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.

Lawyer Lips Sink Ships

I apparently missed a rash of front wheels falling from the forks of the pro peloton lately. I don’t really understand how. I read the news, and though I admit being a little dismissive of the tech-related yammering, I'd surely have noticed the individual and collective rider whining over this apparent epidemic. It wouldn’t be the first problem I’ve been ignorant of, though, and apparently unscheduled front wheel departures are such an issue that the
UCI has handed down a new edict from on high requiring that professional riders’ forks retain their consumer-protection-agency-mandated safety tabs. Or lawyer tabs, or lawyer lips, as they’re known to shop rats on this side of the Atlantic. Improved safety is the reason given by the UCI. Not surprisingly for anyone who follows the UCI, the net safety effect will actually be the opposite.

During the overcast European winters, lawyer lips on new team forks have long fallen victim to file and rasp in service courses from Lombardy to Limburg, Girona to Geraardsbergen. Why wouldn’t they? Not only are professional cyclists exceptionally unlikely to sue a bike manufacturer should their wheel escape the comfort of its dropouts, the insidious bumps make a smooth front wheel change much more difficult.

Today, as for about the previous 60 years or so, when a mechanic hurdles from team car to tarmac, the wheels in his hand are already gapped – adjusted for the width of the dropouts on the team bikes. Ideally, the rider has already leaned out over the fork and flipped the front wheel off while still clipped in – right hand on the bars to hold the front end up, left hand on the quick release lever. Simple. Fast. When the mechanic arrives, there’s little to no twiddling with the quick release to set tension during the change. Bang it in, flip the lever, and start pushing. It’s a little luxury most amateurs, who don’t share standardized equipment with teammates and who suffer the indignities of slow, indiscriminate, wheels-in/wheels-out support, will never know. But the pros are different from you and me.

With lawyer tabs, the wheel change process becomes slightly but significantly more complex. Riders won’t be able to get the wheel off as easily -- they’ll need two hands on the quick release and an awkward posture over the bars to do so, and it’s less likely the wheel will already be off when the mechanic arrives. Slower. More importantly, once the lawyer tab rule goes into effect, mechanics will have to gap front wheels to clear the tabs and the quick release will need to be adjusted for tension on the bike during the change. Slower. By both design and pure repetition, I’m guessing mechanics will quickly memorize the number of turns it takes to get the quick release from tab-clearing width to proper tension. But regardless of the speed issue, the UCI is asking for one more step and increased adjustment on a vital component in a potentially high-stress situation. Wheel changes might be relatively relaxed in the first meandering 100k of a classic, but they’re less so 4k before the Carrefour de l’Arbre, regardless of the experience of all involved.

If you think gapping wheels is just a small touch to yield a second or two’s savings, you’re right. If you think it’s not important, though, you haven’t had to listen to the clacking as a mechanic fiddles with gapping tools in the back seat, checking and rechecking, for hours on end. Having everything set ahead of time saves time, but it also helps prevent accidents in the heat of the moment. I suppose you could argue that in the event of improper installation, the rider will have the lawyer tabs to save them, but if you think a couple little carbon nubs are going to retain a loose wheel as a rider bunnyhops his way through a Flemish traffic circle, I have some disturbing news for you.

Beyond the immediate safety concerns, slower, more finicky wheel changes as a result of lawyer lips could have ripple effects on peloton safety. Slower changes mean longer, more frantic chases back through the race caravan, which is not the safest place in the best of times. Further, in crucial situations, riders and teams might be more likely to opt for a bike change, which takes a bit longer to get the rider away, but ensures a ready-to-go machine. But bike changes can take their toll on the back end – it takes longer to put the discarded bike back on the roof than it does to toss a flat wheel in the back of a station wagon. Not much more time, but some. That means cars returning to position a from service call will be working their way back into position from farther behind – more passing, more hurry, more danger. All in response to that most notorious of battle cries: It’s for your own safety.

Do I think amateurs should go out and file the tabs off their forks? No, though that’s more because most amateurs shouldn’t be within 5 feet of a carbon dropout, much less with cutting tools in hand, than because the tabs are really likely to save them from themselves. But for pros? It’s a ridiculous notion. The sum total of safety considerations – in the context of pro racing – indicates that removing the tabs is safer than leaving them in place.

If you’ve ever seen the TV program Ice Road Truckers, there’s a good parallel to cycling’s lawyer tab issue. When the trucks leave the land road and enter the seasonal road across the floating icepack, the drivers remove their seatbelts. For almost every other automotive application, it’s commonly accepted that wearing a seatbelt is safer than not. But when you’re likely to slide off the road, break through a sheet of ice, and plunge into arctic waters, it’s better to be able to get out of the truck as fast as humanly possible. For most cycling situations, from childhood cycling to recreational cycling to amateur racing, lawyer tabs might have some safety advantage. But for professional cycling, the situation is different. Recreational and amateur racing cyclists, for the most part, don’t deal with high-speed wheel changes, caravans, and a livelihood based on getting back to the front as quickly as possible. They also don’t have the support of the best bike mechanics in the world. To subject a professional racing the world’s biggest events to the same equipment standards as a five-year-old is absurd.

Does this post overstate the safety implications of the lawyer tab rule? Probably so. As always, pro cycling teams will adapt to whatever oddities their governing body throws at them. But the lawyer tab issue highlights an increasing UCI tendency to make decisions without regard to the various contexts of pro cycling. And that's ultimately more dangerous to the sport.


So why is the UCI doing it? They’ll cry safety, and note that the tab removal ban is consistent with their prior edict that equipment used in pro cycling should not be modified from its factory condition. Again, for safety’s sake. All of that, of course, ties into the UCI’s much ballyhooed certification program for bikes and wheels, widely recognized more as a shakedown of the industry than a genuine effort to protect riders. Where’s it all going? If I don my long-neglected tinfoil hat for a moment, I can imagine the UCI trying to gradually force pro racing toward a “showroom stock” model, where any and all equipment used would have to be consumer available, all while setting itself up as the authority on what’s in and what’s out. The more they can push things that direction, the stronger the shakedown of the industry becomes. No UCI sticker on your pedal spindle, on your jersey collar, on your tires, no pro race exposure. Want a competitive advantage in the marketplace? Maybe your product is approved, but your competitor’s isn’t, for a price. But, as an increasingly money-grubbing UCI should see, if they did that they’d be effectively lessening the value of pro team sponsorship for bike and equipment companies by removing the R&D component, as well as the marketing glory of “spy shots” and teasing new, soon-to-be-released equipment in the pro ranks. Pure hands-in-the-air shots still have value for endemic sponsors, but it ain’t what it used to be with the rise of the internet. Sure, the UCI and the sport could hope that non-endemic sponsors would step in and fill any financing gap, but how’s that sponsor hunt been going lately?



  • A friend pointed out that among other hilarious supporting arguments, the UCI has noted that filing the tabs off forks voids the manufacturer’s warranty. I immediately had visions of Abdujaparov stumbling into Battaglin’s offices, wad of bent steel in hand, and opening with “I was just riding along…”

  • So, what’s a gapping tool, and if it's a real thing, why isn't it in the Park Tool catalog? Gapping tools are basically the dropouts, front and rear, from whatever bike a pro team is currently using. They’re either provided by the manufacturer/sponsor or cut from a damaged bike, and they ensure that mechanics know exactly how wide a quick release has to be set for the equipment they’re using. Close observers of pro cycling know that replacement wheels don’t typically come straight off the roof of the car. A wheelset is always in the back seat with the mechanic, where he or she uses gapping tools – usually stuck on a keychain – to correctly space the quick releases for the team’s frames. That way, little additional tensioning is needed during a change. Roof racks on the cars, storage racks in team trucks and at the service course, and simple vibration can constantly change the settings while wheels are off the bikes, so wheels to be used for race service have to be checked regularly.

  • The VeloNews article linked above also notes that the UCI plans to limit sock height to half the distance between the ankle and knee. Predictably, outrage erupted, fueled by cycling fandom’s usual inability to recognize that the vast majority of us are not pros, and therefore are unaffected by the UCI’s various stone tablet carvings. So settle down, Gianni, you can keep wearing your goofy socks.

  • The same UCI proclamation will ban shoe covers in track cycling as of October 1. Ha, ha, trackies, now you have to actually wear whatever crappy shoes your national federation signed you up for. Just kidding. Sort of. Actually, I’m wondering if that rule will see a return of the top-of-the-shoe flaps that used to cover shoelaces, this time with an aerodynamic bent.

Notes from the Rocking Chair

This week’s popular diversion for those who consider themselves crusty old cycling fans is to loudly pooh-pooh the broader cycling community’s feelings of shock or outrage at the whole Vinokourov-Kolobnev race-fixing allegation. I get that. I have those tendencies, too.

To seasoned ears, newer followers of the sport – those who haven’t read all the same books, heard all the same stories, or talked to all the same people by all the same roadsides over the years – can sound like howling, reactionary banshees when confronted with cycling news that feels like a gentle, nostalgic trip down memory lane to folks who have been around awhile. Then all of that howling and self-righteous moral indignation gets amplified by Twitter, blogs, Facebook, and message boards until it’s finally so loud that we can’t just turn down our hearing aids anymore, and we have to go out there and give those whippersnappers a crack across the bridge of the nose with our canes. It’s good to get out – makes us feel young again.

So what a relief when, just when knocking the kids about with the long and romantic history of doping was starting to wear thin, the Eastern Bloc suicide brigade handed us fresher fodder. Thanks to Vino and Kolobnev, we get to club them young’uns with how Freddy Maertens and Tom Simpson bought and sold races. How it’s all there in Joe Parkin’s book. How sometimes, even the immortals had to reach into their pockets. How can they be surprised? How can they be outraged? Study up, boys, it’s all part of the sport’s rich tradition.

The whole thing is a crotchety bastard’s dream.

But while I believe that modern cycling fandom’s knee-jerk moral outrage and occasionally loose grasp of history should be stamped down even more often and more vehemently than it is, I also think the old guard should avoid dismissing Kolobnev’s alleged sale of the 2010 Liege-Bastogne-Liege to Vinokourov just for the sake of pounding our chests and reciting some stale history. Two simple reasons:

First. This isn’t some ditchwater kermesse in West Flanders we’re talking about here, or even a Tour de France stage win which, despite their prestige, are relatively plentiful things. No, Liege is one of the five monuments of the sport, La Doyenne, the oldest classic, one of the hardest and most beautiful. And though the best Liege will never unseat even the dullest, most mundane Paris-Roubaix in various website and magazine year-end readers’ polls, it’s one of the highest value targets in the sport. Winning it can’t make you a legend on its own – every race has flukes on its roll of honor – but if you’re a legend in the making, it can certainly help you well along. It's valuable, and its damn near as close to sacred as the sport has.

Ah, yes, grandpa, I can hear your spleen rumbling now. “Big races have been bought and sold in the past.” True. Which is why I’m equipped with a second reason.

Second. It’s just not 1972 anymore. Or 1982. Or 1992. Or 2002.

Information travels more quickly and easily now than ever before. Obviously, when it gets out that a rider buys a race in 2010, word travels far and fast, and the hard reality of email chains and electronic bank transfers have replaced the usefully ethereal properties of verbal agreements and cash. In an era of information access and traceability, bought races can’t be as easily dismissed as rumor as they were in the past, the rumors have more power, and what would have been a saucy little paragraph in a post-career bio even ten years ago is now far less likely to make it to the point of being a quaint book tour “revelation.” Transgressions discovered today don’t have the warm glow of history attached.

None of which might have mattered, except for the fact that there is far, far more money in cycling today than ever before. But still not quite enough, according to many. So if the sport and its fans want all the benefits and progress that come with secure, high-dollar, long-term sponsorships, they’re going to have to be able to assure sponsors that victories and their value aren’t being sold out from under them to fill riders’ pockets. For active sponsors, riders selling race victories is tantamount to stealing from the cash register. And for potential sponsors, race fixing is a tell-tale sign of a corrupt sport. That warning is rendered even more ominous not by fans’ cries of shock and outrage, but by a nostalgic chorus of “it’s always been that way!” If the dope hasn’t scared them off, a tolerant or perceived tolerant attitude towards race fixing should.

Its fun to be blasé. To pointlessly and self-satisfyingly revel in long experience, and to casually point out that hey, we’ve been here before, and life’s gone on. Because it has. But we’ve been blasé about other things in cycling, too, and where has it gotten us? We have the number one team in the world folding for lack of sponsors, team “mergers” that are little more than liferafts for select riders, and undeniably poor governance. Look, I hate the shrill cries of youth and inexperience as much as the next jerk, but maybe its time to start letting the howling go on a bit longer.


  • I just hope that, when this Liege fuss dies down and the 2012 season gets underway, some kind professional will do lifers the favor of riding with a raw steak in his pants to find relief from a saddle sore. Then we can all rant about how that just didn’t used to be that unusual, so we don’t know what all the fuss is about. Also, if it’s hot, you should put a cabbage leaf on your head.

  • I’m fairly surprised at how un-scrutinized by the howling masses Vinokourov’s first Liege victory has remained this week. But I also know why.

    In 2005, Vino (then T-Mobile) picked up his first Liege by beating Jens Voigt (then CSC) to the line after a two-up break. Familiar? But, power of the internet fetishes being what they are, these days in cycling YOU DO NOT QUESTION ANY ASPECT OF JENS VOIGT. Of course, there’s no reason to think Voigt engaged in anything untoward, beyond the spot Vinokourov finds himself in now, the somewhat parallel race situations, and the fact that until that Liege, T-Mobile had failed to score a single victory in 2005 and was getting desperate. You know. Just sayin’. Uhhhhmmm...Jens rules!

  • Anyone have what the odds were for Vino and Kolobnev, respectively, at the 2010 Liege? Wondering whose fingers the bookies will be after. According to his emails, Kolobnev's testicles are already spoken for.

  • No, I haven't addressed the alleged crime of the journalist hacking into Vino's email, which is reprehensible. But I've seen so many cycling insiders reflexively jump on that angle rather than addressing the sporting issue that it feels too much like the old forces at work. The email hacking is a crime, yes, it's a horrible violation of privacy, yes, it should be investigated, yes. But it does not make race selling/buying any less damaging, so musing on about which is "worse" doesn't really do any good.

  • It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? I'm rusty, so bear with me. Trying to decide what to do with this blog thing. Shoot me ideas if you have them.


Today, the Belgian federation strongly expressed its opinion that race number 108, which Wouter Weylandt wore at the time of his death in the 2011 Giro d’ Italia, should not be taken out of circulation in tribute as some have suggested. Thank goodness someone spoke up, and thank goodness it’s the KBWB that’s putting a foot down. Since Weylandt was one of its own, its voice should carry some weight in stopping a well-meaning but misguided movement.

Giro d'Italia organizer RCS has already elected to retire the number from its race. That’s their choice, and a fitting gesture, I suppose. And for a single race, it works. But as far as the effort to have the number removed any more broadly from bike racing? I’m with the Belgians. It just doesn’t make sense – from a sporting perspective or from a tribute perspective – and it’s best to quash this would-be custom before it spreads.

Theoretically, and probably in practice, the retirement of 108 works just fine. In professional cycling races, teams are typically given numbers in blocks of 10, but actual team size is usually no more than nine riders. So with the elimination of number 108, the 11th team on the roster, which would use the block of numbers beginning with 101, could just use the previously unused 109 for most races, or the seldom-seen 110 for grand tours, in which teams field a ninth man. (The world championship, where some countries have more than 10 riders obviously screws up the norms, but it always has, 108 or no 108.)

But where number retirement in cycling really falls down is in the sustainability of the custom. We all hope, of course, that no more riders will ever lose their lives in cycling competition. Unfortunately, it will happen. When it does, what happens if that rider is wearing number 102? Take 102 and 108 out of the mix and, all of a sudden, you don't have enough usable numbers in that block to field a full team in a grand tour. I suppose you could eliminate the whole block and add another on the end (i.e., remove 101-110 and add 221-230), but a cluttered graveyard of gaps and adjustments just creates more problems. And what happens when a rider wearing the traditional ending-in-1 number of a team leader perishes? Do you retire those prized designations, or only those of the rank-and-file? Not to mention that the idea of every start sheet forever more being pock-marked by missing numbers is just plain morbid. There are reasons that, in most cultures, we don’t bury our dead outside our front doorsteps.

The question of what to do when that next loss comes also raises the ugly issue of deciding who is deemed worthy of such remembrance. Weylandt was young, talented, popular, and riding at the top level of the sport. The urge to find a way to remember him comes quickly, easily, and organically. But what happens when a less-loved rider perishes in competition? What happens if the next is Ricardo Ricco, or any of the riders currently regarded as the black hats of professional cycling? Ricco’s not the likable figure that Weylandt was, from all accounts of both, really, but he’s still a man and a father, and still a cyclist, no? If the sport chooses to honor the dead simply by virtue of their being fellow cyclists, it has to give equal remembrance to its perceived villains and heroes. A professional license is the standard for entry, not a righteous or well-received life. And if cycling tries, through efforts such as number retirement, to remember its fallen according to the quality of the life they've led, then I think that’s terribly misguided, and a judgment the sport has no place making.

The issue of who warrants formal remembrance in the sport has myriad thorny offshoots. What happens when it’s a continental pro racing in a low-ranked event in Asia that dies in competition? Will his number be retired from the Tour de France, or from a kermesse in Belgium? Probably not, but again, he’s still a pro cyclist, no? Should we really choose to remember the dead based on watts-at-threshold, palmares, or the UCI ranking of the races death visits? Of course, the world at large does remember the dead differently based on all manner of similar metrics – there are reasons that, 100 years from now, long-dead George Clooney will be far better remembered than long-dead me. But within cycling, and particularly in dealing with death, the sport – by which I mean organizers, events, governing bodies, and the like – shouldn’t choose favorites among its children.

All of the above arguments shouldn’t even be relevant, though, because they assume that a race number could be a good way to remember a cyclist. And that isn’t so. In the context of the ongoing Giro d’ Italia back in May, referencing 108 was a fitting and useful way to speak of Weylandt, to paint on banners and signs and roadways, to mark tweets and to raise money for his growing family. But beyond the context of a given race, race numbers are a transient, disposable identification. If they weren’t, cycling would have no use for safety pins. Weylandt wasn’t number 108 like Dale Earnhardt was number 3 or Pat Tillman was number 40. Weylandt was number 108 at the Giro simply because his last name started with a W, not a C. In the race before the Giro he was a different number, and in the race after it he more than likely would have been another number still, and he probably wouldn't have given any of it a second thought, unless perhaps the number was 13. To tie his memory to something as fleeting as his race number on the day of his death not only creates an administrative and precedential mess, it shortchanges the memory itself.

I say all of this not because I don’t think Weylandt should be remembered. He should, just like Fabio Casartelli and Andrei Kivilev and Thomas Casarotto and all the others before him deserve to be remembered, both as cyclists and as people. But altering a rote, administrative aspect of the sport just isn’t the way to remember any rider. I have every confidence that Weylandt's memory will be honored in far better ways by fans, and certainly by those who knew him best, whether those ways are public or not. And if we stamp out the number retirement concept now, we’ll avoid that terribly uncomfortable moment when the decision is made, in months or years and for a variety of reasons, to put it back on the start list again.


  • Yes, it’s a little late for any post on this topic, but the Belgian federation’s statement made it a bit timely again, at least. And hey, it’s my site; I can blow the deadlines if I want to.

  • This post should in no way be seen as an indictment of the work done by the guys at Stomach of Anger. Their quick thinking, quick acting design and sale of the 108 t-shirt in the wake of Weylandt’s death raised $37,000 for his girlfriend and unborn child. It was a wonderful, generous, and brilliant effort, and they deserve another pat on the back for it, however late. Go buy a shirt from them.

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.

Raising Awareness

Since it hit the internet on Friday afternoon, I’ve seen a variety of reactions to Bill Strickland’s Bicycling piece about Lance Armstrong and dope. Many of them, I think it’s fair to say, have been negative. That was expected given the subject at hand, Strickland’s longtime support of Armstrong, and his connections to Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel via authorship of several books. And as expected, among dedicated cycling fans, the criticism has come from both sides of the polarizing Armstrong debate. It follows familiar patterns: For those who believe Armstrong doped, the acknowledgement will never be early enough and the condemnation will never be strong enough. For those who believe in Armstrong’s innocence, there will never be enough proof. C’est la guerre.

But regardless of where you stand, or if you stand at all, I think there are a few things worth noting about the piece that many die-hard cycling fans aren’t taking into account when skewering Strickland, the piece, or both. Many of these thoughts could be summed up as “people are looking too hard at the words, and not enough at the context.” But if you want the wordier version, read on…
    It’s not about you
    It’s highly unlikely anyone who reads this website (and its colleagues, associates, and superiors), niche cycling magazines, and bad translations of L’Equipe is going to be shocked by the piece's content regarding Armstrong. But the article doesn't appear in any of those places. It appears in Bicycling magazine and on that publication’s website. By virtue of its location, the article is not for you, but for a larger, broader, more mainstream audience. For people for whom Bicycling is a main source of professional cycling information (and they are out there, I assure you), this is, if not shocking, an extremely notable change in acknowledgement of “the Armstrong issue.” It is in a sense an epitaph for the “bigger engine, fast spin, and stage reconnaissance” school of explaining Armstrong’s dominance to the masses. And the farewell is writ large on the pages of its most loyal practitioner.
      It’s not just about Strickland
      The article is largely Strickland's reflection on his personal grapples with the “did he or didn’t he” question. But the reason the piece is important isn’t because Bill Strickland’s assessment has changed – it’s important because its publication reflects a much bigger change.

      Again, the location of the article is important. It's printed in a magazine that has featured ample and presumably profitable content about Armstrong and from his associates (e.g., Chris Carmichael, Johan Bruyneel) over the years, and that draws ad revenue from heavily Armstrong-affiliated companies like CTS, Trek, and SRAM. Bicycling has helped build the Armstrong legend, and, in turn, has profited from it. And make no mistake, that legend still has value left in it. So even when you’re the editor-at-large, the choice to burn those sorts of bridges isn’t all your own. No, people farther up the chain have to be willing to strike their matches, too, and the people holding the dry tinder would know the stakes of this particular bonfire. Bicycling, after all, is not an independent magazine – it’s one title in the much larger fitness-oriented Rodale media empire. Think Men’s Health will get Armstrong to do a shoot for “Ten Great Tips on Staying Fit in Middle Age” now? Think Runners World will get an exclusive quote when triathlete Armstrong turns up at a charity 10k? Think Livestrong is going to return Prevention’s phone calls for its next testicular cancer story? Anyone who’s seen the Armstrong playbook in action knows none of those are likely.

      Yes, any good media organization keeps a firewall between the editorial and advertising departments, and I don't claim to know how Bicycling is structured or who gets a say in what’s printed. But on some level, everyone knows which side their bread is buttered on. Bicycling’s – and by extension, Rodale’s – implicit decision to give up access to one of the biggest names in fitness (and potentially the ad dollars of his loyal corporate partners) – is extremely telling. Just as Bicycling contributed to the making of the Armstrong brand in mainstream America, Bicycling’s shift on Armstrong will contribute to its downfall in mainstream America. I suspect it was not a decision taken ignorantly or lightly.

      You might know, and I might know, but Strickland has to KNOW
      Many have criticized Strickland for only now accepting what cycling’s many Twitter users and bloggers have “known” for a long time. I understand where that feeling comes from, but I believe that what we’re seeing here is someone who, whether from personal belief or professional requirement or both, holds “knowing” to a higher standard, at least when it comes to speaking bluntly and publicly as he does in his piece. And he should, because the backlash he’ll experience from it will be of a higher standard, too.

      Look, the Service Course could shout that Armstrong doped from every rooftop and social media outlet available, even though I don’t know a damn thing more about it than most of you do. On a good traffic day, or if the right person linked to it, I might get some angry emails and comments from Armstrong fans, or maybe a missive or pat on the back from someone inside the sport. And the next day, whether I was right or wrong about it, I’d go back to my real job, where my position, my company, my clients, and my coworkers would be entirely unaffected by my opinion about whether some retired lycra freak had a bit of a needle fetish.

      Strickland, on the other hand, has skin in the game. He has a boss he has to answer to if he’s wrong on doping in cycling, and especially if he’s wrong about Armstrong and doping in cycling. He has a job in the cycling industry that still requires him to still be able to talk to people in that industry to earn a paycheck. He not only has his real name on his work, and an easily identified paying agent, but also likely has his work, home, and cell numbers in Rolodexes that you and I don’t on both sides of the Atlantic.

      I’d venture to say that there’s a lot of internet bravado from the peanut gallery that would ultimately wither under the possibility of a call from Armstrong, or Bruyneel, or, more likely, from their attorneys or numerous other formal or informal cohorts, agents, and hangers-on. Or under the kill-the-messenger onslaught that invariably follows defiance of the inner circle. But the peanut gallery, even its upper echelons, the elite zonder contract of the social media world, never really faces that. Strickland will, and at close range, I'd wager. So if he thinks about it a good deal longer and requires a higher standard of evidence than the rest of us before he sets his opinions in print, I’m not going to begrudge him that. And ultimately, regardless of the substantial downsides, he chose to do it anyway. That takes conviction, and courage. Could he have done it earlier, or been a less fervent Armstrong supporter given his knowledge and position? Absolutely. But life isn’t always as simple as it looks.

      [Note: I’m not saying, in the least, that fans shouldn’t weigh in on these issues just because they’re not or never have been professional cycling journalists. Longtime readers know that’s not my way of thinking.]

      Late is still early
      Finally, let’s circle back to that oft-heard criticism of Strickland as being late to the “Armstrong Doped” party. Now, I’m not sure, and I admit to not doing my good Google diligence on the matter. But I’m thinking that Strickland may in fact be the early arrival at this particular soiree. Yes, countless members of the citizen media have long since gone on record as believing in their heart of hearts that Armstrong doped. David Walsh and Paul Kimmage, both respected, decorated members of the mainstream press have as well. But among journalists who draw a living from cycling publications, you’d be hard pressed to find an earlier statement on par with Strickland’s. From his contemporaries, there have been indicators of a souring on Armstrong, of rising skepticism: hints dropped on Twitter, markedly less laudatory articles, less favorable recountings of the accusations, and more unequivocal assessments offered in private conversations. But the sort of definitive, “I’ve seen the inside, and I think he did it” that Strickland laid out there – from a senior editor, in print, in a cycling magazine? That is a brave new world.

      E3 K.O.?

      Sporza is reporting this morning that the organizers of the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen believe that tomorrow's edition of the race is likely to be its last. If true, the impending death of the E3 it is the predictable outcome of moving Gent-Wevelgem from the Wednesday between the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix to E3's traditional weekend before Flanders. It took all of two years.

      The sad irony, of course, is that Gent is doing to E3 what Roubaix was effectively doing to Gent in the years leading up to the date change. Namely, key riders, if not whole teams, are opting to sit out the lesser ranked race to keep their powder dry for the higher caliber event to follow.

      It's understandable. As various iterations of the ProTour concept came in, placing more importance than ever on the top-tier races, more and more riders were giving Gent a miss to rest up (and stay injury free) for Roubaix. So Gent moved to the weekend, and promptly became the event rider rested up for, rather than skipped to rest up for something else. After a feeling-out year in 2010, this year the arrangement has effectively sucked the life out of the lesser-ranked E3's field quality. The evidence? Tom Boonen, a four-time E3 winner, is sitting it out this year in a desperate attempt to gain World Tour points for his faltering QuickStep squad. Filippo Pozzato is doing the same thing for Katusha. But at least QuickStep and Katusha will have teams there. Not so for BMC, HTC, and Sky, three teams that have factored heavily in classics racing this year. All of them are giving E3 a miss to focus on Gent.

      The potential loss of E3 and smaller races like it would obviously be a great loss to racing. Not just for the many reasons that lower-tier events are important (fan access, fostering new talent, rider preparation, etc.), but also because they provide some of the best classics racing. Unlike races in the UCI's various super-league schemes with their guaranteed (and, in some cases, forced) participation rules, races like E3 only feature teams that lust for the classics. There are no grand tour-centric squads phoning it in, no herds of short-straw Basques climbing off in the first feed zone. You get a combination of hard-hitting top-tier classics teams, and, maybe more importantly, hungry second-tier squads like Landboukrediet, Topsport-Vlaanderen, and Veranda-Willems. For those teams, races like the E3 are the big races, and it shows in their aggression. But the races still need some big stars on hand to attract the sponsor dollars.

      So can the E3 be saved? Possibly. First, it's worth pointing out that the organizer might be doing a bit of hand-wringing over the loss of Boonen. Yesterday's version of the E3 start list still boasted, among others, Cancellara, Hushovd, Haussler, Devolder, Nuyens, Hoste, and Langeveld. But let's assume the situation is as grave as organizer Bart Ottevaere asserts. For E3, taking Gent's former Wednesday slot is not an option. As Ottevaere rightly pointed out to Het Laatste Nieuws, E3 is not a course for a Wednesday. Unlike Gent-Wevelgem, it cuts eastward from the Flemish Ardennes, tickling the weekday arteries of the Brussels metro area. Sure, the Flemish everyman likes his bike racing, but Brussels is full of diplomats, foreign and domestic, who are likely to be far less impressed when their shiny black Benz is landlocked by the lycra set on the way to the meeting du jour.

      The more workable solution would be to flip the two races on the pre-Ronde weekend, moving Gent-Wevelgem to Saturday and E3 to Sunday. The move would effectively set up a situation analogous to the Het Nieuwsblad:Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne relationship. Putting the higher ranked race first lets the big guns go into the weekend's big prize rested and ready, then ride Sunday's lower tier event with more or less intensity as they see fit. Then, they still have the same six recovery days before the Ronde, just as they will after Gent this year. Yes, E3 will invariably continue to get a lower quality field than Gent, even with the change. That's the nature of being a lower-tier event, but the swap would significantly lessen the impact of sharing a weekend with a seemingly resurgent Gent-Wevelgem. Only problem is, according to its director, Gent-Wevelgem likes the ritzy feel of Sunday, and isn't going to give it up without a fight. How quickly they forget, no?


      The Service Course has had a difficult time summoning much enthusiasm for professional cycling lately, an affliction I gather is not uncommon these days. After all, the sport is beset by maladies at every level, from frame stickers to radios to doping to poor governance to outright corruption.

      Distasteful as the whole mess seems at times, that's not the reason I've skipped more than two months here. Anyone who thinks I can't find material in the pettiness and stupidity of this fine sport need only check the archives. No, the lull, I assure you, has more to do with real work and other commitments, including a brutal and ongoing springtime war with my back yard.

      None of that is over by a longshot -- not pro cycling's tiresome ailments nor the necessity of paying work nor the seasonal encroachment of my neighbor's bamboo crop. But I did just watch the finale of Dwars Door Vlaanderen, and for the first time in months, I felt the pangs.

      For the damp dirt smell that tells you're finally west of Brussels.

      For the synchronized beat of car tires on stones and rotors on air.

      For the batshit crazy old woman who runs the Charles Inn outside of Gent.

      For kids in Lotto hats with autograph books four inches thick and old men in anoraks with cigars.

      For the spot on the Molenberg where Nardello buried himself for Bartoli's Het Volk win.

      For the cigarette smoke haze of the Kuurne sporthalle at sign-in.

      For the backslaps and guttural exhortations of the Flemish pressroom.

      For the bar at the top of the Kemmelberg and the restaurant halfway up the Oude Kwaremont.

      For buckets of Leffe at midnight on the Bruges square after the Ronde.

      For the cough-inducing ammonia-and-piss olfactory punch of the Wevelgem press room lavatory and the unguarded phone lines in the back room.

      For the amateur crit in Compiegne the evening before Roubaix.

      For the cobblestones and tractors and five-car freight trains crisscrossing the Department du Nord.

      For the right turn into the velodrome.

      For the faux Swiss alpine villages of Wallonia.

      For the howling claustrophobia of the Mur de Huy and the Cauberg.

      For high-ceiling opulence and shiny faces at the Palace Liege and trash and filthy legs in a parking lot in Ans.

      For the dead, empty quiet when it's all packed and gone by sunset.

      And none of that has goddamn thing to do with Pat McQuaid or Johan Bruyneel or TV rights or bodily fluids or an alphabet soup of warring tribes in blue collared shirts. It's just bike racing as I've known it, and as it continues to be when you get past the pencil-pushers and get down to it. And it's beautiful.

      No Check, Mate

      In the wake of Matt White’s sudden dismissal as Garmin-Cervelo’s director sportif, there’s been a lot of debate surrounding the “real reason” for the firing. Was it, as team chief Jonathan Vaughters maintains, because White sent former team rider Trent Lowe to highly suspect doctor Luis del Moral for blood tests in 2009? Or was it really because of White’s rumored links to the new Australian GreenEDGE effort and its alleged underhanded recruitment efforts?

      I have no idea. What I do know is that whether it was because of del Moral, GreenEDGE, or both, firing White was the right move. So was sticking with del Moral as the stated cause.

      Vaughters and White agree that sending Lowe to del Moral’s Valencia clinic for blood testing was a terrible idea. Both men have said as much, and surely recognize that even bog-standard blood testing, when performed by a man of del Moral’s reputation, can appear as damning as a used syringe in the hyper-sensitized world of professional cycling. And since the appearance of impropriety and actual impropriety are almost equally damaging, both men would recognize – now, at least – that a director should no more send his riders to del Moral for a blood test than send to Eufemiano Fuentes for a pelvic exam.

      But while del Moral’s reputation adds some spice and urgency to the story, the fact that it was Dr. del Moral to whom White referred Lowe is immaterial. Garmin-Cervelo has a strict policy against riders going to outside physicians without approval – for just this sort of reason – and by sending Lowe to del Moral, White violated that policy. [Vaughters, of course, has hinted of some misgivings about his time at U.S. Postal, where del Moral was the team physician, which may have heightened his sensitivity in this case. But in theory, that doesn’t matter.] By invoking the team’s zero-tolerance rule on a high-profile, longtime staff member, Vaughters siezed a chance to show that the team has the courage of its convictions, a quality that the sport sorely needs. So if the del Moral referral is indeed the sole cause for White’s dismissal, it’s more than enough.

      If, on the other hand, GreenEDGE connections did factor into White’s firing, then that's also a perfectly justifiable case for termination, even with no other offenses in play. If Vaughters discovered – beyond the public rumor and speculation – that White’s efforts in the professional cycling world were not 100 percent aligned behind Garmin-Cervelo’s interests, or that they were, in fact, working in direct opposition to those interests, then firing is a reasonable response. Just ask Bjarne Riis about the problems that come with team staff recruiting next year’s team while working for yours. “Whitey” has always come across as a decent guy, but regardless of personality, history, or promises, anyone in a situation where they’re directing one pro team while building another is a fox in the henhouse. He might be a fox you know pretty well, but he’s still a fox.

      So, individually, each potential cause for dismissal could stand on its own. But if White’s firing were due to both the del Moral and GreenEDGE issues, why wouldn’t Vaughters say so? And if he were picking one reason or the other to take to the media, why go with the seedier del Moral visit rather than the relatively sterile GreenEDGE conflict of interest? Setting aside, for a moment, Trent Lowe’s questionable threat to take the del Moral visit public, I think there are a few compelling reasons to stick with the del Moral explanation over GreenEDGE, and over citing both causes.

      First, the idea that GreenEDGE was “poaching” riders is still largely in the speculation phase, at least in the media. Those allegations – of inappropriate negotiations, incentivizing UCI points – have already been the source of some public sniping between GreenEDGE, Sky, and Garmin. So while citing both del Moral and GreenEDGE as reasons for dismissal might seem to bolster Vaughters’s case, he already had one undeniably actionable cause in del Moral. By relying on that, Vaughters avoids the appearance of acting on GreenEDGE rumors or, alternatively, avoids having to publicly accuse White of engaging in nefarious activity on GreenEDGE’s behalf. So, by letting the del Moral issue do the lifting, he avoids fanning the GreenEDGE flames. As a bonus, he doesn't come out appearing as if he's piling on excuses just to prop up a flimsy one.

      Finally, if GreenEDGE factored into White’s dismissal, going public with the del Moral cause alone is more advantageous for Garmin-Cervelo than publicly tying the firing to GreenEDGE. By only citing the del Moral issue, Vaughters has efficiently accomplished all he needs to. He's (1) cut the heart out of Lowe’s blackmail threat, (2) rid himself of the Cycling Australia/GreenEDGE conflict of interest, and (3) saddled CA/GreenEDGE with a newly-hired director who is now on-record as being comfortable sending riders to a “doping doctor” who he knows from his time at U.S. Postal. Essentially, White has done the damage to his reputation under Garmin-Cervelo, but CA/GreenEDGE will bear any resulting stigma, right as they’re trying to craft their public image. And by not citing GreenEDGE in ousting White, Vaughters avoids the appearance of pettiness. That's pretty good revenge for any shady recruiting that may have gone on, no?

      Again, I have no information on White’s firing other than what you all have read as well. I certainly don’t have anything to indicate that Vaughters thought out his actions in the semi-vindictive way I outlined above. But that’s how it works out. Genius, intentional or not.

      • For his part, Trent Lowe comes out looking fairly sleazy for threatening to go public with the year-ago del Moral trip in order to get paid for December 2010 (at which point he had not ridden a race for Garmin in eight months and was already under contract to Pegasus). It's a pretty shortsighted strategy, since to have the desired threatening PR effect, Lowe would have to play up the insidious implications of visiting del Moral, with himself at the center. In other words, to damage Garmin's reputation, he'd need to damage his own reputation even more. That's an easy bluff to call, but Vaughters went one better by beating Lowe to the punch, pulling back the covers himself, outing White and Lowe’s association with the doctor, removing both men from his payroll, and coming out smelling like a rose. That has to sting. While it doesn’t justify Lowe’s behavior, I do empathize somewhat with his situation – with his new team collapsed, no pay for December, and a buyers market for sickly, underperforming climbing specialists, he’s not exactly looking at a happy new year.

      • This week in Twitter fights:
        1. Cedric Vasseur versus Jonathan Vaughters on teams representation.
        2. Radio Shack’s Johan Bruyneel versus Cofidis’s Eric Boyer on team radios. You stay classy, Johan!

      • Sorry about that post title. Really.


      Thoughts on the SI Article

      If you’re some hack with a website about professional cycling, then you’re kind of obligated to offer up some commentary about the highly anticipated Sports Illustrated Armstrong article by Selena Roberts and David Epstein. So here are my quick thoughts, bearing in mind that much of the article's content was previously known, and that much of the remaining intrigue comes from what might have been left out.

      • If the SI description of Don Catlin’s labwork and his interactions with the U.S. Olympic Committee are accurate, then the actions of Drs. Catlin, Brent Kay, and Arnie Baker indicate that Michele Ferrari might be the most trustworthy, sane medical professional involved in this whole extended mess. With Ferrari, at least you know what you’re getting, and that it works.

      • If the (previously known) Motorola EPO story is true, then Paul Sherwin looks like even more of a sycophantic ass for his Armstrong pandering, since he was the team’s press officer.

      • If Armstrong did gain access to HemAssist while the drug was in clinical trials, to borrow a phrase from Vice President Joe Biden, "this is a big f***ing deal.” Frankly, it's irrelevant that Lance Armstrong might have gotten ahold of it -- it’s a big problem regardless of who's involved. People have been bleating for months about why FDA would be involved in this sort of investigation. This is why. Ensuring the safety and efficacy of drugs, and the safety and legitimacy of the clinical trials used to test them, are damn close to the core of FDA’s regulatory mission. If experimental drugs are escaping from trials into the broader population, that is a very, very significant issue for them. So if they have to rile up a bunch of pencil-necked bike geeks to get to the heart of the matter, I’m guessing that suits them just fine. This is bigger than sports. For more detail on the HemAssist issue, consult Joe Lindsey.

      • If HemAssist’s class of drugs is as risky as some of the information in Lindsey’s post indicates, then “the shit that will kill them” might take on a whole different meaning.

      • If you were wondering if HemAssist, however acquired, might be OK under cycling’s rules because it’s not on the list of banned substances, then you need to read section M1 of the WADA code, Enhancement of Oxygen Transfer.

      • If SI was willing to print both the existing and new Landis allegations (i.e., the St. Moritz airport story), then I'd think the authors must have at least one other source confirming the validity of those allegations. We’ve been through a few rounds of the “Landis is a liar” defense already, and it’s been pretty effective, probably with good reason. I’m guessing a publication like SI, while it’s no scientific journal, vetted Landis’s accusations pretty thoroughly before exposing itself to that sort of risk, especially given his history.

      • If people are surprised that private airports are a good way to move contraband, then they’ve clearly never seen an episode of the A-Team.

      • If Yaroslav Popyvych (whose house was raided, yielding drugs and evidence of continued Ferrari ties according to SI) wants to look innocent, he should get the hell off of Tenerife before issuing his denial.

      • If, as has been rumored, there is damning, unpublished material regarding the misuse of Livestrong foundation funds, then that is the only thing that will ultimately shift broader public opinion. Until then, the rest of this really only matters to cycling fans. Don’t kid yourselves.

      • If Livestrong does become the core of the issue, then I’m guessing you’ll see a lot more of the IRS than FDA. Tax evasion is a pretty useful charge.

      • If, as rumored, there is a “strippers/hookers and blow” storyline that was also left out, then I don’t really care too much. That material would grab non-cycling eyeballs, sure, but it would also just distract further from the heart of the matter and give the true believers one more “this is irrelevant, what's the point of this?” talking point. Besides, I’ve been to college, and I’ve been around cyclists for most of my life. I’ve seen strippers and blow already.

      • If Roberts and Epstein do indeed have the much-rumored additional information that was allegedly removed from their article, then I hope they pursue other outlets. For instance, any misdeeds regarding Livestrong might be a better fit for SI’s current affairs-oriented Time-Warner stablemate, Time magazine. Or, if Time-Warner lacks the stomach for it altogether, I’d suggest Der Spiegel, the Economist, or any other credible current affairs publication. Many have suggested the web as an outlet, but, like it or not, for some things you sort of need a bedrock publication to add credibility to the information. Otherwise it’ll just be attacked with the “well you can put anything on those websites” argument. But for godssake, just stay away from LeMonde and L’Equipe (or any other French publication). We know that, counter to the U.S. drumbeat of the early 2000s, they’re very credible publications. But there’s no sense in bogging down the information by inviting people to stoke up the ridiculous “French conspiracy” fires again.

      • If new information and corroborations continue to come forth, then at some point, Greg Lemond’s settlement-induced gag order will become moot, no? And at some point, somewhere in the great Midwest, I’m betting he and Betsy Andreau will meet for a cocktail.

      • If things go severely downhill for Armstrong, then I’m guessing there are only two options: stone-faced denial until the very end of his life, or burn-baby-burn and everyone goes down with him. Middle ground has never been his strong suit.

      • If you’d like some real analysis of the article, then you should consult Charles Pelkey.

      • Finally, if the pace of this whole investigation picks up, then Geox may get that Tour de France start after all.

      When a National Team is Not a National Team

      With the Pegasus ProTour effort not even cold in the grave, the next great Australian ProTour bid has already shot through the birth canal and now lies screaming on the scale, waiting to be weighed. Circle of life, I suppose. Going by the name GreenEDGE (which sounds suspiciously like a Billy Mays cleaning product), the new effort is headed, as predicted, by former Australian track cycling boss Shayne Bannan. And as predicted, it’s already ruffling feathers. Before the team even held its first presser, rumors surfaced that its management was engaging in rider-poaching shenanigans, offering dodgy “pre-contracts” and potentially troublesome UCI-point incentives to Australian riders on its wish list.

      I’m not usually one to comment on early rumors, but Jonathan Vaughters, whose young Australian talents Cam Meyer and Jack Bobridge are reportedly on the shopping list, has already responded publicly to the reports. That would be an uncommonly brash public step for the level-headed Vaughters if he didn’t have good reason to believe that they’re true, particularly since everyone in this potential dispute speaks the same language and reads the same media. Vinokourov can probably spout whatever he wants to the Kazakh media in relative safety, but when Vaughters comments on cyclingnews.com, he has to know Bannan’s going to see it. Based on Vaughters taking that step, I have to believe there’s some credence to the story. For his part, here’s Bannan’s response to the poaching allegations.

      And so, to the matters at hand…

      Does any of this sound familiar: New zero-to-ProTour effort wrapped in a national flag? English-speaking? Headed by the nation’s very successful national track coach? Backed by a national federation and a reliable in-country sponsor? Disregard for the rules and/or courtesies of professional road cycling business operations? Eyeing Vaughters’s goodies?

      The GreenEDGE model appears, of course, to be Team Sky all over again. That’s not a groundbreaking thought; plenty of others have said as much, said it better, and said it earlier. What I’m wondering about is to what degree the national track team background shared by Sky’s David Brailsford and GreenEDGE’s Bannan share is the root of the friction both seem to cause in the professional road scene. Simply put, have Brailsford and Bannan (hereafter B+B) tried to build professional road teams the same way they would a national track team? Let’s look at why that might not be the best way to go.

      First, there’s the issue of how you approach riders. B+B come from managing federation track programs, where the most relevant information for recruitment isn’t found in a rider’s professional contract, but in his passport. Are they a confirmed Brit or Aussie? Great! Pick up the phone and give them a call! If they want to come ride for god and country, we’ll work out the schedule with their professional team somehow, right? In building their road teams, B+B seem content to continue following that methodology. Confirm the passport and dial, never mind that it’s January, or that riders are tied to multi-year contracts. You’re from the right country – we’ll work it out!

      As both men are finding, the professional road scene doesn’t work like that. Though your team may be trying to become the defacto “national” ProTour team, professional road cycling is commercial, not national. Sure, for the rider, riding for the professional “home team” might have patriotic appeal, a fringe benefit like more paid trips home, appealing linguistic familiarity, or better compatibility with management. And for the team, home riders obviously have benefits from the fan interest and sponsorship perspectives. But beyond those warm feelings and on all that white paper printed with rules and contracts, nationality is fairly irrelevant in the ProTour system. (Until you get popped for doping – different story.) Shared nationality between teams and prospective riders affords no special rights and privileges beyond how employing native vs. foreign riders plays out in the applicable labor laws. In leaving the national/federation format and joining the commercial/professional one, B+B need to give up the idea that they have a constitutional right to chat up the top riders from their country, or risk being found in violation of UCI rules. Simply put, native riders like those you coached on the track are no longer “your boys” who you borrow from their road teams from time to time – they’re your competition’s employees. The relationship has changed - acknowledge it.

      Yes, for professional teams that rely on a national identity, it can be a real downer when much of the best native talent is contractually tied down. And not having unrestricted access to the whole national talent pool must come as a shock to B+B after their success at honing their nations’ track programs. But if they could look past the horizon a bit, they’d see the upside: that it works both ways. While GreenEDGE might not be able to call home everyone’s Aussies as they please, neither will, say, Rabobank be able to come in and arbitrarily recall any Dutchmen GreenEDGE might employ. It's not a great situation when you're trying to burst out of the starting gate, but it feels a lot better a few years down the road.

      On top of those issues of recruitment rules and manners, there’s the relative inexperience in recruiting at all. National track managers do occasionally need to woo riders – for instance, in trying to lure road riders like Wiggins, Cavendish, or O’Grady back to the boards for the Olympics or Commonwealth Games. But much of the time, coaches in big track cycling nations are in the very opposite, very enviable position of being team “selectors” rather than recruiters. Without a vibrant professional scene, the national team system is the only chance for many dedicated trackies to make a relative living at the sport. So for B+B, picking up riders to fill out a team has long been a buyer’s market. Now, faced with the greater competition and elaborate courtship dances of the professional road scene, and forced into the role of suitor of the top talent rather than the suited, they seem unsure of the proper way to make their advances. What’s worse, they don’t seem to care what the right way is.

      That’s all just a theory, of course, but one thing is for sure. GreenEDGE’s alleged recruitment tactics might be distasteful, they may even be against the rules, but they can hardly be a surprise. The last 10 years have effectively seen “the rise of the state” in professional cycling. With federation-backed squads proliferating, team managers have to expect that Katusha will come for their Russians, Sky for their Brits, and Astana for any Kazakhs they might have kicking around. And on and on. Cycling Australia's ProTour plans have been known for some time, so if other teams' management hadn’t spoken to their Australians about this eventuality yet, they've been caught with their pants down. You could argue that shouldn't be the case, that expecting people to play by the rules shouldn't mean you're caught out. Unfortunately, in cycling, that's just not realistic.

      Other GreenEDGE Notes
      • The idea of paying prospective riders for UCI points they accumulate with their 2011 teams is potentially much more troublesome than trying to recruit them outside the bounds of the UCI’s signing period. The motivation to offer such a deal is clear – when GreenEDGE submits its license application, it wants to ensure it has enough collective UCI points to make it a sho-in for the first division (a la Leopard-Trek), and it’s willing to pay for that assurance. But incentivizing riders to pursue UCI points for their current teams puts those riders at the heart of a severe conflict of interest.

        As we know, winning a professional bike race is about a bunch of guys sacrificing their strength and chances so that one team member can win, or try to at least try to win. If each team member is chasing their own placings and the points that go with them, the team strategy goes all to hell. In the late 1990s, or maybe it was the early 2000s, Cofidis had virtually no cohesive team strategy and the underachievement to match. Why? A significant part of their riders’ pay structure was tied to UCI points, so when things really went down on the road, it was every man for himself. But at least Cofidis was responsible for putting itself in that position. If allegations of GreenEDGE’s gladly-pay-you-Tuesday-for-a-UCI-point-today offer are true, GreenEDGE is effectively forcing Cofidis’s terrible management strategy onto other teams.

        Will such an offer have any real effect on rider behavior? I wonder. I’m guessing most riders know that, in professional cycling, what goes around comes around. In what could be a 10 or 14 year career, you don’t want to become known as the guy who screws over your current team to get in the good graces of the next. A few rounds of that, and no team wants to be the next screw-ee. Further, I’d imagine that as soon as a team got the feeling a rider was engaging in that sort of behavior, the rider would be benched, thus eliminating their ability to gather any points at all. In the long-run, it’s better for riders to demonstrate their value to all prospective teams through their work, UCI points be damned, than to blow their credibility trying to collect 14th place points for a single, possibly pie-in-the-sky outfit. Also, it should be pretty easy to spot the type of rider who might be engaged in this particular effort -- they're the ones who have pet kangaroos, drink a lot of Fosters, eat deep fried onions, and carry enormous hunting knives at all times. Or so I've been led to believe. Anyway, I don’t expect to see Mark Renshaw trying to shake Mark Cavendish at 200 meters and cutting for the line anytime soon. (Just a hypothetical example – Renshaw’s under contract through 2012, I believe. Not that that matters.)

      • GreenEDGE was also allegedly in pursuit of Garmin DS Matt White, but he’s since signed on to take over Neil Stephens’s position as the Australian national team road coach. He’ll be doing that in addition to his Garmin duties, so I suppose the GreenEDGE angle there is put to rest. Stephens, however, is leaving the national position to…surprise…go sign riders and be a director for GreenEDGE.

      • GreenEDGE reportedly has the backing of Australian cycling’s sugardaddy, Gerry Ryan, head of the Jayco camper company. I, for one, am hoping that Jayco becomes the title sponsor. Then, in an homage to the RV industry, the jerseys can feature a band of wood-grain paneling and the team bus can feature moldy carpet and some rotting floorboards around the shower.


      • Not to be bossy, but start reading this blog right now. Particularly the post-Peter Post post.

      • How envious is Leopard-Trek that I capitalized the “EDGE” in GreenEDGE? Know why I did it? Because they didn't try to make me. It’s worth noting that the infamous list of media demands regarding presentation and pronunciation of the Leopard team name was reportedly sent out by Trek, not by the team itself. I'm guessing team manager Bryan Nygaard has enough experience as a press officer for Riis and Sky to know that dictating style and usage to the media is an uphill battle, and that it’s better to stay on their good side by not presuming to order them around. Trek Bicycles, on the other hand, has clearly come to think of the cycling media as an arm of their advertising department. More disturbing than the misconception itself is the likely chain of events that’s led them to believe that.

      • Yesterday’s cyclocross World Cup from Pontchateau, France finally gave those of us in the Mid-Atlantic United States an international course that looked a little more familiar, with green grass and a blue groove replacing the deep mud and snow of the low countries. I reveled in watching those sloppy Christmas week races, but it was nice to see a fast, tactical race after the weeks of grinding. One thing’s for sure, if yesterday’s winner Kevin Pauwels (Fidea) comes to the line in a small group at the world championships in Sankt Wendel, you can’t count him out for rainbow bands. Nys and Albert have been no match for his finishing kick, though an in-form Zdenek Stybar (Fidea) would have a better shot.

      • No time to get into the whole race radio debate at the moment, but I do wish all of the managers and riders would stop bleating about the 18-2 vote by the teams to keep the radios. I understand what that vote demonstrates, but the fact is, the sport isn’t a direct democracy run by the riders or the teams. Obviously, rider and team input should always factor into the sport’s decisions – both because it is the riders who ultimately place their lives on the line, and because riders and teams have been historically underrepresented in decision-making. But what would cycling in particular and pro sports in general look like if the participants made all the rules? My bet: they'd be both less safe and less marketable.

      Predictive Text

      Sometime in the first two months of this season, Leopard-Trek will score its first victory on the road. When it happens, at least one headline will read, “Leopard Pounces.”

      Sometime in the run-up to the Tour de France, in May or maybe even June, Leopard-Trek will sign a title sponsor, necessitating a hasty revision of all the team’s kit and materials. When it happens, at least one headline will read, “Leopard Changes Its Spots.”

      Those last minute pre-Tour sponsor pickups – and the horrible headline puns that come with them – are becoming a sort of late-spring tradition. Though it would be easier on everyone’s nerves if sponsors signed on for the whole year, the late arrivals obviously aren’t a bad thing. More sponsors are better than less, and the latecomers infuse the post-Classics period with a little hint of pre-season freshness as a whole new round of kit designs and bus stickers and god-knows-what-else are unveiled. Slipstream’s done it. High Road’s done it. And you can bet your ass Leopard will do it, too.

      What I’m wondering now is, when that sponsor emerges, how much will the nascent Leopard-Trek be forced to change those headline-heralded spots? If the new sponsor is a fashion-forward undertaker or Mercedes-Benz, the current look could be carried forward relatively intact. But if, say, Krylon or Lego cough up some cash, a somewhat more obvious change could be in order.

      Thanks to James Huang, we know the team's present look was put together in short order once it was clear there would be no title sponsor by the time the onrushing season forced the team to go public with whatever it had. So in that sense, Leopard management may not be terribly wedded to the resulting black-blue-white spray job. But the Leopard powers that be, including its manager and noted PR man Brian Nygaard, seem to be an image-conscious (and image-controlling) bunch, so I have to wonder if sponsor-directed change might be a bit of a bitter pill if and when it comes. As it stands, the team has a very northern European composition, look, and feel, and remaking it in the visual image of something like Kelme at a sponsor’s behest might not sit too well. Obviously though, money talks, and I have every confidence that a cool $5 million would be enough to get Kim Anderson driving the team car in a lavender cordoba.

      A look at the relevant case studies, the teams currently known as Garmin-Cervelo and HTC, could give hints at the approaches Leopard might take when the check clears. When Jonathan Vaughters signed Garmin to replace the name of his Slipstream ownership/management company in the team's title spot, the fashion-aware manager nevertheless retained much of Slipstream’s orange-'n-argyle branding on kits and ancillaries. With this season’s Garmin-Cervelo merger, the need to accommodate Cervelo’s established branding crowded the argyle a bit more, but it’s still there.

      Bob Stapleton’s High Road formation has proved a bit more malleable. After T-Mobile’s pullout (but still temporarily running on T-Mobile money), the team debuted in black and white livery stamped with High Road, the name of Stapleton’s ownership entity. It was a blank-slate, your-name-here approach that allowed the team to easily adapt when Stapleton landed Columbia Sportswear as a headliner during the pre-Tour bargain sale. The team went first to blue jersies, retaining its black shorts, then shifted towards its current yellow-black-white look that’s survived through the addition and ascent of HTC and Columbia’s departure. The High Road logo, though, has remained, not across the chest, granted, but always present.

      Though both teams have thankfully found steady corporate backers, it’s worth noting that both retained either logos or subtle branding elements that keep their management companies – traditionally anonymous and anonymously-named entities – very much in the public eye. The same could be said of Riis Cycling, made evident on this year’s Saxo Bank kit by the infamous trouser bird. I expect that the Leopard name and some aspect of its branding, like those of High Road and Slipstream, will remain prominent as the team moves forward, regardless of any evolving sponsor situation. Why? It’s good business.

      The increasingly visible role of management companies in cycling provides the entities we think of as “teams” with a consistent business identity in an unpredictable sponsorship environment. It makes it easier for team ownership to present potential sponsors with a unified story of value that the company has accumulated under an array of different sponsors, different sports directors, and different riders. The company name – Slipstream, High Road, Riis, Leopard – unites all of the organization's history, reputation, structure, and operating procedures into a convenient, easy-to-understand package. The corporate approach also helps avoid the pitfalls of gathering sponsors through cults of personality, Giancarlo Ferretti-style. In making themselves high-visibility cycling companies, High Road is not just selling Bob Stapleton to sponsors, and Slipstream is not just selling Jon Vaughters (though those figureheads’ skills undoubtedly drive their companies’ successes). Thus, when and if something changes regarding the individual's involvement, there’s a better chance that the whole thing won’t simply crumble in their absence. For potential sponsors, particularly those educated in cycling's long string of team failures, any reassurance is valuable.


      • What’s the inverse of the pre-Tour sponsor infusion? Why, the post Tour dope scandal sponsor exodus, of course. Easy come, easy go.

      • Is Leopard-Trek a greatest hits album of “new team” initiatives? The staff and riders of CSC/Saxo Bank. The videos of Cervelo Test Team. The on-bike fashion sensibility and media strategy of Sky. The natty team presentation stylings of Garmin. That’s all well and good – now show me the development team or the women’s team.

      • Some folks have a problem with Kim Anderson (and his extensive and arguably landmark doping history) being in team management for Leopard. I don’t. Because if I were a Leopard rider looking for doping guidance, Kim Anderson is about the last person I’d ask for advice. He clearly wasn't very good at it. What I do find interesting about the minor Anderson uproar is that he’s been working for Riis for years with little fuss. Guess working under a guy nicknamed “Mr. 60 Percent” and who confessed to winning the Tour doped up provides a pretty good diversion.

      • Twitter sponsors Radio Shack. So many potential jokes my head hurts. I'm content to chuckle to myself rather than make you all suffer, but in keeping with the initial paragraphs of this post, I will predict that “Failwhale” will appear in at least one Shack-related article this season, as will the phrase “character-limited.”

      Clearing the Decks

      The fear, anticipation, and difficulty of doing things – no matter how benign those things may be – tends to increase the longer you put them off. As a lifelong procrastinator, I’ve learned this lesson well, though it’s worth noting that I have not adjusted my habits much as a result of that knowledge.

      Over the holiday break (judging by the timestamp on the last post, I’ve generously defined that as “from Halloween through New Year’s”), there have been quite a few things I’ve thought to write, would have liked to write, but didn’t, for any number of mundane and uninteresting reasons. Usually though, it was a matter of not having, or not thinking I had, the time to write them properly. If you’re not an experienced procrastinator, let me tell you that weasel words like “properly” are incredibly handy for putting things off. They allow you to table action nearly indefinitely – after all, there’s always a better angle in the offing, a better phrase just around the corner, maybe a bit more research you could do, and then really, shouldn’t you track down a photograph to go with all that careful writing? All in the name of doing it “properly.” And so it goes, or doesn’t go, as the case may be.

      Anyway, I refuse to call it a resolution, but one goal for 2011 here at the Service Course is to push on through all that and just post some stuff. That’s not to say I intend to just throw up any passing, poorly written crap that flies through my head – that’s what Twitter is for. But I am going to try for shorter but more frequent posts here. You know, if I get around to it.

      With that in mind, I thought a good starting point would be to knock out some things I’ve been thinking about and be done with them so I can move on. Maybe they’re not presented in the expansive, eloquent, and meticulously hand-illustrated format I’d prefer, but I suppose it’ll have to do.

      Bienvenidos a Calpe

      A while back on Twitter, I wondered about the peloton’s current fascination with Calpe, Spain. This year, it’s played host to training camps for, offhand, RadioShack, Katusha, and Quick Step, and probably some others I’m forgetting. Katusha, I believe, is headed back for a second visit. The sudden, intense interest in one fairly small, fairly random Spanish coastal town sparked my interest, mostly because of Michele Ferrari’s documented fondness for working the shores of Tenerife, which has a fairly similar description. So I cracked that Calpe must have either a pretty good tourism board, or a great damn doctor.

      In all seriousness, though, the answer to “why Calpe?” is probably pretty simple. It’s a beach town, with a beach climate, close to the highway, with flat roads along the coast for easy days and a big mountain a few kilometers inland that’s covered with switchbacks for the hard days (go to the Google Earth view, it's better but slow), and there are plenty of differing routes for a little variety. I’m guessing there’s also at least one decent hotel there (and probably many less than decent ones). Add all those up, throw in the fact that like anything in cycling, training camp locales can be very much a me-too thing, and all of a sudden, it's a hot spot. The other reason I'm thinking Calpe craze is fairly innocent is that, while folks did seem to enjoy Tenerife for the services of the good doctor, they mostly made their furtive trips there as individuals. Hauling complete squads somewhere – be it to Tenerife or Calpe – to get on the program would be idiocy laid bare.

      Stybar to the Road

      For the duration of the current cyclocross season, one looming question has been whether or not Quick Step would sign 24-year-old Czech ‘cross world champion Zdenek Stybar and put him on skinny tires. As of now, the issue is still outstanding, and Patrick Lefevere seems to have left the ball firmly in the hands of Stybar and his current employer, the specialist Fidea cyclocross team. I expect further silence until after the World Championships on January 30, at least.

      The move to Quick Step would theoretically give Stybar a path to try his hand at the classics, something he’s expressed a keen interest in doing. The question is, is it worth it? Back when he rode for Rabobank, Sven Nys had the same inklings and emitted the same sense of classics potential. But Nys never quite made his name in the races everyone assumed he would – races like Roubaix and Flanders. While I can’t recall his specific performances, the reasons Nys’s irrefutable greatness on a ‘cross bike didn’t transfer to the classics should be easy enough to spot. Classics are 6 hours long, not one, and though the cobbles are difficult, the classics are still road races, won through strength (individual and team), endurance, knowledge, and tactics, not on bike handling. If he chooses to attempt the transition, Stybar will face the same challenges and the same inherently elevated expectations Nys did. Stybar, though, will face a few additional challenges that Nys didn’t have back when he gave the cobbles his shot.

      Nys’s Rabobank deal (prior to the ProTour rejiggering that put him on the Rabo continental team) allowed him to easily float back and forth between the team’s top flight road formation and its top flight cyclocross program. Quick Step has no such dual presence. Presumably, Stybar would have a clause with Quick Step that would allow him to continue to race 'cross in some capacity, but signing for the team would leave him without the dedicated ‘cross support he receives from Fidea and without a management whose primary interest is off-road. In contrast, wherever Nys found his calling, road or fields, Rabobank could be happy – starting him at Roubaix was a low-risk, potentially high-reward venture, both for the team and Nys.

      The nature of Stybar’s road attempt, on the other hand, requires a substantial, longterm, and potentially costly change in program, with a good chance that neither side will be quite happy with the result. If the road doesn’t pan out, Quick Step may well be happy to have a top ‘cross rider on its roster, but they really haven’t shown any interest in the discipline in the past. For his part, Stybar would be left without the support he’s enjoyed for ‘cross seasons past and would have to start negotiating contracts to get back into the ‘cross world full time, and would likely have to negotiate one that started mid-cross season due to the road-cross misalignment. He’ll find one, of course -- he's very good at what he does -- but that doesn’t make it a fun process.

      Finally, when Nys took his shot at the road with Rabobank, he truly had a shot. At least in the cobbled classics, Rabobank was not a particularly heavy hitter (no offense to Michael Boogerd, Marc Wauters, and Eric Dekker). At the cobbled departs, at least, Nys was probably as likely a shot as anyone, and that comes with a certain freedom. Should he sign with Lefevere, Stybar is entering a formation that already features Tom Boonen, Sylvain Chavanel, and Geert Steegmans. Don’t get me wrong, Quick Step is not as crowded as it once was, and it’s a far more unpredictable animal than it was in its heyday, but Stybar will still have to do some clawing for his chance. When you’re already a world champion in another discipline, that can be a tough hurdle.

      Ah that's all well and good, you say, but Lars Boom has made the switch far more recently than Nys, and it’s going swimmingly for him. But who does Boom ride for again?

      What Might Have Been

      Big thanks to the folks at cyclingfans.com, who gave me links to streaming coverage of big ‘cross races all season, and to the folks at all the Belgian stations who provided the feeds. It was awesome to be able to really follow the GvA, SuperPrestige, and World Cup series, reliably, all season long. The only depressing thing about it? Access to those feeds reminded me of how good we could have it during the classics season if people would stop buying the U.S. rights to air the races and then screwing it up. If you’re going to do it, do it right, or let my people watch Sporza.

      Peloton Magazine

      Back when I did a little review of the first issue of the new Paved magazine, I promised I’d do a review of the other then-looming release, Peloton magazine, when it hit the Barnes and Noble. I did indeed get a copy of Issue 1, but I haven’t done the review yet. So what gives? I did read it, and while it has the best cover for a cycling magazine in recent memory, overall I was underwhelmed. That said, the vast, vast, vast (that's three vasts) majority of feedback I’ve seen about Issue 1 indicates that people think it’s fantastic, so I have to wonder whether I’m (a) just missing something or (b) just being a dick. I’m willing to admit that either one is completely within the realm of possibility, so I’ve decided to wait until I can read Issue 2 before I weigh in.

      Damn, Watson.

      Did we all catch the latest Graham Watson Twitter kerfuffle? Everyone’s favorite Anglophone pro cycling photographer found himself on the outs again this week, this time for stating that he just couldn’t see 80 women taking on the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix. Many observers took that to be a disparaging remark about women’s racing, which in turn was taken as an indicator that Watson is a sexist jerk. Watson subsequently did a pretty poor job refuting that impression.

      I have to think that at least some of the vocal reaction to his comments wasn’t entirely due to the current dustup, but rather with what's becoming his greater body of work. Simply put, Watson has a pretty broad public presence between Twitter, his own site/blog, and his writing engagements for various magazines, and lately he’s using the first two to tickle his tonsils with his toes at every opportunity. Let’s review:

      Late last year, there was the incident in which photos on Watson’s site were discovered to have labeled Greg LeMond “fool” where every other rider was listed by name. Outcry ensued, and the response from Watson was a fairly unconvincing “Huh, I’ll look into it.” That, inexplicably, was followed up by an even more damaging pseudo-apology from Watson, in which he stated that, sure, Lemond was a great champion, but one who should learn to keep his mouth shut. Presumably that was a comment regarding Lemond’s very public anti-doping stance, and people didn't take terribly kindly to it.

      Also late last year, Watson mused that he’d like to dump all his images of Alberto Contador in response to the Spaniard’s pending doping case, and then PhotoShop a yellow jersey onto Andy Schleck in the pictures of the 2010 Tour de France. Some took issue with the dumping idea, complaining that Watson was passing judgment on Contador before he’s been given his proverbial day in court. I really don’t have a problem with that – we all have inklings as to Contador’s guilt or innocence, ones that very likely won’t be changed by the verdict one way or another, so I can’t fault Watson for his. If Watson worked for CAS, expressing that view would be a problem, but he doesn’t. But I found the idea – however lighthearted – of painting yellow onto Schleck more disconcerting. A bent towards revisionist history is not a desirable trait in the chroniclers of our times.

      So, add those two flaps to the women/cobbles issue, as well as his sycophantic slobbering over Lance Armstrong’s every move, and it seems Watson is suffering a bit of an image problem these days, at least among people who care in the U.S. That, granted, may not be a large enough population to worry about, but Watson’s image here certainly seems to be travelling from pioneer and bon vivant to oblivious, arse-kissing, sexist, omerta-endorser mighty quick. That’s not to say the trend is irreversible, and Watson has a lot of built-up goodwill as the guy who provided many of our first impressions of the sport through his work in English-language pubs like Winning, Bicycle Guide, VeloNews, and CycleSport. Maybe that’s good for something. Also in his favor is the deep-seated but conveniently unspoken knowledge that we all probably have some thought, belief, or inkling that if expressed in its raw and unadorned form, would render us fairly unpopular with swaths of the population. The catch is that most of us have the common sense to not express whatever that potentially distasteful thing is, at least not to an undefined audience. But Watson doesn’t seem to have that sense, or the ability to stay off the hot-button issues on Twitter, and in the social media days, you only get so many strikes.

      And Away We Go

      Lots of folks are heralding the coming Tour Down Under, the big season opener for international cycling. That’s understandable. But – and this is nothing against the event, an important one for a nation that will be a prime player in the next decade of cycling – I’m just not feeling it. And I’m guessing the Tour of Oman and the Tour of Qatar won’t do it for me either. I’m not old, but maybe I’m getting there, because for me, it takes news of the GP Marseilles, Het Nieuwsblad/it’ll-always-be-Het Volk-to-me, and Milan-San Remo to really feel like we’re moving again. Like I said above, every one of us probably has some non-politically correct inkling, and that’s mine. It’s backwards looking, provincial, and mired in my personal experience versus irrefutable facts at hand – like the calendar, for instance. But there you go.

      Fondue and Alpenhorns

      It was the cowbells that got me thinking. The incessant clanging I've experienced over the last several 'cross races first had me considering how you shouldn't give your three-year-old a cowbell if you want to keep your friends or your sanity. But once I recovered from that fundamental error, I started thinking about how cowbells are a sort of a universally accepted cultural anomaly in American ‘cross.

      Ask most American cyclocross aficionados what their standard reference culture for the sport is, and you’ll likely get a single answer: Belgian. And these days, that makes sense. For over a decade now, a herd of Belgians led by riders like Mario De Clercq, Sven Nys, Bart Wellens, and Erwin Vervecken have dragged the ‘cross peloton around the farm tracks of Europe by their collective knickers. From the Gazet van Antwerpen series, to the SuperPrestige, to the World Cup, to the World Championships, riders from one half of one small nation have dominated the discipline. There have been formidable challengers at the top end, of course, names like Pontoni, Groenendaal, Boom, and Stybar, but no other nation has come close to Belgium’s recent combination of strength and depth. Belgians have always been strong at ‘cross, but the last 15 years? Out of control.

      And so, as cyclocross has boomed in the United States over the same period, Belgium has become the discipline’s defacto culture of record in these parts. Hit a cyclocross race on the right weekend, and you’ll see Flemish flags flying in Virginia, Leffe poured in Kansas, Sporza quoted in Oregon, and god-awful knit caps worn by fat, cigar-smoking old men in Massachusetts. That last one doesn’t really have anything to do with cyclocross, it’s just a problem I feel should be addressed. Anyway, many of the ‘cross faithful habitually try to recreate the Belgian experience, no matter how far removed from Ruddervoorde or Zogge they may be, from things as minor as dropping some faux-Flemish into pre-race chatter to more involved projects like constructing janky, cockeyed flyovers. Really, I think it’s only our more stringent open container and public urination laws that hold us back from complete authenticity.

      But as the faithful, ubiquitous cowbell reminds us, or should remind us, the Belgian dominance of cyclocross wasn’t always so complete. It’s just that the era of greater parity was, perhaps, a bit before most of our times. Cowbell-as-cheering-device is, after all, a Swiss cultural phenomenon, one imported to cyclocross from Swiss ski racing culture back when its red-and-white clad riders were a dominant force on the international cyclocross scene.

      After finishing second in the 1975 cyclocross world championship to Belgian classics legend Roger DeVlaeminck, Albert Zweifel won four consecutive world elite titles for Switzerland from 1976 to 1979, putting an emphatic dent in eight consecutive years of Belgian domination. The lower steps on those podiums added an exclamation point to Zweifel’s accomplishment. For his first three titles, Zweifel bested fellow Swiss Peter Frischknecht, who hailed from Uster, a town just about 10 kilometers from the longtime SuperPrestige and World Cup stop at Wetzikon. In 1976, Switzerland swept the podium, with André Wilhelm following Zweifel and Frischknecht. For his fourth title in 1979, Zweifel beat out first-year Swiss pro Gilles Blaser.

      Though Zweifel’s Worlds wins and accompanying medal rides by Frischknecht, Blaser, and Wilhelm were undoubtedly the high-water mark of Swiss cyclocross, they were by no means the end of the country’s presence at the top level. Zweifel would net two Worlds silver medals behind Belgian star Roland Liboton in 1982 and 1983 before taking the title for a fifth time in 1986. And as with his first four titles, the man standing next to him on the ’86 podium was Swiss. This time, it was Pascal Richard, who would step up to take the rainbow jersey himself in 1988. When Richard pulled on his rainbow bands, he had to look all the way to the third step on the podium to find a countryman, Beat Breu. Dieter Runkel would net Switzerland’s final world title in 1995, with countryman Beat Wabel taking the bronze. Peter Frischknecht’s son, mountain bike superstar Thomas Frischknecht, returned to his cyclocross roots in 1997 to take the country’s last elite world championship medal, a silver.

      Runkel, Frischknecht, and Wabel would carry the torch for Swiss ‘cross through the early years of the UCI World Cup, which began in the 1993-1994 season. After a slow start in the series’ first two seasons, during which Breu’s third place at the Eschenbach, Switzerland round was the nation’s only podium appearance, the Swiss got their legs under them again in 1995-1996, with Runkel and Wabel scoring third-place finishes at the Wangen, Germany and Variano di Basiliano, Italy rounds respectively. Runkel took the win in the fourth round in Prague en route to his Worlds win the following February. With the jersey on his shoulders, Runkel won the second round of the 1997-1998 series, again in the Czech Republic. The following season, Frischknecht would register the Swiss dynasty’s final World Cup win, scoring an upset win at the fifth round in Zeddam, Netherlands, ahead of Belgians Mario De Clercq and Marc Janssens. Wabel was fourth.

      Since Frischknecht’s win on January 3, 1999, no Swiss man has climbed on any step of a World Cup elite podium, and by the end of that season, the Belgians and Dutch had nearly taken over. At the Wortegem-Petegem round of the 2001 season, all of the top 10 elite finishers were Belgian. The sport is not all World Championships and World Cups, of course, but the results of series like the SuperPrestige show much the same trend.

      Despite the diminishing returns in a sport that also used to boast more French, Italian, and German contenders, Switzerland retained its depth and interest in the sport, continuing to fill out its start allotments with hopefuls and usually hosting a World Cup round. In the years following Frischknecht’s win, Switzerland was still capable of placing four riders in the top 20 of any given event, and likely at least one in the first ten. But the very tip of the spear was gone. For a decade now, the nation’s standard bearer has been the very capable Christian Heule, a remarkably consistent finisher in the top-10 range, and capable of a top-5 on his best days. He was joined for several years by Simon Zahner, an early ‘cross talent currently with the BMC road team. Zahner seemed to be on the way up before presumably choosing to concentrate on the road. In the elite ranks, twenty-five-year-old mountain biker Marcel Wildhaber (Scott-Swisspower MTB) looks to be the brightest hope for the future, putting in his time in the 20s and 30s over the last few seasons before having what could prove a breakthrough ride at this month’s Pilzen, Czech round, where he finished 12th.

      So how did one of the cyclocross’s biggest legacy nations drop from prominence, leaving only the incessant dinging of cowbells behind? I won’t pretend to know. Maybe, for anyone but the Belgians, it simply makes more sense to make your money on a mountain bike or on the road, not in a niche halfway between. Maybe the lack of top Swiss road teams to pay the summer bills undercut the support system. Maybe the sanitization of international cyclocross courses since the late 1980s has reduced the value of the Swiss technical precision in the slop. Maybe something changed in the 1990s in ‘cross, too, but we’re not going to go into that now. Maybe I’ll look into it further someday.

      But maybe the trend also isn’t forever. Maybe the World Cup circuit’s recent return to Aigle after the three year absence of a Swiss round will spark some interest again, boost the participant numbers and level of domestic competition enough for a few super-talents to emerge. Maybe Andy Rihs, head of the Phonak and BMC empires and Swiss cycling's patron saint, can somehow help Switzerland regain its rightful place in its onetime specialty. Or maybe they just need a little more cowbell.


      • You can see why some of the Belgian customs tend to stick over those of other cyclocross cultures. Frites and horseburgers are easy to eat on your feet in a crowd, especially compared to fondue and schnitzel. And even though they’re both cheap, Bavik is better than PBR.

      • Maybe the Swiss ‘cross decline is due to morale issues. Namely, they have to stop naming everyone “Beat.” Among Switzerland’s international ‘cross representatives: Beat Breu, Beat Wabel, Beat Blum, Beat Morf…

      • What do I mean by “sanitization of international cyclocross courses”? We give you the 1988 World Cyclocross Championship from Hägendorf, Switzerland, won by Pascal Richard, with Beat Breu in third.

      • With its longterm peformance, the current dominance of Zdenek Stybar (Fidea), and great riding by riders like Peter Dlask and the elder and younger Simuneks, the Czech Republic can rightly be called one of the top nations in cyclocross. Question is, like cowbells from the Swiss and public urination from the Belgians, what cultural artifact will the Czechs contribute to the sport?

      • So who do we blame for cowbell proliferation in the United States? Tim Johnson. OK, maybe it’s not all Tim's fault, but he’s definitely involved. Back in the late 1990s and early 2000’s, Saturn sponsored the country’s best domestic road team, as well as a juggernaught ‘cross lineup featuring Johnson, Frank and Mark McCormack, and Bart Bowen. Somewhere in there, Saturn decided that cowbells were better marketing gewgaws than cardboardish off-brand water bottles, and the team distributed thousands of bells at road and ‘cross events to deafening result. By 2002 or so, the Mercury team (which started out wanting to be Saturn before deciding it really wanted to be TVM) also started handing out cowbells, so I suppose we can blame them, too.

      • The headline I finally slapped on this thing doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it? And frankly, it’s a little bit too Rick Steves for me. But in starting to write a little something about cyclocross, one thing stood out: all the good headline references and puns have been taken. Gin and trombones. Mud and cowbells. Chocolate and waffles. Frites and mayo. Cyclocross. Crosshairs. Crosscheck. Cross Czech. Crosswind. Cross dressing. Cross-industry marketing opportunities. There just aren't any good 'cross references left to make. Oh, wait, there's one. Feel free to use that.

      Paved Perceptions

      In A Moveable Feast, his memoir of his génération perdue days in inter-war Paris, Ernest Hemingway suggests to a talentless, advice-seeking writer that he become a literary critic instead of foisting his own questionable prose on an innocent public. While I hope criticism never becomes my primary written product (at least not for that reason), I thought a quick review of Paved, the newest U.S. road cycling magazine, might be a good way to shake off the cobwebs that have gathered here at the Service Course.

      Created by the editors and publisher of the venerable Bike magazine, Paved was something to look forward to from the outset. High production values, pursuit of offbeat topics, and good, thoughtful writing had always been hallmarks of the organization’s fat-tired publication, and there was every reason to believe those qualities would carry over to its skinny-tire venture. That initial anticipation was bolstered when ex-pro-turned-Bike-editor Joe Parkin revealed on his (defunct?) blog that he was venturing back to his old Flemish stomping grounds to gather material for the debut issue.

      So how did the reality line up with the early, lofty expectations? I’d say pretty well for a first effort. As expected, the photography was terrific, and it’s printed on paper that feels substantial in your hand – a nice, affordable compromise between mainstream magazines and more boutique offerings like Embrocation and Rouleur. The writing is up to snuff, and, in an unfortunately significant step for a cycling publication, it’s been thoroughly copyedited. (By contrast, the first issue of the now-capable Road was a festival of misspellings, run-ons, and incomplete sentences, most notably in then-editor Esteban Cortina’s opening column.)

      In terms of content selection, Paved was a bit of a mixed bag. Parkin’s photo-saturated return to Belgium sets the tone for the magazine, with photographer Stephan Vanfleteren’s subsequent black-and-white photo spreads continuing the bleak-skies-and-hardmen theme. For riders wanting to mimic the high-kilometer or high-mountain challenges their heroes face, cycling journalism veterans Patrick Brady and Bruce Hildenbrand contribute solid pieces on gran fondos and the Dolomites, respectively. Short photoessays on the bootleg Red Hook criterium and other topics bring in some of Bike’s sense of both the grassroots and universal aspects of the sport.

      Given the tone of those pieces and the target demographic they hint at, Vernon Felton’s article on doping in the pro peloton seemed a bit off the mark. I’d expect that most of those picking up an issue of Paved would be familiar with the reality of doping in cycling, and that they wouldn’t require an explanation of what EPO is and what it does. While the piece is well-written, it is a survey course where I would have expected at least a 200-level class or an insider view.

      Similarly, I have to admit I was a little surprised and put off by the Lance Armstrong cover. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an understandable choice, probably even the right one for a new publication. No matter what the current tide of public opinion may be, Armstrong pulls the layman eyes on the newsstand. And it’s a great photo – one that captures the grit-and-pavé feel I think Paved was aiming for while still drawing on Armstrong’s transcendent marketability. But, as a new publication, I can’t help but feel that Paved squandered a rare opportunity to not be that magazine. If I’m reading it right, Paved’s intended audience isn’t one that’s desperately searching for one more picture of Armstrong.

      The feeling the cover gave me was reinforced when I read Gary Boulanger’s American pioneers piece inside. Of the five profiles – Ben Serotta, Steve Hed, Gary Erickson, Chris Carmichael, and Jim Ochowitz – three stray into discussions of Armstrong. It’s not that I’m inherently against any Armstrong content. I’m not. Regardless of how you feel about the guy, he’s a central figure in American cycling, and pointedly ignoring him is as obviously skewed as featuring him on every other page. That said, if you’re trying to create something new, exploring some less travelled stories and figures might be preferable to highlighting the same social circle that’s dominated the literature for 15 years. Anyone have a number for Mike Neel or Jock Boyer?

      (Others will undoubtedly point out that, with the debatable exception of Ochowitz, all of the “pioneers” interviewees are trying to sell you something, be it frames, wheels, food, or training plans. And then they’ll speculate on how that choice of subject matter jives with the nascent magazine’s advertising sales. To that, I’d say: People, it’s cycling. Everyone’s trying to sell you something. Cut out anyone with a brand to push, and you’d be hard pressed to find an interview.)

      Lastly, following an entire issue of racing, hardman, and big-ride content, the unintroduced {showcase: bikes} section on “street bikes” like the Electra Ticino is a non sequitur. Paved ("celebrating the raw passion of riding on the road") has positioned itself to feature those sorts of bikes and the urban riding they’re intended for, but the piece would have been better placed with a more extensive package of city riding content. If the bike showcase is a regular section, this particular issue cried out for road machines from brands like Merckx, Ridley, Colnago, and DeRosa.

      All of that might seem like quite a bit of criticism, but in the context of a first outing, they’re pretty minor quibbles. And make no mistake, I’ll be grabbing issue #2 when it hits the shelf. The contributing writers are top notch, the photography is excellent, and the editorial vision will solidify as time goes on. That’s a strong foundation, and I think it’s still reasonable to expect great things.

      NOTE: These are boom times for the cycling magazine aficionado. The flock of cycling magazines at my local Barnes & Noble is now nearly as large as the neighboring gaggle of women’s beauty pubs and is getting almost as pretty as the surfing journals. Paved is already on shelves there, and another publication, Peloton, is set to debut on November 16. I’ll do a writeup on that one too when it’s available. Or, if they’d like, they could, you know, just send me one…

      Killing Davey Moore

      As I wrote in an earlier post, I tend to find non-riders' involvment in cycling’s myriad dope scandals more interesting than that of the riders themselves. The doctors, the directors, the sponsors, the officials, the fixers and what they knew, when they knew it, what role they played, and why – all hold more intrigue for me than rattling on about why some 26-year-old bike racer chose to be the final link in the chain. Riders’ perspectives are fairly well documented since, Willy Voet and a few others aside, they’re the only ones who ever really sing, and when they do, it’s a fairly simple song. Dope to go faster; dope to keep the job; dope to hang on one more year; dope to make more money. The part the cyclists play in the dope show is by far the most obvious. But the roles of everyone else in the sport, including you and me? Those aren’t always quite as clear, are they?

      I have always wanted to write some grand, sprawling piece about how all those other parties, by demanding certain things or by ignoring others, contribute to the ongoing drug culture in the sport. About the sponsors who lean on directors for better return on investment. The director who demands better results to find a sponsor. The enthusiast media that whistles past the graveyard. The fans who cry out for ever greater performances. The officials who choose to look the other way. The riders who perpetuate a never-ending arms race that’s become just part of the job.

      But I never do that piece for several reasons. Available time and citable insider knowledge are obviously two big reasons for keeping my trap shut. But the third reason I don’t go into it is simply that I know when I’m beaten. Which is to say that I would never get close to exploring the subject as well as Bob Dylan already has, and I’d eat up a hell of a lot more words trying to do it. Back in 1963, Dylan wrote and began performing a song called “Who Killed Davey Moore,” reflecting on how different parties contributed to the boxer’s death after a bout earlier that year. Yes, the song is about death and boxing, not doping and cycling, but the salient points are all there, simply and brutally, right down the unwillingness of each party to acknowledge their role in the final tragedy. There are a lot of people I’d try to out-write, but Dylan ain’t one of them, so have a read with a cyclist's eye.

      Who Killed Davey Moore?
      Bob Dylan, 1963

      Who killed Davey Moore
      Why an’ what’s the reason for?

      “Not I,” says the referee
      “Don’t point your finger at me
      I could’ve stopped it in the eighth
      An’ maybe kept him from his fate
      But the crowd would’ve booed, I’m sure
      At not gettin’ their money’s worth
      It’s too bad he had to go
      But there was a pressure on me too, you know
      It wasn’t me that made him fall
      No, you can’t blame me at all”

      Who killed Davey Moore
      Why an’ what’s the reason for?

      “Not us,” says the angry crowd
      Whose screams filled the arena loud
      “It’s too bad he died that night
      But we just like to see a fight
      We didn’t mean for him t’ meet his death
      We just meant to see some sweat
      There ain’t nothing wrong in that
      It wasn’t us that made him fall
      No, you can’t blame us at all”

      Who killed Davey Moore
      Why an’ what’s the reason for?

      “Not me,” says his manager
      Puffing on a big cigar
      “It’s hard to say, it’s hard to tell
      I always thought that he was well
      It’s too bad for his wife an’ kids he’s dead
      But if he was sick, he should’ve said
      It wasn’t me that made him fall
      No, you can’t blame me at all”

      Who killed Davey Moore
      Why an’ what’s the reason for?

      “Not me,” says the gambling man
      With his ticket stub still in his hand
      “It wasn’t me that knocked him down
      My hands never touched him none
      I didn’t commit no ugly sin
      Anyway, I put money on him to win
      It wasn’t me that made him fall
      No, you can’t blame me at all”

      Who killed Davey Moore
      Why an’ what’s the reason for?

      “Not me,” says the boxing writer
      Pounding print on his old typewriter
      Sayin’, “Boxing ain’t to blame
      There’s just as much danger in a football game”
      Sayin’, “Fistfighting is here to stay
      It’s just the old American way
      It wasn’t me that made him fall
      No, you can’t blame me at all”

      Who killed Davey Moore
      Why an’ what’s the reason for?

      “Not me,” says the man whose fists
      Laid him low in a cloud of mist
      Who came here from Cuba’s door
      Where boxing ain’t allowed no more
      “I hit him, I hit him, yes, it’s true
      But that’s what I am paid to do
      Don’t say ‘murder,’ don’t say ‘kill’
      It was destiny, it was God’s will”

      Who killed Davey Moore
      Why an’ what’s the reason for?

      Copyright 1964, 1965, Warner Bros. ; 1992, 1993, Special Rider Music.
      (And I hope they'll forgive my use here, since I encourage everyone to buy a copy of the recording immediately. Among others, it was released on the excellent The Bootleg Series Vol. 6: Bob Dylan Live 1964, Concert at Philharmonic Hall)


      • Kind of a long recess here on the Service Course, wasn’t it? That’s due to a lot of the usual reasons – work, other obligations, a bit of ambivalence, trying to ride a bit. And it’ll likely be slow a bit longer since I’m on vacation next week, but maybe I’ll regain some momentum with the break. We’re starting to be able to smell cyclocross season, after all.

      • That recent silence isn’t to say there’s nothing good going on right now. Quite the contrary. Sure, there’s all the transfer buzz, but this is also the time of the year that the Italians host a great series of longstanding UCI 1.HC and 1.1 races, including the “Trittico Lombardo” – the Tre Valle Varesine on Monday, Coppa Agostini yesterday, the Coppa Bernocchi today. This year, all three races were won by young guns from talented fields, with Francesco Gavazzi (Lampre) continuing the progression he’s shown the last few years by winning Agostini, and Manuel Belletti (Colnago-CSF) doing the same today in the Bernocchi. Only Irishman Dan Martin (Garmin-Transitions) prevented an Italian sweep of these fiercely provincial contests by winning Varesine from Domenico Pozzovivo (Colnago-CSF) with a beautifully timed attack. I think everyone’s ready for a bit of a youth movement in the sport, no?

      • Why do I like these races so much? I don’t really know, but I’ll give it a shot. First, I love Italy and yearn to go back as soon as possible. So I’ll admit that sometimes I really just like looking at the photos, and that some of those times, I’m staring right past the riders and into the hills and palm trees and old villas. You really can’t beat the light there. Second, these littler late season races, together with the achingly beautiful Giro di Lombardia, are the yin to the early season yang of the soggy Belgian races in the spring. It’s not quite that they’re providing closure, but it’s something like that. And third, the Italian classics provide a little understated, history-laden relief from a slew of better publicized but sort of bland stage races that seem to flounder around between Tour de France and the Vuelta each year. Anyway, Italian 1.1 racing picks back up again with the Trofeo Melinda up in Trentino on Saturday, and then continues with the Giro del Veneto on the 27th. Do yourself a favor and see if you can find a grainy video feed online somewhere.

      • Anyone else feel like American cyclists’ infatuations with different European cycling cultures might be cyclical? Or maybe they're just linear right now, and will get cyclical later. Back in the days of Pedali Alpini in California, late 1960s and the 1970s, Italy seemed to be the culture that elicited the most reverence in dedicated cycling circles, and many of this country’s best headed for the boot to try their luck and talent. In the 1980s, I feel like things crossed the Alps to France, probably thanks to Greg LeMond (or maybe because of Dave Stoller’s change in loyalties in the closing scene of 1979’s Breaking Away). I’m not quite sure about the 1990s – maybe they felt a little Italian again thanks to Gewiss and Mapei, but I was in college for some of that, so it’s a little hazy. What I do know is that somewhere in the mid-2000’s, everyone decided to worship at a Belgian alter. So what’s next? Spain is noticeably missing from the rotation thus far, and Alberto Contador (Astana) is winning a hell of a lot, but somehow I don’t see that happening. (Which is kind of odd, because if there’s a second language Americans are most likely to speak, it’s Spanish.) With a good U.S. fan base and the (alleged) new team, maybe the Schlecks are making a serious play to bring the fanboy crown home to Luxembourg. Quick, everybody toss your Lion of Flanders socks and buy a pair of these! Put down those frites and start whipping up some smoked collar of pork with broad beans! That's right - Luxembourg. You heard it here first.

      • I know I just sort of slagged all the little stage races buzzing away right now, but Robbie McEwen (Katusha) is looking pretty good in the Eneco Tour right now, with a stage win yesterday and a second place behind Andre Griepel (HTC-Columbia) today. After a couple of injury plagued seasons, could McEwen finally be getting back on track just in time for the sprinter’s circuit at his home-turf World Championships? Yes, with riders like Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre), Mark Cavendish and Andre Griepel (HTC-Columbia), and Tyler Farrar (Garmin) all going well, a World’s win for the aging McEwen is a longshot, but he’s a pretty crafty guy.

      • Speaking of Eneco and Farrar, Garmin’s on a hell of a tear right now. It’s nice to see them get results, but you have to wonder whether they’d trade Vattenfall, the Eneco prologue, and Tre Valle Varesine all for a single Tour de France stage win. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, because I too am one of those people who loves to howl about how there’s more to cycling than the Tour de France. But for “American” cycling teams, it’s still the 600 pound gorilla, like it or not. That said, Vaughters’ sponsor roster is pretty good on the “international presence” scale, so there’s a chance the folks who pay the bills might actually appreciate the success in Germany, the Netherlands, and Italy. I hope so.

      • Menchov to Geox. Man, he really must be scared of Tchmil. Probably not without reason. That guy's nails.

      Raceable Moments

      Educators have a concept they call “teachable moments” –when classroom discussion takes an unexpected turn that the teacher can use to teach students about something they’re genuinely interested in. By definition, teachable moments aren’t a part of the lesson plan, and they’re not an everyday thing, but they’re an important, flexible element of an educational system that’s become increasingly rigid with the current addiction to standardized testing.

      Bicycle stage racing’s become a little bit like education over the past few decades. Grand tours that used to be widely variable three-week brawls have become standardized tests, with GC contenders staying within well-established parameters for success: take time in the high mountains and in the time trials. Attack late on the last climb of the day. Race for maybe 200 kilometers, sit behind the team for the other 3,000.

      But, just like education’s teachable moments, under the right circumstances, stage racing can still present opportunities for beneficial improvisation, raceable moments when GC riders have a chance to do something outside of the usual curriculum. Something that adds value and depth to the race. And I think that’s what made the 2010 Tour better than the last several editions – it presented more potential raceable moments. Some were ultimately seized and exploited, like Contador’s attack on the final climb to Mende, or Cancellara and Schleck’s rampage through the Stage 3 cobbles. Other chances, like Stage 2’s lumpy trip through the Ardennes, were passed over, but the route at least tempted GC riders to come out and play with nary a high mountain or disc wheel in sight.

      It was still a far cry from the 1970s, when Merckx and the other giants of the road would occasionally club each other senseless on stages that modern GC contenders are content to leave to sprinters and breakaway artists. Racing has changed enough, and the fields are so much deeper now, that we’re unlikely to ever regain those days. But with thoughtful, innovative route planning, we can take small steps back in that direction.

      In terms of raceable moments, this Tour also wasn’t yet on par with the Giri d’Italia of the last several years, which have taken GC battles to new modern-day highs with a mix of challenges, from creative mid-mountain days to throwback-length time trials. But the Tour is getting there. Last year’s tinkerings, concentrating the action in the final week at the near-total expense of the first 14 days of the race, demonstrated a well-meaning interest in shaking things up; it just didn’t work out terribly well in practice. This year, things worked out a little better, even if there was still heated debate over what, exactly, belongs in a grand tour.

      After a predictable decade or two, ASO is finally starting to break the Tour out of its mold. If we’re lucky, the GC riders will follow.

      • The fact that Alberto Contador’s (Astana) winning margin ended up being 39 seconds over Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) is unfortunate, because the knee-jerk reaction inevitably has been and will continue to be to consider those "the same 39 seconds” that Contador gained in the now-infamous chain-drop attack. But they’re not the same 39 seconds, or at least not all of them are, anyway. If anyone bothered to look closely enough, a few of those seconds might turn out to be some of the 10 that Contador pulled back on Schleck on Stage 12 to Mende. Others might be leftovers from the 42 Contador put into Schleck in the prologue, or from the 31 he clawed out of the final TT. It’s hard to tell which seconds came from where, though, because they’ve long since been thrown in the pot with Schleck’s 10 from Morzine and his 73 from Arenberg, shaken up, and drawn back out, one by one. It doesn’t help that one of the damn things looks just like the next.

        Which is all a long way of saying that the final margins in a grand tour don’t come from any one day, or place, or attack. They come from three weeks of give and take, where the seconds ahead or behind on any given day contantly reshape the tactics on the road. Simply put, had Contador not taken those 39 seconds on the road to Bagnères-de-Luchon, the following stages wouldn’t have been ridden in the same way, just as, if Schleck hadn’t taken a yawning 1:13 over the cobbles, Contador’s much-debated attack might never have happened at all. To take the final margin of victory and cast it as coming from a specific time and place in the race is to completely misstate the nature of stage racing in general, and grand tours in particular.

      • At the time, people talked about Contador’s pursuit of those 10 seconds over Schleck on the climb to Mende (at the expense of a potential Vinokourov stage win) as smacking of insecurity and preemptive desperation. The drumbeat of that week was that Contador should have been content to just hold his roughly 30 second deficit to Schleck until the final TT, given his superiority in that discipline.

        Contador can’t win, can he? Had he just said, more or less, “I’m not worried about 30 seconds -- I’ll just hammer Schleck flat in the TT” he’d no doubt have his existing cocky label polished up and rehung around his neck. But when he goes on the attack to try to cut the deficit, he’s labeled as desperate and insecure. Scylla or Charybdis, take your pick.

        To my eye, Contador's move to take a little opportunistic time on the the climb up the “Col du Jalabert” smacked not of insecurity, but of a certain strategic self-awareness. Yes, based on past performance, Contador was the far-superior TT rider, but to count on (1) maintaining the same gap through the remaining Pyrenean stages when Schleck was clearly climbing well, and then (2) easily making up the time in the TT would have been pretty dismissive of not only Schleck, but also the fickle hand of fate. Thirty seconds is easily lost with a flat tire or a dragging brake, and there is no “wait for the yellow” guideline in a time trial (no matter how badly I’m sure people want there to be one). And the final TT – the one that Contador should have allegedly been content to spot Schleck half a minute in – revealed that even if the attack to Mende was a fit of desperation, Contador had his head in the right place in scrapping for seconds. It’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you.

      • On Saturday, I think we saw Schleck ride like we wished he’d ridden on Friday on the Tourmalet. Before that final mountain stage, Schleck said that he would risk losing his second place to try to win the Tour, but, while he apparently “surged” a number of times, I don’t think anyone really saw that risk-it-all philosophy materialize. On Saturday, though, the guy threw everything he had at the wall, and for a while it was looking like it might be enough. Someday, it might be.

      • In that same time trial, I’m also betting a lot of people saw Contador do the ride that they wanted to see from him – the one that made him look human. People will make a lot out of Contador’s vulnerability this year versus his invincibility last year, and read into it what they will about the great doping questions of the day. I’ll come at it from a much simpler perspective – I just like a race where everyone looks a little bit beatable more than one where they don’t.

      • There were a few minutes in Saturday’s TT, right about when Contador passed under the 10k to go banner, when I started to think that Denis Menchov (Rabobank) was going to pull off one of the sneakiest victories in Tour history. He didn’t, but with his podium finish, the Russian finally got the Tour monkey off his back. Hopefully, it’ll help him negotiate a better contract with Katusha for next year.

      • Today’s sponsorship report: After grabbing both the first and second spots on the podium, the folks from SRAM and Specialized are probably still drunk as monkeys and watering curbs throughout Paris right now.

      • RadioShack was triumphant in its allegedly dogged pursuit of the teams competition win, beating out second-placed Caisse d’Epargne. Contacted for comment as he was packing his suitcase, Caisse d’Epargne assistant director Neil Stephens responded, “We were second in the what now?”

      • Chapeau to Schleck for handling himself so well in difficult situations where it would have been very easy not to, especially for a 25-year-old. Through a combination of appearance and demeanor, Schleck always seems to come off as the perfect Boy Scout, with both the positives and negatives that title entails. It comes with a certain, perhaps accurate, connotation of naïveté, a perceived lack of the killer instinct, even when he's talking about the anger in his stomach. But there’s also an earnestness there, a focus on the job, and a steadfast refusal to be drawn into petty battles or jaded statements. On the balance, I’d call it a positive, because even if he never wins a grand tour, we could use a few more Boy Scouts in cycling (even if the first version didn’t turn out so well). I’ll say this for Bjarne Riis, he certainly puts together some of the most likeable teams in pro cycling.

      • You know, Footon-Servetto wasn’t that bad, and Rafael Valls probably earned himself a contract somewhere else and a possible return trip to the Tour in the future. Still horrible kit, though. Just horrible.

      • As I said, I thought it was a great Tour, but if you subscribe to cycling’ hero-and-villian roles as they’re currently cast, I could see where it could seem pretty dismal. That self-absorbed brat Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) nails down five stages, including his second straight on the Champs, while Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) goes home early and empty handed. The cocky, underhanded Alberto Contador bests that nice boy Andy Schleck on GC. That allegedly dirty Eye-talian playboy Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre) gets the better of earnest viking Thor Hushovd (Cervelo) in the battle for green. That must be terribly frustrating for people who need their cycling cast like a John Wayne movie, replete with black and white hats.

      • Speaking of Petacchi, he’s now completed his collection of points jerseys from all three grand tours. (2004 Giro, 2005 Vuelta, 2010 Tour) Now we’ll see if it all comes crashing down around his ears before he can even get the last one framed and hung on the wall.

      • Speaking of jerseys, what of the great RadioShack wardrobe tragedy? Frankly, I wouldn’t shed too many a tear for them – contrary to appearances, I suspect the whole thing went off exactly as it was intended. If TRS really was counting on wearing the jerseys, they would have requested UCI approval, and given the stated nature of the effort, I bet they would have received it. But they didn’t take that step, choosing instead to go the six-year-old route and get more attention by acting out. With that, they also got the added bonus of getting to look persecuted one more time for the general audience.

        I found it all pretty distasteful, and not because I’m a stickler for the uniform rules. Armstrong’s previous teams wore modified uniforms onto the Champs Elysees all the time, and nobody, me included, cared a bit. I didn’t care then because they’d earned the media spotlight by winning the race, so in my mind, they were welcome to do with that Champs Elysees spotlight as they pleased, whether that was pushing Livestrong or whatever else their sponsors wanted or allowed. But this year, the spotlight wasn’t theirs to bask in, but they tried to point it at themselves anyway, when it should have been shining squarely on Contador, Schleck, Chartreau, and Petacchi. They know it, we know it.

        Finally, the whole affair kept 161 other guys - who just wanted to get the hell to Paris and be done with the whole damn thing - waiting while they huffed around with faux offense and fumbled with safety pins. That’s just rude.

      • And yes, it will sound callous, but I’m tired of cycling being the cancer sport. And yes, I say that as someone who has the obligatory family history. But I’m not going to recite that history here as some love to do in such discussions, because validity of opinions on the matter shouldn’t be decided on some chest-puffing “who’s more cancer” contest.

      • Related to the above point, I’ve had people email or ask me in person why I and others talk about the lawsuits and other negative things about Lance Armstrong, when he’s clearly an inspiration to people who can use some inspiration. I understand why they ask, and I can only answer for myself. I write a bike racing blog, so what matters about Armstrong to me, here, is the impact of his presence and actions on bike racing. To cite the most current example, yes, there might well be value in drawing attention to the number of cancer sufferers worldwide, in showing them that someone cares. But in the context of the bike race at hand, I thought it was inappropriate, so that’s what I wrote about. I write about the dope allegations because that’s relevant to bike racing; raising money for cancer is significantly less so. Plenty of other people can and do cover the cancer angle, so I’ll leave them to it.

      • Like others, I’m feeling a little lost now that the Tour is over, and I’ll miss seeing the little red light on my Tivo light up every morning just as I leave for work. It’s tempting to wish it would go on and on, but if all-you-can-eat buffets have taught us anything, it’s that nothing can be both good and unlimited.

      • Since, whether I like it or not, the Tour marks the high point of the cycling season, it’s a good time to say thanks to everyone who’s come here to read, both during this Tour and over the last few years. So thanks. And if you’re one of those who just started visiting during the Tour, I hope you’ll stick around.

      • Sometime during the past year, I’ve decided that each Tour needs to get played out the same way, so here’s this year’s version of Joe Dassin performing Aux Champs Elysees. There used to be a nice, full acoustic version out there, but it looks like it's been pulled. So, this year, we're going with the lounge lizard edition.


      Brought to you by DIRK HOFMAN MOTORHOMES!*

      My Tivo cut off the last several kilometers of yesterday’s stage to the top of the Col du Tourmalet. At the time, it was frustrating, and I cursed the damn thing and it’s seemingly non-existent understanding of bicycle racing, but once I was able to see the final kilometers, I realized my dear Tivo was really just trying to save me 20 minutes.

      Like so many things in life, Stage 17 didn’t quite live up to the hype, at least from the heavily worked “final showdown” angle. To many, it seemed that Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) had quaffed some sort of psychotherapeutic Pepto Bismol to quell the anger in his stomach. And Alberto Contador (Astana), having keyed in on the readily apparent truth that people hate it when he attacks but love hollow dramatic gestures, holstered his pistola, made the peloton wait for Sammy Sanchez (Euskaltel), and gave away a stage win. Could it be that Contador is finally getting his head around this whole PR business? Because after yesterday’s charm onslaught, if he promises lower taxes and reduced unemployment, he could be well on his way to public office.

      But before we get too down on Stage 17, let’s remember that it’s been one of the first excitement deficiencies of this Tour. The start on the narrow roads of the Netherlands, the Stage 3 cobbles, and the Ardennes all lived up to their billing, one way or another. The Alps showed us the fall of Armstrong, the struggles of Evans, and the tenacity of the French; the Pyrenees brought more of the same, plus the drama of the chain drop, the last waltz, and Jens Voigt on a circus bike. Remember last year, when nothing happened for two solid weeks? Yes, this year’s battle for yellow has been, with one glaring exception, a fairly uninspiring case of waiting and waiting some more, lasting so long that now all we have to wait for is a final time trial. And let’s face it, those final time trials are only truly climactic once every 10 years, and I’m doubting that this is that year.

      Which isn’t to say that the last few days of this Tour won’t feature some interesting racing. By the time this is posted, we will have seen another green jersey showdown in Bordeaux, and depending on how the sprinters have come through the mountains, the tight battle between Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre) and Thor Hushovd (Cervelo) could carry all the way to the finish of the world’s greatest criterium on Sunday. And though I like to dismiss time trials, Saturday could produce some surprises as well. I think it’s a given that Denis Menchov (Rabobank) will overtake Sammy Sanchez (Euskaltel) to take the third spot on the podium, provided he can keep his TT bike upright. What I’ll be interested to see is how close he can come to Schleck and a Contador who many seem to doubt will be the same as the Contador we saw in last year’s TT closer. Nearly four minutes is a huge gulf, so I don’t expect Menchov to get across it, but the final podium spread could be a lot closer than it is now. The other thing I’ll be on the lookout for is whether Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) can improve on his current 8th place standing. While 6th place Robert Gesink (Rabobank) might be too far afield at 2:37 up, 7th place Joachin Rodriguez (Katusha) might be accessible at a 2:15 advantage.

      The other final question to be answered, assuming all works out as people assume it will? How gaudy will Contador's Champs Elysees bike and kit be?


      • At 32 years old, with your Rabobank contract up, young Dutch teammate Robert Gesink sitting safely inside the top-10 on GC, and countryman Vladimir Karpets failing to live up to expectations, Mr. Denis Menchov, smile and say, “Hello, Katusha!”

      • Even if the (second) Tourmalet stage didn’t have all the action fans had hoped, at least it had a lot of hairy, nearly naked dudes. Did you see Andy Schleck crack a smile right when the Borat trio fell back? He has such a Boy Scout image, it felt almost like he knew he wasn’t supposed to smile and tried his best, but he couldn’t help it.

      • I know I said we shouldn't get down on Stage 17, but damn, if that wasn't the case for bonus seconds on mountain stages in a nutshell, I don't know what is.

      • It took a long time to dawn on me, but this year’s route gave the RV people of the Tourmalet a two-fer. Watch Stage 16, hang around, drink, or ride away the rest day, then watch Stage 17 come back the other way. End result? That mountain is going to smell like urine until about a week before the next Tour comes through.

      • Halfway up the Tourmalet, Omega Pharma-Lotto still had Mario Aerts and Matthew Lloyd in the main group with Jurgen Van den Brouke. It was an astounding effort for a team whose lack of high mountain prowess was near legend during Cadel Evans’ tenure as the GC hope, and I have to wonder if it chaps him a bit that the boys seem to have a bit more bottle now that they have a Belgian leader to support. And it’s not that Omega has a drastically improved mountain roster. Some of Evans mountain support during his tenure at Whoever-Lotto? In 2007, he had Aerts and Chris Horner. In 2008, Aerts again. In 2009, he had Matthew Lloyd and Van den Brouke. If it’s been a matter of motivating the troops, I think Evans’ performance this year will serve him well in the future.

      • Sheep! And people wonder how cycling’s different from other sports…

      • A note to ASO: You successfully manage a portable city, your own air force, a mobile circus, and what I can only assume is enough bureaucratic red tape to circle the globe. So I know you can get 10 kilometers worth of metal fencing up a mountain. Don’t get me wrong, I love those tunnel-of-humanity, wall-of-sound images from the Alps and Pyrenees as much as the next guy – they can literally give me goosebumps from 3,000 miles away. But I also like it when the riders have enough room to attack in the last 5 kilometers of a mountain stage. You know, if they decide they’d like to.

      • Though he’s won the points competition at the Giro d’Italia in the past, I never thought I’d see Petacchi really contest the green jersey at the Tour de France. It’s been refreshing over the last few years to see the super-sprinters go after the green, rather than leaving it to the more versatile O’Gradys and Frieres of the peloton. I like those guys just fine, but having the top fast men in the running lends more credibility to the jersey. Too bad that Petacchi looks to be getting sucked into a new Italian doping investigation, so it may all yet implode.

      • Hats off to Lance Armstrong (RadioShack) for giving an astute and malice-free assessment of the great chain drop issue on Versus two days ago, and for, thank goodness, asking for people to stop to all the “waiting” talk. Frankly, I didn’t think he had it in him, but he did. Carlos Sastre had some similar, if more strongly worded thoughts on this year’s great ethical debates, while Hesjedal wins the Editors Award for Brevity with his assessment of the Great 2010 Waiting Debate: “If you draw your sword and drop it, you die.”

      • While everyone was focused on the whole Schleck versus Contador etiquette issue, many (except those in Ireland) missed the great Nicolas Roche (AG2r) versus John Gadret (also AG2r) issue on the same stage. Seems that on the Port de Balês climb, Roche had a front flat, and his assigned minder Gadret refused to give up his wheel, rode on, and then attacked to top it off, riding fairly obviously for the unofficial “top Frenchman” GC placing. As Roche describes, AG2r director Vincent Lavenu was screaming at Gadret – both on the radio during the stage and on the bus afterwards – that he was supposed to help Roche defend his top-15 classification spot, not leave him on the side of the road with a flat and ride for himself. Given the situation though, I have to wonder if some of Lavenu’s scolding was done for Roche’s benefit. At a French team like AG2r, it would be understandable if it were determined that “first Frenchman” was more valuable than a top-15 GC placing by an Irishman. At the same time, Roche is shaping up into quite a talent, so Lavenu can’t afford to alienate him by backing Gadret.

      • I’ve seen a few assertions that, since the French fans are booing and whistling at Contador, it’s pretty obvious he was in the wrong. Really? Why? Because they’re French people and they’re at the Tour de France? Do you assume Americans at the Super Bowl are experts on professional (American) football? While I know there are some are particularly knowledgeable French fans, remember that for the most part, the people watching the podiums and stage starts are just that – fans, probably of widely varying degrees – or curious locals, or people on vacation, just like you or I would be if we were there. Believe it or not, being French, just like (gasp!) being Belgian, does not automatically confer immense cycling wisdom on a person, nor automatically validate (or invalidate) their opinions. I'm probably preaching to the choir, though, because if you’ve found your way to my little corner of cycling, you’re probably capable of forming your own opinion.
      *Not really, but something tells me Dirk Hofman doesn't mind a little free advertising from time to time.