Tagged: cookson

Nicole Cooke: ‘I blew the whistle on drugs but no one listened to me’

From today’s The Guardian, and excellent article by the first British winner of the Tour de France (sorry Sir Wiggo) and former Olympic and World Champ, Nicole Cooke, on CIRC, TUEs and the curious selective hearing of the authorities when it comes to doping.

Click the image below to head to the article.

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things that make you go hmmmmmmm…

can’t kick Astana out cos apparently it’s not in *the rules*.

well, what great and auspicious rules we have. brilliant. have to kick out Europcar cos they are something like 5% short on the finances required for World Tour status, but a team that has a 500% increase in dopers over 3 months can stay.

well lah-de-dah.

someone replied to my article last week pointing to the inner ring article about how Cookson had no choice but to grant Astana its license for 2015.

i replied:

the article was written in light of the fact that the UCI has been facilitating cheating for many many years. the fact that in the UCI rules there are none that would allow them to kick out an outfit that has has had 5 positives (and then let’s think about Kreuziger/Contador/Vino and on) in three months tells you that there is something inherently wrong with the organisation.

there is no rule on unethical behaviour and bringing the sport into disrepute that a presiding committee that included independent folk couldn’t rule on? why not? have a referendum on it by asking your members – and remember, if you hold a license you are a member of the UCI – and let them decide.

you can say ‘well these are the rules’ all day long but if the rules are ineffective there must come a time surely when we question why these are ‘the rules’ and in whose interests it is to have to adhere to such useless regulations. the UCI have done just about nothing to garner our trust in the past 25 years. this is not isolated – they’re on a cracking run of f&*k ups and here is Cookson handing out a license almost no one wants to see awarded and having commentators cocking their snouts and saying ‘well those are the rules’ – and i really wish there was a font called ‘Patronising & Snide’, cos it’d be applicable there.

what have ‘the rules’ done to this sport? damn. *the rules* suck.

i was a bit angry when i wrote that, and i should not have implied that that ‘the rules’ line was snide – it is patronising though, i’ll keep that in.

anyway, yesterday i was reading The Guardian and came across a story about a City executive named Jonathan Paul Burrows who is now a former City exec. Why? Because he was thrown out by the Financial Conduct Authority for dodging train fares.

Yes.

Dodging train fares.

Mr. Burrows

Mr. Burrows

To be fare (hi-hat please), he was quite the fare dodger.

“His dishonest behaviour came to the attention of the City watchdog after it came to light that he had saved himself almost £43,000 over several years by exploiting a loophole at the ticket barriers,” notes The Guardian.

Burrows would get on the train at his station which had no fare barrier, then get off in London and use his travel card, paying a third of what he should have paid.

Pretty sneaky right? Tut tut, Mr. Burrows.

Even more naughty when you learn that Burrows, who worked for Blackrock, earned 1 million pounds a year.

And all this has certainly cost him. He didn’t just get a 2-year ban, but was banned for life from any senior role in the financial services industry.

” He will never again be allowed into a position of authority, although, in theory, he could take junior back-office jobs,” said The Guardian.

(Vino as tire-pumper-upper, love that idea).

The ruling was passed down under the FCA regulation which demands that its members must pass a ‘fit and proper’ test, something Burrows was deemed to have failed with his fare dodging.

Outsiders, like myself, might look at this ruling and wonder why just about everyone in the financial industry in the UK hasn’t failed this test, something Burrows alludes to in the article, but it certainly is something that you wonder why the world sporting bodies can’t incorporate.

And not only why they can’t, but why they haven’t.

Things that make you go hmmmm, indeed.

Cookson, Astana, and the Death of Hope

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And the first rule of Twitter is that you should never tweet something you will live to regret. Not many people follow that rule but it is quite a good one, one that Brian Cookson OBE (Oh! Benevolent Entity?) was never taught, quite obviously.

The decision to award Astana a World Tour license for 2015 has elicited widespread anger from the cycling world and is a decision that even the most hardened doping apologists will have trouble defending.

After the Astana organization had five riders return positive tests for banned substances, the majority of cycling commentators believed it would be curtains for the Kazakh team, one that has had several other run-ins with the anti-doping authorities over the years.

Surely, went the thinking, there’s no way that a UCI run by Brian Cookson – the man who knocked Pat MacQuaid off his perch as president of the world governing body, the man who had promised to get tough on cheats – surely there’d be no way he’d allow Astana to keep its license?

Well… yes, actually. There was a way. He just said yes.

BRIAN_COOKSON

It involved ignoring the anger and general fed-upness of cycling fans and the few outspokenly clean riders out there, it meant that he’d have to face the opprobrium of the social media for a few days, and it would essentially cause anyone who gave a fig about doping to come to the conclusion that the UCI is not to be trusted as the overseer of this beautiful sport, but apparently that’s all in a day’s work for Brian Cookson OBE.

As you know I am no fan of the UCI and I lost faith in them many years ago. I don’t believe that the UCI has the best interests of the fans nor the vast majority of its members at heart. Yet even I was amazed by the news that Astana would not lose its license.

I’m not alone. Amazingly, ProTour riders are speaking out – well one, at least.

Peter Kennaugh of Sky tweeted:

“Riders who were only ‘trained’ by Ferrari I mean come are you really that stupid ? And do you think everyone else is to? What a joke this sport can be! The clean riders of the peloton need to get together and push these cheats out enough is enough.”

Kennaugh’s tweet avoided calling out the UCI and Cookson which may be smart with regards to his job, but there’s no hiding the fact that the decision is what prompted his tweet in the first place.

Cookson for his part has said that Astana will be under probation, which must have Vinokourov quaking in his boots.

Now, it could be that the UCI is fearful of banning Astana after the debacle of last season when they had their decision not to give a WorldTour license to Katusha overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

If that’s the case they could at least have made the symbolic gesture. What this move has done is to strip, mangle and burn the last bare shreds of the UCI’s credibility in the eyes of right-thinking fans.

Early rumors that stated that Vinokourov was seen entering the UCI HQ with a carrier bag full of Kazakh bank notes have been quashed, but other rumors that the basement car park has been rigged with high explosives have yet to be either confirmed or denied.

Allegedly.

It could be a combination of things, the Katusha factor, the power and wealth of Astana (they are backed by a national government), and it could be, one online commentator suggested, to do with Vinokourov’s contacts.

In The Telegraph’s online version, one reader wondered if the MPCC (Movement for Credible Cycling).

Thehamst wrote:

I suspect the head of the MPCC has had a major say so in this. Astana management and Roger Legeay go back a long way; all the way back to doping at Credit Agricole in 2008 actually. The same Roger Legeay banned for doping himself now in charge f the Movement For Credible Cycling – you really couldn’t make it up.

What is intriguing with regards to Astana not being denied a World Tour license is that another team, Europcar, was just denied one for 2015 (despite a fantastic Tour de France) on financial grounds.

“Regarding Team Europcar,” said Cookson, “it is of course regrettable that the team has not been able to secure sufficient financial guarantees to remain in the UCI WorldTour, but I very much hope that they can continue as a Professional Continental Team.”

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So, why not find some ‘financial irreguralities’ with Astana? If you can’t kick them out for bringing the already tarnished image of the sport further into the gutter, then make something up.

Also interesting to note was an interview with Cookson just two days ago in which he stated that cycling was not the only sport with doping trouble, and trotted out the old line about how cycling was doing way more than those ‘other sports’.

“I have always held the view that doping was not a practice solely restricted to the sport of cycling.

“In my view there are two groups of sports: There are those that have a doping problem and are actively trying to do something about it, and I would like to say that we are in a leading position on that.

“And there are those sports that have a doping problem and are still pretty much in denial about it. And sooner or later they are going to have their problems.”

Yawn.

To be honest Brian yes, we know other sports might have doping on a similar systematic scale as we have in cycling, but that argument doesn’t wash. You’re in charge of cycling, not table tennis.

However it is interesting to wonder what FIFA would do if say Barcelona suddenly got busted for a string of massive doping positives.

They’d probably say it was an isolated case, that it didn’t involve the management, was not systematic, that the players were very sorry, and that generally the sport was clean.

Sound familiar?

The truth of the matter, for me, is that the sport these guys at the top do is not the same sport I do. It is also not the same sport that 99.99% of cyclists around the world do.

We don’t cheat. We don’t think about doping ourselves. We don’t accidentally fall on srynges of EPO or drink our own blood by the baggie-full.

What we do do however, is love this thing called cycling.

Against our own better sense, we still tune in for the Tour, the Giro, Roubaix and the World’s. We still love the sight of the peloton coming through the clouds to summit on Ventoux, riders strewn about hither and tither, love seeing the fans – people like us – by the roadside, cheering them on.

We are the guardians of the history of this sport. We are the keepers, the rememberers, the people who make it live and breathe.

We buy the kits, we buy the books and the DVDs. We go to the races. We get up late at night when the family is all sleeping and pay our subscription to get 120 channels even though there’s only one we want to watch.

And yet we are nothing. We are disrespected and barely acknowledged, unless it’s to wring money from our pockets and to thrash the faith from our weary hearts.

This decision and the statements that have followed it from Cookson show that, again, and all too clearly.

Welcome to the world of the UCwedon’tknowf*ckingWhy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Groundhog Day at Astana HQ: Vinokourov to star in classic comedy remake!

groundhogday_blog

Bill Murray was brilliant in Groundhog Day, playing the cantankerous Phil, the weatherman who woke up every day in the same day, trapped in a town he hated, a fate that drove him to several failed suicide attempts.

Playing Rita, the love interest, was Andie McDowell. Phil tried day after day (quite literally) to bed her, using each identical day to find out more about her likes and dislikes so as to present himself as her perfect (and very fake) man to finally get her under the covers.

21st Century Flops have just issued a press release announcing that they intend to re-make the film, starring none other than our favorite Kazakhstani flat-capped chimney sweep, Alexandre Vinokourov!

Vino in his last film role, the box office hit 'It weren't me Guv'nor!'

Vino in his last film role, the box office hit ‘It weren’t me Guv’nor!’

Vino was deemed to be perfect for the role after experiencing a Groundhog Day-type experience of his own, waking up every day to find that yet again an Astana man had been busted for dilly-dallying with banned substances.

With no less than five – count ‘em – five men who wear the Astana colors testing positive for banned substances in the last two months, it’s an achievement that has to go down in cycling history and surely confirms that Astana are the biggest bunch of f**kwits currently in the business.

And let us not forget young Roman Kreuziger, who’s also been suspended for returning ‘unusual’ blood values from testing done whilst at Astana.

So let’s call yesterday’s positive for Artur Fedosseyev of Kazakhstan the sixth, not bad at all. To use baseball terminology, Astana have knocked that one right out of the ball park and into the car park – the one where Brian Cookson’s car sits.

Six broken windows now Brian – how are you going to respond to that I wonder?

Reports today state that Vino has suspended the Continental team that the last three positives have emanated from, which is interesting considering that he and Vincenzo Nibali have gone out of their way to claim that the World Tour team has absolutely nothing to do with the Continental squad.

“People have to understand that they [the Astana Continental Team] have nothing to do with this team Vinokourov told Gazetta dello Sport. “ The only thing we have in common is the jersey and the name.”

And the doctors and at least one DS. The teams share the services of one Dmitri Sedoun, who is a direteur sportif on both teams.

Poor Vino, it’s really coming at him from all sides isn’t it. It is worth remembering that Vinokourov was dogged by rumors of doping in his career and actually suspended for blood doping in 2007 and that he has just been charged with bribery for his alleged payment of 150,000 euro to Alexander Kolobnev in 2010 for throwing the Liege-Bastogne-Liege classic.

(And who says crime doesn’t pay? The fools.)

He made a comeback from his doping ban to become the least applauded winner of any Olympic road race ever, when he won in London in 2012.

Vinokourov should be ok though in spite of all this, proving that a Kazakhstani cat really does have 23 lives. Back home, Kairat Kelimbetov, president of the Kazakhstan Cycling Fed, has resigned and has been replaced by Darkan Mangeldiev, a close friend of Vinokourov.

So despite all travails his path to the Presidency of his homeland still looks clear, and he does have the remake of Groundhog Day to look forward to, which is some consolation.

Playing the role that Andie MacDowell filled so well, love interest Rita, will be Cycling Fans – leaving us finally in no doubt whatsoever that Vino really is trying to screw us.

______________

Interesting video here featuring former KCF president Kelimbetov talking about Astana at the 2014 Tour de France. Iglinsky (busted) gets singled out for praise, whilst Vino is mentioned as ‘a rider who only comes about once in a hundred years.’

Not too sure that is true Kairat, because we’ve had Ricco, Pantani, Armstrong, Ulrich, Virenque, and on and on and on. Check out the Alternative History of Cycling and you’ll know what I mean…

UCI & ASO need to ban Riis and Vino (& the rest) from Le Tour

this article originally appeared on The Roar

 

Eurosport’s coverage of the 2014 Tour de France had a section at the end of each stage that was entitled ‘LeMond on Tour’.

This featured the combustible-looking, three-time Tour winner Greg LeMond chatting to a host of the Tour’s personalities.

One day his French co-host ushered onto the makeshift set none other than Alexandre Vinokourov. Vinokourov is the one-time crowd favourite Kazakh army colonel who is now Vincenzo Nibali’s Astana team boss.

El Vino is also infamous for being kicked out of the 2007 Tour de France after he was caught for blood doping, which triggered the removal of all his Astana teammates and their entourage.

His reaction to getting nabbed – to basically skirt around the issue for years and to never fully own up to his breaking of the rules – lost him many friends, leaving the majority of cycling fans decidedly nonplussed when he won the 2012 Olympic road race in his final year of racing.

Whoever decided that it would not be decidedly uncomfortable for LeMond, an avowed anti-doper and long-time Lance Armstrong foe, to exchange pleasantries with a man whose arrogance and nefariousness are the polar opposite of everything the only American winner of Le Tour stands for, must soon have realised their mistake as soon as the Kazakh hero stepped into view.

LeMond’s body stiffened visibly and he had trouble even forcing a smile. Vino was and remains a poster boy for the good old (recent) days, when riders thought nothing of doping up to get ahead.

That he is managing a top-level team is bad enough in my opinion, and the fact that his rider won the Tour is the only blemish on Nibali’s otherwise sterling and hugely impressive win.

Such is Vinokourov’s esteem (and political contacts) in his homeland that some reports say that news of his positive test were never fully reported in Kazakhstan.

That Kairat Kelimbetov, the president of Kazakh Cycling, is now pushing for a Grand Depart in the eastern European nation reflects the growing popularity of the sport there. However it must be noted that the awarding of such a prestigious gift by ASO will be seen as a victory for Vinokourov, something which I hope Christopher Prudhomme, head of Le Tour, will take into account.

Christian Prudhomme reacted recently to the report that several former Tour winners believe that Armstrong’s seven Tour ‘victories’ should be reinstated in the record books with a Gallic shrug of the shoulders and a definitive shake of the head.

“And the same goes for the public,” he said. “You ask the people along the route. It’s clear, his name will not be on the list again. Period.”

All very well and good, but where does he stand on Vinokourov heading a ProTour team at a race he once disgraced?

In the argument for the special and singular treatment of Armstrong, his sociopathic nature is often trotted out, but it is not up to the rules to define who was the worst cheat.

A cheat is a cheat is a cheat, and, if anyone is asking me, they should all be removed from the books and all be banned from further involvement in professional racing, or, at the very least, in the races they were caught cheating at or during.

Bjarne Riis is another case in point. The career domestique won the Tour in 1996 then in retirement admitted that he had doped during that victory. ASO removed his name then reinstated him, placing an asterisk next to his name to indicate doping offences.

He skulked off for a spell after a successful career as a team boss. He then sold his share to the Russian Oleg Tinkoff, admitted depression as a result of all his troubles, disappeared for a spell then turned up again driving the Tinkoff-Saxo team car in races this year, most noticeably at the Tour.

I’m not the only one who has noticed all this, and indeed the UCI president Brian Cookson touched on the subject in an interview a few days ago in The Guardian, reacting to, I can only guess, the public mood regarding the sight of Vino and Riis at the Tour.

“I would like both of them to come to the [Cycling Independent Reform] commission,” Cookson said. “The commission doesn’t have powers of subpoena, but there is a court of public opinion here which is really important; those two people and others as well need to bear that in mind if they want to continue to operate in our world, opinion in the world of cycling would be much more favourable towards them if they came forward.”

That’s all well and good, but is it enough? The commission was designed to look into cycling’s doping past, but there is a groundswell of opinion that believes that there is no place in cycling management and in the bureaucracy for former dopers.

“We’ve got a rule that says if you’ve got a major anti-doping violation you can’t be involved with a team,” continued Cookson, “but our advice is that it’s difficult to employ that retroactively.”

How so? How about we get rid of the lot of them? To name only Riis and Vino is another example of that old attitude that the apple cart is generally healthy and that there’s just a couple of bad apples in there, but in truth, in the era of Vino and Riis, it was very much the other way around.

This is one reason that any truth and reconciliation hearing would turn up very little truth and absolutely no reconciliation, because so few former pros would have anything to gain from admitting to using drugs. In fact, they would have everything to lose.

Cookson started off well enough and made all the right noises. There is no doubt that the support of women’s cycling has improved noticeably. However, until the UCI decides once and for all to ban all the cheats from management we will continue as a sport to make one step forward and three back.

All the while, Armstrong’s repeated cry that he is being singled out unfairly will gather more support.

We just had a very good Tour with a winner that has no doping suspicion hanging over him and saw several new and young faces emerge, so why are we still seeing the smug Vino center stage?

A shambles. Nothing less.

 

Bjarne Riis reads from the usual doper script and tells us how ‘difficult’ the decision to first dope was.

Cancellara, Specialized and Menchov: The Tour de Devious

Love-Le-Tour

a version of this article originally appeared on The Roar

 

Intrigue and drama are never far from any Tour de France, but this one has been a doozy from Stage 1.

It started with the controversial sprint and subsequent exit of Mark Cavendish, followed by that massive day on the cobbles that saw Chris Froome leave the Tour with a fractured wrist and an incredible ride by Vincenzo Nibali.

It was then on to the rather lonely farewell of Alberto Contador as he patted Mick Rogers on the back and climbed into his team car, surrounded by low hanging clouds that seemed to have been summoned by a scriptwriter with a penchant for cliché.

But this has all been anything but cliché. It has, in fact, been one of the most fascinating starts to a Tour in many a year.

The abandonments of the three riders mentioned were not planned nor welcomed by anybody but perhaps their fiercest detractors and closest rivals, yet the reason that Fabian Cancellara has left the race is another kettle of fish altogether.

“I will travel home now and take a little break,” Cancellara told reporters as the rest day began. “The season has been long for me, starting back in Dubai.

“I have done 59 days of competition this season so far and I have another big goal at the end of this season: the World Championships.

“It’s not a secret that I’d like to be in my best shape there, so it’s important that I take some rest.”

Which all left me scratching my head and wondering a few things.

Had his team known that they’d be deprived of their best rider after ten stages? Did Cancellara plan this in advance, or was it a spur of the moment thing? Finally, is this not immensely disrespectful to the Tour de France?

Riders often ditch their spots in the Vuelta a Espana before its conclusion to prepare for the World’s but this might just be the first time that a rider has done the same thing at the Tour.

Perhaps others have used false injuries as excuses but none have come out to state the fact so bluntly as Cancellara.

Also, the Worlds comes soon after the Vuelta, this year towards the end of September, which is over two and a half months away.

That we’ve lost three of the sport’s stars was bad enough, but to have another name just decide to drop out, abandoning his teammates, his fans and the race itself, does not sit right.

That kettle of fish is a tad stinky.

Onto Contador and that bike. That bike that was reported as being broken and the reason for his crash even before he abandoned.

Bjarne Riis said soon after that he thought the crash had been caused because Contador had been eating and lost control of the bars and went down.

What was he eating? 86 kilograms of marzipan? Fried hippo on a stick? A Spanish cow perhaps?

That tosh was soon followed – and I mean immediately – by a statement from Specialized that denied the bike had been broken at all, despite NBC Sports’ Steve Porino, reporting that his bike had indeed been “in pieces.”

“His frame snapped in half. They threw it in a heap in the back of the car,” Porino said.

Then Specialized said Conty’s spare bike had fallen from the roof of the car, then they said that it was it was in fact Nicolas Roche’s bike that had been run over earlier despite the fact that it had a ‘31′ – Contador’s number – attached to the bike.

And then – yes, I am not joking – they claimed that Contador’s spare bike had been on the roof and that it had somehow collided with a Belkin spare that was on their roof. Quite how two bikes on separate roofs can collide without the two cars carrying them getting majorly dented was not explained.

Hmm, the intrigue builds.

“Yes, we can confirm that a delinquent child swapped Nicolas Roche’s number for a quickly and expertly constructed papier mache likeness of Contador’s number,” Specialized’s spokesperson should have said but didn’t.

“The wayward waif jumped on the car roof after the first descent with a bucket of paste and chicken wire and he’s shown us right up, the little card,” Specialized definitely did not say. “That’s all there is to it. Now then, move along.”

Then a photo of ‘Contador’s bike’ was posted that showed a Specialized that looked fine and was very unbroken in half and we were told that this was in fact ‘the bike’.

Might have been better, Specialized marketing folks, had you sent out a message offering condolences and a quick recovery to your sponsored rider and declining to comment on the bike until a later date.

The Monty Python Dead Parrot sketch might not be the best model on which to model your recent public statements.

Insert ‘Specialized bike’ every time Alberto – sorry John Cleese – says ‘parrot’ and you have a very keen replica of this current situation. The parrot even matches the colour of Contador’s Norwegian Blue bike. It’s too perfect.]

s-works

One last thing – check out the picture above. Is that not Contador’s bike, a broken one, with the doctor in white shirt and kahki trousers behind that attended him? Why would the team guy be carrying Contador’s broken bike, if it happened earlier with the alleged clash with Belkin, here? Confusing, indeed.

Finally, and this may not seem connected to the Tour de France 2014 but trust me, it is pertinent, comes the news of Denis Menchov’s ban for doping.

Menchov, busted for doping offences in 2009, 2010 and 2012, is the biggest name since Contador to be busted and yet for some reason the UCI tried to bury this news in a pdf on their website.

Now, why would the UCI, who under Cookson have been promising greater transparency, not announce the news that their biological passport had caught a big fish with a press release? Cookson has tried to explain the reasoning but he ended up admitting that the UCI might have handled it better.

Might have?

Menchov announced his retirement with a year left on his contract and said that it was the result of a knee injury, which seemed odd to say the least. If I didn’t know better I’d think that Menchov knew something was coming and decided to take the quiet road out.

Just last month Roman Kreuziger and Tinkoff-Saxo announced that the team management and rider had decided not to ride the race as the Kreuziger was under suspicion as a result of his blood values.

The news came from his team, not from the UCI. Why would the UCI, in these two cases, not release the news themselves to the media, instead leaving fans on forums to fill the vacuum? Do they not understand the need for full accountability?

More confusion comes from the actions, or inactions, of the authorities. We, the paid up members who pay our fees to race and who pay the salaries of the UCI, and others who watch the races on their tv sets, contributing to the huge TV deals, are not deemed to be important enough to be given explanations for these events.

Transparent? About as clear as the fog into which Alberto Contador disappeared.

Intriguing indeed,

The Hour, the UCI, and how to **** up something so beautiful in one easy step

It has just been confirmed that the UCI have imposed a new range of criteria on those who seek to break the hour record.

The governing body is now demanding all potential candidates for the hour record must ride a traditional steel-track frame and commit to a year-long diet of food not only similar to that eaten by Eddy Merckx in 1972 but also actually cooked in 1972.

Candidates will also have to grow their hair to a uniform length of 2.5 inches, dye it black (if it not yet that particular hue), and lash it down with three ‘generous spoonfuls’ of Brylcreem, a la Eddy.

In this way, and only in this way, officials believe that we can reach a record that will truly be in line with the spirit of Merck’s record which was set a whopping 42 years ago.

This means that – wait, there seems to be more breaking news coming through on the fax machine….

BREAKING NEWS: Apparently, all riders will now be allowed ‘any damn haircut they like as long as it’s not a mullet’ (sorry Aussies), and any bike as long as it has two wheels that are ‘relatively round’.

There is one more qualification: all competitors will have to travel back in time to 1993 (‘don’t forget your license’, advises the memo, ‘or you’re not riding’), and will have to attempt the hour ‘in a Scottish accent.’

Makes sense? No? Good, because it’s not supposed to – which might well be the motto of the UCI, come to think of it.

While the above news was a slight fabrication, in spirit it’s not that far off the UCI’s recent track record when it comes to the hour.

For the uninitiated, a brief outline.

There’s a thing called ‘the hour’. It’s a discipline in cycling that demands that a rider ride around a track on his own for an hour as fast as he can. The distance he travels in that hour is recorded and compared to other cyclists who, also on their own, have themselves ridden around a track for an hour.

Whoever travels the most distance is the holder of the hour record.

Simple. Right? Well, not quite.

See, a chap christened by his parents as Edouard Louis Joseph Baron Merckx (a name good enough to win Crufts, they said) – but known to all and sundry as Eddy – went and set a very handy distance at altitude in Mexico in 1972, on a traditional steel bike. He rode 49.431 km that fateful late October day, and when he got off the bike he said:

“That was the hardest ride I’ve ever done.”

merckx_hour_record_1

Eddy on his steel machine, 1972

Not easy, this hour thing, and our Eddy was quite decent on a bicycle too.

A few attempted to break Eddy’s record but the problem was that Eddy was a bit better than decent. He was actually very decent indeed, and no one could manage to get close to the record for many a moon.

Fast forward to 1984 and an Italian stallion called Francesco Moser. He rolled up to Mexico City for a crack at the record with a bike that looked in all fairness nothing at all like Merckx’s machine.

Known (by me) as the LSD Machine, it was all bendy and curvy in odd places and had disc wheels. Apparently all this helped Moser slice through the air better, and that he did, managing finally to smash Eddy’s record with a distance of 51.151km.

The bike obviously did the trick, as did the blood doping that he was quite keen on. It wasn’t illegal at the time though so why anyone makes a fuss and dance about that, I have no idea.

The LSD Experience

The LSD Experience

So, Moser broke Eddy’s record on a bike that clearly gave him an advantage in his attempt, and, clearly, had Eddy used such a machine he’d probably have clocked over 53 kilometres. Moser was good, Eddy was better, there was no question about that.

Everyone knew it but this is sport, machines and humans evolve, technology improves, and cheats get better juice by the half decade on average.

(And for the pedants out there, yes – Eddy was also a doper too.)

Yet despite Moser having the advantage of the march of time no one complained, at least not in an official capacity.

Just as F1 cars improve and are raced and set new records, and just as tennis rackets get harder and lighter and demand their owners to adapt, so bicycles change and so everyone accepted the new record and saw no reason to implement any draconian requirements on bike design.

Certainly no one thought to ever demand that a rider in 1984 use a bike built to the same specifications as a bike built in 1972.

And even if they had, well they’d have best thought of it back then, implemented the rule and leave the bloody thing alone and let the riders get on with it.

Yet if you were to do that, where’s the appeal in a rider going for the record for the bike brands? Where’s the appeal for the helmet designers and the shoe companies? What about the wind tunnel experts and the riders themselves?

Who wants to ride around a track for an hour, which as Eddy said himself is proper knackering, on Merckx’s bike, only to learn at the end of it all just how much crapper you are than Merckx?

But I digress. Let’s jump again to the 17th of July, 1993, and a cycling pioneer called Graeme Obree. The Scottish rider set a quite incredible record on this day, on a quiet track in Norway, of 51.596km.

It was incredible in that Obree was relatively unknown, had hardly any funding, and had designed and built his own bike, a bike that looked less like a bike than just about any other bike ever seen.

It also won the Ugliest Mare in Competition award at the Scunthorpe County Fair of June 1993. That is a little known fact but a revealing one nonetheless, I feel.

Obree on his little beauty

Obree on his little beauty

An Englishman named Chris Boardman then snatched the record from Obree just six days later in France on a bike designed by Lotus and funded by mega-bucks. There was little doubt that technology was winning the day in this era, but then, this is life, and things tend to work like that.

Obree attempted to win it back from Boardman quickly but at every turn he was foiled by Hein Verbruggen, then president of the UCI, who’d taken a disliking to a man coming along and using a homemade bike that the UCI could see no way of profiting from in any way whatsoever.

Others went on to break the record over the next few years using bikes (and in some cases drugs) that took full advantage of advancements in technology, until in 2000 the UCI took the extraordinary decision to create two hour records.

One was known as the UCI Hour Record, and required riders to use equipment that was more or less the same as that used by Merckx.

The other was known as the UCI Absolute Record (not baffling at all, naturally), and allowed riders to use any old vehicle they wanted, with the exception of yellow Lamborghinis and post-1953 school buses.

The result was that everyone was confused, no one was sure which record actually mattered, and one of the greatest records in cycling, lost its allure overnight.

In a sport that usually makes it very difficult to say who in any given generation is really the strongest, the hour used to sort out that out quite precisely. There were few variables. You got on a track, they were all much the same size, and you pedaled. One guy could go to altitude to do it but then so could the next fellow.

Yes, too much of a variation on bikes would make the hour like an F1 race, where sometimes the best drivers are not the fastest. Technology must be given its head but not to the point where it is that which wins the race.

Yet surely the UCI could have set some kind of dimensions that would have meant that the actual bikes were not that different within in a given generation?

It was back with Obree that this all started, in my opinion, where all the fuss and kerfuffle began. It was economics and greed at the nub of it all and it was wrapped up in the skin of a man who was, as president of the world cycling union, as petty as he was vindictive.

Verbruggen had no time for this renegade who loped in off the Scottish streets with a hand-built bicycle and a disregard for authority who went on to snaffle the Crown Jewel of professional cycling from it’s bullet-proofed box.

Now, this is a serious question: what kind of a fool does it take to not see immediately the romance and beauty of Obree and his ugly bloody bike?

Obree broke the record on a bike he designed and built in a shed, with bearings from his then-wife’s washing machine, which is so tremendously and amazingly wonderful that you’d have to have a heart of stone not to see the sheer nutty majesty in that.

The UCI took away his records and banned his bikes, putting obstacles in his way at every banked turn. Why? Because they could, and because they were fools. They were so out of touch with the average cyclist that they failed to see the potential of trumpeting Obree’s amazing achievements.

Verbruggen

Verbruggen

After much wrangling with officialdom, Obree went and joined pro team Le Groupement and got kicked off because he wouldn’t dope, after a few weeks on the team.

“I was signed up to ride in the prologue of the Tour back in 1995,” he wrote later, “but it was made very obvious to me I would have to take drugs. I said no, no way, and I was sacked by my team.”

Dream realised, dream broken. The blink of an eye, the breaking of the cover on a vial. It’s not too far a stretch to argue that that was the UCI’s fault also, ultimately, for turning a blind eye to and facilitating doping.

Young men died in the early days of EPO, those who said no had their careers smashed, villains got rich and the king and his monkeys in their suits looked on and did whatever they could to let the good times roll.

I apologise, I digress yet again.

Back to the hour. The beautiful, amazing hour.

A few moths ago Fabian Cancellara, a man to challenge Merckx’s 1972 record if ever there was one, announced that he was going to have a go at it. His bike manufacturer was quietly confident that they could utilise new technologies and yet still produce a bike that fit the UCI regulations for the UCI Hour Record.

Then on May 15th, just a few days ago, the powers that be announced that they were scrapping the regulations set in 2000 and would now implement new rules.

Basically put, the Hour can now be attempted by any rider on a bike that conforms with the endurance track bike regulations of the day.

Cancellara, the poor lad, then said he’d have to rethink his plans. Quite how far down the line his bike was to being built and how many hundred of thousands of hours had been put into its development is unclear, but keep an eye on Ebay over the next few weeks.

You might pick up a 1972 Colnago frame re-decalled as a Trek for a few bucks.

Bradley Wiggins, who himself now is thinking about having a crack at the hour after hearing the new news, made a salient point in regards to all this changing and a-messing with the rules.

“It kind of begs the question: Why did they change it in the first place?” Wiggins asked, as though he lived in a vacuum in his house in Chorley and had never had to deal with the UCI and its Kafkaesque befuddling.

“We’ve lost a decade now of the hour record. It’s a shame that they changed it.

“It’s a shame, really, that we’ve missed maybe Cancellara doing it five or six years ago. So it’s good I guess that they’ve gone back now.”

It is good, indeed, but Wiggins is right when he makes the point about Cancellara. The rules needed looking at for sure back in 2000, but the heavy-handed, kneejerk reaction from the UCI at that time almost destroyed a once hallowed chalice of our already much-maligned sport.

No other sport would be stupid enough to have allowed records set with equipment made from new technologies to be entered in the books and then go back years later and say that those records had become void, then turn around again and say that they had once again become admissible.

Catch-22 on wheels? Very much so.

The ‘Old UCI’ showed time and again that it was neither the legacy nor the future of the sport that it cared about – just its bank account.

Wonders will never cease. Get Verbruggen to throw in an apology to Obree and I’ll eat that last remaining hat of mine.

Dr. Conor McGrane on the UCI’s Independent Commission

by Dr. Conor McGrane

Brian Cookson seems to have delivered on his election promise to set up an independent commission to investigate the UCI’s actions during the doping crisis which included the Armstrong era. In Dick Marty, Peter Nicholson and Ulrich Haas he has appointed a heavy weight group of politicians, sports lawyers and even war crime investigators.

Interestingly the UCI is fully funding this commission, one of the reasons I believe the one proposed by Pat McQuaid fell was that he wanted WADA to part fund it.

There doesn’t seem to be any guarantee of amnesties or reduced bans for those who co-operate and I suspect we all have mixed feeling on this.

Over all though it looks a strong group with a wide ranging remit and a large amount of independence.  They aim to report within a year and we should all look forward to this although I suspect many involved with the sport will do so with trepidation.

In parallel to this, other processes are ongoing.

The MPCC (of whom I am very proud Cycling Ireland was the first national federation to join) continues to examine the practices of medics involved in the sport. Not only do they look at WADA restricted drugs but they also look at the workings of other drugs. Recently they asked member doctors to stop prescribing the painkiller tramadol in competition. This is something that Sky’s doctor has said they used to do but have now stopped in competition and indeed was something I personally prescribed but have now stopped as well.

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The honestly of Sky’s doctor on this issue was something I found refreshingly open and honest and something to be applauded.

It also opens Pandora’s Box on other drugs permitted under WADA but about which there are concerns.

Cortisone in its many forms remains a useful drug in treating inflammatory conditions but is also a drug which can be abused.

There is also a drug used to treat high blood pressure called telmisartan which has reputed fat burning properties. I have heard anecdotal evidence it is being used in pro cycling (and presumably other sports). It should have no place other than in treatment of high blood pressure and again is something which needs monitoring.

I suppose my point is again that outside of banned drugs there is a large grey area where drugs which have a useful role in treating illness are being used in healthy athletes with the aim of improving performance.

The fight against doping is not just about avoiding banned drugs but also about avoiding inappropriate and indeed unethical use of others.

If we want fair and open sport then we need doctors who are bound by ethics somewhat above and beyond that of simply avoiding the use of banned medications.

We have a long way to go but with the UCI making moves in the right direction, organisations like the MPCC bringing issues like the above out into the open and doctors in teams starting to speak out openly and honestly, I see genuine hope that we are starting to change the culture of pro cycling.

There is however no room at all for complacency…

the times, they are a-changin’ – Cookson gets to work

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Writing about hope again? For the second time in a week? Surely not! It must be the medication…

And yet here we are, barely over two weeks into Brian Cookson’s presidency and the rumblings of change are to be heard across the land.

I know, it’s too early yet to blow the trumpets and to get out the bunting but there have been three developments this week that have reeked of common sense and the bleeding obvious – two things that had been long banned under the presidency of Pat McQuaid.

Rumour has it that both common sense and the bleeding obvious have made their return after being rescued from a remote Swiss farmhouse where they were being held against their will by several of the Irishman’s cronies.

There were found after a dawn raid to be severely undernourished and very pale, though both are recovering in a Geneva hospital.

McQuaid, when interviewed about the case, said “I know nothing”, the most sensible thing he’s said since taking over the UCI captain’s seat in 2005.

So, what’s happened in the past few days that suggests that the winds of change are blowing?

First up is the fantastic news that the women’s Tour of Britain has been granted 2.1 status by the UCI.

This raises the race alongside the Route de France and the women’s version of the Giro and it is I feel hugely important not only in that it means that the women now have one more top event to race in, but it also provides evidence that Cookson’s claim to be ready to support women’s cycling has substance to it.

The organisers of the event, SweetSpot, are obviously thrilled at the news.

The SweetSpot director Guy Elliott said: “We are absolutely delighted that the UCI have awarded us 2.1 status for this exciting new event.”

The elevation to 2.1 means that the world’s top racers will be in attendance, thus allowing the British spectators a chance to see women’s cycling at its best, which can only help to counter the argument that women’s cycling is not as watchable as the men’s.

SweetSpot also announced that the event will have full road closure, accommodation provided and – shocker – prize money. Yes, if you thought that every women’s race has prize money you were mistaken.

How bad is it? I’ve been told that the winner of the women’s version of the Giro walked away with just 450 euros earlier this year, which, after sharing among her teammates must have left her enough for a fast food banquet at best.

The second notice of change was the announcement that Cookson contacted Paul Kimmage, the former pro and journalist who took on Lance Armstrong over doping allegations, to tell him that the UCI would be ending the legal action against him taken up by McQuaid.

The former president claimed that Kimmage had defamed the UCI when he published his opinion on the way the governing body was handling the sport and wanted his pound of flesh, taking on his compatriot over what seemed like a playground grudge when cycling was reeling from the Armstrong case and had no need for more mudslinging.

Cookson has looked at the case and decided that to continue makes no sense whatsoever (probably because Kimmage was right in the first place), and has withdrawn the action.

“I had a call from him, just before he went to Beijing,” Kimmage told VeloNation.

“He told me that they were in the process of issuing a release to the extent that the they are going to drop the case against me.”

So on that score I am sure most would agree, well done Mr Cookson.

Again, it’s little more than common sense and the bleeding obvious, but after what went before we are left in a state where we lavish praise on someone behaving in a civilised and sensible manner.

Perhaps that will prove to be McQuaid’s most lasting legacy: to make otherwise basically competent bureaucrats appear to be saints.

At this rate Cookson will get a bronze statue of his image on a plinth somewhere and a standing alongside the great revolutionary leaders from the ages.

Thirdly, and this is a little more tenuous to link to Cookson’s siege of the Bastille than the first two, there is the news of the dismissal by Belkin of Luis Leon Sanchez for being named in “too many” doping affairs.

“His name crops up in too many files,” said a Belkin spokesman, which could signal the end of the Spaniard’s career.

The team settled with the rider so that it could not be taken to court over the matter, but the fact that the team said that the “confidence between the team and Sanchez has been broken” sets a much overdue precedent that could be taken up by other pro outfits.

Could this have happened under McQuaid? Doesn’t really matter if it could or not, the fact is that it never did. I suspect that Belkin whiffed the smell of change in the air also thanks to Cookson’s ascendency too, and that this played its part.

And so yes, I think these three developments signal the potential for our confidence in the governing body to come out of hibernation.

The times, they might just be a-changin’.

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this article originally appeared on The Roar