UCI Leaves Women’s Cycling Unsupported

But Not in the Usual Way

Much has been made of the UCI’s artfully titled “Check of the equipment and position in competition,” the recent set of new rules, reiterations, and clarifications that, among other things, famously requires professional teams to
retain the factory lawyer tabs on their forks and limits the height of riders’ socks.

Most observers seem to agree that the latter rule, which limits sock height to half the distance between ankle and knee, is aimed at discouraging use of compression socks in competition. It’s a benevolent gesture if ever the UCI has made one: it saves cyclists from feeling compelled to don knee-highs for competitive purposes, thereby paying the considerable price of looking like either a triathlete or my Uncle Ned on a day at the beach. But while the wailings of sock-height fashionistas have focused attention on the sock aspect of the compression issue, the UCI’s battle against cyclists squeezing themselves is much broader than that.

Slide 36 of the UCI’s masterwork, Clothing Material, expressly forbids wearing clothing “designed to influence the performances of a rider such as reducing air resistance or modifying the body of the rider (compression, stretching, support).” I’m with them on the aerodynamics part and on the spirit of the modifying the body part. Since the document also forbids Frank Schleck’s belly-mounted hydration system (Slide 40), we can’t have him showing up in a skinsuit that squeezes his emaciated pectorals into some sort of aerodynamically advantageous bird chest.

But let’s read that particular edict again, this time thinking more of Marianne Vos and Emma Johansson, and less of Schleck(s), Boonen, Cancellara and the rest of the boys. That’s right, the UCI has forbidden any garment worn exclusively to change the shape of the body or provide support, and in doing so, has apparently outlawed…the sports bra. Really, does nobody at the UCI think to explore the potential unintended ramifications of their rules before they release them?

I would hope a formal exception or more precise language will be forthcoming from the UCI to allow women cyclists to continue to wear what I’m sure most would argue is an essential piece of athletic equipment. Otherwise, there could be some pretty uncomfortable pre-race checks for the pro women’s peloton this year. Though I suppose once we crossed the Rubicon of appointing people to watch other people pee, pre-race underwear checks were sort of inevitable.


  • Do I think the UCI meant to issue a ruling affecting sports bras? No. Do I think they intend to enforce it? No. But I do think they're exceptionally careless in how they construct, consider, and release their rules. And I think that they don't consider for a minute how any of their rules might affect women's cycling differently than they do men's.

  • You can view the whole UCI document, courtesy of Cycling South Africa.

  • Big hat tip to reader Lionel for sending the link to the presentation and noting the UCI appears to be regulating lingerie. He also noted that the UCI standards in the presentation will be applied to Masters track nationals, thereby rendering his custom track machines illegal. As a smaller rider, his bikes violate the provisions on Slide 43, which indicate that the distance from the center of the pedal axle to the rear edge of the front tire must be greater than 89mm. This could obviously be a problem for riders who need a short top tube, particularly on track bikes with their steep front-end geometry. Again, when we consider top tube length as a function of torso length, and the typically shorter torsos in the female population, the women’s professional peloton could be most severely affected by such a blanket standard.

  • I’ll go ahead and issue a similar notice to the one that was necessary during the sock-height dustup: The UCI does not hold much sway over the vast majority of cyclists' daily lives, male or female. So by all means, please feel free to keep wearing bras. Or not. Whatever works for you.

  • I do look forward to the UCI's inevitable bra inspection and approval process. Please note: all bras bearing the UCI seal of approval will have safety tabs to prevent accidental release. These are not to be removed.

  • Where have you gone, Paola Pezzo? Cycling turns its lonely eyes to you.

  • Thirty-plus years of lycra, and now we’re going to get fussy about how cyclists squeeze themselves into their clothes? How tight is too tight? And no support? I fear any regulatory body that would have us hit the Arenberg trench in boxer shorts.

There Was An Old Lady

There was an old lady who swallowed a dog,
Oh what a hog, to swallow a dog!
She swallowed the dog to catch the cat,
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird,
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider,
That wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her,
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly,
I don't know why she swallowed the fly. Perhaps she'll die.
-Traditional Children’s Song

In the wake of the UCI’s proclamation on lawyer tabs, one compliance solution suggested is to develop long-throw quick releases. By tweaking the cam action, you can make a quick release that opens wide enough to clear the lawyer tabs and closes farther when the lever is thrown, cutting down on any adjustment of the quick release nut. With it, pro teams could be in compliance with the fork tab rule, but still preserve quick, safe front wheel changes. Leaving aside questions of leverage and clamping force, etc., it seems a logical enough solution. But I like a good rhetorical rabbit hole, so let’s jump down this one…

Since teams cannot modify equipment, per the UCI, they wouldn’t be able to take a file to the cams or otherwise modify their existing quick releases to achieve a longer throw. Someone would have to manufacture a new lever. The manufacturer of that new lever may or may not be a team’s wheel or component sponsor. Given the situation, a little non-sponsor-correct equipment might not be the end of the world, but it’s not terribly comfortable, either. It’s one thing for a Campagnolo team to be seen using a boutique manufacturer’s quick releases to solve a problem in the near term, it’s another if they have to use Shimano.

But what manufacturer, boutique or not, is going to develop and manufacture a new, presumably high-end lever solely for a market that very much prefers to either get its equipment for free or be paid to use it? The world is rife with bad business models, but it doesn’t take much to spot that this one is not a winner. So you have to assume that whoever goes through the trouble of making long-throw levers for the pros will put them on the consumer market – capitalizing, of course, on their use in the pro peloton. Meanwhile, in response to sponsorship discomfort and be-like-the-pros consumer market pressure, Campagnolo and Shimano and SRAM and whoever else will have tweaked the throw on their quick releases, and, since making two versions of something as mundane as a quick release for pros and consumers makes little sense, long-throw quick releases will become the high-end consumer industry standard.

So, through a minor feat of engineering, we’ll have widely available quick releases that, when open, clear the lawyer tabs currently found on pro and consumer bikes alike. Problem solved. Until someone in the Reflector & Fork Tab division of some consumer protection agency realizes that the lawyer tabs on forks no longer even remotely retain the wheel when one of the new, now-standard long-throw quick releases is left open. Know what happens then?

Lawyer tabs get bigger. And then we'll need longer-throw quick releases.

I don’t know why we swallowed the fly. Perhaps we'll die.

We Want the Airwaves

I’ve been accused, as recently as that last post, of not being a very good conspiracy theorist. It’s true. I admit to the possibility that I lack a certain degree of insight, or that I am possessed of only limited imagination. Or maybe I just look terrible in tin foil hats. Regardless, I believe it’s important to show some effort, to rise to refute the accusations of your critics, and, in this case to strive to find ever more complex frameworks in which to place seemingly simple events. So here’s my theory on why public airing of team communications stopped being a talking point for directors sportiff and suddenly became a reality at Sunday’s Ronde van Vlaanderen: it’s about asserting content ownership.

According to team directors, the UCI has dismissed the notion of public, auto-racing style access to team radio, an idea the teams floated in an effort to keep ahold of the communications in the face of the expanding UCI ban. But there it was, loud and proud during the RVV broadcast, and to considerable success by most accounts. Getting it done, of course, required cooperation between the broadcaster, possibly the race organizer, and obviously the teams, who provided access to their audio and had cameras mounted in their cars. And they did it all, seemingly, without a UCI finger in the pie. And I’m guessing that it’s driving the UCI nuts.

What I saw in Sunday's effort – undertaken as the radio battle between teams and the UCI rages on – was not just an earnest effort to demonstrate the idea's potential to the UCI and to anti-radio fans, though it certainly did that. I think it was – or at least, should have been – a purposeful assertion of ownership by the teams over the team communication content (i.e., everything that's said over the team radios). At the RVV, the teams arguably set a precedent that they are the ones who can permit, sell, or otherwise provide access to their communications to outside parties, whoever those parties may be. I expect you’ll see similar broadcasting in the coming months, because every time teams get the radio communications aired, it reasserts that ownership and builds the precedent.

Why is the issue of who "owns" all the chatter important? Well, due to the experiment’s apparent success on Sunday, the continued resistance to the radio ban, and the UCI’s near-slobbering envy of Formula 1, it’s entirely likely that the UCI will eventually come around to the public team communications idea. And when it does, you can bet that it will try to assert ownership of those communications, likely based on the fact that they are conducted in the course of a UCI-sanctioned race, where the UCI governs radio usage. So why, again, is this important? Why would the UCI want ownership over a stream of mostly boring drivel about upcoming roundabouts and who needs a Coke or a wee-wee break? Because it’s salable content, and the UCI would almost always rather potential income go into its coffers instead of the teams' or organizers'.

In the near-term, the rights to air those director-rider conversations could be sold to broadcasters, though I'd wager Sunday’s dose was a freebie, both to help the teams make the case for keeping radios and to win support of broadcasters, who in France have come out against radios. And I'd also guess the teams might continue to provide free access to TV broadcasters as a condition of keeping radios. But the fact that teams might be willing to provide the content without charge doesn't mean it is without monetary value. In the long-term, money-making possibilities abound. For instance, you could sell team-specific subscriptions to fans that would allow them to hear their team or teams of choice via internet or smartphone. Just 5 Euro per race, or 45 Euro for the whole year, friend. Want to get farther out there? Think product placement. Think commercials. If they maintain ownership of the communications, the teams could offer such “services” as value-adds to their sponsors and as enticements to future backers. If the UCI owns the communications, those services will go to UCI sponsors or the highest bidder, and the money will go into the UCI’s pocket.

It’ll be interesting to see what tack the UCI takes after the loudly trumpeted broadcast of team communications at the RVV. I say loudly trumpeted because the truth is, we’ve seen the same sort of in-car material before during the Tour de France and other races, and the UCI doesn't seem to give a damn. But now that the material has been re-cast as part of the radio debate, and has extended from select teams to all teams, it’s very likely to spark some sort of UCI response. Like I said, I suspect the UCI will ultimately want a piece of the action. And if it doesn’t get what it wants from the teams on the issue, I’ll be on the lookout for more rigid enforcement of rules against filming from caravan vehicles.


  • Ah, and what of the great Jonathan Vaughters “don’t work and wait for the sprint for third” kerfuffle that the RVV team communications provided us? The debate rages on. You know why it rages on? Because people are debating each other without acknowledging that they’re often arguing about two different issues.

    Supporters of the no-work order (understandably including the team) are arguing their side based on the tactical wisdom of the call. Was Vaughters’s order the right one? That’s easy to answer: yes, though admittedly not for the reasons he thought. Garmin’s two men in the front group, Tyler Farrar and Thor Hushovd, didn’t work to bring back the move, which came back anyway under the impetus of BMC and Vacansoleil. So, it might have been the wrong reason for not working, but not working was still the right call. (Though I do believe that the instructions to sit and wait for the sprint led to Garmin being too inattentive and missing the key move.)

    But in arguing tactical correctness against those critical of Vaughters’s orders, I think some folks are missing the point of what the “other side” in this fractured debate is really saying. Namely, that they just wished Vaughters's instructions to the troops had been different. In racing, there is the correct move which, as here, is often the conservative one – don’t work, sit in, follow the moves. And then there’s the popular move, the one the fans and media want to see. That move is usually the gutsy one – put your cards on the table, no prisoners, nothing to lose, risk it all. Attack, attack, attack. No, it’s not always (probably not even usually) the most tactically sound choice, but asking fans to not want it is absurd. And fans calling for the bold moves instead of the conservative strategy doesn’t necessarily mean they’re ignorant, it just means they want to see some go-for-broke racing from teams they like. Especially in the classics, which are blessedly free from the cautious we-don’t-actually-need-to-win aspects of stage racing.

    [Please note: The above point is not aimed at Jonathan Vaughters. There are few in his position more fan-savvy. It’s natural that he publicly clarified why he made the call he did and why it made sense at the time, and he’s cheerfully acknowledged that, hey, it didn’t quite go down like he thought it would, and there it was for all the world to see. That’s racing. And I don’t for a minute think he’s mystified as to why he’s taking flack for it. Further, by engaging the fans, he’s turned it into a teachable moment about the healthy, engaging debate that can come from the public being able to watch the decisions as they’re made. Well done.]

  • Bjarne Riis may have lost most of his team to Leopard, but he didn’t lose his ability to revitalize flagging careers. How does he do it? In my opinion: jersey design. Sure, the fake abs and feathers that fueled greatness at CSC are gone from the shirt, but the infamous trouser bird seems to have ably filled the inspirational void. Whatever the source of greatness, welcome back, Nick Nuyens.

  • So is that dude on the Muur going to wear that same Colnago sweater and hat every year?

  • I won’t rattle on about it, but this year’s Ronde had to be one of the best bike races I’ve seen in five years. Probably longer. What was often billed in the runup as a fairly closed race between Boonen, Cancellara and maybe Gilbert turned into a brawl between a decade’s worth of classics strongmen, from the aforementioned to Chavanel, Nuyens, Hushovd, Ballan, Langeveld, Hincapie, Leukmans, Devolder and on and on. Chapeau and thanks all.

  • Today’s obscure title reference brought to you by the Ramones.

Door Prizes

So, where were we before that little side trip into the shady world of business dealings, paper trails, and speculation? Oh yeah: we were in the midst of the week of slamming doors at the Tour de France. After beginning in Rotterdam widely hailed as one of the “most open” Tours in recent history, and remaining more or less that way for just about a week, things have become decidedly more closed since last Sunday.

First to have the GC door closed in his face was Lance Armstrong (RadioShack), who’s unceremonious demise on Sunday’s Stage 8 to Avoriaz we’ve already addressed. Though we didn’t know it at the time, Cadel Evans (BMC) also saw his Tour hopes slammed shut the same day, despite riding his way into yellow at the end of it. The damage from his early crash went well beyond the visible grazes that he seemed to shrug off, and two days later, the chipped elbow he'd quietly sustained left him to a brave, emotional, and ultimately unsuccessful struggle on Stage 9 to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne. By the finish line, his jersey was eight minutes gone.

Not that it was any consolation for Evans, but he wasn’t alone in getting locked out on Stage 9, as Alberto Contador (Astana) and Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) played a brief game of cat and mouse before joining forces to all but eliminate the rest of the GC contenders. From grand tour mainstays like Denis Menchov (Rabobank), Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack), and Carlos Sastre (Cervelo), to outsiders like Brad Wiggins (Sky) and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin), to upstarts like Robert Gesink (Rabobank) and Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma), everyone got popped for a few minutes by the dynamic duo, with very few visible prospects for getting the lost time back between here and Paris. And bang, the "open Tour" became a two man race for GC, barring any surprising turn of events.

The last door slamming of the week was also the most obvious, when in the Stage 11 sprint HTC leadout man Mark Renshaw slammed the door on Garmin's Tyler Farrar so hard that I’m surprised Farrar doesn’t have a broken nose to go with his wrist. Within a half-hour of the finish, Renshaw’s move gave us a metaphorical door slamming two-fer, as the officials sent him packing from the Tour with a hearty “don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out.”

As the saying goes though, god, or race officials, as the case may be, never close a door without opening a window, and this week’s various slammings will also open up some different opportunities in the final week. A more stable GC race could let the opportunists play a freer hand, Armstrong’s weeklong time-hemorrhaging effort may give him some breathing room for a final send-off stage win, the ejection of Mark Cavendish’s pilot fish might lend a different look to the sprints, and Contador and Schleck’s narrowing of the field sets us up for some great potential mano-a-mano battles in the Pyrenees.

  • Why the 2010 Tour was billed as an “open Tour” for GC purposes in the first place, and whether that was accurate, is debatable. From where I’m sitting, I’d say there were two contributing factors. First, it’s in everyone’s best interest to bill every Tour as “open,” because it’s hard to boost readership/viewership/enthusiasm by advertising an unabashed trouncing. (Though I suppose you could argue that Versus did just that from roughly 2000-2005.) This year, there were just enough reasonably adept GC contenders to make the label a little more believable. Second, it seemed like in the weeks leading up to the Tour, a Contador win seemed to have become such an unconscious foregone conclusion that people stopped talking about him altogether – that is, in the talk about all the possible challengers for the crown, the current wearer of it was largely forgotten. I’m not saying Contador’s a shoo-in in Paris, but the extent of his previous domination seemed to be largely forgotten during the “open Tour” buildup.

  • I made some smarmy comment awhile back about how FDJ was a long-running team because they fly their national sponsor’s flag at national French Cup races all year, every year, and not because Sandy Casar manages to bag a Tour stage every eight years or so. Well, shut my mouth…

  • Watching the scenery roll by in the Alps, instead of paying attention to the racing like I should, I’m was struck with three thoughts: 1) I need to buy an RV dealership in France. 2) Who are these people who cheer from inside their cars and RVs? If you’re not even going to get out of the damn car for the three minute span when the leaders and the peloton go by, why the hell have you been sitting on some godforsaken mountain for two days? 3) The guy inside that no-mold water bottle costume must just be dying of the heat.

  • I’m sure a lot of people saw Ivan Gutierrez (Caisse d’Epargne) hand fellow Spaniard Contador (Astana) a bottle as Contador and Schleck came ripping by him on Stage 9. In a sport where a lot of little favors are done along national lines, all I can say is, poor Andy Schleck. Not a lot of company from Luxembourg with his brother and Kim Kirchen on the bench and Benoit Joachim missing in action.

  • There are a lot of complaints flying about Euskaltel-Euskadi riders not knowing how to ride bikes. By and large that may be true, but Sammy Sanchez is certainly an exception.

  • In the closing kilometers of Stage 10, I was all-in for Vasil Kiryienka (Caisse d’Epargne). It’s not that I have any extensive knowledge of his abilities in that situation versus those of his breakaway companion Sergio Paulinho (Radio Shack). It’s just that I make such bets according one simple maxim: never bet against an Eastern European in the long break. Especially an Eastern European with a flowing mullet waving in the breeze. Sure, it’s wrong every once in awhile, as Paulinho proved, but on the average, it works out pretty well. I’m hoping notorious headbanger Pavel Brutt (Katusha) will put me back on even terms next week.

  • As for Nicolas Roche’s (AG2r) late move in the fairly cruise-ey Stage 10 procession behind Kiryienka and Paulinho, I have to agree with Whit – it was a little cheesy. Not illegal, not baffling, not unforgivable, just…cheesy.

  • Yeah, yeah, most people think Renshaw’s Stage 11 ejection was about the head butts. It’s a reasonable stance, especially since that’s the cause officials cited in their early quotes on the ejection. While Renshaw giving Dean the noggin was pretty damn noticeable, I’m betting he could have gotten away with it if he stopped there. Boys will be boys. But when he looked at Farrar and then rode him into the barriers, I’m guessing the balance tipped against him. Neither infraction might have been enough on its own, but together, they made a defensible case for an early exit.

  • The Renshaw ejection is obviously a hot topic, mostly on whether sending him packing was justified or not, but also regarding what the penalty system should be. As many have rightfully pointed out, relegation is irrelevant to a leadout man, so what are you left with? I’ve seen arguments from several different sources for a more formalized sort of yellow card/red card system where warnings or fines (the yellow) would precede stiffer penalties like ejection (the red). I don’t think that, or similar approaches, will work for cycling. First and most obviously, it won’t work because the system simply institutionalizes the idea that you get one “freebie” before real consequences kick in, even if that freebie costs the team some Swiss francs. That means riders would go into a race like the Tour knowing that they had one good, solid hook to throw when they decide they need it most – it becomes a tool rather than a penalty. So, let’s see, one free chop times how many guys in a leadout?

    Secondly, the soccer/football approach doesn’t really work with the nature of cycling. Yes, races have officials, but we don’t call them referees for a reason. It’s not a field sport, and you can’t just blow the whistle and stop the action to give someone a talking to, show the yellow, and then play on. Cycling is fast, linear, and kinetic, and the approach just doesn’t transfer – a guy could go from his first to his second offense in a split second. And sometimes, a warning just isn’t appropriate when someone makes a move that could potentially end the races or careers of 100 other guys. You can abuse people pretty badly on a soccer pitch, but certainly not that many at once, and not at those speeds. Cycling needs to have the nuclear option available for first offenses if they’re egregious enough to warrant it.

    Since what we’re looking for is not necessarily punishment, but a deterrent, I’d argue that the swift and, at times, seemingly random hand of justice that we saw deployed yesterday is probably best for keeping racers in line. When you draw the line too sharply, you just tempt people to get as close as possible to it without going over, but if they’re never quite sure exactly where the line is…

  • One idea that keeps popping up about the Renshaw ejection strikes me as particularly silly (even if several pros have made it): that it’s unfair that Renshaw was ejected for his actions in the sprint while Barredo and Costa were merely fined for their post race brawl a few stages ago. The two incidents are so far apart on their (de)merits I can’t believe people are drawing the comparison, but let’s put it to rest anyway: The fight was after the stage, on foot, affected only the two jackasses involved, and basically only provided a bit of comic relief at said jackasses’ expense. The actions in yesterday’s sprint, by contrast, came during the stage, at 60+ kilometers per hour, endangered about 100 people besides the jackasses involved, and potentially altered the results of the stage. The fight was an issue of “conduct unbecoming.” Renshaw’s actions in the sprint were an issue of race safety as well as of the competitive integrity of the Tour. Are we really trying to say they’re of the same caliber?

  • For those of you who might counter that Barredo-Costa Slapdown 2010 is going to ruin the image of our dear fairest cycling…have you seen other sports?

  • Off we go into the Massif Centrale, and on that topic, John Wilcockson’s finally written something I can agree with. When he’s not focused on Armstrong, he can be really good.

  • So was Brad Wiggins’s move from Garmin to Sky good or bad? If you want to argue that it was a bad choice, you’d could say that his fourth place last year proved that Vaughters and the Garmin staff knew the best way to bring him to the Tour, and that he should have stayed. If you wanted to argue that it was a good choice, you could cite the fact that by moving to Sky, Wiggins smartly netted himself a lot of cash based on a fourth-place Tour performance he wasn’t likely to repeat. Based on a loose sense of history, I’d say Wiggins has, at most, two more Tours after this one to climb back inside the final top 5 before the “podium contender” status and paychecks depart for good.

  • The Service Course’s Gerard Vroomen Twitter-watch continues, and got considerably more interesting in the wake of the Renshaw objection, when he called HTC-Columbia to the carpet for dangerous sprinting. So let’s see, that’s taking shots at Saxo Bank, Caisse d’Epargne, HTC-Columbia, and, just after the World Cup, the entire nation of Holland. The guy’s kind of growing on me.

Minding the Gap

So here we sit in that yawning chasm between the end of the Tour de Suisse and the start of the Tour de France. Everything’s gone relatively quiet – the roster selections have been made, the contenders have retreated to make their final preparations in private, and big action on the road is minimal. We read the results of the national championships as they trickle in, of course, but none of that is even real until you see the jerseys on the road.

Staring across time towards the Tour is like watching a storm roll in across the water. You know what’s coming, but in the waiting there’s a sense of quiet and foreboding so imposing that you yearn for anything to break the silence – a passing car, a nearby conversation, a barking dog. But no matter what noises emerge to crack the muffled softness of that silence, nothing can relieve the underlying tension until the storm itself, with all its thunder and wind and force, hits shore. The rest is just distraction.

But for the cycling press, from mighty L’Equipe down to poorly formatted blogs, distraction is kind of the main business, and these two weeks are prime season. The dead air of the pre-Tour lull is ripe for filling with predications, retrospectives, opinions and god knows what else, all seeking to fill the informational void until the Tour itself hits shore and sets the underlying energy free.

With so much information blowing in the breeze in these pre-Tour days, it’s hard to find the common thread that would string it all together into any sort of narrative, so frankly, I quit trying. Here’s what’s struck me while watching the storm blow in.

Sprinter Showdown

With the exception of the politic-ed out Andre Griepel (HTC-Columbia), this year’s Tour will feature a battle of the sport’s major sprint stars. In theory, at least. Though it looks like most of the fast men will make it to the start, there are plenty of questions remaining about what we’ll actually see as things barrel into the final 200 meters.

  • Will Tom Boonen (Quick Step) show up? It’s both a literal and figurative question. He’s having some knee trouble that’s putting his Tour start in doubt in the real sense. In the figurative sense, Boonen’s last several Tours haven’t exactly been spectacular. While his motivation should be high after a great but win-free classics season, he’s not the pure sprinter he used to be. Fortunately for him, a green jersey run is about more than winning the bunch kicks, so he could still be in with a chance.

  • After a slow start, can Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) live up to the expectations created by both his past performance and his present mouth? Will the ill-will of the Tour de Suisse have faded by the start in Rotterdam?

  • Will Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transistions) get his Tour stage win? He’s hot off a win at the Delta Tour Zeeland, which could indicate he’s building back up after nabbing two stages at the Giro d’Italia. If he can pull off a Tour stage, he’ll join teammate Dave Zabriskie on the list of Americans who’ve won stages of all three grand tours.

  • Which of the second line sprinters will steal some of the limelight? Saxo Bank’s rising classics star and fast man Matti Breschel? Lampre young ‘un Francesco Gavazzi? Some French guy?

  • Which leadout man is most likely to take a sneaky stage win while his leader sweeps his wheel for him – Julian Dean (Garmin-Transitions), or Mark Renshaw (HTC-Columbia)?

  • Robbie McEwen (Katusha) is likely staring down the barrel of his last Tour. Will he be able to go out on a good note after a year of injuries and setbacks?

  • Anyone seen Thor Hushovd lately? Anyone?

  • Will Oscar Friere (Rabobank) get one more stage? Though he doesn’t have the top end that a lot of the sprinters have, in a tricky finish run it’s hard to count him out. With his classics experience, he’s likely to be in the mix on the early northern stages, where he may be more likely to win from a small group or reduced bunch.

Help at Last?

For me, the big takeaway from the Tour de Suisse wasn’t the success of Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank) or the Radio Shack squad’s apparent depth. It was Steve Morabito (BMC) and the BMC team. Morabito ended up fourth overall, but more importantly he finished in the contenders group three seconds back from winner Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank) on the climbing stage to the Schwarzenberg, then followed that up by finishing seventh in a group :43 back from Robert Gesink (Rabobank) on stage 6 to La Punt. Add Morabito’s performance to Marcus Burghardt’s wins on two rolling stages, Mathias Frank’s wins in the KOM and intermediate sprints competitions, and solid performances from rouleurs George Hincapie and Alessandro Ballan, and it starts to look like Cadel Evans could finally go into a grand tour with some legitimate support when it counts. Sure, Tour de Suisse is BMC’s defacto national tour, so you’d expect them to put some effort in, but the fact that Evans wasn’t there reveals where their real priorities very justifiably lie.

While we’re on it, you know who else might finally have some help in the mountains? Denis Menchov (Rabobank). The oft-overlooked Russian is putting all his eggs in the Tour basket this year, and might finally have some high-mountain companionship from Robert Gesink, who’s finally starting to live up to the potential we’ve caught glimpses of in the last few years.

How Soon They Forget

Speaking of Evans…Armstrong, Contador, and various Schlecks are all on everyone’s lips, given the recent conclusions of the Dauphine and Suisse. But geez, doesn’t anyone remember the Giro a month back? Sure, the Dauphine and Suisse are obviously fresher in our minds, but the Giro showed us a few relevant points too, and in a fairly spectacular fashion. For prognosticating purposes, the Giro also carries the added weight of being a three-week race. A couple of Giro takeaways, lest we forget:

  • Evans is obviously a new man this year, and could find himself right in the mix if his team shows up (see above). It’s probably also worth noting that while the lack of TT kilometers in this Tour will count against him vis-à-vis challenges from the Schlecks, with his experience and his teams, he could also be a big gainer in the early stages in the low countries. It’s also important to note that Evans had some surprising standout performances on the Giro’s steep ramps, a promising sign given that the Pyrenees will play a crucial role in this year’s Tour.

  • Everybody’s banging on about Radio Shack and Saxo Banks’ depth, and with good reason, but good lord, does anyone remember how Liquigas looked in the Giro, on a course where team strength wasn’t supposed to matter? I don’t believe they’ve announced their team yet, but Liquigas looks to be just as strong for the Tour as they were for the Giro, if not stronger. While Basso’s chief Giro lieutenant/co-captain Vincenzo Nibali is taking a break after this weekend’s national championship, the team will likely bring in Czech stage race hope Roman Kreuziger, and possibly wonderboy Peter Sagan as well. Mix in Giro standouts Sylvester Szmyd, Valerio Agnoli, and Robert Kiserlovski, pick three more depending on who’s good, and you have a team that’s certainly nothing to sneeze at.

Something About Radio Shack

Radio Shack announced its Tour de France lineup on Monday, beaming out a roster that contains few surprises but still manages to be shocking when you see it written down. Quite simply, it may be the oldest Tour de France squad in history, though I’ll leave it up to the real number crunchers to verify that.* Yes, for the first time in decades, an American team has fielded a squad that can answer that most American of questions: Where were you when Kennedy was shot?

Overall, the team weighs in at an experienced-but-reasonable average age of 32.5, but that’s thanks to a foursome of 30 year old workhorses – Yaroslav Popovytch, Sergio Paulinho, Gregory Rast, and Dmitri Muravyev – as well as a substantial contribution from young Jani Brajkovic’s 26 years. But the RadioShack power elite – headed by Lance Armstrong, Andreas Kloden, Chris Horner, and Levi Leipheimer – comes in at a whopping 36.75 years old. (If you don’t want to consider Horner and his 38 years as part of that group, fine, but eliminating him only brings the average age to 36.3.)

With an average age like that, people will rattle on about all sorts of legitimate ways to beat RadioShack, like frequent tempo changes on the climbs or making the race hard on back-to-back days to make recovery a key issue. But that’s all bullshit. If you want to beat a team of old guys, you have to look beyond cycling for your tactics. So here’s the Service Course advice for challenging Radio Shack at this year’s tour:

  • Keep a jersey pocket full of butterscotch candies, and throw them to the side of the road on climbs. Butterscotch is like old person flypaper.

  • Start a whisper campaign aimed at getting the UCI to classify Rascal scooters as “motorized doping.”

  • Have the UCI outlaw the wearing of tall black socks with shorts. By prohibiting the time-honored old person dress code, you’re sure to disrupt their mental game.

  • Air reruns of Matlock during time trials. Late starthouse appearances will surely ensue.

  • Get Cialis listed as performance enhancing substance. The cycling kind of performance enhancing substance.

  • Switch labels on denture cream, chamois cream.

Extremely cheap and largely hypocritical potshots aside, it’s a hell of a strong team. Just, you know, old, which as I said, isn’t shocking. So what is shocking about this team? No Spaniards. Starting in 2001, when Bruyneel began having to replace departing American climbing talents like Jonathan Vaughters, Kevin Livingston, and Tyler Hamilton, Spaniards became a mainstay of Bruyneel/Armstrong collaborations. For awhile in the early-mid 2000s, the team was probably the best Spanish team in cycling. This year, Haimar Zubeldia was the last likely Spanish hope for a Tour start, but since he’s out with a broken wrist, the Portuguese Paulinho is the lone Iberian representative on the squad. Of course, Zubeldia is a Basque, so despite his passport and the little Spanish flag next to his name on Versus, he might not consider himself any more Spanish than Paulinho. In fact, by hailing from Texas, Armstrong might be the closest thing to a native Spanish-speaker on the squad.

* If you did want to figure out what the oldest Tour team ever was, I’d start by looking at the immediate post-WWII Tours, when lots of the pre-war stars gave it a final shot, and much of the younger generation had been, well, killed.

The Dope Test Flap

There’s big news this week in acronym city, where at the order of WADA, the UCI will be conducting special dope tests at ASO’s TdF at the request of AFLD. You can view a nice bulleted outline of the situation and the decision here (thanks to @cyclingfansanon for the link). While nobody enjoys an inter-agency procedural eye-gouging match as much as I do, the real news to come out of this whole kerfuffle has been insanely understated – namely that AFLD claims to have information from customs/border agents and other law enforcement that seems to justify targeted testing of certain riders at the Tour. Uhh…that could be big news. Like Willy Voet big news.

Barry Finally Gets His Tour

Team Sky released its Tour de France roster this morning, an affair I’m sure my UK friends will thoroughly dissect within a matter of minutes, so I’ll leave it to them and just comment on one small part of it. For me, the biggest news was the selection of Mike Barry to ride his first Tour. You already know Barry through his writing, of course. But in addition to his abilities in capturing the sport from the inside, he’s also a very capable domestique who’s been worthy of a Tour ride for years, as proven by his service at the classics and various Vueltas and Giros. But riding as he did for Bruyneel’s deep Tour-winning teams, he never quite got the call-up earlier in his career. Maybe, as a Canadian, he just didn’t speak enough Spanish, who knows.

This year, though, he’s finally getting his shot, which is good, because it was feeling a bit like now-or-never time. I’m glad for him. Yes, I know he came up in Floyd Landis’s doping allegations, but he was also my next door neighbor in a sublet in Boulder about 11 years ago, when he was with Saturn and his wife Dede was still racing. I didn’t really know him, or her, and still don’t. I was just interning at VeloNews then, and figured the last thing I’d want to have next door if I were a pro cyclist was some cycling writer chatting me up every day when I got home. So I kept my distance. But Mike and Dede were always friendly, with a hello in the stairway or a wave as we passed coming and going on bikes. Like a lot of the people mentioned in various dope stories, they’re real people for me, and I try to remember that. The whole Landis thing will sort itself out, and we’ll all be happy or vindicated or disappointed or otherwise affected by what we find out about a lot of people. But that can wait. For now I’ll wish Barry all the best in his Tour debut. It’s about time.


Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) bid adieu to the Tour de Suisse on Thursday, a departure that could have been due to any number of reasons. It was reported Wednesday morning that he would leave the race to attend his grandmother’s funeral, and it was reported on Thursday morning that he had left the race due to injuries sustained in Stage 4’s dramatic finish-straight crash. Either of those reasons would be understandable, but some observers – me included – are wondering if he was drummed out of the race a bit quicker by people calling for his head on a pike for causing the aforementioned crash. If that’s the case, I think it’s unfortunate.

Since he started winning big sprints four years ago or so, Cavendish has been called a lot of things – brash, cocky, racist, disrespectful, asshole, you name it. He’s also been called talented, an eager learner, and a good teammate, but those descriptors don’t tend to linger quite as long as the others. But even though the guy attracts epithets like Colnagos attract attorneys, the one thing I’ve never actually heard Cavendish called is “dangerous.”

Sure, he’s had occasional run-ins in sprints, as when Thor Hushovd (Cervelo) felt Cavendish squeezed him towards the barriers at last year’s Tour de France. I’m sure there have been others as well – most full-time sprinters have a few disputes to their credit – but Cavendish certainly hasn’t been tapped as the heir to Djamolidine Abdoujaparov or Graeme Brown, or any of the other sprinters who have been reflexively dubbed “kamikaze” over the years. And there are people who have that reputation for good reason – there are more photographs of René Haselbacher (Vorarlberg-Coratec) bleeding on the ground than there are of him riding a bike. In contrast to those sprinters of sometimes-ill repute, Cavendish’s biggest offenses have typically been committed in the interview tent, not in the final 200 meters. And now people are ready to burn him at the stake for a single, albeit spectacular, crash.

Did Cavendish cause that mess of carbon and flesh on the road in Wettingen? Oh, hell yes, he did. Indeed, Heinrich Haussler (Cervelo) was sprinting with his head down, which isn’t the safest move, either, but the balance of responsibility is clearly on Cavendish. His move from the right to the center of the roadway, pinching Gerald Ciolek (Milram) and colliding with Haussler was a stupid move, whether it was the result of carelessness or a poorly considered tactic (a distinction we outsiders will probably never really be able to make for sure). And his actions following the crash – allegedly spitting at competitors who dared to call him out on his actions and trying to deflect blame in interviews – are immature and reprehensible.

Which is all to say that Cavendish probably deserves the earfuls he’s received from his coworkers and the public in the days following the crash, as well as the relegation and the fine the UCI slapped on top of it. Maybe he’ll learn something from it, maybe not, but personally, I think that’s as far as the punishments need to go. I’m well aware that there are plenty of people who don’t agree with that – I’ve seen cries for a suspension; calls for a higher fine given the offender’s income; I’ve even heard suggestions that Caisse d’Epargne should “seek compensation” for Coyot’s injury.

I’d venture that the people shouting for those punishments are doing so based more on their distaste for Cavendish’s personality than on his actual riding on Stage 4 of the Tour de Suisse, or even on the career balance of his behavior on the road. Fortunately, that just isn’t the way the rules work. I’d also argue that people calling for extensive punishments are being incredibly short-sighted. Crashes happen every day in bike racing, and they’re always somebody’s fault. If you open that door to suspensions and damages for every crash, riders will be in court or in front of some UCI commission every day for the results of an unintended chop in a corner, for not spotting that traffic island in time, or for misjudging the gap between barrier and opponent. What’s adequate compensation for diving for your feed and taking down Alberto Contador two weeks before the Tour de France? What’s the right suspension for forcing a bad line into the Arenberg Forest and crashing Boonen out? And who do you want to make those decisions?

So, in the rush to hang Cavendish for what is for all intents and purposes a first offense, people are advocating introducing a godawful legal mess into a sport that’s already chock full of godawful legal messes, despite the fact that peloton enforcement for dangerous riding has taken care of itself for decades. Besides, relevant case law indicates that Claude Criquielion already went down that road once, and all it did was waste a lot of people’s time and money. So I’d recommend that fans who want more heavy-handed treatment of Cavendish just sit back and enjoy the verbal and editorial browbeating he’ll receive this week, and then move on. I’m not saying you have to like the guy, but let’s keep a little perspective here.

As for the riders’ sanctimonious “protest” yesterday? I’d ask them where they were when Paolo Bettini absolutely mauled Baden Cooke at the Giro d’Italia a few years ago, or when the great Erik Zabel balled up Stage 2 of the 2007 Tour de France. I’d venture that back then they just clutched their rosary beads, recited a few “well, that’s cyclings,” and moved on with their days because, well, everybody likes Erik and Paolo and everyone makes mistakes. But not so with Cavendish, eh?

Look, I certainly understand the anger – nobody likes to hit the deck or lose a teammate because someone else is riding like an ass – but our protesters should also remember that cycling is often a matter of “there but for the grace of God go I.” Or in layman’s terms – it could be you who cocks up tomorrow, so best keep your mouth shut. Unless everybody likes you, of course.

  • A lot of people will read the above and quickly think, “Well, he just likes Cavendish.” And they’d be right, though I think I’d have written the same about anyone except a habitual repeat offender (e.g., Haselbacher). Frankly though, I’m not sure why I like Cavendish, since I’d usually be among the first to find his smart-ass attitude irritating. Maybe it’s because, like Cavendish, I’m a member of the 5’7” team, and while we’re stacked with climbing talent, we really needed a top-notch sprinter.

  • Two posts in a row with Abdoujaparov mentions. Never would have seen that coming, but the guy’s just a useful synonym for crazy sprinting.

  • I love that AG2r stated they were part of the protest because Cavendish elbowed one of their guys at some point. For whatever reason, it just makes them sound comically oversensitive. I mean, I’ve elbowed at least three people today, and I work in an office.

  • Here’s a question for you: Based on what you saw on Tuesday, are races safer or more dangerous with Mark Cavendish in them? He obviously plays it a bit rough at times, but just like Mario Cipollini’s boys in the 1990s, the HTC-Columbia train does keep things nice and orderly in the last 40k of the sprint stages.

  • Happy 65th birthday, Eddy.

  • Hey! I started a Twitter feed. It’s at the left if you’re into that sort of thing. It’s mostly a test to see if I can make a point in less that 1,200 words.

Waffle House Party

The UCI announced on January 29 that Louisville, Kentucky will play host to the 2013 World Cyclocross Championships, the first time the event will be held outside of Europe. Many insiders would have predicted the United States’ first major international ‘cross event would be held at one of the sport’s traditional stateside hotbeds – like New England, or Katie Compton’s parents’ house. But making the transatlantic leap could already pose such a mental hurdle for Europe-based athletes that it seems the UCI placed a premium on making everyone more comfortable with the unorthodox trip. So, in vetting the Louisville venue, I can only assume that the UCI considered such important ‘cross-related questions as:

UCI: Does your city have ample facilities for serving waffles to drunks?
Louisville: Yes, yes it does.

UCI: Everyone really likes the horsemeat when we hold the Worlds in Belgium. Do you have good horsemeat?
Louisville: Um, in a manner of speaking. You probably don’t want to eat it if you’re going to dope control, though.

UCI: You know, Tabor (2010) has Budvar, St. Wendel (2011) has Karlsberg, and we can only assume that Koksijde (2012) will have the usual Belgian pils and jenever smorgasbord. Do you have some sort of signature local drink that we can use to get well and truly schnakered?
Louisville: Why, yessuh! I say, I say, we DO!

And after one sip of sweet, sweet bourbon, I can only assume the decision was made. Now that I think about it, Louisville is practically just northern Europe transplanted. Kidding aside, congratulations, thank you, and good luck to the folks who made it happen – Bruce Fina and Joan Hanscome, who also bring you (or people like you) the USGP; and the city of Louisville, which is throwing a lot of support behind the event and ‘cross in general.

Anyway, we have three years to chew on this whole deal, but here are a few quick holeshot thoughts:

  • In the USAC release, head honcho Steve Johnson states, “After more than a decade of working closely with American promoters and the UCI to grow our international calendar of cyclo-cross events, Louisville’s winning bid is a testament to the success of those efforts and to the extraordinary quality of ‘cross racing in the U.S.”

    Right on, Steve. Does this big payoff from all USAC’s “efforts” mean the fed will do something more for the 2013 cyclocross “national team” than give them a jersey and a slightly uncomfortable pat on the ass? Because you know, even most bike shop teams manage to get you a discount on tubes or something. I mean, I know it’s been hard, or apparently impossible, to scrape together the cash to buy riders coach-class tickets to exotic vacation destinations like Flanders and the Czech Republic right at the height of their bleakest-depths-of-winter high seasons, and those new baggage fees are a bear. But if you can’t manage to do better when the Worlds are in Louisville, on three years’ warning, then that’s pretty depressing.

    Look, it’s one thing to stiff the pro/elite folks, who actually make (some) money racing bikes and whose sponsors will help out since they’re in a position to capitalize on their athletes’ Worlds participation. But for the juniors and even the U23s? Come on, if you want to call it a “national team,” strip people of their committed year-long sponsors' clothes, and wrap them in the flag for a day, at least pick up the tab. If you really want results, those folks need to be training, racing, resting, or doing schoolwork in the months leading up to the race, not hosting bake sales and car washes to fund a ticket and a hotel room, only to have you issue another self-congratulatory press release if they manage to turn in a good performance.

  • Folks have been working on bringing a ‘cross World Cup stop here for awhile, and recent thinking has trended towards building Cross Vegas into that event, which makes a lot of sense. It’s so early in the season the travel wouldn’t present as much of a problem, and the potential sponsor pressure for riders to show at both the race and Interbike could persuade more recalcitrant riders to make the trip. But bringing the World Championships here is far better, and not just for the obvious reason that “it’s the friggin’ World Championships, man.” With the World Championship, by virtue of the late-season timing as well as the prestige, you’re basically guaranteed a turnout of the top stars, and they’ll be shooting for top form. In contrast, if you’re simply the first stop (by weeks) in the World Cup, you’re likely to get a much smaller turnout if a good portion of the top talent chooses to collectively wait it out and start their seasons one race later and 3,000 miles closer to home. And even if you get a few of the heavy hitters at the top, the overall depth of the field tends to get watered down a bit – look at the results of North American MTB World Cups for examples.

    This is not to say U.S. interests shouldn’t continue to pursue a World Cup here – it’s an admirable goal, and I hope they achieve it. While the Louisville Worlds will provide a huge one-time impact, a recurring yearly World Cup stop would be a significant long-term asset. As the VeloNews article linked above cites, championship venues are typically tested with a World Cup first, but there are still some funding humps to work out for a stateside World Cup stop since 15,000 people won’t pay $20 a head to watch a cross race here. However, if there still isn’t a U.S. World Cup prior to Louisville in 2013, a good promoter/federation performance there could potentially help shake some sort of solution loose and set the U.S. up for some recurring role in top-shelf 'cross racing.

  • In email chatter since the announcement, I’ve already heard some half-joking worry about the arrival of plane loads of drunken, abusive Belgian fans. I’m more worried about their inevitable drunken, abusive American imitators -- if you’ve raced ‘cross, you know they’re out there. I’m always wary of imitators, of course. No matter how unsavory you may find their antics, at least the originals are well practiced and know what they’re doing. As for their inadvertent and overenthusiastic spawn, let’s just say I’d rather have Didi “the Devil” Senft on my roadside, legendary B.O. and all, than some local who thought Didi’s brand of schtick looked pretty damn appealing, and I’d much sooner take fashion advice from a real member of Gwar than some guy at an Oakland Raider game. So please, I beg of you, though 2013 is a long way off – if you go, be yourself, whatever that is, and don’t try to cop to someone else’s act in the name of some ersatz cyclocross “authenticity.” If Americans waving Lion of Flanders flags in Louisville strikes someone as authentic, they're in need of a dictionary. Drink what you want, act like you normally would, speak your own language, and enjoy the racing. For more information, please consult Joe Parkin.

  • I was glad to see through the various releases that the U.K.’s Simon Burney was on the UCI technical committee involved in selecting Louisville. I don’t know him, but like many riders in the United States (where, pre-internet, English language ‘cross info was scarce for a long time), older editions of his Cyclocross: Training and Technique book served as a valuable reference and introduction to the sport. So that’s two we owe him, I guess.

Radio Clash

Apparently, Astana has involved itself in the team radio controversy by organizing a petition against the Tour’s plan to ban team radios on several upcoming stages. Can Astana stand to just stay out of anything? And a petition? Are we in junior high? Are you trying to get teachers to give less homework? Fighting for better food in the cafeteria? For god’s sake, we’re adults – go talk to people instead of having all your friends sign some grimy piece of notebook paper.

Anyway, none of that matters, because you’ll be delighted to know that the Service Course has solved the great professional cycling radio controversy. Don't worry, I don’t suggest going without radios altogether. As the team directors howl every time the debate resurfaces, street furniture has proliferated throughout Europe since the dawn of the team radio age, and the radios are a valuable way to warn riders of approaching hazards. The directors, desperate to keep their voices buzzing in the ears of their charges, have latched onto that “safety” aspect as the most effective argument in favor of keeping radio use intact, but frankly, I just don't see why it has to be the dulcet tones of Brian Holm, Johan Bruyneel, or Matt White telling you there’s a traffic island or a roundabout coming in four kilometers.

So, let the riders keep their receivers and earpieces, but have some neutral party from the race organization or the UCI broadcast information about breaks, gaps, course conditions, and any hazards to all the riders. After all, the directors are either repeating that information from race radio or reading it out of the race bible anyway. It's not exactly a trade secret. By going to neutral safety and race updates, we can get the directors sportif out of the riders' ears and have more interesting, less calculated racing, but still avoid the risk of half the peloton splattered on the statue of some obscure archduke as they plow their way through town. (Additional hollow selling point: “It’s more fair, since everyone has exactly the same information!” Thank me later, UCI.)

Yes, as the directors rightly argue, it probably is a little more dangerous for riders to drop back to the cars to get periodic instructions rather than simply having them beamed directly into their frontal lobes. But when those same directors aren’t constantly watching TV and fiddling with the radio mic, the caravan will be a much safer place, so maybe it all evens out. And when the riders ditch the radios and earpieces for the UCI Broadcasting Service after a few months, you’ll know it was never really about safety, anyway.

Listen, despite my griping about Astana and their petition, I do agree that the decision to ban radios for two stages of the Tour, including today’s stage, is a little silly. As usual, the UCI is demonstrating a dangerous inability to make and enforce a consistent set of rules. As the international governing body, that means deciding on one set of rules that are applied to each event – in this case, radios or no radios – not abdicating again and again to the discretion or whims of individual organizers.

I think that, whatever the ultimate decision on radios is, teams, riders, and racing will adapt. But if the rules change every weekend depending on the race, that adaptation will never occur, which will make races both with and without radios more dangerous. ASO’s decision for this year’s Tour de France – to have two sets of rules during a single event – takes that lack of consistency to even greater heights and, in that context, smacks of gimmickry. The directors are right to question the decision to conduct this experiment at the Tour, even if their chosen argument in favor of keeping radio contact with their riders is easily addressed in other ways. Hopefully, once the teams are done settling the immediate issue, they’ll realize that what’s needed is a broader and lasting solution to the issue, and work to steer the UCI away from its piecemeal and deferential approach. I like my solution, but really, I’ll settle for almost any outcome that’s fairly and consistently applied.

Well, Yes and No

Vacillating Answers to Today’s Cycling Questions

There are at least two sides to every story, and in cycling these days, there are always at least two answers to every question. Let’s look at four of this week’s discussion topics, and try to arrive at a simple “yes or no” based on the news of the week.

1. Is examining blood values a reliable way to catch cheaters?

Pat McQuaid and the UCI give an emphatic “yes,” based on the fact that, over the space of a week and a half, they got to nab the “list of five” for blood profile suspicions and Toni Colom (Katusha) for EPO. According to the UCI, Colom was targeted for the EPO test based on suspicious blood values, so we’re giving the UCI the benefit of the doubt and calling that a bio passport success as well. Of course, asking the UCI if blood values work is like asking a proud parent of an honor roll student if their child is really smart – they had a bit of a skewed view in the first place, and now they have the bumper sticker to prove it. Of course they’ll say yes.

In the “no” chorus we have Bernhard Kohl, whose story is, by now, over-told. But now Kohl has someone to harmonize with in newcomer Vladimir Gusev. Gusev was terminated last year by Astana for blood values that were interpreted as suspicious by well-known dope guy and Astana consultant Rasmus Damsgaard. CAS decided that maybe those values weren’t so suspicious after all, at least not suspicious enough for Astana to fire him over. In the meantime, Saxo Bank, where Bjarne Riis helped Damsgaard forge his dope-monitoring legend, has scaled back its vaunted internal testing programs citing the fact that the UCI passport program covers the same ground. So if the bio passport tests are now taking the place of some of the internal controls teams used to do, are they prone to the same problems? Only the appeals will tell, so call us in eight months or a year.

2. Does the UCI know what “targeted” means?

On June 9, the day they announced the Colom positive, the UCI seemed to have a solid grasp of what “targeted” meant. Colom’s blood values looked a little fishy, and so based on that, they gave him more tests than the average, non-suspicious rider. You know, they “targeted” him.

But that moment of clarity seems to be fading fast, as cyclingnews.com’s interview with UCI Reine de Dopage Anne Gripper reveals. Gripper comments on the list of 50 riders that the UCI has said will be extra-special tested in the run-up to the Tour de France (not to be confused with the list of five riders to be prosecuted). According to Gripper, these 50 riders aren’t being “targeted,” they’re just being subjected to additional testing based on the fact that they’re likely to do well at the Tour, either in terms of GC or stage wins. Well, that’s better – thank goodness they aren’t being targeted, you know, in the sense of being singled out for extra scrutiny based on a specific criteria or behavioral pattern. Like winning races or something.

It doesn’t really matter, of course, but I do hesitate to ask what they’ve thought “random” meant all these years.

3. Are Astana’s money problems solved?

Yes, apparently. Just a day or so after the UCI’s deadline officially passed, Bruyneel and the team’s Kazakh sponsors managed to come to some sort of agreement that should see everyone paid through the end of 2009.

But then we have to ask, who is everyone? Because if we go back to that Gusev story again, we see that Astana, presumably through Bruyneel’s Olympus management company, now owes the amply-chinned Russian his salary, plus damages, plus legal costs. I don’t know what his salary was, but Gusev was starting to really break through right before he got preemptively popped by the team, so damages could be considerable. So will Astana’s barely-dry check from Kazakhstan cover that little tab, or is Bruyneel going to be left to cough up the rubles himself? I don’t know, but if you think it’s hard to get the Kazakhs to pay guys who have ridden for them this year, you should see how hard it is to get them to pay the guys who haven’t.

4. Does Tom Boonen really like the marching powder as much as we think he does?

According to the testing agency and the Belgian justice system, yes. Boonen himself says he was blacked out during the night in question, and can’t rightly say either way whether he did cocaine or not. But now an independent review panel says no, Boonen didn’t actually ingest cocaine. Apparently, panel looked at a hair test, and while it does show the presence of cocaine, it doesn’t show enough coke present to indicate definitively that Boonen had any, only that he’s probably seen some in the last few months.

Before we get too excited, I’d note that the English version of the story says Boonen didn’t “ingest” cocaine. The initial Flemish versions I’ve seen say he didn’t “snort” cocaine. These are obviously two different meanings, as there are other ways to ingest besides snorting, and they affect how strongly the drug shows up in your system. While, say, eating cocaine is less efficient than sniffing it, it is still ingestion. This cyclingnews.com article sheds some light on the testing tolerances and whatnot, but frankly I’m just bored with the whole thing, and I steadfastly avoid dealing with anything measured in ng/mg.

ASO is apparently bored with the whole business too, since they’ve announced today that, for their purposes, Boonen snorted, otherwise ingested, or rolled around in the blow enough to exclude him from this year’s Tour de France. Now all we’re left to wonder about is whether the UCI will still try to come up with some “damaging the image of cycling” charge to hang him by. I suppose they could, as he’s still caused a hell of a PR fuss, but if you can get hanged in cycling for having been in proximity to drugs, there won’t be an empty gallows or a vacant tree branch in all of Europe pretty soon. (Update: No sanction for Boonen)

So for those of you keeping score, that’s a yes, a maybe, a no, and a “we’ll see” all on a single question that doesn’t have the slightest bit to do with racing a bicycle. Flattering times for the sport, indeed.

Clowns to the Left, Jokers to the Right

If Only the Sport Were That Organized

Who runs this goddamned sport? Nobody and everybody, apparently, and recent news has been coated in the sort of scatological crossfire you’d expect from that sort of diversified management structure.

CONI, the Italian federation, banned Spaniard Alejandro Valverde for his alleged involvement in a Spanish doping affair based on a blood sample taken in Italy during last year’s Tour de France. Habsburg blood may have seen less of Europe than Valverde’s, but in fairness to those kingmakers, Valverde’s ties to the papacy do look weak in comparison. Indeed, a high-priced indulgence is about the only thing that could save Valverde’s soul from a paperwork purgatory at this point, and that little absolution doesn’t appear to be coming any time soon. The Giro may have run it’s final TT through the pope’s front yard, but even an organization that feels pretty comfortable weighing on who can sleep with who, when, and what they should wear when they do so knows better than to weigh in on cycling’s regulatory orgy.

No, Benedict’s silent on Valverde, but maybe that’s only because he hasn’t been issued his gold-plated papal Colnago yet, because everyone else who’s ever seen or pedaled a bicycle has thrown their opinions into the pot. Remarkably, the only thing people seem more concerned about than Valverde’s alleged performance enhancing activities are Tom Boonen’s recreational ones, making the cycling press seem less like sports news and more like TMZ. The immediate result of all the hubbub is that either of both riders may not be able to start the Tour de France come July. Depending on who you ask, of course.

Christian Prudhomme, Grand Poobah of the Tour de France, recently announced a near theological shift in his organization’s policies, telling the media hordes that ASO will “obey the rules” when it comes to sanctioning the various sins of Boonen and Valverde. That following the rules instead of making up your own is now worthy of a press release says a little something about how we operate here in the bush leagues of professional sport, but so be it. Anyway, ASO has decided to agree with the UCI that, as sporting entities, they might not really have the authority to sanction a rider based on an unrelated, out-of-competition legal matter, like, say, blowing some lines in the piss-soaked men’s room of some godforsaken Antwerp disco.

Things aren't that easy, of course. According to the UCI, they might still be able to nab Boonen yet, but not on sporting grounds, and they can’t find the time to make up a new rule to try him under until after the Tour. So, for now at least, Boonen looks to be in the clear, at least until someone else argues their way into having jurisdiction in the matter, and trust me, that’s not far off. Who knows, maybe this is USAC’s time to shine – I’d suggest basing jurisdictional authority on either his participation in the Tour of California, or, for some real flair, his participation in the Univest Grand Prix as an amateur.

Anyway, if I’m reading it right, as another part of this year’s great reconciliation, ASO has also agreed that until the UCI gets the evidence from CONI and makes its own ruling on Valverde, a ban in Italy doesn’t really have much of anything to do Valverde racing in France, though it seems they’ll leave it up to Valverde as to whether he thinks his form is good enough to outrun the carabinieri on his own personal cannonball run when this year’s Tour dips into Italia. The kid has the rare combination of being quick in the hills and in a sprint, but I’m not sure even the Green Bullet will take that bet.

The UCI doesn’t seem to be too anxious to gather that Italian evidence, though, and why would they be? They can leave it to CONI to keep Valverde from the Tour, despite the fact that nobody’s ever adequately explained how CONI can keep an unsuspended rider with a non-Italian license from riding a race that is not held under the auspices of CONI. Yes, the Tour will go briefly into Italy, but CONI is a sporting body, not the border patrol, and other than that brief sojourn on Italian asphalt, CONI doesn’t have a hell of a lot to do with the Tour de France. But that’s just the sort of easy out the UCI loves, so why look too closely at the legality of it?

But all that CONI stuff really only affects Valverde, and with everyone playing relatively nice between the UCI and ASO this year, someone has do the broader eye-gouging and overreaching, and this year the French government has stepped up to the task. Chapeau. Not satisfied that Prudhomme and ASO could simply decide what was best for their event within the rules of the sport, France’s Minister of Sport, Bernard Laporte, has seen fit to wade into what was, for a brief, shining moment a waning clusterfuck rather than a waxing one.

By declaring from his own little pulpit that Boonen and Valverde “are not welcome at the 2009 Tour de France,” Laporte has managed to preach exactly the opposite sermon from the UCI and ASO, deciding that, as a part of the ruling civil authority, it should slog into the affairs of a sporting event it neither owns nor regulates, based on its distaste for a legal matter in Belgium and a sporting matter in Spain (that’s been co-opted by Italy). I’m not sure what the French government generally or the Ministry of Sport specifically kicks into the Tour pot, or what their contribution would or could be besides discount prices on gendarmes, but I’m pretty damn sure they aren’t in charge of sending invitations, which is a good thing, because picking out stationary is a hell of a delicate thing, and best not left up to government bureaucrats. Either way, France as a state is known to profit considerably from the Tour, in good years and bad, so France as a state best shut its trap and let ASO do what it does best -- run an incredibly lucrative bike race. Fortunately for Boonen, and maybe Valverde, Laporte isn’t the official welcoming committee for the 2009 Tour de France. I think that’s Bernard Hinault, and he’s doing a bang-up job so far.

Even if we discount Laporte, who I might add has a name that’s a pretty good homophone for “Puerto,” if you know what I mean, things aren’t all rosy just because ASO and the UCI have decided to play by roughly the same rulebook. Lest we think that the UCI is contorting itself into some non-recognizable, even-handed caretaker of the sport, we only need to look as far as Wednesday’s news. Upping the ante in its desperate attempt to ward off derision of its biological passport program, UCI chieftan Paddy McQuaid announces that they’re ready to release the names of riders with suspicious biological passport results. McQuaid also says that the UCI will eventually open proceedings against the riders, but that even though they’re announcing the names, the riders won’t be given the customary immediate sit-down by the boys in blue. No, they’re going to leave that “up to the teams.” How magnanimous, or unbelievably cowardly, depending on how you look at it.

What, pray tell, does that magnanimity tell us about how dependable these “suspicious” findings are? It means they have all the durability of an R-Sys wheel, because this is, after all, a sport where you can be slapped with one of those provisional suspensions based on a rumor about a particularly voluminous bowel movement you may or may not have created in the team bus bathroom back in 2005. If it can’t get you suspended in cycling, even provisionally, it simply isn’t worth worrying about. And if the world governing body is going to come out and name names, and especially if they’re going to build the suspense with preliminary press releases to increase turnout at their Swiss photo op in a few days time, they damn well better have enough to evidence to take the wheels off those riders’ bikes right then and there.

And if the paper the UCI has is that good, would they leave it up to the teams to give provisional suspensions? After all, the UCI has implicitly accused many of those teams of orchestrating these ugly little affairs themselves, so why, if those teams now know the jig is up, would they sit down the very guys who should be absolutely flying right now? Nah, I say go out all guns blazing, and make the UCI spend the next two years trying desperately to finalize a single results sheet from here to the Vuelta.

Frankly, if one of my guys turned up hot, I might keep sending him out there until someone told me in no uncertain terms not to, because I’d be sick of the UCI putting me in the middle of its little spats. Last year it put the teams and riders in the middle of its tickle fight with ASO, this year it’s inserting them into their fight with the biological passport critics. Enough is enough – if you’ve got the goods, let’s see them, if not, get back to work if you want, but quit spouting off to the press. If you’re going to position yourself as the sport’s overarching enforcement arm, do the job with good evidence and confidence, and don’t try to force the teams into doing your bidding when you’re too terrified of the fallout to do it. You can have the credit and you can have the blame, but no matter how hard you try, you have to risk getting one to get the other.

Unfortunately, the message from the UCI is as transparent as it is distasteful – be a good little team, and suspend these riders like you know we want you to. Otherwise, you’ll get so much “targeted testing” from your top riders down to your soigneurs that you won’t have enough blood or piss left to fill a vial. If what we’re looking for is real, fair, and non-politicized enforcement in cycling, I’m not sure that looks like it.

Reading Reading (or Vice-Versa)

I did not see that coming.

Oscar Sevilla (Rock Racing) won the second race of Philly Week, giving his polarizing domestic team what has to be the biggest victory of its short existence. While the Reading, PA course does feature a substantial climb in the last three laps, it’s hardly one that would look to favor a guy who made his name by riding well in the high mountains of European stage races and by having the face of an eternal 13 year old. As the two previous winners, Bernhard Eisel (then T-Mobile, now High Road) and Greg Henderson (then HealthNet, now High Road) would indicate, it tends to favor strongmen who can ride the hill as a power climb and still sprint afterwards. But according to reports, the little Spaniard not only read the race and timed his move perfectly, but was also just plain stronger than everyone else. That’s a hard combination to beat.

Jason Sumner’s VeloNews report can give you all the details, as can Mark Zalewski’s on cyclingnews.com, but basically, Sevilla had a free hand to play, which he did to great effect in the final two laps. Had that failed, the team was banking on Fred Rodriguez to take out the field sprint. Simple as it was, that little tactical discussion was somehow striking. I haven’t exactly been scavenging the media for the latest Rock Racing news, but it's hard to avoid, and it seems to me that the contents of those two articles are probably the most in-depth discussion of cycling tactics and actual racing to have occurred in relation to that particular team. Amidst all the discussion about persecution, Cipollini, lawsuits, tattoos, chrome rims, and fashion, it’s easy to forget that there’s an actual group of guys out there racing. And the team knows it. Director Mariano Friedick told VN post race, “No matter what other people may think, we are just a bike racing team trying to win bike races.”

But it’s hard to deny that the team has given people plenty to talk about besides winning bike races. In fact, they’ve gone out of their way to do so. And, like it or not, this victory will continue to fan some of those flames, because it involves Sevilla. While I don’t have the time – as in, “enough time left on this Earth” – to recount the ins and outs of the whole Operation Puerto affair, suffice it to say that Sevilla was implicated, but never officially sanctioned, unless you count exclusion from the Tour of California as being sanctioned. So there will certainly be people both deep inside the sport and on the spectator level who will complain about his victory and the “message” it sends, despite the fact that he’s always held a valid UCI license.

I won’t be among them though. Why? Not because I don’t think Sevilla was involved in at least some of the illicit practices at the center of Puerto. I’m no fan of guilt by association, because if that were the norm, I probably wouldn’t be a free man today, but Sevilla’s resume is a listing of the teams of the damned: Kelme (1998-2003), Phonak (2004), and T-Mobile (2005-2006) take him up through the Puerto case, after which he rode for Relax-Gam before landing stateside with Rock Racing. But in the years since that whole mess blew up, the acronym soup that claims to govern world cycling has failed to work in concert to do anything about it, other than point fingers at various cyclists and each other. In the meantime various riders, including Sevilla, have been caught in purgatory, and for someone just trying to get on with their life, that’s a pretty stiff punishment. At least when you get sent to heaven or hell, you know what you’re in for.

So while Sevilla would have likely sat out a couple of years had various people pulled their acts together, the time for the UCI and all other Puerto concerned parties to fish or cut bait has long since passed, and at this point they're stuck firmly below deck hacking the heads off a tub of shad until the next boat comes along. Or at least they should be, but most of these parties have never been constrained by the pursuit of a proper course of action. Maybe you can blame Sevilla and all of the other Puerto riders (including Sevilla’s teammates Tyler Hamilton and Santiago Botero) for not fessing up if you think they’re guilty, and that’s fair enough, but it’s the governing bodies’ job to police this stuff, and they failed miserably. At some point, in the absence of any credible sporting or legal process, we all have to move on, and I'm trying to do my part. Which is not to say that we shouldn't look to improve the processes -- clearly, there's plenty of work to be done. But we need to do so by using the past as a lesson, not by dwelling in it and letting it siphon off resources that could be used to improve the future.

Though it’s not directly related to Puerto, which has been pretty quiet of late, there’s ample evidence of the sport’s mismanagement floating around these days anyway. If you want to dig into the depth of just how bad it is, check out VeloNews Editorial Director John Wilcockson’s interview with UCI boss Pat McQuaid. The primary subject is the UCI vs. ASO issue hovering noisily over the upcoming Tour de France, but it’s pretty indicative of the state of the sport as a whole. It’s also pretty dense stuff, and frankly, it made my head hurt. But despite the pain, it reveals some disturbing issues, like the fact that the McQuaid interprets (at his convenience) requests made by a confounding number of (sometimes redundant, sometimes conflicting) teams associations to the UCI as steadfast rules to be applied to races, and that the UCI is both the enforcer of and at the mercy of those same rules. My headache comes back just thinking about it.

Though this particular interview only gives a peep into the UCI’s absurd mental gymnastics, the ASO really isn’t contributing any better logic on their side. In fact, it would be sweet relief if there were anybody involved in the whole UCI vs. Grand Tours flap who was more-or-less right. But there isn’t, and the fact that they’re all making a mess of things in their own unique way is just plain frustrating – there’s really no interest in creating a unified, cohesive structure for the sport, only in forwarding the individual goals of a slew of organizations. I don’t claim to have the answers to all of the overlapping jurisdictions and responsibilities and ambitions that are hog-tying the sport, but then again, it isn’t my full-time well-compensated job to think about such things. It’s my part-time, poorly compensated job to bitch about them sometimes, though, so there you go.

Time and Money

Is the UCI declaring war on on-the-fly derailleur adjustments? Or should I say on-the-fly “derailleur adjustments”? Probably neither, really, but they do seem to be getting a bit slap-happy with the fines, time penalties, and relegations for riders hanging around the support cars a bit too long. Penalties doled out during races have a whiff of discipline to them, but usually amount to little more than a slap on the wrist and little, if any, consequence on the race results. In the past, officials were happy to let all but the most blatant infractions slide and rarely did a rider in contention for a win receive a significant penalty.

But over the past year or so, all of that seems to be changing. The commissaires fired the first notable shot back in July 2007. On the descent of the Cormet de Roseland during Stage 8 of the Tour de France, Levi Leipheimer (then Discovery, now Astana) dropped his chain, jamming his rear derailleur. He coasted to the bottom of the descent, where he changed bikes. In getting back up to speed, Leipheimer took a pretty standard bottle sling from his support car, then returned to dawdle alongside while the mechanic tinkered with his rear derailleur from the window. The sling and the mechanical assistance cost Leipheimer 50 Swiss francs (the official currency of the UCI) apiece. But more importantly, the bottle sling cost him 10 seconds on GC . It didn’t cost him a Tour GC win, but it did cost him a bit of elevation gain on the final podium – his gap to second-placed Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto) totaled just 8 seconds.

The penalty gremlin reared its ugly head again this season at the Tour of California, and this time it did cost a rider a win. On Stage 6 of this year’s Tour of California, High Road sprinter Mark Cavendish tangled with Mario Cipollini’s Rock Racing lead out formation in the waning kilometers, bringing himself down along with Cipollini and teammates Fred Rodriguez and Doug Ollerenshaw.

Cavendish grabbed a spare bike, which he claimed was tuned for a 12 cog on the high end, rather than the 11 he needed, and which was presumably mounted on the bike. The High Road mechanics performed an on-the-fly adjustment as the car headed back towards the tail end of the peloton, which was ramping up for the finish. That repair seemed successful, as Cavendish regained the field and sprinted to victory ahead of Luciano Pagliarini (Saunier Duval). Moments after the finish, however, word came down that the officials didn’t like the progress Cavendish made while hanging onto the car. The damage? 50 Swiss francs, 20 seconds of meaningless-to-Cavendish GC time, and most importantly, relegation on the stage. The latter cost the young Brit the win, and Pagliarini mounted the podium. Cipollini was relegated for getting too much of a boost from the cars as well, but his relegation wasn't nearly so costly.

If Cavendish was using mechanical assistance as a cover to regain the front group with a little fossil-fuel assistance, as the UCI seems to believe, it’s a pretty risky strategy. Those adjustments, with a mechanic hanging ¾ of the way out the window of a moving vehicle, trying to line up the tip of a #2 Phillips head screwdriver with the tiny screw on the back of the derailleur, while the DS does his best to warn of bad pavement and upcoming turns, make for great television. Speeding along at 50 kph, everyone, including the mechanic and the rider, I’d imagine, is waiting for what seems like the inevitable tangle, resulting in either a crash for the rider, a few missing digits for the mechanic, or both. I’ve been in a team car while one of those adjustments is going on, and it’s stressful for all involved – the driver, the rider, the mechanic, and any seemingly disinterested party who may also happen to be in the car at the time.

That leads me to believe that feigning that process in order to drag a rider back to the bunch doesn’t seem to be likely tactic in most situations, especially at a race like the Tour of California and so early in the season. From a risk management standpoint, it just doesn’t make sense. Drafting centimeters off of the bumper is downright tame by comparison.

The crackdown on caravan loitering continued at Paris-Nice on Wednesday, when Karsten Kroon (CSC) was docked 50 Swiss francs and 20 seconds for snuggling up to the caravan after being dropped from the front group. Had he not received the penalty, he would have been sitting a mere 2 seconds behind new GC leader Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis). Many would have been upset by the fall from second overall to ninth as a result of the infraction, but Kroon kept things in perspective. With the heavy climbing stage to Mont Ventoux looming the following day, the classics specialist knew that his presumptive 2 second margin to the lead would only grow, so what’s 20 more seconds?

The Leipheimer, Cavendish, and Kroon situations show that the UCI is willing to levy the penalties for what it believes to be unsavory behavior, even if it affects the outcome of the races. That’s probably the most even-handed application of the rules we’ve seen from that organization in awhile, but it could also make crashes and mechanicals a bigger factor in results as the season goes on. After all, what’s the point of having a race caravan if you can’t hop from bumper to bumper until you’re sitting on Com 1?