Like the Phoenix, Operation Puerto rises from the ashes

April 30, 2007

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I guess Hollywood is not the only one in love with a sequel. The boys from Spain are at it again. Let’s call it Operation Puerto 2: Blood is thicker than water. First, Jan Ullrich was found to have bags of blood in possession of Dr. Fuentes. This past week we have seen the FedEx Bio division really busy. First Birillo /Rider 2’s blood is off to Italy to be tested against Ivan Basso’s DNA sample. Now it is being reported that shipments are heading for Germany and the USA.

La Gazzetta dello Sport is reporting that 49 new riders are being implicated in Operation Puerto 2. My limited knowledge of Hollywood math says that sequels generally do 80% of the box office take of its predecessor. Seeing how Operation Puerto 1 took in 58 riders, 49 is pretty good. The star power of the sequel is a little less than the original. The original had Jan and Ivan. The sequel has Tyler Hamilton and Jorge Jaksche.

If you remember OP1, Tyler had a cameo role as Rider 4142. He returns to reprise his role with a twist. He is also blood bag #11. Poor Jaksche is in a rehash of the lovable German played by Jan in the original. No cool numbers or animal nick names.

Anyway, back to the story. OP2 has given all the evil villains a chance to return for more hand rubbing, cat petting, evil laughing (cue ominous music). The Grand Tours, ASO (with their mini-mes Unipublic and RCS Sport), and WADA are falling over themselves to get to a microphone to be the first to suspend Hamilton and his 48 counterparts. Didn’t they watch the first movie? The villains were undone by using the weapon “Trial by media” too early. When the smoke cleared, they had no counter attack. Oh well.

Here is where I draw the line. If Basso’s DNA matches, bounce him. I like him quite a bit but you know what they say in the movies. “It’s nothing personal, just business.”

For Tyler’s case, unless they find something against him post Olympics 2004, drop it. The man did his time. We just now know how he did it. It may irk some that he never came clean (pun intended) but hey that’s life. Deal with it. Many a person has gone to the joint professing their innocence. After they are released, you can’t retry them just because you have more evidence on the same case.


Nike and Trek agree to see other people

April 28, 2007

Now that the home is empty as Lance has moved out on his own, Nike and Trek have realized that they have grown apart. Faced with severe “empty nest” syndrome, they have decided that it is time to split. After 2007, Trek will no longer be the exclusive distributor of Nike Cycling attire.

Why does this distribution agreement warrant a post? Actually, I believe that this is a signal of Nike’s quiet retreat from cycling. If that is the case, we don’t see the boys and girls from Beaverton Or walk away with their tails between their legs very often. So, let’s dig deeper.

Lance Armstrong reinvigorated the cycling market with his 7 Tour wins. No company was a bigger recipient of this market growth than Trek. This is very easy to see. First the association. In cycling, no piece of equipment is as readily credited with helping in the success as the bike. All the other equipment, save the time trialing skinsuit (more on that later), is merely window dressing on the person and the bike partnership.  Second, Trek showed us some very tangible improvements in the bike itself making us believers in Trek’s role in the Lance Armstrong phenomenon.   For example, Trek was one of the leaders of the Carbon Revolution, it made forks with no rake standard, and it formed a unique symbiotic relationship with Mr. Millimeter.

This is an association that Nike should understand. A company whose roots are in running has been on the receiving end of this kind of synergy.  Having the main piece of athletic equipment, the shoes, taking partial credit for an athlete’s success. They have also shown technological advances in the science of shoes as athletic improvement devices. Think Nike Air.

From that association was born Nike’s philosophy of Athlete endorsements. From Bill Rogers and Alberto Salazar to Bo Jackson to LeBron James, Nike has liked the primary athletic equipment to the primary athlete. Of course, the ultimate partnership was with one Michael Jordan. This success built a strong brand and allowed Nike to charge a hefty premium.

When Nike entered cycling, it did so in an industry where shoes are not the primary equipment. Nike also introduced clothing. Outside of trademarking the terms Dri-FIT and Sphere Dry, it gave us nothing tangible that we could touch, see, attach our feelings of athletic accomplishments. Yet they wanted a premium.

The only area where Nike really stood out is in the time trial skinsuit. Taking tons of speed skating experience, Nike really took the leadership position here. The problem is I don’t see too many skinsuits on my club rides.

Relying on the endorsement method of marketing, Nike really did not gain the traction it was looking for. Tiger Woods wears Nike clothes and they sell well too. But while I may wear a Nike golf shirt to work, I will not wear a Discovery Channel jersey any day soon.

That leaves us with clothing that serves us only while we participate. Among riders, there are two potential markets that Nike could go after; Premium and Ultra Premium. In the Premium market, you have a lot of very good and established brands. Brands like Pearl Izumi and Giordana come to mind. I would put Nike quality up against any of these brands. Unfortunately, Nike prices it’s products in the Ultra Premium market with brands like assos. Assos has two things Nike does not. First, technically better clothing. Visual/tactile difference and while riding, assos is like no other. Second, the European/Swiss cache that hearkens to cycling’s European roots. The Nike brand equity has little carry over effect in cycling.

So the Nike formula is not working. Rather than trying to adopt a new strategy, they seem to be cursing cycling and moving on. I guess that there are bigger markets to conquer and they would rather spend their energy trying to take soccer from adidas.

Good Luck.


Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) Reopens Basso Case

April 24, 2007

In a story published in Cyclingnews this morning, Italian authorities have disclosed that they are interested in the bags of blood tagged with the codenames “Birillo” and “2” currently in the hands of Spanish authorities as part of Operation Puerto. Italian paper La Gazzetta dello Sport reports that those bags could be in the hands of Italian authorities within a week.

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In related news, the Spanish pape, Interviu is outlining a potentially deeper relation between Basso and Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes than had been reported.

Given this “one-two” punch, Discovery Channel has suspended Basso pending a DNA test on the bags of blood from Operation Puerto. Obviously, this puts the Giro is serious jeopardy. Questions are also in my mind regarding the ability of Discovery Channel to locate a sponsor in the midst of all of this. My guess that the one pushing the hardest for a swift resolution will be Johan himself, not McQuaid, Pound, or the Grand Tours.

I have yet to hear of any response from the other ProTour teams and those within the UCI and Grand Tours who continue to advocate an exclusion of all riders directly or indirectly implicated in Operation Puerto. It would be wise of them to wait until the DNA results are in before they find the nearest bully pulpit.


The rule of the peloton: if the riders don’t want to race, they won’t

April 20, 2007

This is a quote from an article in this month’s Procycling magazine. In an article examining the origin of the time limit in stage races, Procycling traces the efforts of Henri Desgrange and his successors to force riders to give it all they have all the time. A perfect Tour for Desgrange was with only one finisher.

The result was a series of rules designed to punish the gruppetto followed by a series of countermoves by riders. Rules included eliminating the last rider (lantern rouge) on the G.C. each day. This was countered by riders destined to be the lantern rouge dropping out. The result is another rider who finished the stage would then assume the lantern rouge and be removed. Teams began playing the game of “If I go, I’ll take one of yours with me.” with each other. This detracted from the race to the point where the rule was dropped.

Realizing that no rule will stop an unmotivated peloton a truce was obtained and the 10% rule became the law of the land. All riders finishing outside 10% of the winner’s time are eliminated. The time limit moves to 15% if more than 15% of the peloton finishes outside the 10% time limit.

Sometimes, even this rule was challenged. On a rain soaked stage in 2001 Tour de France, a small but motivated breakaway put about 30 minutes between themselves and an unmotivated peloton. To account for this, race commissaries are granted quite a bit of leeway in modifying the race rules.

Funny that after reading this article I step off the plane and read that on Stage three of the Tour of Georgia, the peloton again decided to take the day off. A group of thirteen riders broke away early in the day’s stage. When each team looked to the other to work, they found no takers. So the die was cast and at the end of the day, the peloton rolled in 29:04 behind the day’s winner.

We are reminded of the hard learned lesson taught to Henri all those years ago. When riders don’t want to race, they won’t.


Sorry for the delay

April 18, 2007

Don’t you hate when work get’s in the way of a good time? I’ll tell you, for the past few weeks, I’ve been in a travel rut so bad I can’t even get out on my new bike. Hopefully this weekend will provide some quality time on the bike.

I have been taking day trip after day trip. Some are OK such as a day trip from NJ to Florida. Same time zone, 3 hour flight. That is doable. Right now, I’m typing this at 11pm local time. I have no idea what time my body thinks it is because I’m on a day trip from NJ to Moscow. Yup. 26 hours in a country. I landed at 10:10 am today after flying all night and I have the 12:15 flight out tomorrow. I’m too old for this stuff. I did bring a little camera for my 1 1/2 hour tour of Moscow. Here is Lenin’s tomb.

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After tomorrow, I have to start saying no. I have not even had time to comment of O’Grady taking Paris-Roubaix! Way to go. If US Postal/Discovery had a formula for winning the Tour de France , then CSC has the formula for the Hell of the North. Stuart followed the same game plan that Fabian Cancellara used last year. I watched the event live on Cycling.tv while it rained cats and dogs outside. Then I took a TiVo’d version of the VS coverage on the plane. Not even close. Cycling.tv is really distinguishing themselves.

Well, I have to get some sleep now. I have a flight to catch.


New Kid on the Block

April 13, 2007

Has this ever happened to you? On the first cool fall day, you pull out a pair of jeans that you have not worn in months. You put them on and straighten out the pockets by putting your hands into them. In one of those pockets, you feel something so you pull it out. In your hands is a long-forgotten $20 bill. Remember that feeling? A little unexpected find can make your day.

That’s waht happened yesterday. I was about to leave for the airport when my wife came home. She started off by saying that “I’m sure you already know about this but…” Normally, I do. I thank her for thinking of me and continue with my day. This time was different. She presented me with a new cycling magazine Road Bike Action Magazine. The premiere of a US based magazine dedicated to professional cycling.

The premiere issue has some standard yet interesting content. An interview with Lance Armstrong (If your US based, you have to have this), a review of 5 top bikes, A brief preview of the US circuit, and training tips. It also has Bob Roll as one of the contributors writing on 17 ways to lose the Tour.

All in all, it was well written and an interesting read. They seem to be positioning themselves between Bicycling (the “Cosmo” of cycling magazines) and VeloNews (The NYTimes? of US cycling magazines). I’m not sure how much content sits in this in between zone.

Some things they should consider. First, drop the ‘Action’ from the title. Sounds like a comic book. Second, add some reporting to the feature articles/interviews. How’s the US scene, how is the European scene?

I plan to watch this as it matures and finds it’s own rhythm.


Save the Kemmel!

April 12, 2007

It seems that the crashes on the historic Kemmelberg in yesterday’s Gent-Wevelgem has renewed the debate on the wisdom of the cobbled ascent. Many riders have complained that the jarring of the surface causes water bottles to fall out of riders’ cages creating a hazard. Others say that since there is less of a selection coming into the Kemmelberg, that there are too many riders fighting for front positions before and at the beginning of the ascent. Pat McQuaid says nonsense.

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The UCI president feels that danger is part of cycling. He also feels that riders pushing to the front is not a problem of the mountain but a problem of the riders. I think it may be a little of both.

Given the mandate of ProTour teams to ride all ProTour races, there are bigger fields of riders at the classics. Those riders are all at the top level of their sport as the inclusion of ProTour teams leaves out smaller less talented teams. Combine that with the fact that many riders who previously would have skipped any race with cobbles, Belgium, or April in the description are here. These riders are not as experienced in riding races like the Tour of Flanders, Gent-Wevelgem, and Paris-Roubaix. That contributes to the added danger.

I don’t think courses should be deliberately dangerous (see some of the finishing circuits in the Tour de France) but I do think that luck is part of the equation that wins a race and that crashes are inevitable. I can’t see taking out the Kemmelberg when we have already seen one classic climb, the Koppenberg removed. A move that is most likely permanent.