Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Back from Qinghai TDF2010, doping and the Landis effect

Long time no post!

Well I got back from Qinghai Lake last night and am busy typing up some stories of my time at altitude.

The Chinese net filter means no facebook, blogs or twitter (Oh the humanity!) so I was stripped of all communicative powers!

But on another cycling note I got an email from an ex Kiwi Pro Nathan Dahlberg, have a read....

 Just a quick thought on the Tour De France this year which was a vintage year and definitely a big break from the past. Back in Mid June I wrote to some of you that after watching the results of Tour De Suisse and seeing the interesting transformation whereby Climbers were no longer Time Trialists and vice versa I wondered if the "Landis effect" whereby the current Federal investigation into certain members of the Professional cycling world (ie slowing them down) would pass on to other members not at this moment under investigation - and I believe it has. Greg Lemond writes some good blogs about it all in cycling news , and just today he adds a link to sports scientists who are analyzing the data provided by times and power meter data. Generally anything to do with human performance and concrete "medical" figures leads me to quite some skepticism as figures are so easily played with and misinterpreted but in current cycling the difference in figures are so extreme as to be undeniable. Leading riders performances in the Tour De France climbing are around 10% slower than in the last 17/18 years - I mean we are talking about the difference almost of the first and last guys in the peloton here!! The Climbing performances this year are back to the level of the 70's and 80's pre EPO generation.
 However for me its all a lot more obvious than figures. When a lightweight little climber blasts the best Time Trial experts on a flat course , or a big sprinter who’s pulled for 2 weeks on the front for his yellow jersey leader rides away on a mountain stage and wins than the whole race becomes absurd.
 This is not to say there is no doping in cycling now and there wasn't before the 90’ s  but the institutionalized doping programs that started during my time as a Professional rider and that have generally dominated the whole sport ever since are now been wound back. People have often told me that been professional athletes its their choice to take products and the improvement in performance makes a better race.
In fact for a young cyclist doping products are only a great risk health wise and the race is devalued into a drag race - for the spectators the human element vanishes into a Formula One world of who has biggest budget wins. In fact the trends of the last 20 years have not enhanced cycling but significantly devalued it for those that have been passionate about cycling.

One of the most active campaigners in the last 10 years against doping in cycling is Greg Lemond so below is a brief msg I wrote him that further elaborates some of my thoughts.


Hey Greg
 You probably remember me – New Zealand Pro , late 80’ s early 90” s on 7 Eleven , Motorola etc. I’m writing this as a msg of support and some insights of my own regards cycling and doping – I don’t expect a reply as you are probably a bit busier than me. 
Some 3-4 years ago I was talking to an American journalist who mentioned your fortunes were low not the least because of your ongoing dispute with LA and I told him Greg’s probably right in everything he says but no one is listening as Lance is currently the man.  I see fortunes are changing right now (been reading your comments on Cycling news). Here below I just give my thoughts – from a long distance on the matter.

Whilst I was Pro 1988 -92 I noted a marked increase in speed and also a huge change in mentality in the Pro peloton and cycling as a whole. Some “older Pros” have told me that is naivety and there was always doping in cycling however what they don’t realize and what is rarely mentioned is what I call the politics of doping. When I started as Pro 88 doping was still very much as a famous Belgium rider put it to me “hearing from someone somewhere that some other rider had used something to win a race and than going down to the pharmacy and trying to procure some than taking it with no idea what the effect would be in the hope of a better performance”.
During the time I rode that all changed, doping became a scientific occupation conducted by medical experts and institutionalized as part of any teams basic program – doping evolved from an individual secretive act into a question of – “have you done what it takes” to finally – to be part of our team sign here and you will do what it takes – or leave the sport. In fact the Pro peloton became the peloton of the willing to do it – even if it didn’t help their performance those that were willing were active conspirators in the whole process and going to keep there mouths shut.

Some fallacies in the general public opinion that have also tainted the issue

1 all Pro cyclists are on something – as you know very untrue although a great number were in the 80’ s and probably far more in the last 20 years I have meet a great many from all nationalities that are natural.
2 As Pro cyclist’s that is their professional option and they benefit from it. In fact in many teams there was no option (if you wanted a contract) and it was rarely the rider that benefits , he took all the risks both health wise and legally and team doctors , managers and sponsors’ took all the benefits’.
3 the courses are too hard and races too long – not at all , any good cyclo tourist can do all the courses – just much slower. It is purely the speed which is the reason for doping

As a postscript I crashed heavily at the end of 1992 shattering my femur etc and never effectively rode again with the Pros although have been involved with cycling especially in Asia setting up the Marco Polo cycling team etc. Sometimes people say what was it like losing potentially the best years of my cycling career – I’ve always replied – there was no loss, that was the time to be out of cycling. Rather than having to make the choice of being one of the willing or not getting a contract I was just trying to walk and ride again!!

(Jono: And in a later email Nath added the following)
I think what I'd like to add as some people missed the point - in the end this is not real pointing the finger at any individuals , every rider has almost been a loser from doping in cycling.Its the whole sport that has been devalued - when it is an individual choice against the rules ethics and morality of cycling than it is right to punish the indvidual(s) involved, but what has happened is the whole ethics and morality of the sport changed so we have all (whether we were involved or not) decided that the ends justifed the means - the popularity and money in the sport increased because of certain people and we were all willing to benefit without questioning really if it was morally correct how things were been done.

Anyway all best in your efforts for a clean Sport there.
Nathan Dahlberg

Jono: Then top that up by reading this

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Present from Home

Thanks mum. You legend.

Spelling Lessons

Thank you Belgium. Thank you Sloggi.

1k to go, a lot of hanging around in Spa, all to no avail!

Bella Haider, creator of all things tasty

Roadside cherries. Loh made me realise only chumps buy cherries here, you just ride down the road a little and start picking them from the trees overhanging the road. Jamming your pockets full of cherries  gives every recovery ride a purpose!

Ciao, definitely sleep time now.


Friday, July 2, 2010

Clutter, Clang, Bounce, Bang

Cobbles. Wow. Real cobbles, just, wow.

Rough, uneven, large, disjointed, rock hard cobbles are something everyone must experience. Be it downhill, flat or up the Muur, they are serious fun. The are a serious challenge. But a fun challenge.

That's right, upon the same Muur  where we saw Fabian 'motor' away from Boonen, another 198 oxygen depleted cyclists attempted the same feat yesterday in the Internationale Wielertroffe Oetingen.

The race consisted of a 100k big loop including three cobbled climbs; the not so festive Congoberg, the steep forested Bosberg and of course the aforementioned Muur van Geraardsberg. Through this first section of the race it was just crazy; the bunch was tense, on edge, ready to jump into any gap between wheels. The modus operandi for every rider being get to the front, at all costs. Footpath, gravel edges, grass edges, no path to the front can be passed up.

Why such desperation? Well, take the Muur for example, this road is so narrow that the team cars have to detour and meet the back of the peleton on the descent! So, imagine sending 198 riders up an 18% cobbled hill too narrow for a car to fit up. Yes, mayhem ensues. I got myself close enough to the front to avoid getting caught in the bottleneck that resulted in many riders having to run up the last 500 metres of the hill. I still missed the front group though! Luckily everything came back together.

So I survived the first 100k without too much drama, there were some splits, some very intense climbing but all to plan. The race finished with 4 laps of a 15k circuit with two 2.5 kilometre cobbled stretches. As we hit the circuits there was a small group ahead of the peleton which now consisted of maybe 50 less riders than when we began. As we hit the cobbles the race literally exploded. One of the stronger Belgium teams had 4 riders at the front just before the cobbles so I jumped through a few tight gaps to get to the front. Turned out to be a good move as after the first cobbled stretch there were maybe 60-70 guys left in the peleton. On the 2nd lap I got blown away on one of the cobbled stretches but made it back on 5k later with some other guys. All the grovelling came to an end just before we started the last lap with my legs, lungs and mind all giving way simultaneously. I battled away to finish 47th, with only 56 guys finishing.

My impressions of my first real cobbled race are that they are definitely an art. Picking the correct line is tough, usually the dirt strip down the outside of the road is the quickest and smoothest path, but when a 100 man peleton hits the pave only so many guys can ride down the outside of the road. After two kilometres of bouncing and clattering your whole body seems to go numb, your hands get sore from gripping the bars, your arms and shoulders are just clenched tight, and your nether regions get worked over in a less than satisfactory fashion.

I am trying to find some race photos somewhere but I have so far come up short

Now the team looks ahead to another pro race in Aarschot, Belgium, on Sunday. Another 180k dose of all things great about riding a bike.