Cycling News and Opinions
Unfair and Unbalanced
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May 27: Before moving on to dealing with the latest fallout from Floyd Landis' confession, I'd like to post some good news. Really good news. Earlier this year writer Les Woodland (The Unknown Tour de France, The Crooked Path to Victory, Cycling's 50 Craziest Stories are among his 25 books) sent us the manuscript for his latest book, Tourmen: the Men Who Made the Tour de France. I know I'm biased, but I think it's just about the best thing Les has written and I feel privileged to be able to publish this book. It explains the origins and evolution of the Tour through the prism of its founders and organizers. Like any Woodland book, the story is well told.
I take a bit of pride in thinking I'm Mister Know-It-All when it comes to the Tour but Les has humbled me. I learned something on almost every page. It's filled with all those curious stories that Les seems to magically pull out of a bag. Yet it's also a serious look at the Tour, and why Founder Henri Desgrange intended the race to more than just a difficult sporting enterprise and newspaper promotion. He wanted it to be the means to uplift and steady a France that had been deeply shaken by its precipitous defeat in the Franco-Prussian war. And where the Tour went from there is Les' story. If you love cycling, I know you'll love this book. As I write this the Amazon link doesn't have the cover art, but Amazon does have the book in stock.
So, on to Floyd. Bill Gifford of Men's Journal has written a terrific piece on the scandal as of Friday, the 21st.
In addition to adding some details regarding Floyd's accusations that have not made the mainstream cycling press, he notes that the cycle industry's reaction is a textbook whistle blower response. First, the accuser is attacked. As I noted earlier, this is easy because Landis has spent the last four years living a disordered life. Beyond his non-stop lies as he tried to defend the indefensible, he attacked some wonderful people, such as the man who ran the doping lab that nailed him. The people whose reputations will fall if Landis' charges are substantiated are hammering away. You've all read the press releases from the UCI, saying Landis wanted revenge and is out to destroy cycling. Who cares what his motives are? Is he right about his doping and the cheating he is accusing other of commiting? That's what matters.
Then in typical whistle blower fashion, after the accuser has been destroyed, it turns out that he was right all along. Gifford cites Jesus Manzano, who got terribly sick in the 2003 Tour after a bad blood transfusion. He then told the world about modern, post-Festina team-led doping. He was dismissed as a crank but his confessions led to Operation Puerto. Turns out that doping was as bad or worse than he said. We often find out later that the crazy man in the room (that we had just shot) was right all along.
One of the fundamental frustrations of those who are working in the trenches, trying to keep our sport clean, is that they are always playing catch-up. They can't start testing for a drug until they find out about it. Sometimes, as in the case of EPO, it can be years before scientists can come up with a reliable test. It turns out that Landis' revelations have already been useful. He explained how riders use a combination of micro-doses of EPO along with doping with their own blood. This seems to foil the testers who are now alerted to to a scheme that is already years old.
I wish Landis had come forward years ago, but that's not how people work. I wish he had been more honest, but if had been an honest man from the start he woldn't have cheated to win the Tour de France. He has handed our sport an opportunity to clean itself up. Let's not let our anger at his past cloud our minds. This is a golden opportunity that would be a crime to waste.
May 21: I would like to proclaim today national "Mandy Rice-Davies Day"
During the 1960s British Profumo affair, the prosecuting counsel pointed out that Lord Astor denied an affair or having even met her. She replied, "Well, he would, wouldn't he?"
All of the people Floyd Landis accused of doping or helping others to dope have categorically denied Landis' charges. Well, they would, wouldn't they?
Let's break this mess into smaller pieces. First of all there is Landis' confession that he doped. I think we can all accept the evidence of the mass spectroscope combined with his admission of doping that Floyd Landis did, indeed, use all the banned the chemicals he says he did.
There is the bigger problem of the accusations leveled at his former teammates, coaches and the UCI. I think Floyd's accusations will change no one's mind. Because, if Landis' confessions are true, then he is a serial prevaricator and fraudster. His getting people to donate money to aid in his defense turns out to be just one more nasty piece of work that he has committed in the last 4 years.
But, there there is a sense of verisimilitude in his emails. If he has fabricated these stories, then he is a much more imaginative and talented man than I ever thought he was. If he is making everything up and none of his teammates or coaches taught him to use dope, there remains the unanswered question. How did he become such a skilled user of these chemicals so that he could race for years and only get caught once? Granted, that one-time catch was a big one, but we can assume he's telling the truth and had been using the needle for years without a doping positive.
How did he hide this sophisticated blood doping from his coaches and teammates? Is he really that smart?
The Wall Street Journal updated its reporting on the Landis story today and the big bombshell is that Jeff Novitzky, the lead investigator in the Balco case that ended up sending Marion Jones to prison and might do the same for Barry Bonds, is working with the Food and Drug Administration's criminal unit to investigate Landis' charges. Landis is said to be cooperating with the FDA.
So, while the cycling industry is doing its best to wish Landis away, he going to continue to stink up the place for a while.
May 20: Landis has 'fessed up. I'm not going to try to get into Floyd Landis' head to understand why he made this big switch. I'll leave that to all the amateur psychologists who will try to disentangle Landis' miserable last 4 years in the sport.
Here's the short form. The May 20 Wall Street Journal has a story saying that Landis has sent out a series of emails dated between April 30 and May 6 to officials at USA Cycling and the UCI containing a series of bombshell revelations.
The Wall Street Journal said it could not independently verify that the emails came from Landis but it did say that people who knew Landis had verified their authenticity.
The emails allege:
1. That Landis himself used a wide range of banned performance-enhancing modalities including EPO, blood doping, human growth hormone, steroids and hormones.
2. Johan Bruyneel introduced Landis to the use of these techniques and how to perform them without getting caught.
3. That other American riders including Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer, George Hincapie and David Zabriskie had used banned performance enhancing products.
4. One of his former team owners, Andy Rihs of Phonak, had been involved in and helped pay for rider doping.
The article says that none of the accused have responded to the charges. I think all have lengthy histories of vigorously denying any involvement with doping.
There will be press conferences today and I'm sure Landis will take a shellacking from the people named in the emails. He's an easy target.
How is this going to play out in the coming Tour de France? Will ASO take the accusations seriously and reconsider the Radio Shack invitation? Will American fans believe Landis?
Posted a bit later in the morning: Indeed, it has started. UCI boss Pat McQuaid said that Landis is "seeking revenge" and has a grudge against Armstrong and others. That may be true...but it doesn't mean Landis is not telling the truth this time.
Interesting days ahead. Slowly, the wall of Omerta is crumbling.
May 11: A few days ago Alejandro Valverde complained that the UCI was pursuing a vendetta against him. I certainly hope so.
OK, I'll stop flogging the Spanish miscreant. For now.
Hot cha-cha! The Giro is turning out to be an exiting mixture of tragedy and skilled racing. I hate to see superb riders like Christian Vande Velde get their ambitions cut short with a crash. I don't know what the answer is, but every time a Grand Tour goes to Holland there are bikes all over the ground. I can't help but think that the decision to equip some of the bikes with deep carbon rims before fighting the tough North Sea crosswinds contributed to the stage 3 carnage.
Vinokourov is in pink and lots of tongues are wagging that he won't be able to handle the Dolomite in the third week. I don't know where people get this stuff. Vino just won the Giro del Trentino. In the Dolomites.
Tomorrow is the team time trial and we'll see if Cadel Evans' choice to ride for BMC was an idiotic decision or an inspired counter-intuitive choice. If BMC gets creamed, which I am wholly expecting, then his choice will go down as one of the worst a rider has ever made. Even though his team looks frail, I'm still expecting him to be at the pointy part of the race in the mountains and he'll put up a terrific fight. But not having a good team will send him to the slopes down on time to capable rivals.
I can't help but feel that Bradley Wiggins is in some way like Chris Boardman. Both are/were magnificently talented. But Boardman was all horsepower and lacking road racing savvy that would keep him off the ground and out of trouble. Wiggins is also looking like his watts exceeds his skills.
The Giro is in Italy now, where it belongs.
May 4: While the entire cycling world is giddy about the Giro about to start, the UCI tossed this press-release skunk into the middle of the party:
"After having informed all the parties concerned (riders, National Federations, teams, National Anti-Doping Organisations and the World Anti-Doping Agency), the International Cycling Union announces that disciplinary procedures have been requested against the following riders for apparent violation of the Anti-Doping Rules on the basis of the information provided by the blood profiles in their biological passports:
- Franco Pellizotti (ITA)
- Jesus Rosendo Prado (ESP)
- Tadej Valjavec (SLO)
"The UCI emphasises that these proceedings are being initiated as a result of the recommendations of the independent experts who were appointed when the biological passport programme was launched.
"Since the introduction of the new programme, the regular analysis of individual profiles has not only led to proceedings of the type described above, but has also allowed increasingly effective targeting of riders for out-of-competition anti-doping controls.
"Each rider mentioned above shall be accorded the right to the presumption of innocence until a final decision has been made on this matter. Under the World Anti-Doping Code and the UCI Anti-Doping Rules, the UCI is unable to provide any additional information at this time."
Pellizzoti (Liquigas) is a big-deal rider who came in second in the 2009 Giro. Valjavec (Ag2r) is a consistent rider who generally places well in hard races. Prado rides for the smaller Spanish squad Andalucia.
I find the responses of Ag2r and Liquigas interesting. Vincent Lavenu, boss of Ag2r expressed faith in the biological passport system and is planning to fire Valjavec as soon as he can. The tone of his angry response makes it clear that Valjavec is being fired only because they long ago removed the guillotines from the Place de la Concorde.
Liquigas, on the other hand, is taking a wait-and-see attitude that is laced with more than a little suspicion regarding the UCI's motivations. Here's the press release I got today from the Italian team:
"Liquigas Sport’s response to the UCI’s position
regarding Franco Pellizotti:
determined to understand and ready to take action
May 4th - Further to the statement made yesterday by the Union Cycliste Internationale concerning Franco Pellizotti, Liquigas Sport would like to announce that it acknowledges the decision made by the responsible authorities in compliance with their current regulations.
In order to fully understand the situation and the factors which led to this decision, Liquigas Sport has tasked its own physician, Doctor Roberto Corsetti, to analyse the medical and scientific aspects relating to this case. According to current analyses, the evidence which has been presented does not seem to scientifically prove with certainty any improper conduct by the athlete. Liquigas Sport has faith in the explanations that will be provided by Franco Pellizotti and by the experts whom he has hired.
Liquigas Sport is extremely disappointed about the action that has been taken, with particular reference to the untimely notification of the athlete’s alleged abnormal values. These values actually date back to the summer of 2009 but have only now been made public on the eve of such an important engagement.
Pending further developments and until the final ruling is announced, Liquigas Sport would like to state that it is ready to immediately take all legal action necessary in order to safeguard its image, as it has already done in recent months: both with regard to the cyclist should any improper conduct on his behalf be confirmed and also with regard to the authorities and institutions which may have unjustly caused this damage.
Liquigas Sport also hopes that the final decision will be made in reasonable time so that it may intervene as quickly as possible with suitable action against the authorities concerned."
Neither Valjavec nor Pellizotti (who both insist they are innocent) will start the Giro.
Another UCI press release broke my heart. I won't repost it here, but it said that after the Tour of Romandie, Alejandro Valverde was the world number 1 rider and Spain was the number 1 cycling nation. Valverde, who has been shown by DNA evidence to have been part of Operation Puerto and (after much litigation on his part) is not allowed to race in Italy because of his doping offence, is considered the world's premier rider. Spain, which has done little to go after dopers, in fact, it looks to this Irishman to have done all it can to protect them, has made it to the top rank of the sport.
Anyone who thinks cycling is just getting picked on and that the sport is really clean should come up here to Arkansas and buy some oceanfront property I have for sale.
Where are the riders screaming that a cheater is stealing their races? Where is the outrage?