do think it’s a good thing that we talk about it,” he said in a press conference ahead of the Tour start in Yorkshire. “That we put all of our cards on the table and we tell people how it is now. It is a shame that with cycling’s past we find ourselves in this situation now.

“But the only way we’re going to move on from it is to accept what has happened. Get it all out there. And then move on. Show people this is not how it’s done any more.”

Agreed! Shall we start with Sky then? Or…?

Finally, and back to Fabian for this one, the cobbles! The big man has warned of a “big attack” on the cobbles that loom in the first week of the 2014 Tour.

“When people ask if it’s safe or not, I say that we’re in the Tour de France and it’s part of racing,” he said of the decision to include the hallowed stones in the Tour.

I’ve already made my views clear on this subject as indeed did many of you, but it’s worth reminding ourselves of the havoc these cobbles could wreak on the peloton, and in particular on the skinny men.

Froome and Contador won’t like the idea of the stones and neither will the Schlecks, but hey, this is bike racing. The sprinters don’t like going uphill but they’d never ask for the Ventoux to be taken out of the race.

Suck it up, calorie counters!

Oh and just in case you’ve missed it – the Tour de France starts this Saturday. A part of me doesn’t want to enjoy it and yet I know I’ll be glued to my screen as the action unfolds. It’s tough love.

But it’s our love.

 

Cheng Ji’s inclusion in Tour de France masks neglect of Asian cycling

this article originally appeared on The Roar

 

Giant-Shimano’s Cheng Ji will become the first Chinese rider to participate in the Tour de France, a fantastic achievement for the 26-year-old who last year became the first Chinese national to ride in the Giro d’Italia.

Cheng Ji

Cheng Ji

Giant-Shimano’s team coach Rudi Kemna commented on Cheng Ji’s inclusion in the Tour squad and made the point that he has gained his slot through merit.

Kemna also acknowledged an eagerness to see what kind of effect this would have on the growth of cycling in Asia.

“When we started working with him as a young talented rider back in 2008, we made a long-term plan and this has seen him develop into the highest level of the sport and we see him now playing an important factor in the sprint formations,” Kemna said.

“Having Cheng in the team as the first Chinese rider ever to ride the Tour de France will be huge for him and his country and we look forward to seeing the impact this has on the globalisation of the sport.”

Kemna is not alone in this. The UCI, bicycle product brands, TV companies and the other top-level teams have been very keen to crack Asia and in particular China for some years, and remain so.

Cheng is not the first Asian rider to have participated in the Tour, but the fact that he is Chinese has many people involved in the administration and business side of the sport intrigued.

Four Japanese riders have started the Tour (though only two have finished, Yukiya Arashiro and Fumiyuki Beppu, both in 2009), but while the Japanese cycling scene and cycling market are better developed than in China, it is China, with its vast population and increasingly affluent middle and upper classes, that offers the greatest potential for the growth of the sport and, naturally, financial profit.

But while Giant-Shimano should be lauded for bringing in Cheng Ji and nurturing him to the point where he is getting ready to line up for the Tour, and for signing Malaysian rider Sea Koh Leong at the start of this year too, there remain several doubts about the way in which the UCI is going about implementing its plan for the growth of cycling in Asia.

One of the UCI’s flagship initiatives in Asia, designed to shock and awe a generally uninterested public in the wonders of modern cycling, was the Tour of Beijing.

The race is unique not just in that it is the only top-level bike race in China but also because of the way it is organised and promoted. The race is run by a company called Global Cycling Promotions, a company that was set up by the UCI itself.

There is here a very clear conflict of interests when a sport’s governing body is running an event with the aim of making a financial profit. Was this race set up to promote cycling in China and wider Asia? Or was it seen primarily as a money-making venture for the UCI?

With reports of almost non-existent fans and with those few spectators who did turn up being kept far from the action by police, as well as disgruntlement among the teams about the UCI’s insistence that they compete in a meaningless race, the latter question is a fair one.

Much of the UCI’s approach to Asia follows a ‘trickle-down’ mentality. Bring in big names in their shiny kits, throw financial incentives at local cycling federations and bring in local sponsors at top dollar, and eventually the grassroots will benefit and develop.

But this concept does not work. Nations such as Taiwan are a perfect example. The organisation that runs the UCI 2.1 Tour de Taiwan runs almost no other events for local cyclists and does very little to raise the cycling culture in the country. It also does not allow Taiwanese teams to stay in the official race hotels at the Tour de Taiwan and requires them to supply their own food throughout the event.

It is not just in Taiwan that we see national federations treating local riders so shabbily. I have personally witnessed local riders at several UCI tours in Indonesia and other parts of Asia being forced to sit outside, on the ground, at the official opening ceremony banquet.

Why this is neglect is happening is not known. Whether the UCI allocates money from its funds for each team for the duration of these events or whether it is the national federations that fund the hotel stays and the meals I do not know, but it might look to the casual observer that money is being siphoned off somewhere.

In many cases, cycling is seen as a money-making venture first, a sport or pastime second. We can hardly blame the Asian federations however when the world governing body has for so long done exactly the same.

Another issue that is very troubling on the Asian cycling scene is that of doping. The UCI sanctions some races here that have absolutely no doping controls whatsoever. Several riders and teams were dismayed at the 2013 Tour of Borneo when this was the case.

The Malaysian Cycling Federation have insisted that there will be controls from now on, but it’s preposterous this situation could be allowed. Tests though are said to cost between $US2000 and $3000, so perhaps yet again money is the driving concern.

Yet whether there are tests or not, many who are against doping see them as essentially useless as there is no blood testing here in Asia. With all tests being urine-based, the likelihood of catching out all but the most idiotic doper are very slim.

There are just the same temptations to dope in Asia as in any other part of the world. Prize money is often substantial and salaries for the top riders can far exceed what these guys could be making were they working a nine-to-five job.

As a rider on the UCI Asia Tour circuit for four years, I heard rumour after rumour about certain riders on certain teams, tales about guys disappearing for half a year and explanations as to why, and about national federations hush-hushing positive tests.

To think that of all the racers in Asia some would not be tempted to dope is ludicrous. And yet the level and manner of testing suggests that either the UCI and the national federations do in fact believe that, or that they are not fully committed to catching cheats because the exposure of an Asian circuit with riders juiced and winning regularly would be bad for business.

There is no doubt that cycling in Asia is going through a growth period, with more and more people taking up the sport and more bikes being sold, but whether that growth is being positively encouraged by the bureaucrats rather than exploited is another matter.

Brian Cookson, the president of the UCI, addressed the thorny issue of Global Cycling Promotions’ control of the Tour of Beijing and has said that the organisers cannot “parachute in with a European pro model” for a stage race in Asia and expect it to work.

Alan Rumpf, head of GCP, hosted Cookson when he went to visit the race last year.

“After two days, [Cookson] had a good understanding where we are and what we want to do,” Rumpf said last October. “He’s been positive. He said he wants to see the race continue.

“He says, and I agree, that this race has to benefit the whole of China. He wants to see more cooperation with the Chinese cycling association, more benefits for all levels of cycling. He’s right. We’ve tried to do it since we’ve been here. It takes time. I’m glad that he’s there. He’s pushing us.”

GCP’s contract to run the race expires this year, and whether that is renewed might tell us about the sincerity of the UCI in addressing the issue of the conflict of interests that lie at the heart of their approach to growing the sport in Asia.

The UCI should also have in place a committee that travels to its Asian races to determine whether those in charge at a regional level are indeed the right people to entrust with their Asia Tour. The issue of doping controls also must be taken far more seriously if they are to avoid the same mistakes and problems that were compounded for so long in Europe, the USA and other hotbeds of bike racing.

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