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Cycling, Suspicion and Doping

Chris Froome reporting to doping control.  Image courtesy Bettini Photo and Cyclingnews.com

Chris Froome reporting to doping control. Image courtesy Bettini Photo and Cyclingnews.com

This week has seen some incredible things in professional cycling.  With the Tour de France half over, it appears that the win has been seen up by some incredible performances.  Some may even think of them as “extraterrestrial” in nature. With a single scintillating attack, Chris Froome shattered his rivals on the first summit finish of the Tour, and possibly his credibility in the process.

In the past, when we've seen inhuman feats of athletic prowess, there always follows a fall from grace in the ensuing years.  Truly, after the stage, Ross Tucker wrote  an enlightening tweet which I've reposted below:

 

“…dig up what you wrote in, say, 2004 and swap some names.”  

You can read his full opinion on the state of pro cycling after today's stage right here.

We saw Ritchie Porte shatter the field, dropping Nibali, Contador and eventually TJ Van Garderen before Froome accelerated at a brutal pace, distancing his last remaining rival in Nairo Quintana. Oh, by the way, Quintana is arguably the best pure climber of any GC contender in the pro ranks today. Another Twitter user ammattipyöräily calculated the time of ascent and through that and a few other pieces of available information, figured that he was putting out somewhere in the neighborhood of 6.09 watts per kilogram.  That's in the range of the admitted dopers of the past, and it was enough to put 2:30 into Van Garderen, 2:51 into Contador, more than 4 minutes into Nibali and even 1:03 into Quintana.

[DrF]

— ammattipyöräily (@ammattipyoraily) July 14, 2015

It's been a while since we've seen a spectacle like that out of the yellow jersey.  And it was eerily reminiscent of Armstrong and U.S. Postal.

Strangely though, any indignation or supposition if doping by Sky is met with incredulity and often open hostility.  Why did Armstrong (who admittedly was an asshole) end up on the receiving end of vicious attacks while the Sky project manages to deflect them?  Is being a soft spoken Brit really a panacea to doping accusations while being continental European or American is a ticket to scrutiny?  Why now do the questions of outrageous performances garner angst and bitterness from others when it's a British team?

Certainly, if the past has told us anything, it has shown us that where there's smoke, there's fire.  We're all familiar with the sordid tales of Sky's flirting with WADA code. Not long ago there was the hiring of notorious doping doctor Gert Leinders (and supposedly not knowing of his history despite all the evidence to the contrary.)  Sky has also partaken of the services of confessed doper Bobby Julich whom they fired upon his confession.  Most recently you have the questionable practice of fast-tracking a TUE for Froome's inhaler, courtesy of now resigned UCI lead doc Mario Zorzoli.  To cap it al off, the first rest day of the tour broke the news that Frome's power data had been hacked, modified and released against Sky's wishes.

How much can we suspend disbelief for this team who is not even an MPCC signatory?  Even Astana, with all their doping positives, had been members of MPCC until the Lars Boom incident.

The bottom line for me is that I find it disingenuous that all the folks who questioned Armstrong will bury their head in the sand for Froome.  Many are quite correct in that there is no “proof” that you're NOT doing something.  However a healthy dose of skepticism for what we've seen today should be the norm, as opposed to those who shout mightily that Froome must be clean based on…..the fact that he's not as brash a cheater as Armstrong was?

I don't know the answer to this problem that plagues professional sports in general and pro cycling in particular.  I would like to say that the peloton is clean(er) and I do believe that it is (cleaner, that is.)  However, it simply goes to show that extraordinary performances will be found to be just that, extraordinary.  Should we let Froome get by on his charm alone?  Should we question every performance we see and expect it to be tainted before the winner mounts the podium?  Maybe so.  Maybe that is the way pro cycling will remain until we again feel we can trust those at the top tier of our sport.

 

Things I Learned From Jens Voigt

Jens Voigt in NJ

[dc]A[/dc] few days ago, I had the privilege of attending a meet and greet with Jens Voigt at a local NJ bike shop.  The big, charismatic german, veteran of almost two decades in the peloton, did a Q&A with fans, signed autographs and posed for photos with anyone who asked.  During the night, he imparted his wisdom gained from the trials and tribulations of racing in Europe, including a few nuggets that I believe are important to share with all of my readers.

Never forget where you came from:

It bears saying, that even the best of the best are humble in their beginnings.  Jens spent more than half his life racing bikes, but he always fondly recalls where he came from.  He explained how he tried track and field, and was ok at athletics, but not one of the best.  He said that he had been annoyed that he couldn't “do any better” (so much so that he joking described a rude gesture to his track and field coach….)  He continued to explain to us that when the local cycling team came to town, he was allured by the offer of a free bike.  The rest is, as you all know, history.

Coincidentally, he always remembers where he came from.  His first bike was a Diamond.  That company was purchased by Trek after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  And he even bought a couple of them for his own boys.

So take a page from Jens and remember where you came from.

Never forget who you are and who helped you get there:

When a question was asked about who was one of the most important parts of his racing career, he described the relationship he has with his wife.  He described that his career would not have been possible without her devotion and steadfastedness: raising their six children while he was off racing, standing by him throughout all the crashes, the contract negotiations, and the talk of retirement, he painted a picture of the woman behind the man.

Jens made it abundantly clear that everything he accomplished was not only his doing, but those around him.  He plainly stated that he would never have been the force that he is if not for those people he surrounded himself with.  And his message was clear: surround yourself with people who are like minded, who believe in you and will support you through and through.  And when you succeed, don't forget to thank them for helping you on your way.

From thanking his sponsors by becoming a brand ambassador to graciously allowing Juan Manuel Garate a win in the 2006 Giro d'Italia after not contributing a single pedal stroke to the breakaway's progress, Jens has been putting this to practice for years.  And what he said next is why he is so readily able to remember all those that helped him.

Believe in yourself unconditionally:

photo (2)Jens pointed out that you have to believe in yourself.  You have to believe in yourself without hesitation or fail, you have to dream big and you have to go out there and “get what you want”.  He recounted his horrific crash in the 2010 Tour de France on the descent of the Col due Petit-Saint-Bernard in which he fractured his cheek and sustained a concussion.  He regaled us with details like German TV announcers predicting he had a 50/50 chance to survive the night.  And then he went on to explain how he was determined to return to racing, as strong as he was before.

And he did return to racing, crashing again in the 2010 Tour, but he maintained his belief in himself. To quote Jens that massive crash and chase back to the peloton on an ill fitting Mavic service bike: “I've had better days than this.  But I'm still alive.  It's better than last year, you see?  Last year, I was at this time in the race, I was in hospital already.   And this time I'm still on my bike.  Didn't crash on my head, didn't crash on my face, so things could be worse.”

So be like Jens: believe in yourself and dream big.  Even if you fail a couple times, if you are able to get up and try again, you're doing all right.

There are no shortcuts:

Considering that in this day in age everyone is looking for a quick buck, a shortcut towards greater fitness or a way to cut the corners to get something done faster, it was said that there are absolutely no shortcuts to your destination.  If you want to be one of the best, you have to put in the time to get there.

With a touch of sadness in his voice, Jens recounted the final years of his racing career.  He conjured up an image of a body that was less willing to suffer, a mind that was less willing to force the body to suffer and a longing to lead a less nomadic life, spending more time with his wife and children.

He also said there was no such thing as a shortcut when it came to coffee.  And we all know that Jens loves his coffee.

 

Thank you Jens, for providing a little look into your life and your career.  You've been an inspiration to many of us through the years, and we look forward to seeing you in a car, guiding the next generation of superstars to countless victories.

 

 

Predictions for 2015 (Pro Cycling and Beyond)

[dc]E[/dc]ach new year is another chance to start anew.  A chance for reform.  A chance to get done that which fell by the wayside last year.  This year is no different, and in no place is this more apparent than the sport which we all love and regularly attempt to conquer.  From the professional peloton to the local gran fondo, things are set up to change and adapt again this year.  To that end, I'll make a few prognostications as to the direction of the sport of cycling in 2015: I'll cover the men, the women, the pros and the joes.  And in a year, I'll revisit this and see where cycling has actually gone.  Hopefully, some of the things I'll address will come true, and some won't….happy 2015, eh?

Without further ado, in 2015 I believe…

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On Cycling Hero(in)es

The break about to hit Manyunk WallOver the weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Parx Casino Philly Cycling Classic with the finish atop the legendary Manyunk Wall.  The close atmosphere of the event, combined with a large, high quality field allowed spectators and fans an amazing opportunity to get up close and personal with the action and the main protagonists in the field.

Not only did we watch the Bicycling Classic (which allowed anyone who had a bike and $25 to pin on a number and do a couple laps of the wall) but we were able to watch a brutally hard women's race and an action packed men's race.  As the day wore on and we watched as riders suffered for the glory of the win, the QOM/KOM points, the points jersey and even just to stay in the race, it occurred to me that events like the Philly Classic cement cycling's foundation of a sport full of heroes.  The more I pondered the events of the day, the more I realized why we react to cycling the way we do.

And honestly, it made me think about who my heroes are.  Perhaps you'll consider who yours are as well.

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Giro d’Italia Week 2 Recap

Giro d'Italia 2013 routeAfter a harrowing first week that delivered surprises aplenty, the second week of the Tour of Italy was slated to break the race wide open.  Those little jabs that were thrown in the first week were slated to become haymakers as the GC contenders stop with the shadow boxing and come out swinging.  But some of those GC men were on the back foot and already staggered: defending champion and bib number 1 Hesjedal had two bad days in the ITT and the following mountain stage, conceding nearly 4 minutes and dropping him into 11th place overall.  Bradley Wiggins survived the trials and tribulations of the first week, with a good ITT and surviving the following mountain stage without giving up significant ground.  But with Vincenzo Nibali resplendent in pink, who would be the one to break his stranglehold of the race?

 

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