after plowing my lonely furrow here for what must be about a year, i’ve decided to extend the roster from just me to include a host of fantastic writers who will be contributing to the site from here on in.
we’re gonna give it two months and see how it goes. expect some great writing on all kinds of topics coming your way very soon indeed!
onwards and upwards!
what a week! quite thrilling, in so many ways.
analysis on PEZ here.
July 22nd, 1987. A day I will never forget. It was the 21st stage of the Tour de France, and I sat on our living room in suburban England watching an event unfold on the television that forever changed my life.
Changed my life.
What words those are, and how often they are bandied about without substance, without the full realisation of the weight inherent in their letters.
But this did. It was seismic. To my 15 year old self, sports obsessed and wanting, forever it seemed, to be a professional athlete at anything, this was massive.
In my bones I knew – this was it. This was the single greatest thing I had ever seen. An Irishman and a Spaniard and bicycles on a mountain in France.
A whole history of pedals being pushed, mammoth killometers, a man dying on a volcano called Ventoux, a Cannibal, a Badger, another Frenchman who carried a comb in his pocket so that his hair was perfect for the finish line salutes and the impossible cool of an Italian superhero. And now this.
I was mesmerized…
hup hup Tommy!
another one in the bag for Voeckler, a fine victory yesterday and a lesson for all aspiring winners. you can read my take on the stage here.
they’ve sponsored the Tour of California since its inception in 2006, and that must be a good thing, right? the sport needs sponsors and here is one willing to provide financial support for an entire race for several years, one that, briefly, looked to be on the edge of challenging the Giro d’Italia as a destination for the world’s top bike road racers.
but exactly what does Amgen do?
well, Amgen is an American-based multinational biopharmaceutical company headquartered in Thousand Oaks, California. located in the Conejo Valley, Amgen is the world’s largest independent biotech firm. Epogen and Neupogen (the company’s first products on the market) were the two most successful biopharmaceutical products at the time of their respective releases.
(gotta love Wikipedia…)
they also hold – and you’re going to think, if you aren’t actually aware of this, that I am making this up – the patent for artificial EPO in the USA.
let’s hear from Kathleen Sharp of the New York Times, who wrote a great article on Amgen and EPO:
“After patenting its artificial EPO [in the late 80s], Amgen formed a partnership with the marketing mavens at Johnson & Johnson and boomed into the world’s largest biotech company.
“Before long, Amgen and Johnson & Johnson were selling two EPO brands — Epogen and Procrit. (Those who biked the short races called criteriums joked it was for “pro-crit riders.”) By the ’90s, in addition to cyclists, runners, skiers and other endurance athletes were injecting the stuff regularly — and illegally. All they had to do was pay a black-market dealer in Amsterdam or Marseille, France.
“But it wasn’t until 1994 that the marketing of these drugs burst into the mainstream. Amgen and Johnson & Johnson began trying to expand the uses of their energy-boosting drugs to include treatment for fatigue, depression and quality-of-life issues. Commercials depicted old, slow-moving people who, after a shot of Procrit, displayed a zest for life, and a young cancer patient, who after an EPO injection happily returned to work.
“The aggressive marketing worked. Soon, exhausted but otherwise healthy people were begging doctors for a shot of what one Amgen executive called “red juice.”
“And many doctors went along with these off-label promotions, even though regulators hadn’t approved them. Indeed, in March 2007, Congressional hearings revealed that many oncologists were profiting. The drug makers paid doctors to prescribe the blood booster in high doses to unwitting patients. Some earned honorariums for speaking to their peers about the unapproved, off-label uses; others pocketed “education grants,” or joined marketing studies that never quite addressed the safety of high doses even as they recommended them.”
yup, that is right. the drug of choice of Vande Velde, Leipheimer, Hincapie, Hamilton, Vaughters and the great Lance Armstrong, the drug that fueled that particularly twisted, mangled form of the American Dream that ran roughshod over the sport for nigh on 20 years and then some, is licensed by the same drug company that just happens to be the sponsor of America’s biggest and most important bike race.
brilliant, right? like, genius, on a Herculean scale. I mean, really, why the heck shouldn’t a drug company, which by the very definition promotes health by helping the sick get better, promote an event that is full of fit young men riding around on bikes, this being the very definition of ‘health’?
in fact, it makes damn good sense.
or would, if the world we actually inhabit made any actual sense.
but it just so happens that (if you really need it spelt out), a great majority – yes, a great majority – of those guys riding about on those bikes in that race were (and some probably still are) doped up to their fluttering eyelids and bursting hearts on the very product that Amgen produces.
OK, so maybe I’m being too cynical. maybe Amgen is that hitherto unseen leopard that actually did change its spots.
let’s hear from Elliot Smith, Amgen’s scientific director, speaking back in 2008 in response to criticism of Amgen’s sponsorship of the tour.
“It’s such an alien concept – we show up to work every day and try to find these medicines to treat this disease your friends, family and neighbours might have, and you’re so consumed with that that it never occurs to you that somebody is going to go out and abuse this medicine. It’s so disturbing when that happens.”
well, sounds plausible enough. they seem shocked too, and aghast at their products being abused.
but… wait. weren’t they called out by the US government itself on counts of paying “doctors to prescribe the blood booster in high doses to unwitting patients”?
so who exactly was abusing who? but I guess that’s all in the past, right?
erm, well, no.
cos guess what! (are you ready to put on your mock shock! horror! face? yes? good).
they are still at it!
just a few short months ago, news arrived that stated that federal prosecutors had found that Amgen “had marketed its anemia drug Aranesp for unapproved uses even after the Food and Drug Administration explicitly ruled them out.”
they were “pursuing profits at the risk of patient safety,” cited the report.
‘NOOOOOO!’ the crowd shouted back, though in a mocking voice for they were by now too drunk to give a rat’s arse, to be honest, for they had heard it all before.
corporate monster rapes people for cash?
heard it already mate, a thousand times. stuck record, that one…
the report, depressingly, continued:
“In court on Tuesday, prosecutors charged that Amgen had promoted the use of Aranesp to treat anemia in cancer patients who were not undergoing chemotherapy, even though the drug’s approval was only for patients receiving chemotherapy.
“A subsequent study sponsored by Amgen showed that use of Aranesp by those nonchemotherapy cancer patients had actually increased the risk of death, and the off-label use diminished. “
Amgen pleaded guilty.
Amgen had to pay $762 million in criminal penalties.
isn’t Amgen lovely? what sweet, fun-loving people must work there. real good folk. with kids. with mothers and fathers. with friends. with teddies in their cars, puppies in their homes, dreams in their hearts and hopes in their eyes. people just like us really, when all is said and done.
luckily for them, they still have beating hearts. bless. luckily for them, they can say ‘well, i’m just doing my job.’
and they say that all the way up the line…
appropriate sponsor for the Tour of California?
for any bike race?
a humdinger of a day, 171km under a belting sun, 38 degrees and 4hrs 50 in the saddle. ‘cooked’ doesn’t really come close. busted bikes and plenty of ‘Friendship tattoos’ and at least one broken collarbone are testament not only to the route but also to the havoc wreaked by the heat. stamina and the legs get mangled during races like this but one often overlooked casualty is the ability to concentrate.
difficult really to describe the feeling of riding in this kind of heat and humidity (must be 90+%) to anyone who’s never tried it, but try ‘extremely unpleasant’ with about 23 expletives thrown in and you’re getting close. it’s like your internal thermometer has bust and your brain’s about pop from the top of your skull to a very great height – not that you’d really notice though, as you click onto auto-pilot for most of the day.
hence the crashes, when they come. a proper dose of suffering.
anyway, the day started with me 4 seconds down on Michael Troy of Specialized Confero Mavericks, the guy who’d soloed away for 130km the day previous. my teammates were nothing short of thrilled to not be in Yellow after Day 2, their sterling efforts having put quite a few nails in their respective coffins as they clawed back Troy’s lead.
the route was brutal, with a 2km climb to start, then a 6km climb at 20km, then a very long 4km drag that never wanted to stop, which brough us to the 90km mark, then another 80km loop of the first half of the course, minus the first two climbs.
a few breaks came and went and then we hit the 20km climb and i attacked, got a gap and settled but was chased down by the venerable Peter Pouly (yes, that Peter Pouly) and the rest of the pack. at about 50km Pouly attacked and got away with 2 others, and the Confero guys seemed a bit powerless to do much about it. two of their guys did rally and put in a great effort to set a steady pace (Matt Kinch in particular) but it looked like Pouly, and the race lead, was gone.
i wasn’t too fussed to be honest. i was just sat there remembering Octave Lapize on the first ever ascent of the Tourmalet in the Tour, shouting to the officials gathered near the summit – ‘You are assassins! Yes, assassins!’ shouted a no doubt frothing-at-the-gills Octave, the first ever account of a rider being royally pissed at the ridiculous demands made on us delicate pedalists.
why exactly we needed to do a 2 loop 171km when we could have done one loop 85km loop – and had a race people could actually enjoy, at least a little – is beyond me. seems yet again to be another case of a race organised by folk who have never ridden a bike further than the local shop. (this feeling is compounded nightly by the screeching Master of Ceremonies, a portly young lass who i think gets paid by the octave, or possibly by the shattered eardrum. she and a microphone should never mix. anyway, she says things like ‘Oh today was a great day, only a few people crashed!’ – which is nice…).
but then with some 110km gone, i looked up ahead and boom, there on the horizon was a little group moving agonizingly slowly, looking like men on broken camels staggering towards a heat haze-produced oasis. the road before us rose slightly so i put in a small attack and got ten meters, the Japanese rider, Kyosuke Takei of the Forza team joined me and we were away, Troy and his team baked after their chasing and everyone else suffering a bit too.
but then so were we, or i, anyway. we caught the Pouly group and then soon we were three, with just Pouly able to hang on to us. from then on in it was pain. i’ve raced some hard races in my time but this one, with the combo of stifling heat and the very hilly route, was just nuts.
Takei, i have to say, was stronger than me on the run in and did the majority of the work, so i turned to Pouly and said ‘hey, he wins,’ to which the Frenchman nodded. i old Takei and he very politely said ‘thank you, Mister Lee’ and that was that, we powered towithin a kilo of the line, then ‘unleashed’ the most feeble sprint you’ve ever seen!
Takei too was obviously spent, and we did the last 300m at a very elderly 35km/hr, with Takei taking it, me 0.455 of a second behing him, and Pouly .156 behind me.
i did take the race lead though, but it’s a slender one – 16 seconds ahead of Takei and 21 ahead of Pouly. stage 4 is 160km with over 2000m of climbing.
i shall endeavor to crank on….!
you know you’re half-decent when an in-form Philippe Gilbert has you down as the hot favorite for a race that is almost made for the world champion, one he won in 2010 and 2011, not to mention the win that brought him the Rainbow Jersey that was held in the Ardennes and saw him launch to victory on the very hill that Amstel finishes on, the Cauberg.
“He is the favourite, there is no question about that,” Gilbert said earlier this week, speaking of the ButtPincher. “But like I said, we all come to win, every team comes to win. Every team tries to beat the favourite.
“This year this is Sagan. I am not sure if he can win…if he can win, this would be very nice for him as winning as the favourite is always something very special. But I hope we can beat him.”
Sagan is fast becoming the most talked about cyclist in the pro peloton, even if it was Fabian that stole the show, and quite rightly, at Flanders and Roubaix in the past two weeks. the Big Holy Cheese is, despite what some of the eejits on the random forums would have you believe, no one-trick pony but, in comparison to the young Slovak, his tool box is a lot less adaptable.
but then, so is every other rider of the past 25 years.
Sagan can sprint, especially uphill. he can climb (he was Junior MTB World Champ) and is getting better in the high mountains, as displayed at last year’s Tour, when he had a breakaway of climbers looking over their shoulders incredulously as he fought his way up to them. he moves through a crowded peloton with a guile and style i’ve never seen before (i witnessed it firsthand in the Tour of Oman and also Qatar in 2012), and his descending – well, it’s like rainwater flowing over a rock face.
love him or loathe him, you have to admit that he is mesmerising. have we seen his like in the past 25 years?
Contador may well be one of the greatest Grand Tour riders ever but as a specialist he is no equal to the great riders of old who did it all, won the Tour and then Roubaix, or San Remo, or the World’s. his shine has been severely tarnished too, not only with the Clenbuterol positive but in the way he handled himself in the wake of the scandal.
Boonen? great, wonderful, brilliant, rides with his testes on his sleeve and a proper dude, but no climbing ability to speak of.
Lance? coulda been something. not 7 Tours something but even without dope maybe, possibly 2 Grand Tours (a Vuelta maybe, possibly a weakened Tour), and some classics, had he bothered. but he crapped that all over the toilet floor and now thank Eddy there is no dispute over that fact.
further back we have Sean Kelly, and now we are getting close. what a palmares:
Vuelta GC ’88
4 Tour Greens
Paris-Nice GC, 7 of the things
San Remo 2
the only thing missing is a World Champs, though he came very close.
and then you have Hinault, Fignon and Lemond. the American was not bad at all and had a career blighted by injury, none less devastating than a chest full of buckshot. Fignon was more than handy and also had trouble with injuries, yet his palmares is distinguished with 2 Tours and a Giro, San Remo twice and one Fleche Wallone.
Hinault is up there with the gods, one of the all time greatest. it’s easier to note what he didn’t win than what he did, he was that good.
and so back to Sagan. he is very similar in style to Kelly, though if you want to talk about age, he is achieving more at a younger age. and this in a day and age when all riders across the board are at a higher level comparatively to back then, with greater access to proven training and recovery methods.
i am of course getting ahead of myself but then, that’s what we journos do. so far he’s won one Green in the Tour and three stages – in his one and so far only Tour – and Gent-Wevelgem, that are, when considering great wins, worth mentioning. maybe not that stellar on paper, but first off he is only 23, dominated Green in the Tour at 22, has come within whiskers of a Monument win more than once already and is learning all the time, and scares the living bejeezus out of the peloton, a pack full of hardened men who eat kittens for breakfast.
win Amstel today and he gets better, win Liege next week and he has a Monument and a few toes dangling in the box entitled ‘great’. shed that covering of muscle he has and he may well win a Grand Tour.
‘as good as Kelly.’ if after 10 years we are saying that, man what a compliment that will be.
‘as good as Hinault…’ sheesh, will that ever be said again?
Ivan Bassso thinks Sagan can win a Tour (and though it hurts me a little to quote the wrigglin’ Italian, i guess he knows a bike rider when he sees one):
“I have never seen a rider like him. I do not think anyone has. He is the first-of-a-kind rider. You can expect everything because he can win what he wants. Anything. If he wins the Tour de France someday, it will not be a surprise to me. Watch out.”
Sagan has even been compared to God, but he was having none of it, and maybe this is as it should be:
‘I don’t want to be the second Eddy Merckx,’ he said. ‘I want to be the first Peter Sagan.’
whatever you do Pete, don’t take up acting…
young Aussie sensation Adam Semple is back, guest writing on the ‘punk about a ride that sounds like a lot of fun, the Old Papas Boxing Day hammerfest – enjoy!
On September 24, 1984, The Royal South Beach Cycling Association (RSBCA), started by a man named Ian Pauly, initiated the first Old Papas bunch ride, from Fremantle, Western Australia. It was a training ride for Alan Bond’s yachtsmen preparing for the America’s Cup and at the time they couldn’t attract anyone else to join the ride because they were a bunch of newbies who couldn’t ride in a straight line. I’m not going to mention any other names in case I miss out one or two, but as my correspondent from the 80′s, Peter Fitzsimmons, recalled to me; “They were the first guys to ride around the Swan River, and everyone else thought they were just a bit odd. They were slow and messy and just a pain to ride with.”
Greg Lemond for UCI president? is somebody scripting this?