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Cycling News and Opinions
Unfair and Unbalanced
December, 2009

Back to news and opinion index page for links to archived stories

December 24: Bike Europe, a trade website has a few interesting stories posted.

Earlier this month a Bianchi warehouse near Bergamo, Itay was hit by a fire that destroyed 15,000 bikes. Because it was a separate warehouse, there was no damage to Bianchi's manufacturing lines. Shiments are delayed, but Bianchi is racing to fill in the gaps with new production.

In September I had posted the story that Amer Sports, the Finnish company that owns Mavic, was thinking about putting the wheel and rim company on the block. Now Amer has decided to keep Mavic because it "would not be in the shareholders best interest" to sell the firm. I suspect that means they couldn't get what they thought Mavic was worth in today's economy.

The really good news: In Europe e-Bikes (bicycles with electric motor assist) are becoming a serious business. I hope that someday we in America we will park more of our F-150s and Suburbans and perhaps make our shorter trips on e-Bikes. I dream of a world where we charge e-Bikes (and run our geothermal heat pumps) with electricity from our home solar panels. SRAM is reported to be working on an integrated 3-speed rear hub with e-bike motor. Bike Europe also says there are rumors that the hub will have an automatic transmission. No word on cup holders.

The heartbreaking news: The Tour de Georgia organizers can't get enough S&H Green Stamps to put on a 2010 edition. They had to cancel running the race in 2009 as well. These guys aren't giving up. They are working on putting on the race in 2011. Good Luck!

December 20: Rasmus Damsgaard, who had been handling the internal doping control programs for Saxo and Astana, has been hired by the UCI to help with its Blood Passport anti-doping program. Because he will no longer be an independent contractor, he will not be running those teams' internal anti-doping programs. In fact, it looks like Armstrong's Radio Shack team will not have its own program, but instead will rely on the UCI. It looks like Saxo will also be content with the UCI's patrolling the riders' blood values.

Anne Gripper, the UCI's anti-doping honcho, has pronounced the Blood Passport program a success and that it is catching the cheaters.

I am an optimistic sort, but I think Ms. Gripper and the teams that plan to rely on the UCI have gotten ahead of themselves. The fact that dopers are getting caught in a steady trickle doesn't tell me that the program is doing the job. Instead it whispers something very different to me. The riders are pros and know their business. They have calculated the odds of getting found out and find them low enough to risk life, liberty and their sacred honor. Given today's often career-ending penalties for doping, they wouldn't take the stuff if they thought there was a reasonably high chance of getting a positive. They have weighed the odds and found them in favor of taking the reasonable chance of evading doping controls, the result of which can be a race-winning season.

Also, this year's Tour de France saw some of the fastest climbing in cycling history. If they are all clean, they should be going slower, not as fast or faster than Marco Pantani and the others who were part of the so-called "lost generation" of EPO-fueled riders of the mid to late 1990s. And perhaps they shouldn't be going up mountains at speeds that would have left Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond dropped like stones.

And no, it isn't lighter bikes, tastier food bars or better shorts. It's simply more watts. The big question is, where is this power coming from? There are those who have a cogent argument that training is far more sophisticated than even just a few years ago and that I should find my answer here. I remain far from sold on this explanation.

Let's see how the Tour and Giro go. But if we regularly see rates of vertical ascent greater than 1800 meters/hour then I would certainly think Ms. Gripper and the UCI should go back to the drawing board.

December 18: The Vuelta's 2010 leader's jersey will be red. This is being touted by the organizers as an "innovation". Not quite so. The leader's jersey of the Spanish national tour has gone through a lot of changes and there was a red Vuelta leader's jersey years ago.

The Vuelta's first edition was in 1935 and for the first 2 years the leader wore an orange jersey.

The Spanish Civil War interrupted the race and it wasn't held again until 1941. Winner Julian Berrendero wore a white jersey in Madrid. The leader's jersey was orange again in '42.

No race in 1943 and 1944.

In 1945 the jersey was red, the only time in Vuelta history until 2010.

In 1946 the jersey was again changed, this time to white with a horizontal red stripe. It remained this way through 1950. There was no 1949 Vuelta.

Then the Vuelta was again suspended until 1955. That year Jean Dotto became the first French winner and wore a yellow leader's jersey. The yellow remained until 1997, with the exception of 1977, where it returned to it's original orange. Since 1955 the Vuelta has been held continuously without interruption.

In 1998 the jersey was changed to gold, and it remained thus through 2009.

I am indebted to James Witherell and his upcoming book, Bicycle History, for facts in this posting. Bicycle History will be released later this month by McGann Publishing. That's right, that's us here at BikeRaceInfo. I'll have the full details here in a few days about Witherell's fascinating collection of facts that paint a pointillist portrait of the bicycle. Stay tuned.

December 15: Cadel Evans, the current World Road Champion will be at the start line May 8 in Amsterdam to race the 2010 Giro d'Italia. He'll contest both the Corsa Rosa and The Tour de France this coming season, confident that he can do well in both races (His BMC team does not yet have an invitation to ride the Tour). He says he'll race the Giro for the win, not just for training. I'm not so sure the Giro-Tour double is attainable any more. The Giro, with its more international fields of late, is no longer the race of long, easier "piano" stretches. The 2009 Giro's fierce battle between Menchov and Di Luca was an an exhausting race that left Menchov a depleted corpse in the Tour. Evans has an ambitious schedule that starts with the Tour Down Under in January that will surely test his extraordinary talent. I hope I'm wrong and that he's tanned, rested and ready for the Tour because Contador, Armstrong and the Schlecks will ready for a showdown that may make it the best Tour in many years.

December 13: It looks like the great Operation Puerto cover up has succeeded. It appears that a Spanish court has ruled that the blood bags that were seized in 2006 cannot be released to doping investigators in foreign countries. Experts say this ruling is not appealable and that the whole thing is done. Over with. Finished. Completed. The cheaters have skated. The good guys have lost.

Since I'm venting, I am very sad to see that the 2012 London Olympic games will not have the individual pursuit as a stand-alone track event. Because the Olympics wants to bring women's track cycling participation up to the same level as the men's, overall limitation on the cycling medal count means some events have to get the old heave-ho. Individual pursuit is one of the most beautiful, simple, clear, demanding and perfect events in sport and tossing this competition with its long history (Coppi was a masterful pursuiter) brings a tear to my eye.

At least we have BMX.

While Garmin-Transitions may have been publicly very gracious about Wiggin's transfer to Sky, it was done only because Team Sky boss Dave Brailsford threatened a lawsuit and Garmin's manager Jonathan Vaughters didn't fancy a protracted court battle with an opponent with virtually unlimited resources. Sky is part of the giant Murdoch media empire. Vaughters decided to move on. Garmin still has Christian Vande Velde, so they are not without a fairly good GC play in the Tour.

But, I can't help but feel that Wiggin's exploiting a loophole in British employment law to escape a contract he signed as a knowing, reasoning and understanding adult to be truly contemptible. It would appear that Garmin gave him no reason to bolt, except that he wasn't Brailsford with a British team and a big bag of Murdoch money. When is a man's word his bond? Are promises and contracts worth nothing? I admire Wiggins' talent and steely discipline that turned him into one of the finest stage racers in the world, but I won't be cheering for him at the 2010 Tour as I did this year.

From Richard Lovelace's, To Lucasta on going to the Wars

I could not love thee, Dear, so much,
Loved I not Honor more.

I guess times have changed.

December 10: Team Sky has confirmed that they have signed 2009 Tour de France 4th place and Olympic gold medalist to a 4-year contract. He moves from Garmin-Transitions, which had been very reluctant to let the very talented British rider go. I wonder how this scrambles the plans of Thomas Lövkvist, who moved to Sky from Columbia. He said he expected to be the team leader at the Tour de France. I think someone's not going to be happy.

By the way, Garmin-Transitions made a very gracious statemen regarding Wiggin's exit from their team:

"Bradley Wiggins will not be racing for Team Garmin-Transitions in 2010. Although we understand his strong desire to be a part of the UK's first-ever Pro Tour team, we would have loved to continue with him through 2010. His departure is not the outcome we hoped for. That said, Team Garmin-Transitions has an incredible group of riders assembled for the season. As always, we have worked hard to build a team that will be competitive throughout the year. The team features Christian Vande Velde who was 8th overall in the 2009 Tour after significant injuries; including five broken vertebrae; sprint sensation Tyler Farrar, David Zabriskie, David Millar, Dan Martin and other outstanding athletes that we’re fortunate to work with. In addition to the great new talent we have signed including Johan Van Summeren and Jack Bobridge, we have renewed our partnership with Garmin and added Transitions and POM Wonderful to our family of sponsors. And we’ve expanded our sports science program to include some of the best sports scientists in the world. We will continue to give our fans many reasons to cheer in 2010 and we look forward to exciting racing in the months to come."

Late December 9, just before having graham crackers and milk, watching Lassie, putting on the jammies and going to bed: Wooden stakes aren't what they used to be. I'm wrong again. A few days ago (see December 7 posting below) I noted that Bradley Wiggins had seemed to make it clear that he was riding out the final year of his contract and staying with Garmin-Transitions. I just saw a story by William Fotheringham on the UK Guardian website that says that the British Sky team will probably announce that they have done the deal and signed Wiggins. Here's a link to the story.

By the way, I've been reading Fotheringham's "Fallen Angel, the Passion of Fausto Coppi." I'm really enjoying it. It's good stuff. We've needed a first-class English-language biography of the finest (and weird, and complicated) bike racer to have ever lived.

December 9: A couple of days ago it looked like Oscar Pereiro was going to ride for Astana alongside Alberto Contador. Then Astana started to think twice about what Pereiro said was a done deal. Since it was so late in the season with the teams having filled their rosters and Pereiro had already passed on an offer from Quick Step, the Spaniard thought he faced certain retirement. After Pereiro let loose his attorneys on the Kazakhs, Astana has now agreed to honor the deal. Pereiro will be at the Astana training camp this week in Pisa.

Danish Pro Lars Ytting Bak has moved from Team Saxo Bank to Columbia-HTC. Here's the Columbia press release:

In 2009, the Columbia-HTC's men's team earned victories by 15 different riders, and it's fair to say new Columbia-HTC rider Lars Bak of Denmark has already taken some major successes of his own. As Bak puts it, "One thing I've always liked about Columbia-HTC is you can see everybody gets a chance to win. Signing with Columbia-HTC was one opportunity I just didn't want to let go by."
 
In his early days as a pro, Bak clinched the prestigious Tour de L'Avenir stage race, and since then he's earned Danish National Time Trial Champion three times in a row. "The best of the three victories was in 2009," Bak says. "I didn't know until 100 metres from the line that I had won. It was a very close, dramatic race, pure suffering, and then at the end I could start celebrating even before I crossed the line." For Bak, the key to good time trialing is "not to panic early on and overcook it. If you keep a steady, strong pace, and you don't go in too deep, then you're on the right track. I've got the right kind of motor for it, too: I can't accelerate fast, so don't ask me to win a sprint. I'm more a diesel engine, and once I get going I can keep going steady for miles and miles."
 
But Bak's talents aren't limited to time-trialing. He's won top Classics like Paris-Bourges, and in 2009's Eneco Tour he pulled away in spectacular style from a day-long break to win the race's toughest stage. True to his word, he didn't want to wait for a sprint. "Lars is the kind of rider who won't win 10 races a year, but he's always there in the mix," comments Columbia-HTC's Danish sports director, Brian Holm. "Lars is a great team player. He really gets stuck into helping his teammates if he feels they've a better chance to win, and that's something we appreciate a lot in our team."

December 8: Lance Armstrong's Team Radio Shack has let us have a good idea of what the team's kit will look like. No news about the shorts, but the team sent out this picture of Lance Armstrong in the current working design.

The simple grey and red should really stand out in a peloton filled with blue jerseys. The press release cautioned that the design is still being tweaked. The team will race in the definitive version when it races the Tour Down Under in January. The team should be wearing the pictured jersey when they meet for their training camp this week.

December 7: A story on BBC's web site seems to put a wooden stake in the heart of the ongoing non-story (so why is it being discussed here?) of Bradley Wiggin's non-move to the new Sky team from Garmin. Wiggins has made it clear that he would like to move to the new UK-based team. "I still have to see my contract out with Garmin," Wiggins said. "I didn't really have the choice to be honest....In my mind it was never going to happen, so I never built my hopes up too much. I'll just have to concentrate on what I've got and focus with Garmin and do the best we can do next year."

It seems that rising economic power India has captured the attention of the top names in bicycle manufacturing. Bike Europe writes that Adidas, Trek, Raleigh, Bianchi, Cannondale, Giant and Schwinn have or will set up some form of distribution in the sub-continent. It's interesting and heart-warming to know that there will be cyclists in New Delhi sporting Fausto Coppi's celeste frames.

Johan Bruyneel gave an interview in the Belgian magazine Knack that has been widely discussed. It seems that Bruyneel has decided to throw a little gasoline on the fire that is the rift between Alberto Contador and the Armstrong/Bruyneel/Radio Shack camp. Bruyneel said that with Contador's rapid ascent to the top ranks of cycling he became a difficult-to-deal-with superstar. The inference was that Contador was immature and unreasonable and that he just should have listened to his Belgian mentor. Bruyneel said he found it easier to leave for Radio Shack rather than deal with someone who is just a "26-year old rider from the suburbs of Madrid". Bruyneel's going to Radio Shack (and managing a rider who is just an ex-triathlete from Texas) was then partly Contador's fault.

Given that when Bruyneel lists the Grand Tour winners he has directed, he is happy to claim Contador's victories, this is all churlish and ungentlemanly. Contador, for whatever faults he has, won the 2009 Tour despite having a team that was far more loyal to Armstrong that Contador. This is all part of the psychological war that has been waged against Contador since this spring and I expect we'll see more of this sort of schoolyard taunting in the months to come.

December 4: Paolo Bettini is in trouble. The man nicknamed Il Grillo (The Cricket) has been the subject of a year-long investigation for tax evasion by the Italian Guardia di Finanza. The Italian tax authorities claim to have "incontrovertible" proof that although Bettini established his residence in the tax haven of Monaco, he continued to live, work, and manage his investments in Italy. Hence, he is accused of establishing a sham residence and is really living in Italy and is liable for Italian taxes. Some reports say that the 2-time world champion and Olympic gold medalist is accused is failing to pay 11 million Euros ($16.5 U.S.) in taxes and other say he avoided paying the taxes on 11 million Euros. Given Italian tax rates, I think that's what lawyers call a distinction without a difference.

Bettini called the 11-million Euro figure laughable. Also, he said he moved to Monte Carlo to find a tranquil place to train and get away from family demands and that he did, indeed live and train there when he was an active racer. He said he learned of the 11-million sum on the radio and that he will answer the tax authorities at the appropriate forum (this is a very loose translation of his remarks).

The story in La Gazzetta dello Sport about Bettini's tax investigation notes that he joins several other notable sportsmen who are in the same difficulty: Davide Rebellin (who is also in a heap of doping trouble as well), F1 driver Vitantonio Liuzzi and rally driver Tiziano Siviero.

December 2: The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) voiced its disgruntlement with the Alejandro Valverde cause today. The legal director of the WADA said that the cases have been frustrating, extremely costly in financial terms and that pursuing them has required a lot of the WADA's energy. WADA currently has 2 Valverde appeals under way at the Court for Arbitration of Sport (CAS). The first is for access to the long-sought after Operacion Puerto blood bags seized, lo, these many years ago. The other is Valverde's challenge to the Italian Olympic Committee's ban on his racing in Italy for 2 years. WADA is hoping that the CAS keeps in mind how much the Valverde appeals have cost when it makes its ruling.

Valverde has said he plans to base his season on the Tour de France. I'm still betting that the Caisse d'Epargne rider isn't on the line for the start of the Tour.

Omega Pharma-Lotto (in 2009 it was Silence-Lotto) is looking for a Grand Tour rider to replace Cadel Evans, who has left for BMC. There were reports that Liquigas rider Roman Kreuziger had made an agreement with the Belgian team, but Omega Pharma-Lotto team boss Marc Sergeant says that Kreuziger has a contract with Liquigas through 2010 and that the cost of buying out the final year of Kreuziger's agreement, which had been reported to be in the millions of Euros, was not going to be paid and there is no agreement.

It looks like Lance Armstrong might be doing more racing than he did before his first retirement. Before he retired he would come to the Tour de France with little more than 20 days of competitive riding in his legs (compare that to Jacques Anquetil's 250 days of racing in some seasons), race the Tour and then ride a few criteriums and then quit racing for the season. This year he's going to lead Radio Shack at the Tour Down Under in January. He'll be bringing Daryl Impey, Jason McCartney, Yaroslav Popovych, Sebastien Rosseler, Gert Steegmans and Tomas Vaitkus.

A few days ago I reported that 2006 Tour winner Oscar Pereiro was going to race at Alberto Contador's side on the Astana team as a replacement climber for Haimar Zubeldia, who, like many Astana riders, has bolted to Radio Shack. It may not happen. Astana has not yet signed the contract (for which Pereiro says there is an oral agreement; Louis B. Mayer, I think, said an oral contract is not worth the paper it's printed on) and is reportedly wanting to renegotiate (lower, I assume) Pereiro's salary. Pereiro has not been invited to the Astana team camp at Pisa next week. Pereiro has sic'd his lawyer on the Kazakhs.

When Euskaltel (the team of Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez) made its team presentation, the new manager Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano said that the squad will again not ride the Giro and that its primary objective will be the Tour de France. What a shame. With the fantastic last week of climbing the 2010 Giro offers, it would be good to have the boys in orange duking it out.