Saturday, 28 February 2009

Skimming off the scum.

Blue - the new yellow!

Last year it was Astana, this year it's Fuji-Servetto. Last year there was winging, this year there is winging. Last year Astana muttered and got on with it, namely riding the races they could ride, this year Fuji-Servetto have thrown a right hissey fit and have run off to CAS complaining that the nasty boy in the play ground has been pulling faces at them and saying they smell.
What's the bloody problem? You employ a bunch of dopers, they get caught, the men who run world cycling - ASO obviously, say piss off you're not riding our races this year, go and sit on the naughty step and if you're good for a year......

Any fool, could see it coming, I don't care if you cahange your sponsor and swap your stupid yellow jersey for a stupid blue one, it's still the same team, same management, same staff, many of the same riders. So what's changed? Well, er, em,..... Anyway, you ain't riding, so get used to it, buy some panniers and do a little touring, I hear the roads in France are quite empty come July.

More Schumacher news, sorry, comic moments.

Hurray for the German courts and their continued efforts to 'piss off Stefan Schumacher', (Yes you can read that either way). They have just found that the Schumacher v Holczer was a waste of everyone's time and money. This will give Holczer a chance to go after alien number 1 in an attempt to recover 4 months wages. Hopefully Schumacher will fight that in the courts as well and hopefully he'll have as much chance of winning that as he had in the recent case. Still, never mind Stefan, I hear the local supermarket are giving away cardboard boxes, I'd stock up on 'em if I were you, carry on like this and you'll soon have to sell your house to pay legal fees. Give it up man, see sense for God sake.

Boiling kidney beans, how similar to running a professional cycling team.

Someone who has not been boiling kidney beans, but who does a good job running a pro team is Scott Sunderland. He has, in yet another not-at-all shocking move been unveiled as El supremo of the new Team Sky. Scott was responsible for the creation of the Cervelo Testers and having done that and in the process, I suspect, ironed out any creases in the team creation process walked away ready to do the same again. So it's a good job he got the totally unexpected call to set up Team Sky.

The managerial setup at Sky looks, sorry, will look, very impressive. Sunderland and Sutton will, I'd guess, be backed up with the coaching expertise of Rod Ellingworth and allegedly Roger Legeay and topped of by big Dave Brailsford. It will be an impressive line up and one which just about any other team would give their right arm for.

Brailsford has a lot of cache in Europe, he has delivered a team with a strong anti-doping focus, a string of young successful riders that pro teams are fighting to sign up and he has now delivered a major global sponsor at a time when other sponsors are having second thoughts. Not a bad record eh? He'd do a good job at the UCI too.


Friday, 27 February 2009

Can I take your order please sir?

Michael Boogerd has 'laughed off' crazy Franks recent opinions of the 1999 L-B-L. But as he did in his racing days Boogerd has taken laughing off to a new level. "If I had used the same thing then I would have won," said smiling Michael, but he didn't leave it at that, oh no, just as he would when he raced, he kicked and kicked again, leaving his opponents for dead, "It is possible that we used the same thing in 1999, but it would have been a slice of brown bread with cheese," suggested the Boogie man. Huuummmmnn, interesting choice of lunch there Mickey, symbolic perhaps? Now I know a little Dutch cycling slang, but brown bread with cheese is a new one on me, I don't ever remember watching a race and on the break going up the road hearing the riders 'shout brown bread with cheese, brown bread with cheese'. Perhaps that's why the Dutch go so well at home, when ever the foreigners cross the boarder to race the Dutch guys are shouting secret food related code at each other 'Cream cakes and grilled carrots', 'Pork and ice cream' and so on. Of course now days such things have migrated from the bulb fields of Holland to the tables at Michelin stared restaurants.

It's raining, man, alleluia, it's raining man!

What's your favorite time of year? Actually I don't care that much about yours, cos this is mine. As February slips into March and the world of professional cycling pulls on the leg warmers and heads off for a few weeks light cobbled action.
This weekend sees the double header of Omllop Het Nieuwsblad (it will catch on, one day, promise) and Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne. For me it's when the road season starts, forget the sun of Qatar and OZ, forget the rain of the US, wet cobbles is where it's at. The soul of bike racing rests gently over the the roads of Belgium and come spring it wakes from it's slumbers takes a look at the idiots riding bikes and says 'right, enough of that, 'bout time you had a little suffering in your life' and you know what, it's always good to it's word.

Oh sure there are other races this weekend, but lets be honest, the Gran Premio dell'lsubria?, Clasica de Almeria? I don't think so, good races yes, possibly even tough races, but races that touch the soul of cycle racing? Nope!

Incidently I notice that Crazy Frank won the Omloop in 1999, obviously a bad year for lovers of cheese and brown bread.

Things I shouldn't like, but do!

I've come over all blogger like, sorry, really sorry, I'm not quite going all the way and slipping into a 'I rode my bike to day, it was nice, had had some cake, it was nice' routine, but I must confess to liking bothe the new Milran and ISD jerseys. Sad isn't it.


Thursday, 26 February 2009

We haven't got a soul to sell.

I was going to blog about the continued goings on re Puerto, but what the heck, the Sky's the limit :-)

And it came to pass that British Cycling worst kept secret is out of the box. Out of the Sky + Box to be precise. For months now the word has been Sky and whilst no one had admitted it, no one had denied it either. Ask an academy rider who they were going to ride for next year and the answer was Sky.

So what now? Well expect the next few months to be rife with gossip and guess as to who's going to be donning the jersey next year. The Barloworld boys are all out of contract come end of season so it's a safe bet that their current team kit will be on ebay come October. Any academy/100% me riders due to turn pro will doubtless join up. Hammond and Hunt are on one year deals at Cervelo (a team put together by Sunderland who has been out in SA with a British MTB team), Ian Stannard is on a one year deal at ISD and Matt Brammeier is with the Kelly boys for a year, so any one of them could turn up flying the flag. Stannard is a future classics specialist and H & H have a wealth of experience that would be invaluable to any newly formed team, Brammeier is back from injury and hopefully will have a season good enough to put him in the frame.

Who will be there?

Bellis, Wiggins and Swift are all on 2 year deals, but I suspect there may well be get out clauses in their contracts allowing an early exit should the need arise. What of the home based riders? Well at Halfords you have Tennant, who rode in Italy with the academy, Clancy who had a couple of seasons in Belgium and Rob Hayles who had three good years at Cofidis. All strong riders and all part of the track setup at some point, I'd recon all good prospects for domestic duties should they fancy the chance.
Initially the team is slated to be 25 riders, rising to 30, the extra 5 I assume will be academy riders as they come through the system. I've looked at the UCI rule book (how sad am I? - er, oh you probably know that already) but can't find the bit where it states the % split of 'home' riders a team must have, I seem to have a clouded memory that lurches between 50 and 70%, depending on level of the team. So there should be plenty of places on offer.

Good cop, bad cop!

Now then, Sky, good or bad. I keep reading that the deal with Sky is a 'bad thing'. This 'bad thing' is because Sky is run by the dirty digger who is of course 'evil'. Personally I don't buy the Times due to his ownership. But I welcome the Sky deal - how come?

Well, I haven't quite got all my ducks in a row on this, but here goes. The case against Sky is made by comparing cycling to football and saying look, football is buggered, so cycling will go the same way! Firstly let me say that I 'support' or rather 'occasionally look out for the results of...' a Division 2 team, they were buggered before Sky and they were buggered after Sky and when Sky move over they will continue in that fine tradition. Sky is offered up as the bogey man in the desolation of 'grass roots football', but surely that's more to do with the fact that footballs authorities bent over backwards for Sky and gave the money to the big teams. These teams had the cash and the crowds before Sky and could afford the best players, give them an unequal share of the money and guess what, no change. Any idea that the major clubs in football ever gave a toss about grassroots football is IMHO a little naive.

Getting into bed with crooks.

Cycling in this country has a totally different set up to football. We have a central body that is strong and in most places well regarded. One whom I believe, are fully aware of what they are doing. I don't believe BC will enter into anything unless they have full control over the deal, no grease up and bend over for Big Dave.

But for me the final point and I would suggest the most important is that any thought of cycling selling it's soul to the devil is comical. We took out our soul and sold it to the highest bidder well over 100 years ago and since then have drunk with an endless stream of shady characters, thieves and crooks. As a sport we exist at the top level by selling our backsides to commercial sponsors, personally I don't care if it's Sky, Molteni, BP, Boule D'or, Carpano, Juplier or Ford. It's British riders competing at the highest level.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

A book at bedtime.

I see young Alberto has requested that he be allowed to race with Lancey boy before the Tour de France. Isn't 'with' an interesting word? Open to so many interpretations. Apparently Alberto wants to 'share the team' with Lancey boy or at least that's how the Astana press machine is spinning it. But lets face facts, there ain't gonna be any 'with' and there sure ain't gonna be any sharing, my ball, my rules I'd suspect. Still, full marks for trying.

It's all going to come down to who will lead the team come July, both want the number one spot, both want the other to be their personal 'super-domestic' - oh dear, oh dear, tears before bedtime me thinks.
So Alberto has suggested that they both ride Castilla y Leon! "I believe that Armstrong and I can race together" says Alberto, shouldn't that read, "can race together but not for each other?". It will certainly be interesting if they do ride together. My guess is that they will each be out to prove that they and they alone should be the rightful leader come July. Now you could say that Lancey boy should know better, but, come on, if someone offers up a challenge, as Alberto is sure to, can you really see Lancey saying, OK, just ride away? Nope, neither can I. There will of course, be only one winner and I wouldn't like to say who I think that will be, although if I were Alberto I start practicing riding with 10 bottles stuffed down my jersey.

ioneer, winner, loony!

Something else I can't wait for is when the men in white coats finally pay a visit to crazy Frank. Now without a team since Cinelli's failure to get any sort of license Frank has been making ends meet by selling his story to the media.

Not that it's a story we haven't read before, still this time he's come over all honest about his dalliances with EPO. Indeed he's come over all honest about everyone's dalliances with EPO. "I am 100 percent certain that I had taken nothing differently that day than the second, the third, the fourth and the fifth place finishers." Says Frankie of his victory in the 1999 L-B-L. So that's Boogerd, Den bakker, Bartoli and Bettini. It'll be interesting to see what the others have to say about this 'outrageous' slander. I mean how dare crazy Frank imply that other cyclists took performance enhancing substances, the thought is really quite outrageous (er that last bit was just in case any lawyers are reading this).

Frankie then goes onto say that it was a fair race, as he was on the same juice as the rest of the peloton. He throws a few more names into the pot- Furlan, Berzins, Argentin, to add a little extra spice and doubtlessly a little more stress for his lawyers. His argument seems to be that he was a great rider and this is proved by his '94 Tour of the Med stage, when his Hematocrit was at 42 and everyone's else was at 60. Great Frankie, really great, what are we meant to do? Stand up and applaud you for your openness and honesty.

Frank seems to take pride in the fact that he was a 'pioneer' in the use of EPO and seems quite content to peddle his brand of honesty to anyone with a cheque book and a few pages to fill. There's no regret, no remorse and no apology. Just a stream of delusion that begs the question how long before the men in white coats get round to paying him a visit.

And talking of naming names.

Jorg Jaksche has, it appears, been naming names. In fact it would appear he has gone further than names, he managed to remember times and dates as well, something the idiot Kohl seemed incapable of doing.
So who and what? When and how? Well I wouldn't be holding me breath for any shocking revelations if I was you. According to Bild (well according to 2nd hand reports, my 2 words of German, a translation engine and a dictionary) the names named are not really a revelation, Riis, Pevenage, Andreas Schmid and Lothar Heinrich (ex Telecom quacks) and of course the good Doctor Death himself. This naming of names has been heralded as a big step for anti-doping, which is bollocks. Lets face it any one with a sad and obsessive interest in the doings of convicted dopers (er, me?) could have drawn up a similar list, although I guess this from the horses mouth so to speak and must therefor count for something slightly more.

The question remains what now? Do the UCI take any of this seriously? Do they continue to keep their heads well tucked in? Do they do anything at all? I suspect that they will trot the line about legal proceedings in sovereign countries being allowed to run their course and promise to look into it once they have been sent the relevant documents (BTW, why is there no letter box at the UCI HQ?). So businesses usual then.

Embarrassment again?, but lets face it Uncle Pat is keeping alive a fine tradition, namely that of 'tin hats on boys' and lets hope the nasty bogey man goes away. Yes I know Uncle Pat personally favors life bans and is limited in any action by vested interests and the threat of bank busting legal challenges (the UCI is, despite it's plush offices, always short of cash, er.... exactly!), but until life bans are introduced, and IMHO, not just bans from racing, but from all involvement in the sport the leadership of the sport, physical or moral, will remain open to question. Ah well, on a lighter far more uplifting note.

On a lighter note - A book at bedtime.

I've just read 'The eagle of the Canavase - Franco Balmamion and the Giro d'Italia' and wow, it's an impressive book. 'The Eagle' itself is a million miles away from the average sports book. It's well researched, heavily detailed, full of background colour and above all stunningly well written. Herbie Sykes structures the life of one of the sports lesser known success stories around his first Giro win, but weaves in the riders Balmamion rode with, the races he rode and Italian life in the late 50's early 60's. Apart from the attention to detail what shines out is the quality of the writing, Sykes is a master craftsman who clearly takes pride in his work, it was a pleasure to be able to share in that pride.

It's published by Mousehold press, who should continue to be congratulated on their output of cycling books. The quality is always excellent and the range outstanding, I've just read 'Tomorrow we ride' which was published last year and next on the list is Vin's biog. 'Tomorrow' was a fine work again both literary and entertaining, with more than a few home truths about cycling that riders and administrators would do well to heed. I've no idea if Mousehold ever do anything other than break even on their cycling books, but long may they continue to publish them.


Sunday, 22 February 2009

You can please some of the people some of the time....

I weakened yesterday and made a purchase of the publication formally known as the 'comic' or Cycling Weekly as it calls it's self nowadays. Now I'm not going to comment on the fine way their top international journalists arrange a seemingly jumbled selection of 26 letters into cohesive sentences (eh?) But I thought I should mention the letters page. You see, truth be told, the only reason I bought the 'Weekly' is to read the the letters page. My thinking on this went something like this 'I haven't come across any mad people in a few months, I kind of miss them, but where oh where can I find out what's happening in the world of the crazy? Ah, I know....' And you know what, BINGO! in fact BINGO WITH BELLS ON. The first letter I read expressed discussed at the way British Cycling are running the sport in the UK. It ran along the highly original lines of 'Stop messing about with the track and start winning something on the road, BC have no idea what they are doing and until a British rider wins the Tour de France twice in a single year... blah, blah, blah...' I guess the people that write this are either a) employed by CW to have a laugh or b) the miserable old fools who never acknowledge you when you pass them on the road. Either way it brightened my day to such an extent that I actually forgot about the pain in my legs.

I expect there are cyclists in the America who complain about Lancey boy not winning the Tour whilst he was retired, just as there are Belgians that complain that Merckx never landed on the moon and was therefore crap. It seems that there are people who will never, ever, ever, ever be happy with the success that their chosen sport brings. These people fall not into the 'is the glass half full or half empty' camp, but more into the glass is the wrong shape and filled with the wrong liquid camp.
Back in the day (as I believe today's young people say) I was employed to take groups of cyclists out to Europe to watch bike races. And it was then that I discovered something true about human nature, in that 'There are some bloody miserable twats out there, who should be slapped around the head'. The way the trips worked was simple. It was along the lines of: 'Here's the itinerary, you will see the race at these points, ok? Happy? Right, pay up and lets go watch the race'. I would then field complaints that included the classic 'The water in my shower is too hot!' followed by 'Well why should I have to turn the temperature down?'. I soon realised that the best thing to do with a fool is to laugh at them. So a big thank you then to Cycling Weekly in reminding me that whilst I sometimes feel I take things in cycling too seriously I'm still not even on the scale of some people.


Friday, 20 February 2009

Remember when a bike looked like a bike?

UCI Rule 1.3.024, the famous 3:1 rule is giving me a headache. It's giving the pro teams a headache and it's giving the man at the local hardware store who sells tape measures a little extra profit.
So thank you Mr Vaughters, who has managed to calm down the UCI and thus enable the TT stage of the Tour de California to proceed as planned.

You will know, I'm sure, the famous saying 'rules are meant to be broken'. And nowhere is this more the case than in cycling. Of course, with us, there is a slight twist to the famous phrase. In cycling the phrase should read 'Rules are meant to be broken, but only by the UCI who draw them up, woe betide anyone else who breaks them, even if they have broken them before with the tacit approval of the UCI.' OK, I admit it's a bit of a mouthful (as the actress said to the vicar), but that is pretty much how the UCI seem to interpret any of their rules.

You may well remember Graham Obree. Graham broke records like there was no tomorrow, on bikes he designed himself, bikes that were designed to go fast, not it seems to correspond to the UCI rule book. Well that is until you actually looked at the UCI rule book at the time and realised there wasn't much in it that made Grahams bike illegal. But that didn't stop the UCI buggering Graham about. A bike that was OK yesterday was never gonna be OK today. If the UCI official woke up with a headache then Graham was in trouble, as he found that this bike contravened the 'spirit of cycling' or was hit by some other catch all argument that would stop him riding. Quite what this 'spirit of cycling' is was never made clear, although judging by the UCI's actions on doping it sure as hell don't include a serious attempt at stopping performance enhancing drugs or going after dope cheats.

Please don't knock on my door.

Meanwhile athletes from various sports are complaining about the whereabouts system. Now I pretty much know where I'll be most days, I have a routine. And guess what, if you're an athlete you will have a routine as well, training, rest and competition. It'll all be laid out for you on a week by week basis. If it isn't you should get a new coach.

IMHO athletes that whinge about having to tell the anti-doping authorities where they are for 1 hour a day are as good as dopers, you have a phone, you can text, you can email or your coach can do it for you if you're too stupid to press the enter key - apparently one of their 'genuine' concerns is that if they press the enter key incorrectly three times, it will constitute a failed drugs test. Well if that's a problem for you perhaps you should stop dragging your knuckles along the ground, stop complaining and do something else for a living.


Thursday, 19 February 2009

Is this your blood?

Cameroon or California, who has the best sponsors reception.

I see Lancey boy has said that he thinks people are more interested in the Tour de Cali than him. I'm sorry? Am I watching the same race? Yes there are doubtlessly people more interested in the Tour de Cali than in Lanceys appearance on the start line every day, but these people are out and out cycling fans, and would be at the race no matter who was riding or what the weather was, and good luck to them, they will be there when the celebrity count is 0. These people are however in the minority, well, certainly in terms of the media. As in the TDU the biggest media hawks gather round Armstrong, not for the cycling story, but because he's Lancey boy and he's back. At times it really is not about the bike race.
But, there is of course a spin off in having the media spin the story, as there always is when Lancey is in town. And that is raising awareness of bike racing. I have a friend in the states who said the only benefit of Armstrong winning so many TdF's was he made Lycra cool. And as we all know making Lycra cool is a very good thing, well I say a good thing, if you tip the scales at 120kilos Lycra should never be cool.

Meanwhile as the only show in town rolls through the rain and as Cav practices his new victory salute (whilst simultaneously taking the piss out of Boonan) riders are hard at it over the water. Lets us not forget that the Tour de Cameroon is in full swing. I love races like Cameroon, they may well be the new frontier. They're also a great way to make you realise that old cyclist never die they just turn up and race in really odd events. Stage one proved Jaan Kirsipuu is still knocking out the k's and that Dave Clarke and I assume his team are riding. After that facts get a little vague, still, great event, real bike racing and as always good to see the UCI get right behind cycle racing in the developing world, which they do by smiling, shaking hands, and eating and drinking at the sponsors expense in California, God bless' em.

Old dopes never die, they just continue to live in fantasy world.

I was starting to despair, I really was. Staffan Schumacher had gone very quiet since he threatened to sue the world and her husband. So let the bells ring out and let job be unconfined as AFLD got round to banning him for two years. Needless to say the UCI have still done bugger all. They are awaiting any actions by AFLD, "We are still waiting in fact for the AFLD decision" they say. Or in other worlds, we'll wait and see if he sues them before we join in.

Needless to say Schumacher is not happy, oh, no, no, no. He is not amused, still in his spluttering amazement he did manage to utter "it's a shock for me and leaves me stunned" Talk about self delusional. Exactly what did he expect? At some point someone with some balls (obviously not the UCI) was going to stand up to his bully boy tactics and ban him.

Still you have to love him don't you? (oh, ok then, you don't), but what the heck, he's good value, witness: "I want to, and will, continue to ride. This sport is my passion and my job. I am fighting for my rehabilitation and appeal to everyone not to base their opinion of me as a person on this AFLD verdict"
Don't worry Staffan, we're not basing our opinion of you on the fact that AFLD have just banned you, but on the fact that you're an weired Alien looking dope cheat, who got kicked out the Tour after he produced a power output that a motorbike would fail to match.

"I want to, and will, continue to ride" Well, what happened to riding for Quick Step then? Didn't he insist that he would definately be riding for them in 2009? Sadly this doesn't look like happening, I was looking forward to seeing Alien number 1 following the peloton shouting "let me in, let me in" .

Someone else who's being fingered, so to speak, is the balding Alejandro Valverde, CONI, who like their French counter parts seem to have found some balls, made a point of filling their blood bank when Le Tour found it's way into Italy last year. Since then they have been playing match the DNA.
The first rider they matched (perhaps the one they really wanted) was Valverde. Apparently one of the blood bags found in Puerto fridge had the name 'Vlad the impaler' on it. Which has a V in it and as Valverde doesn't appear to have a dog will have to do.

Meanwhile the Spanish authorities have kicked off, saying that CONI have no right to probe their lad, who has been found inocent in Spain following the simple but effective test of 'Did you do it?' But this didn't have the desired effect, the Italians took it as an affront to their manhood and an insult to nationhood and promptly charged Vlad, sorry Valverde.

The one constant in all of this international double dealing and intrigue is that the UCI have continued to keep their head in the sand. Not so much keeping all events at arms length, more a case of hiding behind the sofa until the nasty man goes away, the nasty man in this case being the sector of organised doping.


Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Geting down and dirty.

The wrong trousers.

Looks what happens, I go away for a week and on my return all hell has broken lose, what did I miss?

Well mainly what I missed is the Rabobank riders spiting the dummy out about the in-house fines that the team was imposing.
In-house fines are quite common in pro sport, it's supposed to help with team bonding, assist with the development of professional attitudes and lighten the mood. Bizarrely for a sport that is often at the cutting edge of technology and stupidity cycling has been a little slow on the uptake. So you can imagine my excitement when Rabo announced that they would introduce a series of Euro sapping fines for acts of high treason.
Amongst the list were fines for
Having an uninvited guest in your hotel room (and I quote 'Guest / relationship in hotel without permission'!),
Having unauthorised web links!,
Unauthorised 'medical shopping',
'Improper clothing' (I assume that means owning Improper clothing and not just wearing it)

Plus all the stuff you'd expect about not going to Mexico, missing tests etc. But best of all and my personal favorite is 'Action without permission', what the hell does that mean? No wonder the riders are pissed off if they have to ask permission to have a dump.

The bicycle thieves.
Amongst all the razzmatazz at the Tour de Cali, in fact overshadowing the razz and almost equaling the matazz was the theft of Lancey boys TT bike. Now I don't know much about the world of international crime, but I'd have thought that if you were going to nick a bike from a race then nicking the most high profile bike belonging to the most high profile rider in your countries most high profile race has to be one of the dumbest moves in criminal history. Who exactly are they gonna sell it to? Striping down for ebay parts is one thing, but what do you do with the frame? Perhaps there's an international market in illegal bikes as there is with stolen art? Perhaps secret collector in Zurich will pay millions for an Armstrong iron to hang alongside their Coppi Bianchi ?

And so to the life of the coach.
My life has been brightened this week by some SRM incidents. No I haven't been measuring my power output, but have been observing others doing the same and very entertaining it is.
This week I have seen a juvenile (U16) rider with the full SRM that was bought by indulgent parents. But just as I was finished scratching my head from that I got talking to a senior rider who had just forked out close on two and a half grand for what he told me would transform his cycling. When I asked how he was using it in training I was told he was only using it on the bike he rode on the turbo and when he did his traning would consist of going flat out for an hour and then looking at the power trace to see what power he layed down. I suggested that it could be beneficial to do some sort of analysis on the data provided and maybe adjust his training as a result and he looked at me as though I was crazy and informed me that he 'knew what he was doing'!
So many idiots with so much money puts a smile on the face of a coach, it really does.

The rain in somewhere other than Spain.
It's cold and wet in California, but don't let that worry you. The off the bike entertainment is red hot and full on.
First up we had Lancey boy and Kimmage going at it full pelt at the press conference, wow. If you ever thought that these two hate each other you were so wide of the make you should be hanging your head in shame. They have transcended hate and are now in a very odd place indeed. I found the exchange scarey, well actually, very scarey. And this was only round one, ther'd better be good bouncers come July or blood will be spilt I really believe it.

Then we had Rock, Rock and more Rock. I've spoken in the past about my admaration (grudging I'll admit) of Mr Ball and his merry band.
I like his in yer face attitude towards cycling (God knows it is at times well needed), I like the publicity driven antics, I like the fact it gives bloggers and fans something to moan about, I like the way he employs young US riders and gives them a chance to shine and prove their worth on a big stage.
I don't like his employment of ex-dopers (whom I think should have been banned for life), I find the constantly changing kit, seemingly for the sake of pissing people off, a little tiring. And I get the impression that the actual team organisation is a little vague, witness this years license fiasco and not having spare bikes at the Tour de Britain last year.

But ultimately whatever he does will always be overshadowed by the riders he has signed. So when Mancebo grabbed a stage win the headlines were as you'd expect, which I don't doubt is what Ball had in mind. When you're about to run out of cash and have publicly stated that there's only six months cash in the kitty a little publicity goes a long way (as does a little stage winners prize). But that's just the problem, (in my opinion), stage wins are good for attracting sponsors, stage wins by a convicted ex-doper from a team with several ex-dopers is not to the majority of potential investors a good selling point.

Look at the teams that have signed big co-sponsors recently, Slipstream and High Road, for example, both have a strong anti doping stance and whilst Ball may talk the talk, he fails for whatever reason to walk the walk, as a result what was once his USP, is when the chips are down more of a hinderance than a help.

It's a shame, there are some good riders on the team, riders that would clearly relish the chance to race at a 'higher' level and who, I feel, would go well and are well capable of good results. However their future chances are going to be severly affacted by a lack of a new sponsor.


Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Smiles all round

Pink, Red and Grey, oh that's nice!

We all forget things don't we? Birthdays, anniversaries, visits to the dentists, picking up a pint of milk. I guess it's just human nature, so it comes of nothing of a surprise to find that the Lotto team have forgotten to hold their 2009 presentation.
Whilst every other pro team had got the meet and greet business out of the way months ago Lotto decided to wait until the season was up and running before they exposed their boys to the press, (so to speak!)
Mondays presentation in sunny Belgium had the feeling of an afterthought. The riders sat around tables that looked like they had been borrowed from the local bar whilst they proudly modeled their new kit for 2009. Well I say proudly, they looked more like guests at a boring wedding who couldn't wait to leave and go onto somewhere more enjoyable. The only rider who seemed to have any fun was Thomas 'love me or leave me' Dekker. Although come July he will be guaranteed to have fallen out with someone in the team and have reverted to pouting at all and sundry.
You felt like asking 'Why the long faces guys?', but then realised it was a question that didn't need an asking. Take a look at that jersey, no seriously, take a good long hard cold light of day look and then tell me that Columbia and katyusha are poorly turned out. Quite who thought that red, purple, pink and grey make a fetching combination hasn't been said, but needless to say they are probably still at kindergarten.

I mentioned the other day that I have a bet that crazy Frank will only get to finish 5 races this season (assuming that Team Cinelli get a license to race), but looking at the Lotto presentation made me offer odds on a couple more likely events.
Thomas Dekker to fallout with everyone by TdF time:, 2/1
Cadel Evans to crack a smile by TdF time:, 1000/1
Leif Hoste to appear on the Belgian version of cash in the attic by July: 50/1
Chance of that jersey being openly laughed at in the peloton: evens

Rock on baby!

Hurray, hurray, Rock racing are still with us and will be riding in Cali. They have announced their team for the race and it looks like this, American, American, American, ex-doper, ex-doper, ex-doper and Tyler Hamilton, who manages to tick both boxes, well he is twins. After providing last years pre-race comedy act the Rock boys have been allowed to race and will doubtlessly be providing the fans and assembled media with mid race comedy antics as they attempt to supplement their non-existent pay packets.


Thursday, 5 February 2009

Do It Yourself - the way forward for dope testing.

My belief has never been so beggared!

In a move as predictable as it's pathetic Mr 60% has decided to scrap the much heralded dope tests run by Dr Ramsus Damsgaard.
In future all dope tests at Saxo Bank will be carried out by Kim Andersen's auntie Dorris, using the tests that served her boy so well during his racing career.

Additional testing personnel.
In addition to Kim Andersens auntie Dorris, 'Team Mr 60%' will be assisted by 'Dr' Gillian McKeith, who will be charged with looking at the riders poo! And applying the simple 'Dr Poo' test, so beloved by Mr Andersen and Mr 60% during their days in the saddle, namely if it looks like shit, it is shit. Which is coincidentally what can be said about the whole team Mr 60% approach to dope testing.

Of course this transparent attempt at UCI sanctioned transparency is, so it seems, the way to go. Why spend money on a world leading anti-doping and monitoring programme when you can piss into a bottle and have some bloke you met in the bar looking at it and saying 'looks fine to me.'. What I find mystifying is that at a time when cash is on the short side teams are not falling over themselves to get a world beating anti-doping programme up front as one of their 'unique selling points'. Still what do you expect? Poachers and Game keepers eh!

Want to go faster?

Want to go faster, feel like your skinsuit just isn't up to it? Then get yourself over to Manchester and start having a look through the bins at the back of the Velodrome. Apparently following their golden haul of gongs at Beijing Big Dave was worried that 'the enemy' might get hold of the super fast skinsuits, so rather than let their secrets go to the open market and follow the normal practice of flogging old kit at the Manchester Velodrome car boot sale, the said suits have been put through the shredder. They are now nothing more than a pile of slightly sticky goo and can be found next to the empty SIS bottles and half eaten pot noodles round the side of the riders car park.

More race cancellations.
In an attempt to beat the doom-mongers the organisers of the Tour of Sochi (that's in Russia) have canceled their race before it has ever had it's first edition. Genius, just genius. Why bother going to the bother of negotiating contracts with teams, TV and sponsors, only to have them sue you due to a last minute failure? Why not forgo all the attendant hassel that you get with running a race and just issue a press statement saying a race that has never taken place and that no-one had any idea was being planned is cancelled.

UCI continue to take the piss!
More piss taking at the UCI, this time for all the right reasons. It is claimed by a 'top secret source' that Uncle Pat is just days away from naming names in the UCI bio-passport programme test thing. Quite who these names are and quite what the offense is, is not clear. What is guaranteed is that the UCI will need some deep pockets as there is no doubt that whoever they 'finger' and whatever the charge the whole shooting match will finish up in a very expensive court case. Just as certain is that when the dust settles there will be bugger all change to anything, other than the UCI being poorer and several lawyers being a lot richer. Can't wait, personally, should provide a nice little side show to the current season.

On a separate UCI related issue I wish they would get their fingers out and grant a license to the Cinelli team. I've got a bet that Crazy Frankie will finish just five races over the coming year and the sooner the UCI get their finger out the sooner I can collect.


Backing the right horse.

Hang on, hang on, the Tour de Qatar is turning out to be exciting. Has it always been like this? Perhaps I've just been a late riser and missed the previous action? So far this week we've seen a blasting Slipstream TTT, impressive without all of their big TTT guns, then a last ditch smash and grab from Rog Hammond, Boonan back to action, Cav puncturing, Cav winning, Cav doing that pointy salute and Cav loving his team. A race that I think of as being, start, side wind, echelon, head wind, echelon, peloton sprint turns out to be dead exciting, attacks, splits, aggression, blimey, you'd have thought someone would have been training.
But what really got me excited was the echelons on stage Hammond, truly a thing of beauty, a lesson in perfection to any aspiring racer and a good opportunity to play spot the new pro.

I can't get used to this, must be my age. Maybe I didn't warm up for the years spectating properly, maybe they've started too fast for me. Perhaps the winters 6 day and cross viewing has put me off the pace, races once a week, maybe I need a few day to get 'up to speed'.

Still I'm enjoying it now OK? :-)

Something else that I'm enjoying is the Tour de Langkawi, which this year see's a return to the gloriously daft Genting Highlands, a climb you wouldn't really want to think about riding, let alone race over. Langkawi has always appealed to me. Slightly exotic, full of crazy stages, cycling on a new frontier, whatever the reason it's been a favorite for years. It suited my slightly late rising and bleary eyed acceptance of a new road season. Guess now I'll have to set the alarm earlier.

Are you Chris Hoy?

It's good to see Boonan back to winning ways, his dalliance with the nose powder hopefully behind him. Now I'm no expert on Belgian law, but I suspect that Tom's celebrity status came into play a little here. Over in the land of the frit, Tom is not just back page news, he's on the front page, in the life style supplements, the cookery pages, the motoring pages and doubtlessly on occasion even in the cycling coverage. For those of us in the UK having a cyclist with this much media exposure is a concept I suspect we find both appealing and slightly frightening. Sir Chris is the closest we have to that, but thankfully Sir Chris hasn't yet made it to the latest copy of 'My celebrity Goldfish monthly'.

Armstrong aside, Sir Chris is the one cyclist most of the British public know. A few weeks ago I was on a BC coaching course in a local hotel and one of the staff asked me if Chris Hoy was in the meeting room with us. I doubted that we could have had anyone pass themselves off as Sir, so I answered in the negative and lost the possibility of an evenings free booze.

For those of us in the UK the last 12 months have been, well, if not unexpected then just a little surprising. There are some of us no doubt who are walking round thinking 'Told you so' or 'It won't last'. Of course, as the skeptic in me will say, 'only time will tell'. But if I look at this logically, this being the current position of cycling in the UK, things do indeed look bright. A profile of success that most other UK sports would cut of various body parts for, a youth development programme that should ensure more high quality athletes for years to come, media partners with money, a raised profile for the sport in general, more people on bikes, cycling being discussed in the back passages of power (Westminster). And most wondrous of all a national body (BC) that seems to be setting the national bench mark for sporting excellence. When your Performance Director becomes the 5th most powerful sports person in the country and other sports are beating a path to your door to discover 'the magic' you kind of get the feeling that we, as a sport, are well placed to take advantage of all the attention and all the cash. There you go, I always knew I'd backed the right horse.


Monday, 2 February 2009

Never mind the heat, feel the cold hard cash.

I'd give it another month before you start getting excited about anything that's happening on the road if I were you.

As the cross and 6 day season winds down, it falls to the sports crazed cousin, road racing, to enliven us for the coming year. But he hasn't started yet has he? As I write all we've had the Tour de Downunder and the first stage of Qatar.

Tour de Downunder? Tour de Downunder? Has there ever been so much media hype about such a boring race? The worlds media descended on South Australia as gossip columnists elbowed cycling jurno's in the face in an effort to get front row at the press conferences. The great and the good of Aussie society joined it's politicians in turning up for hospitality and photo opportunities. All of them proclaiming their love of cycle racing, all of them telling anyone who would listen that they always ride a bike and that cycling is the greatest sport in the world. Well F*** me.
If this is what it's like with a 'low key' bike race 10,000 miles from cycling heartland what the hell's it going to be like come July?

Lets have a look at the race, nothing much wrong with it as a race if you ask me. Something for the locals to aim at as they attempt to generate some sponsor type excitement and nothing much wrong if you're a European team and want a little pre-season warm up. But for the UCI to hold it up as a top class event is taking the piss. And for the event to be sold as something approaching the TdF in terms of a sporting challenge is ever so slightly wrong.
The organisers may well have dreams of attracting the stars and even of attracting the stars when they are competitive, or God knows, maybe even attracting the stars and getting them to race seriously for the overall. But lest face it this is a long, long way off. Maybe when Uncle Pat looks into his crystal ball he may well see a future where big time races attract major teams across five continents for twelve months of the year or maybe he just sees a half empty beer glass and a sobbing pissed bloke, I dunno. But what I do know is that just because a race organiser and the UCI think it's a major race on the global calendar doesn't make it so.

But good luck to the organisers, I doubt if there has ever been so many journalists drawn to a bike race that have known so little about what was going on. Still, as with all great bike races, ply the punters with the best local wines and you'll get star ratings and a great write up.

Hows the bank balance?

Still Qatar is where it's at this week. The race that is currently being sold as the Tour de France mark 2 attempts to kick start the excitement for the coming European season. A little closer to Europe, fewer media hacks and no pesky locals steeling the 'Pro' teams limelight does not, as yet, generate much excitement. Sure the race is talked up, which race isn't, but the sprinters aren't yet at full speed and whilst a few psychological points can be scored we all know the real action is at last a month away.
Back in the 60's and 70's the pre-season action was in the South of France, 'Grande Prix this' and 'Trophy the other' provided a little light competition for the teams prior to a Belgian spring. Nowadays the money has moved East and so have the pre-spring races.

Publicity wise the Tour de Qatar had it's limelight stolen this year, with Lancey boy grabbing all the headlines Downunder the media Jonnies in the land of sand needed to pull something out of the proverbial 'look at me, look at me' bag. So what could be better than the claim that Le Tour de France was going to start in Qatar, brilliant. Imagine the massive crowds, imagine the electric atmosphere, imagine the publicity caravan in the desert, imagine the hoards of locals turning to the bike as a means of transport, imagine ASO's bank balance.

That's what I like to see, the real action, the real excitment is where it always was, in the bank account of race organisers.


Oh, nice one Rog, who said Qatar wasn't exciting?