Sad, very sad

February 28, 2007

A couple of days ago Jan Ullrich announced his retirement from the sport of professional cycling. Instead of posting the news right away, I watched and waited for the reaction. I waited, and waited, and waited. I expected that the retirement of a star that has been such a presence on the professional cycling scene would cause some ripples through the blogsphere. The ripples were more from a pebble and the water returned to normal soon after.

That is sad. I remember the 1996 tour when Jan helped Bjarne Riis win his Tour de France and dethrone Miguel “Big Mig” Indurain. I remember thinking Jan was clearly stronger than his team leader and could have easily taken the yellow jersey off Riis. But he didn’t. His chance would clearly come.

Then in 1997, he grabbed the jersey with such force and authority that we all thought we were seeing the dawn of a new era. A new patron had arrived. So soon after the sun set on Indurain, it was rising on Ullrich.

Well, you know the story. Jan could never remove the words “could be” and “potential” from articles surrounding his name. The rising sun was actually coming from Texas, not Germany. Each year was the year but that year never came. His gold medal in the 2000 Olympics raised our hope only to be dashed again. In 2003 he had his best opportunity to silence the growing number of critics. He came close but could not close the door on a mortal-looking Armstrong.

After that, Jan began to assume the role of lovable loser. The Raymond Poulidor of our generation. Even though Jan pointed out that unlike “Pou Pou”, he had won. Unfortunately, no one listened.

Jan seemed destined to finish his career as Lance Armstrong’s Alydar. The second best rider of his generation. In fact, it began to seem that Jan was getting comfortable with being second. A sure sign that the shadow cast from Austin would always cover the German.

Finally, Operation Puerto put a mark on Jan’s record that would be worse than a rider with unfulfilled promise. And after Monday’s announcement, that seems to be the last line on the Jan Ullrich story. And it seems that as Jan Ullrich goes quietly into that good night, no one cares and that may biggest the biggest shame of it all.

tdf199709.jpg


EPO maker Amgen requests testing at the Tour of California

February 28, 2007

Cyclingnews this morning clarifies some of the stories surrounding drug testing at the Tour of California and by extension other UCI races outside the ProTour schedule. For the 2007 edition, Amgen requested EPO testing as it did in 2006. This year that request was honored.

The lab at UCLA conducted the testing on behalf of the TOC organizers AEG. The test conducted was the less sophisticated urine test as opposed to the blood test that can detect EPO use out much further. I’m sure that Amgen, who is one of the two companies who market of EPO worldwide, has a vested interest in keeping the race they sponsor as clean as possible. Amgen has two versions of EPO, Epogen and Aranesp.

What was interesting is that Pat McQuaid confirmed that outside of the ProTour calander, the UCI does not test all that much.

“The UCI does blood tests at most but not all but most of the major ProTour events. Outside of the ProTour events we don’t do as many blood tests. (The Tour Of California) being in its second year would not warrant the blood test to be done.”

My favorite part was the following quote delivered with a straight face:

“The effort it takes to bring the equipment here and the people to administer the test is very expensive. The people who administer the test are specialists and they are trained to read the machines that they bring so it is very expensive.”

If the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory is WADA certified and can conduct the blood test, why does the UCI need to bring in equipment and specialsts to the Tour of California? I don’t quite get it. But it may explain the next quote:

“At the moment (EPO blood testing) has only ever been done in Europe. I would certainly say that as the race progresses in the next year or two and becomes more important and prestigious, blood tests will be a factor that will be introduced.”


Oh yea, I need this before you go on vacation

February 27, 2007

I’ve been focused on protocols and built in bias as significant issues in the LNDD testing of rider samples most notably Floyd Landis.  I stopped short of implying incompetence even though there is a fair amount of evidence to that effect.  I also stayed away from thinking of a conspiracy theory as well. It takes me a while before I go Oliver Stone on something.  

One thing I neglected to think about.  In Rant Your Head Off, he adds the element of rushing.  I completely forgot about the ticking of the lab shutdown over these technicians head.  On a good day, lab work for one of the biggest sporting events in the world must be tough.  Add that the degree of difficulty of a “get it done yesterday” mandate. 

So if you are a lab tech.  Vacation is in front of you and you already know the guy did it.  All you need to do is confirm it with the “B” sample and you have a recipie for disaster.  Rushing is like putting a bad lab on steroids. (Sorry).  Speed up sloppy work and you get, well the LNDD.


Bad luck finds George again

February 26, 2007

When I saw the crash, I knew something bad had happened. The way George was sitting and rocking was so reminiscent of Paris-Roubaix last year. Today, Discovery Channel confirmed that big George broke his wrist in the crash on Stage six of the Tour of California. The injury puts him out of competition for the classics yet again.

For a man destined to put his name up there with cycling’s immortals, George seems to have angered the cycling gods in some way.

That along with sitting forever in Atlanta’s airport has me in a mood. So when I saw this photo of Pat McQuaid at the Tour of California, trying to rally the Directors of cycling’s elite teams to save his ProTour, I just had to put it out there for you to add your own caption. I wish I had a prize to give the best caption but give it your best shot.

jd_toc07_stg60010alt.jpg


Why this is all important

February 25, 2007

You probably have heard all the commotion surrounding the degradation of the WADA’s case regarding Floyd Landis. Currently in the online newspaper Sportingo.com, there is a great summary of the current situation by Daniel a.k.a Rant Your Head Off.

To some, this might seem the be all end all in technicalities. So two people were involved in both tests. How bad can that be? If they were good enough to do the first test, their work should be good enough for the second test. Well, there is a reason for the protocols keeping the two testers apart and the testee anonymous.

I tried to outline why this is critical enough to throw out a case when this protocol is violated. what do you think?


Do I hear the sound of spurs?

February 25, 2007

westerns0.jpg

We don’t need no stinkin’ ProTour

While we were all snug on our sofas watching the Tour of California, the ASO upped the stakes in the ongoing battle between the Grand Tours and the UCI by removing the first big race from the ProTour. Paris-Nice set to begin on March 11th will be a”French” race and outside the aupices of the UCI.

“The President of the UCI confirmed that the race would take place outside of the sporting frame of the UCI if A.S.O. refused to join the ”UCI Pro-Tour” circuit, insisting on his will to impose this closed circuit with an economical vocation that A.S.O., as well as the organisers of the Giro and the Vuelta legitimately refuse to take part in since its creation.

Taking the position of the UCI into consideration and seeing the threat that is weighing on the organisation of the race, A.S.O. finds itself in the obligation of taking all the necessary measures allowing to safeguard an event that has a leading role in international cycling’s heritage, and confirms that ”Paris-Nice” will take place as planned from the 11th to the 18th of March 2007.

In these exceptional circumstances, and wanting to guarantee the integrity and credibility of the event, A.S.O. will organise the race according to the French law and has therefore solicited the French Cyling Federation (FFC) in order to establish an agreement insuring in particular the respect of the technical regulation.

During these discussions, the President of A.S.O. once again asked for a meeting to be organised with all the main actors of professional cycling. It is indeed, according to him, the only way to consider a solution to this serious crisis born from a bad reform that the UCI has wanted to assess despite a necessary consensus.

A.S.O. deeply regrets that its demand has been turned down by the President of the UCI who intends to make of A.S.O. the only responsible of this crisis, while already in June 2006, the UCI had reduced to nothing the efforts of a work group that had yet found a common agreement in which it had contributed.”

The UCI fired back by first trying to keep the ProTour teams from attending. That went over well with the teams. Then the UCI started to show a little panic by saying that this means the race will be a doping fest since the international community will not be there to insure that testing is done in a high quality (sic) manner.

Looks like high noon has come.


Wimbeldon to pay equal prize money

February 25, 2007

The Wimbledon Championships have announced that the prize money for both the men’s and women’s brackets will be equal. The checks will be the same all the way down the line. That means that 3 out of the 4 tennis Grand Slam events have eliminated any disparity in prizes. The French Open agreed to pay the men’ and women’s champion the same but all other places maintain the disparity.

This is interesting to think about because the argument against equal payments was fairly straight forward. Men’s sports generate more revenue thus allowing for greater prize money. More people will come to a golf course and watch TV if Tiger Woods is playing vs. Annika Sorenstam. Higher gate receipts plus higher TV ratings equals higher prize money.

Let’s look at it this way. That argument works if you remove gender. More people watch a run of the mill PGA tournament then the Tour of California. Therefore, the prize money disparity between the two sports.

Let’s look at cycling. At the local Tour of Somerville, I see the crowds build during the day and peak for the Men’s race. The women’s race draws 70 – 75% of the fans. Of course, there is no TV. The Pro race in Philadelphia actually have the men and women competing at the same time. The TV only follows the men however. What does that mean to women’s cycling?

She Cycles by the Seashore has put some thought into this already. I don’t think the US cycling circuit is financially ready to up the prize money for women given the current revenue level. So I ask, how can we raise the tide to lift all boats? My daughter loves the women’s race and I think this is a great learning experience. She sees unselfish teamwork, sacrifice, hard work as great life examples.

So, how do we level the playing field? That’s a good question. I don’t have the answer right now other than to kick in some prime money for the women’s race in Somerville this year. This way my daughter sees some reward for hard work and sacrifice.

Think of it this way, cycling is the only major sport where you do not have to pay to attend. There is no stadium, no tickets. While that makes cycling a great deal, no attendance money can go to the riders. If I buy a pretzel, that money goes to the concession. If I buy a t-shirt, that money goes to the race organizer.

What if we create a fan’s prime? Put in what you think would be a fair “ticket” price. That money becomes a prime equally split across all the races for the day. Just a few bucks per person would add up to a decent amount.