If the UCI ran the world…

…we’d all go to hell in a hand-cart. At today’s start of the Tour de France in Monaco it’s anybody’s guess whether some time trial bikes will be disqualified by UCI commissaires. The UCI said it would start enforcing its existing 3-in-1 aero rules from 1st July.

UCI commissaires will be out in force, blazers stuffed with tape measures and well-thumbed copies of The Practical Guide, the UCI tech bible.

The UCI says: “The Practical Guide will provide assistance in applying the UCI Technical Regulations, in particular Articles 1.3.023 and 1.3.024 relating to equipment used in time trials, the implementation of which has become increasingly problematic.”

Given free rein, the UCI would no doubt like all bike racers to compete on a level playing field, and the fairest way of doing that would be for everybody to ride the exact same model of bike. This is what happens at the Little 500 race in America. Riders race on singlespeed Routemasters little changed from the 1960s. It’s a fascinating event, but it’s a college event and the rules about clone bikes couldn’t be translated to the real world.

What the UCI fails to realise is that bike racing only exists because of innovation. Bike racing was founded by bike companies looking to expand the market for their wares. It’s the same today: why would any bike company sponsor a pro bicycle team if it were not for the commercial gain of selling products to us mere mortals?

The UCI is divorced from this commercial aspect of cycle racing. The UCI actively dislikes innovation. Yesterday, on Twitter, I suggested Andy Roddick might be a poorer tennis player if the world governing body of tennis happened to be the UCI:

Speed of Roddick’s serves are due to strength, technique & high-tech kit. If UCI ran tennis, it would be back to wood & catgut.

I followed it with “If UCI ran soccer, it would be back to pigs’ bladders for balls,” and then invited others to contribute. Many did. Add yours!

maddogmedia: “If UCI ran golf, guys in kilts would still be using sticks to smack rocks down rodent holes. And only white guys in kilts, too.”

Thomas A. Fine: “If UCI ran the Internet, I’d have read your “tweet” on Usenet news over a 1200 baud modem.”

pmshires: “If UCI ran … it would be backwards”

John Osborn: If the UCI regulated computers, we’d all be running Windows.”

BikeCrave: “If UCI ran Twitter, we’d be sending homing pigeons to tweet.”

Joe Parkin: “If the UCI ran the Tour de France there would only be kermis racing in July.”

Joe Parkin: “If the UCI ran Apple, we’d all still be listening to CDs through our Walkmans.”

Andy Gilsenan: “If the UCI ran the TV industry we would all have radios because the pictures are better.”

Mark Sauerwald: “If the UCI ran the internet, we would be wishing for the good old days of dial-up modems.”

Richard Young: “If the UCI ran beer, then we’d all be drinking pre-1516 Fartwell’s old P!ss.”

kathleen: “If the UCI ran American gymnastics Bella Karolyi would never have left Romania.”

Carl Gumeson: “If the UCI ran the auto industry we would ALL be riding bikes.”

maddogmedia: If UCI ran Motown, it would’ve signed the Carpenters, the Osmonds and the Monkees.”

Todd Larlee: “If UCI ran [American] football, it would be back to leather helmets with no masks.”

steyrshrek:  “If the UCI ran F1 they would still be racing horse and buggies with solid wheels, none of them new fangled pneumatic tires.”

Monkeying around on bikes

Tea brand PG Tips no longer uses real chimps in its UK TV advertising, preferring an actor and a glove puppet. Back in the 1970s, use of chimps was fairgame (see ‘disclaimer’ below) and one of the most famous ads was this one of the monkey Tour de France.

It features a cycling chimp crashing behind a car and then saying to a tea-pouring mademoiselle, ‘Can you ride tandem?’

Thanks to the non-pc wonders of Japanese TV and YouTube, there’s a whole load of apes-on-bikes videos. Most feature orangutans showboating with training wheels. Pah! Are there no videos of primates going ape on drop-bar road bikes?

Sure there are. Check out the bikes in this clip, the monkey bikes even have racks. These monkeys could commute to work. My next project? The Bike to Circus Book.

There are some more speedy simians in this video. It’s a race between a bloke on a unicycle and some flat-bar monkeys.

Use of primates in TV advertising or for the amusement of a TV programme’s audience is wrong. Primate experts say it’s cruel to the animals concerned. Experts also say such imagery harms the cause of primates in the wild.

Dopey docs say maltodextrin is next

Caffeine is known to be a performance enhancing drug and, in bonkers quantities, was previously on WADA’s list of prohibited substances. Currently it’s on WADA’s ‘watch list’ but, clearly, preventing pro cyclists from taking on a double espresso or three at the Tour de France’s village depart is a big no-no.

Caffeine is not just found in coffee, it’s also now a staple in energy gels.

So, the BBC.co.uk report headlined ‘Caffeine use common in athletes’ is hardly ground-breaking stuff. The report is based on a study by researchers from Liverpool John Moores University, published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine.

“A third of track and field athletes and 60% of cyclists reported taking caffeine before competing.”

The BBC quotes Mark Stuart , a pharmacist for the Sydney Olympics, who said:

“There still seems to be some scope for athletes to exploit commonly available dietary supplements, such as caffeine, with minimal consequence.”

So, next time you pass a Starbucks at the start of a ride, keep on passing, the dope docs have got their eye on you.

And stop using energy powders in your water bottles. Maltodextrin is a performance enhancing substance and, to sports purists, really ought to be considered ethically unclean, and banned.

Cycling is again sex on a stick, says Saxo Bank

Kim Fournais and Lars Seier Christensen, the founders of Saxo Bank, praised Team CSC Saxo Bank at yesterday’s crowning of King Carlos.

“Watching Carlos Sastre in the yellow jersey and Andy Schleck in the white, side by side, armed with nothing but moral fibre and muscles, was amazing,” said Fournais.

“We are not only celebrating Team CSC Saxo Bank, I truly believe their victory is triumph for the entire cycling industry.”

Christensen went further:

“It is a lot like entering the financial markets. Now is a good time and if cycling stocks were available on the stock exchange, we would be the first ones to buy. We simply wanted to be a part of the future bull market of cycling. It is safe to say today that we made the right decision.”

Saxo Bank’s co-sponsorship runs to the end of this year, and on 1 January 2009 Saxo Bank becomes the sole main sponsor of the team that, from then on, will be known as Team Saxo Bank.

When WADA says ‘jump’, too many sports journalists ask ‘how high?’

First off, let me state quite plainly that I think doping in sport is wrong and should be weeded out. I won’t get into the messy business of asking why some man-made performance enhancers are ethically OK (vitamins and maltodextrin, for instance) but others (such as EPO) are deemed evil incarnate.

Society decides such things. Yet ‘society’ is a bit flaky on such matters. Sleeping in tents that mimic high-altitude is currently allowed, even though it produces results similar to EPO-use. The World Anti-doping Agency – WADA – keeps looking at normobaric hypoxic tents and may one day ban their use, no doubt leading to a WADA-led witch hunt against any athletes who boosted their blood in this way.

Some sections of ‘society’ used to believe training of any sorts was a sign of “bad sportsmanship.” The 1981 movie ‘Chariots of Fire’ is based on this very idea, demonstrating that in the 1920s, training for an event was a nefarious activity for some, wholly legitimate to others.

Fast forward to today. All athletes must be paragons of virtue. Boonen was prevented from riding this year’s Tour de France because he took drugs. Not drugs that would make him go faster, but recreational drugs. Sure, he was daft to snort the stuff but if the powder didn’t give him any performance benefit whatsoever, why fret?

Anti-doping agencies, on the other hand, are seen to be white knights, fighting the good fight. They can do no wrong. Mistakes? What mistakes? It’s not possible, we’re scientifically 100 percent sound, say the anti-dopers.

Jacques de Ceaurriz, head of the French anti-doping lab that leaks test results to L’Equipe yet is never sanctioned, once famously said the carbon isotope test, used to find synthetic man-juice, was infallible:

“It’s foolproof…No error is possible in isotopic readings.”

No errors possible? Ever? How many scientists in fields other than anti-doping would get away with such tosh?

The attitude of ‘we’re always right, you’re always wrong’ is one that pervades anti-doping science. Precious few journalists question whether the anti-doping labs might sometimes be wrong. False positives and false negatives exist in the world of medicine but not, apparently, in the world of anti-doping, which uses the exact same scientific tests.

Too often journalists swallow what WADA tells them and it doesn’t trouble them when WADA is caught telling mistruths, yet the slightest misdemeanour by an athlete is reported on at length.

It’s been widely reported that WADA is getting ahead of the game and is working with pharmaceutical companies to place marker molecules in the latest performance-enhancing drugs of choice.

Wow, goes the man in the street, WADA deserves all of the massive funding it gets from governments around the world, it’s catching the cheats with clever tricks.

The man in the street moves on to another news story. Shamefully, so do the majority of journalists. WADA got a lot of global press coverage for its work with Roche to place marker molecules in CERA, the so-called ‘Super-EPO’.

John Fahey, the president of WADA, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp that Roche Pharmaceuticals had placed a special molecule in CERA when it developed the drug:

“In the development of [Micera] close cooperation occurred between WADA and the pharmaceutical company Roche Pharmaceuticals so that there was a molecule placed in the substance well in advance that was always going to be able to be detected once a test was undertaken.”

Well done, WADA.

Except it doesn’t appear to be true. The WADA boss got it wrong. Martina Rupp, a spokeswoman for Roche, told Bloomberg News: “The information that a special molecule has been added to Mircera is wrong.”

So, have journalists widely reported on WADA’s economy with the truth? Of course not. The International Herald Tribune carried the drug company’s denial in the middle of a long article about the Tour in general but the multitude of news sources that rapidly spread Fahey’s molecule claim have been strangely silent on the Roche rebuffal.

UPDATE: Cyclingnews.com isn’t one of them, it has today carried news of the “mistake”. Naturally, WADA is allowed to make such mistakes, just as WADA-accredited labs can break all sorts of rules without being sanctioned. But when an athlete, by mistake, chooses a US version of Vicks thinking it’ll be just the same as the UK version, he’s hauled over the coals and loses his Olympic medal.

AFTER SIX WEEKS of deliberation, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has decided to confirm the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board’s decision to disqualify Alain Baxter from the men’s alpine skiing slalom event at the Salt Lake City Winter Games.

Baxter finished third in the slalom and was awarded the bronze medal, but a subsequent doping test revealed traces of methamphetamine in his urine sample – a stimulant on the IOC’s list of prohibited substances.

Though Baxter maintained that the US Vicks nasal inhaler he used prior to the slalom race contained levmetamfetamine – a non-performance enhancing isomer of methamphetamine – the CAS ruled that the anti-doping code of the Olympic movement prohibits all forms of methamphetamine and the presence of any prohibited substance results in automatic disqualification, whether or not ingestion was intentional.

“The panel is not without sympathy for Mr Baxter, who appears to be a sincere and honest man who did not intend to obtain a competitive advantage in the race,” the tribunal concluded.

“Alain has paid a most severe penalty for a modest mistake and it is clear that the principle of strict liability under-scored this decision,” added Simon Clegg, Chief Executive of the BOA.

“I know that I can continue to look Alain in the eye with confidence that he did not knowingly take the US Vick’s inhaler to enhance his performance.”

WADA can make mistakes, athletes can’t. Athletes can be banned under the ‘strict liability’ rule, but WADA and its accredited labs can mess up left, right and centre and only a tiny minority of people seem to care about such lop-sided justice.

Sure, the anti-doping science will catch a lot of cheats and, when proved, the cheats should be hung out to dry, but the science will also finger some innocent athletes. That’s not me being naive or ‘soft on drugs cheats’, it’s a plain scientific fact.

Ah, but the innocent will always be proven so, you might think. Not on your nelly. The system is rigged against athletes. Many of those who claim innocence are guilty as sin. But some of those who claim innocence, truly are. The appeals system, as it stands, is a sham.

One good way for the anti-doping system to be brought up to standard would be for performance-enhancing drug use to become “sporting fraud”, as has happened in France. That way the police get involved and they have to provide genuine evidence to convince prosecuting authorities. Accused athletes would then truly get “their day in court” and anti-doping labs would have to prove their methods and their ISLs (International Standard for Laboratories, PDF) were up to scratch.

Ever wondered how Tour de France commentators know so much history?

Haribo boy (with girl inside)

ASO is nothing if not efficient. It produces a whole stack of paper documents for journalists. Along with the ‘road book’, the Bible of Le Tour, there’s a fold-out map of France containing the race route; a list of hotels so journos know which teams are staying where in each town; a small pamphlet (French only) on the race regulations; and a full-on tourist guide.

This latter publication is stuffed with historical facts and figures so when a commentator suddenly seems all-knowing about the medieval wars between Catholics and Cathars he may have just flicked to the requisite page in the ‘Guide Touristique’.

Here, for instance, is the text for Brest, starting point for Le Tour.

Surface Area: 49,51 km2
Altitude: 0 m (mini) – 103 m (maxi)
Waterway: la Penfeld
Local saying: “L’on ne passe jamais par Brest, il faut avoir une raison d’y aller.”
Local Speciality: Kig’ ha Farz.
Monuments: le pont de Recouvrance, la tour Tanguy.

“You don’t just arrive in Brest, you have to have a reason for going there”, the local saying goes. What better reason for going there than the launch of the 2008 Tour de France? The Tour has passed through the town 28 times and this important Breton port has also hosted the start of the race twice, in 1952 and in 1974, when two giants of Bel- gian cycling, Rik Van Steenbergen and Eddy Merckx, triumphed.

The largest city in Finistère and in Western Brittany, Brittany’s second largest conurbation, excluding Nantes, Brest is, like the rest of the region, a genuine cycling sovereignty, though its importance as a naval base and port remains its chief vocation as re? ected in the name given to the economic infrastructure organised around the Brest urban community: Brest Métropole Océane.

The origin of its name stems from an abbreviation of the Breton name Beg ar Rest (headland’s end), that perfectly re?ects its isolated geographical position, at the tip of Léon country, facing the Crozon Peninsula in the south, bordered by the sea twenty or so kilometres to the west and encircled in the east by Morlaix and Landerneau, for a long time its rivals.

The strategic importance of the mouth of the Penfeld River, an excellent natural port, has long been at the heart of the military vocation of the site, from earliest Antiquity. A Roman camp known as Gesocribate was set up here in the 3rd century on the very spot where the town’s castle still stands today. It was ?nally ceded to Duke Jean IV for a large indemnity in 1397. Controlled by the French crown like the rest of the Duchy of Brittany in the ?rst half of the 16th cen- tury, Brest was declared a town by Henri IV in 1593. At this time it had a population of 1,500 inhabitants. As in other important French military ports,

Best of friends

Richelieu was the key to Brest’s expansion. In 1631, he created the Ponant Fleet and the port of Penfeld, at the same time developing the city’s arsenal. From 1683 to 1694, Vauban established coastal defences and forti?cations. The labour-force required in the city arsenal increased Continue reading “Ever wondered how Tour de France commentators know so much history?”

Ricco busted for CERA? Well, Landis was busted for adrenalin


The shock departure of the Saunier Duval team from the Tour de France thanks to an alleged Adverse Analytical Finding by Riccardo Ricco is making sports journalists tap out hasty copy.

According to the Eurosport/Yahoo coverage of the Ricco story “the latest doping scandal is a new black eye for the biggest race in the sport, which had hoped to recover from two successive years of outrages involving performance enhancing drugs.”

The piece then said: “In 2006 Tour winner Floyd Landis was stripped of his yellow jersey after testing positive for heightened levels of adrenaline.”

Which is a load of cobblers (and will no doubt be pulled from the story real soon). But journos get rushes of blood to the head too, so it’s excusable.

To Ricco. What’s he accused of? It’s just the A test leaked so far but reports are saying he took CERA, Continuous Erythropoeitin Receptor Activator, the so-called ‘Super EPO’.

Given the fact anti-doping was always going to be super-hot at this year’s ‘clean’ Tour, any rider stupid enough to dope needs to be hung, drawn and quartered. Once proven, of course.

Skinny Kenyans hope to climb Alpe d’Huez in noticeably fast time

zakayo with isaac njoroge

Story, pix and text from TheAfricanCyclist via nowpublic.com

These two young men are Zakayo Nderi and Samwel Mwangi. They come from a tiny spot on the
In 2004, there was an individual time trial up that mountain in the Tour de France. Out of 155 riders, Lance Armstrong won it in 39’41” and the tenth placed time was 42’08”. Zakayo and Mwangi intend to finish in a time somewhere between those two times. Just to show they belong among them.

Zakayo Nderi…is built exactly like the typical Kenyan marathoner, 1.67m tall and 54kg, which…is the exact physiology of a climbing specialist. Unfortunately, because of the cost of cycling, and because cycling is not a well developed sport in Africa, Africans have not been given any serious opportunity to break into and succeed in the world of professional cycling

…Zakayo is good and he deserves a chance to prove himself. Cycling is…the last major sport that has no black or black African presence.

Team Columbia’s launch now on YouTube

I posted this video to the Quickrelease.tv podcast t’other day, here it is away from the glorious e-ghetto that is iTunes:

I love the bit where Cav asks for a chair. Pro cyclists are notorious for wanting to sit or lie down to “save their legs”. They really don’t like walking very far, ditto for running. They’re also fussy about door-knobs and shaking hands: some carry disinfectant sprays to ward off germs. A bug can poleaxe a pro.

Tour de France cavalcade always stuns

I love the racing in the Tour de France, I really do. But I think the TV coverage and the cycling news sites don’t linger long enough on the publicity caravan. It’s a procession that never fails to impress.

The amount of diesel spewed out is truly staggering, and all to promote processed cheese, a French movie or two and a bunch of other stuff.

I might be in mock mode here but the Tour wouldn’t be the same without the caravan.

Giant cuddly lion

Coffee anyone?

For those who prefer close-ups of riders, I’ve got a couple of them, too. Here’s a shot of Scotland’s David Millar:

David Millar in wistful mood

More pix on my Tour de France Flickr set. I was only there for the grand depart from Brest so don’t go expecting any action shots from the road. Before and after the Tour’s passing I was embedded on a press trip to sample the cycle touring highlights of Brittany and I’ll write about this later.